“The names have not been changed,” John Dobbs says with a dramatic flair. “There are no innocent.” And thus begins the staged transcript of the deposition of John Dobbs.
Dobbs was a cleaning man in the mansion of millionaire movie star Rock Hudson. Keeping the man’s house straightened and his reputation as a straight man in tact, Dobbs and others hung on the fringe of Hudson’s fame. When Hudson died of AIDS in 1985, the tabloids exploded with sensational expose, and Hudson’s loyal team of secretaries, lovers, accountants and even cleaning men unraveled in a $14 million lawsuit. Marc Christian, a spurned lover, claimed damages for being exposed to the AIDS virus. The “Rock Hudson AIDS case” gave everyone a full view of the man’s secret life.
Theater artist Michael Holmes found the transcript of the deposition when helping friend go through the recently deceased Dobbs’ home. Holmes knew enough about theater to see a stunning play there.
The story in this thin slice of life is rich with every vice we try to keep hidden. The hangers-on to Hudson’s stardom loiter after his death, revisiting the gossip of his mansion. They were steadfast though his death, hoping for a glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor, or a kickback for a job well done, be it manual labor or a sexual favor. When put on the stand, Dobbs exposes the faults and follies of others, along with his own, as two very talented lawyers slowly circle in on him.
Holmes has provided us with a brilliant character study, understanding that the world provides us with characters so wild that no author’s imagination could invent them, and the greatest playwrights just try to imitate. John Dobbs (Lloyd Brass) is a remarkable character. Lloyd Brass is convincing as the lovable, vain, insignificant cleaning man John Dobbs, slowly exposing his character layer by layer. It is a pure, theatrical pleasure to observe the way he works the language.
James Aday as the lawyer Donald Zakarin is silky smooth, applying the perfect combination of impatience and kindness to get Dobbs to squawk. On the other side of the room ranges Paul Rhoden, agile and expressive as he plays his father, lawyer Harold Rhoden. It is a portrayal coated in movement and nuance. Remarkable in their silence are Bill Siedler as Mark Miller, Hudson’s secretary, and James Holechek as Marc Christian. They hover on either side of the $14 million decision and have virtually no lines. Everything they say, and it’s a lot, is physical.
This story doesn’t have a dramatic arc. Although it is short, there were a few times when I twisted in my seat, waiting for something to happen. Director Richard Leinaweaver does a remarkable job of keeping the action flowing and bringing to life what is little more than a conversation between three men.
The play ends abruptly, with Dobbs rattled into a puddle of human indignation. Creator Michael Holmes has written for Dobbs what feels like a eulogy: “I have loved my enemies … my enemies have been money, power, sex, Hollywood stardom, beauty, youth.”
Cleaning Man: A Deposition in the Estate of Rock Hudsonruns April 26-28 and May 2-5 at The Very Little Theatre’s Stage Left, see thevlt.com for info.