A thousand faces

Susan Kent has always loved dressing up.

As a kid, it was as a Solid Gold Dancer. A few years ago it was as Darlene Furey in Hatching, Matching and Dispatching. But these days, Kent is more into dressing up as a (strangely lovable) misogynist jerk named Jerry.

In her one-woman show Nan Loves Jerry, opening at the LSPU Hall later this month, Jerry, an overaged high-school kid on a bike moves in with his grandmother to look after her when she breaks her leg.

Elling Lien spoke with Kent about the play, about costume, and about the phenomenon of Jerry Pack.

Tell me about the play…
Nan lives alone in a seniors complex—it’s not assisted living, it’s just an apartment building for seniors—and she’s falling a lot, so the doctor wants her to move into long-term care. But Jerry’s like, “no, not in my family!” So he’s says he’ll take care of her.

But having no skills, even just in interpersonal communication, he fails miserably. He thinks he’s going to go in and nurse his grandmother back to health, or at least feel like a hero. Before this, he’s been living from couch to rec room to couch. He moves in to be the big man and take care of his grandmother, but he’s a total slob, a nuisance basically. He thinks it’s his home.

“I’ve never had my own place before! This is wicked!”

Meanwhile Nan is in a cast in the bedroom, hollering for things. He’s supposed to be there to help her. But then Nan starts getting worse. And he’s like “oh Nan, she’s cracked.”

But then its like, wait now, Nan’s not just cracked, there’s something going on. So there’s seriousness to the story but I’m trying to deal with it in an unsentimantal kind of way. I’m trying to stay away from pulling a lot of heart strings. I didn’t want Jerry to grow, and understand, and have an epiphany, just because I don’t particularly dig that.

Where did the character of Jerry come from?
Jerry is an amalgamation of a number of fellas that I’ve known throughout my life. In fact, when I started writing this about five years ago, I was just friggin around writing a character, and it was based on a guy I knew when I lived in Corner Brook. He used to be around myself and my really close friend, Emily. We’d see him around and we thought “oh my god, an adult who’s nice to us.” [laugh]
I used to be really scared of this person and intimidated by him when I was younger, but who now I see him in a totally different way… He’s hilarious, really.

You know, I really do love the character. There’s a strong degree of sympathy… Pity.

Have you always dressed up and disguised yourself?
Oh, I love clothes and doing weird looks. I love using hair and makeup to make that kind of physical change.

I love Halloween!

Me and my sister used to pretend we were the Solid Gold Dancers. We’d get a pair of mom’s shoes or boots each, then a bodysuit from ballet, which we’d hike up, and stuff in some breasts and then dance around… No one ever saw us, but we’d jump and dance around.

As kids, whenever my sister and I wanted to play together, we dressed up. My dad had long johns—one set with long arms, one with short, and they were red with black and white piping down the arms and legs. In our minds those long johns looked identical to the costumes they wore on the show V.

Yeah, as soon as we wanted to play something we started hauling out the clothes.

I always loved dressing up. Still I go through times when I change my hair a lot because it makes my face look different.

Do you feel different when you put on a costume or change your appearance like that?
For sure. Like the time I dressed up as Michael Jackson I felt really cool. It was the ghoul zombie Michael Jackson, from “Thriller.” I found the jacket at Value Village.

Jerry’s tracksuit… Where did you find the tracksuit?
Value Village.

That’s a surprise.
Yeah, I know. It’s probably been handed down from generation to generation. And I found an excellent pair of Traxx sneakers.

Did you have a Charlie Chaplin moment were you went into the wardrobe and picked out your cane, hat, and suit, and said “this is it?”
The first time I performed Jerry was for an April Fool’s fundraiser at the LSPU Hall. I had the outfit and it was really one of these things where I don’t know if it’s going to be there. Then the day before the fundraiser I was like by’s I’ve got to take a drive up to Value Village. I’ve gotta find a bike. I found the things that brought it all together. I used mascara to make the eyebrows and the moustache, and then combed my hair down the centre and smoothed it down to my face.

Originally I really wanted to wear cut off jean shorts—the type that come down to your knees—but really tight ones. Not a good look at all. And a tank top. You know, the kind with the giant arm holes. But clearly I couldn’t wear that. I can’t pull that off unless I were to put on loads of latex and chest hair and stuff like that.

I was also thinking in terms of the guy it was first based on. Then I thought I had to update it to a certain degree, because I’m thinking about a guy who’s from the mid-to-late 80s. But, you know, there’s still that guy. Jerry’s a universal guy. I was thinking, “what would he look like now? He’d still probably like cock rock. And how do you get more into that kind of aesthetic… How do you make that work and cover my body?”

This was before the show. This was just for character. So I thought a wind suit might work. So I went to Value Village and I found one that I thought was really good.

How did you come up with the situation? Have you ever had to look after someone like Jerry is looking after Nan?

Yeah, I did have to look after my grandmother, my nan. For a little while she was in a seniors home and she came and lived with me for a time, but she needed more than I could give her. That’s where I got that idea.

I’m sure you felt inadequate.

I didn’t realize how hard it would be. She was with me for a very short time and then she was with my mother. And mom also grew up with my nan. She lived with us before I was born. We had a different relationship than this Nan and Jerry.

Anyone would feel inadequate, but Jerry is a really interesting person to throw into the mix because he’s totally inadequate but he’ll never admit it.

He doesn’t even come close to understanding what she needs, let alone how to treat her. He’s been raised in a way where he can do no wrong, so, like, it doesn’t even make sense that Nan wouldn’t be making him food. But he’s supposed to be taking care of her. [laugh]

He never had to relate to Nan. His relationship to Nan has been, “yeah, I’m watching TV, I’ll be out for dinner in a sec,” or “I need twenty bucks, or I suppose whatever on the floor is rotten I’ll throw it in the wash.” (laugh)

At the same time he does love her. He totally loves her, but he thinks he’s doing the best job in the world and for a time she thinks he’s doing the best in the world too. Because he is doing his best, but it’s not good enough.

RCA Theatre’s production of Nan Loves Jerry—directed by Sherry White—runs at the LSPU Hall from May 21-24. Preview/student special $10 on Wednesday, May 21. Tickets $15. Proceeds to benefit the CAPE fund. Saturday matinee on May 24 at 2pm. For more information, call the LSPU Hall at 753-4531. To see Jerry on YouTube, visit tinyurl.com/49xljr

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