The Big Easy Awards
6 p.m. Monday, April 19
The Sugar Mill, 1101 Convention Center Blvd., 483-3129; www.bestofneworleans.com
Bob Edes Jr. has his own version of the show biz mantra "The show must go on."
"I don't want any show to go on without me," he says, joking about an imperative that is part love of theater and part necessity — he works hard to be a full-time actor (although he maintains a part-time job as well). He'll be onstage again Monday to accept the Big Easy Entertainment Award as Theater Person of the Year.
Edes has been one of the most familiar faces on local stages in recent years. In 2009, he starred as a transvestite survivor of the Nazis in the one-man show I Am My Own Wife, played an academic with a paranoid, shut-in family in Sick and a fussy virtuoso violinist in Opus, all at Southern Rep. He also continued a long-running association with Running With Scissors, animating a raging and cantankerous Helen Lawson in the troupe's version of Valley of the Dolls.
"I am a character actor," he says. "I am thought of as a go-to guy." And then while laughing quickly adds, "But I don't want to seem like I'm always booked or people won't call me."
Although personally self-effacing, Edes is immensely pleased to get audition calls.
"Southern Rep makes me feel like I am doing adult work," he says. "I see myself as goofy and young, but Aimée (Hayes, Southern Rep's artistic director) says come and try out for the father of children (in Sick) or this accomplished violinist (in Opus). They can see something in me, and it's exciting."
Edes is unfailingly modest about his own expectations.
"I never thought I could play Raymond Burr (in the parody version of A Place in the Sun) until Richard (Read, Running With Scissors' prime organizer) said I could," he says, laughing.
Read and Running With Scissors first worked with Edes in 2001 on a production of Charles Ludlam's Camille, casting him as the maid, Nanine.
"He was a hit right from the start," Read says. "He was hilarious and warm. Camille was pretty well received, and it wasn't our doing, but he quickly became a very popular actor. For a while, it was hard to get him on board, because he was always busy."
After Edes moved to New Orleans from Dallas just over a decade ago, he went to a general audition at the Contemporary Arts Center for a group of directors. He soon was cast in Kindertransport and When Bees in Honey Drown. He appeared as everyone from Truman Capote in Tru to Jimmy Durante in The Sophie Tucker Show to Hines in The Pajama Game. In Running With Scissors' mashups, he played Mrs. Garrett in Carrie's Facts of Life and Capt. Stubing in The Titanic Adventures of the Love Boat Poseidon. In its long-running annual pageant and camp-fest Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas, he animated the outrageously swishy mailman Johnny Shoemake, for whom Edes writes his own raunchy Christmas carol parodies.
"For me the thing that he does is that he never stops experimenting," Read says. "He's always trying something new, which can be unsettling for some people, but we are an ensemble company, so we work together all the time. There's this chemistry that fits for us."
Scissors isn't the only group that's been confident casting Edes. Director Carl Walker didn't consider anyone else to play Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife.
"I have cast him as women and Germans and Nazis and Jews," Walker says. "Even when he did the revue Boobs! The Musical, he played dogs and children. He's phenomenal."
I Am My Own Wife is Doug Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the life of Mahlsdorf, who started cross-dressing at the age of 15, survived World War II while living in Berlin and outlasted East Germany, although the opening of secret police files exposed a complicated past that caused her to move to Sweden for several years. The one-man work has more than 35 characters, including the gentle Charlotte, garrulous American GIs, Nazi officers, betrayed friends and many others. Walker and Edes spent months working on the show, a period that spanned Edes' appearance in Opus.
"You have 35 characters to figure out by yourself," Walker says. "He and I laughed about it after the fact that there was only one day when it was ever tense rehearsing. That really says something."
Edes is nominated for a Big Easy Best Actor in a Drama Award for his performance.
"He totally owned it," Walker says.
Edes also endeared himself to Aimée Hayes who saw him in the post-Hurricane Katrina play The Breach and cast him in Sick and Opus.
"He has a humanity about him that an audience can relate to," Hayes says. "He lets people in. That's a rare gift.
"He finds a way to love and identify with who he has to play," she adds. "You have to find a way in, and Bob never gives up. He's always working."