A.J. Shively is playing Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest
While accepting his Oscar for LINCOLN, Daniel Day Lewis thanked his wife for “living with some very strange men” over the course of his career. He is known for never breaking character while filming a role, living as the person he is portraying for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the first time in my career, I can understand the cost of that commitment. During work hours, I am Algernon Moncrieff in the Glufshore Playhouse’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, but I have committed to bringing a small yet significant part of him home with me every day: his mustache.
At our first rehearsal, we got to see the planned design of the show, including the costumes and styling. I noticed that the little Algernon sketches all had mustaches. I had a feeling this might happen, and I came prepared with a few day’s worth of beard grown. The thought of ripping spirit gum off of my face everyday did not sound very appealing. If I was going to have facial hair in the show, it would be mine. Now, I’ve grown big ’70’s sideburns, and a full beard for a role, but I’ve never in my life had a mouth-brow. I was a little concerned about it until the end of the first week of rehearsal, when I had my final costume fitting. I shaved the majority of my beard off, got dressed, and looked in the mirror. It all came together perfectly. Tailcoat. Silk ascot. Mustache. Here was Algernon.
A few days later, I couldn’t understand why, everywhere I went, I was continually on the receiving end of sidelong glances. I thought that maybe Naples is a small, territorial community and I was being recognized as a foreigner. But, then High Season started. As I walked through crowded pool decks and beaches, I saw a lot of other, unnoticed foreigners (who, incidentally, were also trying very hard not to stare at me). People seemed to regard me as either a thing to be swept under the rug, or an interesting conversation piece. The cashier at Trader Joe’s made sure to comment on my resemblance to Jason Lee in “My Name Is Earl.” While walking down the street with my cast mate Claire Brownell, she was given a compliment, “Nice dress!”, while I was given a confusing, “Nice m-…. uh … nice.” Why was I the constant recipient of such polite disapproval? Why was I being shunned by the discerning population of Naples? Finally, I got my answer at the Shady Palm Pub. While having a drink with a few cast mates a few nights ago, I heard a slurred, “Woah! Nice Mustache, Man!” I turned to see a woman stumbling over to me, closely followed by her designated driver. She proceeded to tell me how much she loves crumb-catchers, and insisted we take a picture together. Oddly, this was not the first lady stranger to request a picture with me during my few mustached weeks here in Naples.
I understand, now, the looks that I’ve been getting. They are the varied and unfiltered expressions that people exhibit when seeing a side show. I make my living putting on strange clothes and getting stared at, but It’s bizarre to think that I’ve been walking around as myself not looking like myself. Stranger yet, the people I’ve met, and friends I’ve made on this project don’t know me the way I usually look in my day to day life. I catch my reflection in a window as I walk down the street, and it takes me a moment to recognize myself. I don’t mean to say that my flavor-saver has kept me from feeling like myself, but, just like Daniel Day Lewis, I never completely leave my character when I’m off the clock. It’s funny that a little bit of hair on my face could have such a big impact, but in the 118 year-old words of Oscar Wilde, “We live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces.”