Michael Kearns could have been Rock Hudson. And the Los Angeles actor is glad he wasn't.
That is the key idea in "Rock," Kearns' new one-man piece that will have its San Diego premiere at Sushi Performance Gallery as a co-presentation of Sushi and Fresh Dish.
To achieve success in Hollywood, Hudson, who was gay, pretended he was straight, only to be unmasked when he died of AIDS-related causes in 1985. Kearns is openly gay--some say the only openly gay man in Hollywood.
"We both came from the Midwest (Hudson from Illinois, Kearns from Missouri), we're both big (over 6-foot-2), we both had these classic looks, and we both wanted to be actors.
"Twenty years ago, when I arrived in this town, I could have taken the path that would have led me to a closeted, repressed, sad existence," Kearns said from his home in Glendale. "When I first came to this town, I was told I was too sensitive, too soft, too theatrical. They still use those code words, which meant I was too gay. I look back now, and it makes me howl and it makes me sad.
"I could have easily let someone mold me in the way he allowed himself to be molded. And where would I be at this moment if that were the case? I might have a lot more money, and I might have a lot more fame, but I would not have peace of mind. The irony is that, while Rock Hudson tried to hide all his life who he was, he will be best remembered as a gay man who was destroyed before our very eyes in our living rooms."
Kearns, 42, actually met Hudson, had what he calls "a dalliance" with him in 1983 in a bath house. That's in the show, along with Kearns' playing Marilyn Monroe (reminiscing about Hudson), a fictional gossipy handler whose job it was to "butch" Hudson up for the silver screen, a fictional kid from Arkansas who "comes out" when Hudson dies, and Kearns himself, who talks about everything from Hudson to male prostitution to his HIV-positive status--another thing he unfortunately has in common with Hudson.
After performing exclusively in plays relating to AIDS since 1980, Kearns learned that he was HIV-positive in 1989. He came out with the information in the fall of 1991--afraid that the disclosure would curtail requests for his performances and teaching classes. Instead, he finds himself busier than ever.
"For some reason, because I'm HIV-positive, people are coming to see me in greater numbers. It's turned them on. Only in America," he said with a laugh. "But, if X number of people in that audience are coming to see me because I'm HIV positive, that's fine. That's a part of who I am."
Kearns didn't know Hudson long or well, but he knows Hollywood and the secrets closeted gay actors keep. His encounter with Hudson and later Hudson's death nagged at him until he premiered "Rock" in January at Highways in Santa Monica.
"I feel I know Rock Hudson as much as anyone because I've invested my heart and soul in trying to figure him out. Just by intuition and instinct I feel that he was a hollow, sad person. There was something sweet about that, but very wounded and very passive about this role he allowed himself to be cast in. Somewhere inside him he played along with the game."
In contrast, Kearns sees Monroe as someone who fought back against the way she was stereotyped.
"There are loads of similarities between Marilyn Monroe and Rock. The difference is that Marilyn had the intuition, the intelligence and the desire to change who she was. That may be why she is no longer here."
Monroe helps open up "Rock," to make it the story not just of a gay actor, hiding who he was to acquire fame and fortune, but of anyone who fakes things to get ahead.
" 'Is it worth it?' Kearns asks. "My answer is emphatically, 'No.' My answer is 'How is it worth it to give yourself up for any amount of fame and money? To give up who you are?' This is much broader than acting in Hollywood. It's about anyone out there who's living with secrets, who's hiding who they are."
Performances of "Rock" are Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. at Sushi Performance Gallery, 852 8th Ave. Tickets are $10, 235-8466, 298-4916 or 296-0306.
If you say the "A" word (abortion) in the David Souter Home for Unwed Mothers, a little Quayle-bird comes down from the sky with a punishment: 1,000 hours of service with Clarence Thomas or a ride home from the hospital with Ted Kennedy.
Audiences at the Old Globe Theatre's "A . . . My Name Is Still Alice" have been wondering if the Dan Quayle jibes in the "David Souter's Home for Unwed Mothers" sketch was put in after Quayle's attack on the television character Murphy Brown bearing a child out of wedlock.
Not so. The jokes are intact from the May 14 opening at the Old Globe Theatre. Quayle kindly supplied the extra punch to the jokes by timing his remarks five days after the show's debut.
PROGRAM NOTES: Tony Award nominee Jack O'Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, will be in New York for the awards ceremony. O'Brien was nominated for his direction of "Two Shakespearean Actors" on Broadway this year. "Two Trains Running," which was presented at the Old Globe Theatre before opening on Broadway, was nominated for best play. The show will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Sunday on Channel 8. . . .
The Coast Kids Theatre will present "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday with a Saturday matinee at 2 through June 7 at the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas. . . .
NewWorks Theatre will present "Duet for One" by Tom Kempinski June 11-July 5, at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. at the Horton Park Plaza Hotel at 520 E St. in the Gaslamp Quarter, 268-9142.
ELOQUENT MOMENTS IN 'THE GLASS MENAGERIE'
"The Glass Menagerie" is a bit fragile at the La Jolla Playhouse, particularly in the first act.
But the exquisite nature of Tennessee Williams' memory play is in evidence in specific eloquent moments, including Marion Ross as Amanda giving a silent rendition of heartbreak when her son, Tom, (Randle Mell) cautions her not to expect too much of her crippled daughter Laura's encounter with Jim, her first Gentlemen Caller, and when Laura (Jane Adams) glimmers with hope when she thinks that perhaps her meeting with Jim (Matt Mulhern) might not go so badly after all.
Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 through June 14. Tickets are $23.75-$29.75. At the La Jolla Playhouse's Mandell Weiss Theatre on the UC San Diego campus, La Jolla, 534-3960.