Good Keen Man: Kevin Smith remembered - New Zealand Listener - 2002 (March 2)

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This article is from the magazine New Zealand Listener, dated March 2-8, 2002, featuring Kevin Smith.

The high-res magazine scans are from Bryn.

Cover headline: Good Keen Man: Kevin Smith remembered

Upfront: Kevin Smith, 1963-2002

      I'm looking at three images: the posters for The Blue Room and A Streetcar Named Desire and the brochure shot for The Rocky Horror Show. And there he is. The Heart-throb. The Hood. The Mad Transvestite Scientist. Talk about range! But of course, he had range to spare. Artist; athlete; warrior; wag; joker; juve-lead; larrikin; lord. He was all of these and more. Those movie-star looks. That rock-star voice. And such great legs, even in fishnets and high heels as big as canoes. Kevin Smith. Kev.
      Along with most of New Zealand, I met him first in 1989 when he joined the cast of Gloss. Producer Janice Finn had scoured the country in search of testosterone with talent and couldn't wait for us to meet this gorgeous hunk she had found in Christchurch. Could we wait?! Soon enough, in he walks: smouldering definition of "tall, dark and handsome". Sleepy-sex eyes. Improbable lips. Marlon Brando, only younger and taller. How you wanted to hate him.
      Turns out you just couldn't. Turns out this eyeful barely glimpsed a man whose content was more beautiful than his form. The brain outboxed the brawn; the humour was sexier than the smile; the heart was bigger than the chest that contained it; the spirit more generous than the lips. Misquoting lyrics from a show he would never sing: "What a guy! Makes you cry! Und I did: KEVEEEEE!!"
      We shared the sad histories of the end of Gloss and the end of the Mercury. I can see him at the wake for the Mercury, standing at the back, arm around his bosom-buddy Geoff. Both are swaying with the booze and singing actor-songs of injustice and farewell. A couple of years later, they did this double-act sober as the Handsome Princes in Into The Woods: "Agony, how it cuts like a knife!"
      During the 90s, he grew his hair and became the star. Hercules; Xena; websites; fan-clubs; action dolls; Beverly Hills; swimming pools; movie stars. He was voted New Zealand's Sexiest Man. Every year! For 10 years! Our paths crossed only a couple of times, but nothing had really changed in him. A little grey around the temples, but he still lived in Ellerslie. His own tribe had increased. Three sons. And he still wore jandals the size of canoes.
      Millennium comes. Hercules goes. He signs for The Blue Room and a Streetcar Named Desire. I can see him at the poster shoot for The Blue Room with his pal Danielle. Both so beautiful and both couldn't care less. They shriek and shout obscenities and cry with laughter before moving in for the shot that will sell us 10,000 tickets. He was nervous about returning to the stage. It had been a while and the script demanded 10 characters of different status, age and love-predicament. He needn't have worried. His 10 men have dignity, danger, desperation and desire. Fans fly in from around the world to catch him in his Calvins. On one night of unscheduled audience participation, a punter worse for wear snatches them during a scene change. He takes it in his strides. Om the final night, I sit with 900 people and watch them dance through it. It doesn't get any better. Anywhere. When the Calvins hit the floor for the last time he turns. A millisecond flash and it's gone. There is an audible gasp from the crowd. A swoon. Outrageous. Hilarious.
      And then Streetcar. You get to know people when you direct them, their essence and their demons. Some deny access. Elizabeth Hawthorne, Danielle Cormack, Michael Lawrence. And Kevin Smith. Kev. Fearless. In the broken world of this subtle, disturbing masterpiece, they take no prisoners. We rehearse the inevitable showdown. In he comes as Stanley Kowalski, "survivor of the stone age". As the scene plays, his eyes get darker and the veins in his arms swell until it seems they will explode. And then he snaps. Combustion. Over goes the table and there stands the animal ape, an aweful, awesome, raw beauty. He backs her into a corner and is over her. She is pleading for her life, but he is overpowering, the sound coming out of his mouth primal and terrifying. He hoists his prey aloft, carries it to the bed and then forces his savage brutal victory. End of scene. Ghastly silence. Amid the rehearsal room wreckage of tables and crockery lie the two actors. Finally, and with such delicacy, he lifts himself off her. So gently, he offers his hand that eventually she takes. As they put our world back together again, the two consummate actors embrace in love and respect for a job well done.
      He sand at our 2002 season launch. It was the last time I saw him. I'm on the podium introducing the end-of-year musical The Rocky Horror Show. I know he's up next, but I haven't seen him in costume. The lights snap out. The RKO fanfare plays. Then, suddenly in the spotlight, there he is. A vision. Beads. Corset. Suspenders. Fishnets. High heels as big as canoes. "Whatever happened to Fay Wray, that delicate satin-draped frame?" The voice is satin-draped. Wicked. Beautiful. He segues into "Don't dream it. Be it", slowly building intensity with each repeated refrain, in total command of his talent and his audience, bidding us to follow him "Don't dream it. Be it. Don't dream it. Be it."
      Gone now. Precious boy. Rarest of men. He gave more than he took. He was blessed and we shared his blessings. A Prince. Kevin Smith. Kev.
      I leave it to Shakespeare.
      Goodnight sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

      Simon Prast is the director of the Auckland Theatre Company.

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