Perry Martin was skeptical. While he was casting about for the role of the horny redneck in this past summer's production of The Miss Firecracker Contest at Carlone's, Mary Lee Gibbons had told him to check out Bob Edes at As Bees in Honey Drown.
Edes juggled four different roles in the comedy-drama. "And I liked him immediately," says Martin. "I liked Bob, but he's kind of a soft, gentle fella, and I needed a redneck. So Bob read for the part and he just became the character. He's a modern-day Lon Chaney. If he didn't do theater, they oughta lock him up and study him."
Instead, local audiences have had a chance to study Edes at work in this, his first full year of appearing in local theater after moving from Dallas to New Orleans four years ago. After spending much of his time with touring productions, Edes decided to actually give his home a try, and the results have been borderline phenomenal. In 2001, Edes has established himself as one of the most versatile character actors in the city, appearing (often in multiple roles) in "mikko Presents" The Producers and Hoity Toity, A Woman of No Importance, Camille, As Bees in Honey Drown, The Miss Firecracker Contest, and now Spiritual Gifts.
"It's amazing because normally, come like September, I'd be performing with [M.C.F.T.A. Productions'] The Bubbylonian Encounter, then A Christmas Carol with A.I.M. Productions, then Bubbylonian again," says Edes, who looks like a cross between Baton Rouge's Pruitt Taylor Vince and Wallace Shawn. "This last Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I decided, no. It was like starting all over again.
"Since then, it's been amazing," says Edes (pronounced "EEDS"). "To be able to make a decent living doing two and three shows at a time is just amazing. I've had people come up to me after a performance, give me a card and say, 'I'd like to work with you.'"
Indeed, Edes' acting speaks for itself. His performance in A Woman of No Importance caught the eye of Running With Scissors' Richard Read and Flynn De Marco, who recruited him to play opposite De Marco in their witty production of Camille. And Martin obviously liked what he saw of Edes in As Bees in Honey Drown.
It was in Bees that Edes showed what has quickly become a trademark versatility, playing in various scenes a wildly effeminate tailor, a blunt-talking record producer, a rock musician and a hotel operator -- all of them with their own unique twist. And all of them seemed so effortless in their delivery.
He brings that same versatility to his two roles in Spiritual Gifts, which fleshes out the lost souls who frequent a piano bar in the lower French Quarter. There's a scene in the second act in which he plays Mr. Ruby, the disgusted father of bartender Yvonne (Kara Hadigan). In the scene, one of four "vignettes" away from the bar, Edes is all piss and venom as he criticizes his daughter's life choices.
Just as he turns to leave, Yvonne pleads during a change of heart to let her join him in returning home to New York City. "You don't deserve it," he hisses in his businessman's suit and horn-rimmed glasses. Then he's gone offstage. As Yvonne pivots from the vignette and back to "reality" inside the bar, within a matter of seconds, Edes also returns from backstage, dressed as the prissy wannabe continental Emile, who like the rest of the cast masks his desperation inside a lounge of denial. His entire physicality is changed, not even counting the switch from business jacket to cream linen, the tradeoff of glasses for a silk scarf and hanky. He nurses his Wild Turkey "with a lime, and a chaser," and wonders if he'll ever rise above a flyer distributor for a restaurant.
"Bob's not afraid of being a prick," Martin says. "A lot of actors in this town are afraid of doing a bad character; they all want to be liked by the audience. But he understands what a character actor is supposed to do. In that scene, he's so good that you really don't have to change him physically. With a pair of glasses, he became Mr. Ruby. One persona is completely different from the other. He must've given me something like 12 Mr. Rubys."
Don't ask Edes how he does it; he's just as mystified as his director. "I dunno," he shrugs. "If I knew what I do, I'd just teach it to others. ... Maybe it gives you more of a chance to disappear into a play. You have to subjugate yourself."
- A wannabe continental, Bob Edes' Emile is one of the many lost souls haunting a lower French Quarter piano lounge in Spiritual Gifts.