“No, none of my ancestors was hanged for sheep stealing,” Tom Wahl insisted, and of course he laughed. Tom laughs a lot. He has that happy facility of making other people think they are the world’s wittiest.
We had been talking for 30 minutes, by phone, unfortunately, as he was deep in rehearsals for “I Am My Own Wife”, Zoetic Stage’s present offering at the Arsht Center downtown.
I’ve known Tom for over 20 years; we worked together in, I believe 1837, performing murder mysteries at sea. He was elegantly terrific then and nothing has changed over the years. Just read his current whiz bang reviews for I Am My Own Wife.
He’s the youngest of six children, was born in Hilton, a suburb of Rochester, New York and was in his mid twenties when “the acting bug bit me.” His first role was in Funny Girl in high school and then he started banging into the furniture for real, and that means for money, in The Shadow Box with the Conundrum Players in Rochester.
No college for Tom, working instead for the Eastman Kodak Company at 17, straight out of high school. When he moved down to Florida in1987 he studied acting with the late Walter Zukovski who stressed finding and nurturing one’s individual artistry. Having seen Tom on stage many times, I’d say Walter did a really fine job.
He received a Carbonell award for best ensemble for Summer Shorts, 1999, an Honorable Mention (remember those?) for You Should Be So Lucky in 1995 at the Caldwell Theatre, a nomination for Summer Shorts best supporting actor and best ensemble in 2001 and Curtain Up award for best actor in Winter Shorts in 1999.
When I asked him to describe his greatest success, his answer was immediate. “My 22 years as an actor.” And his greatest failure? He hasn’t encountered it yet. And when I asked him about his proudest moment, there was a lengthy silence. So naturally I asked if he was having difficulty in answering because in his entire life he had done nothing of which to be proud. And, of course, he laughed again. “No, actually I was thinking my proudest moments come when my mother attends a show I’m in and then at intermission and also after the final curtain she goes to the lobby and tells everyone that that’s her son up there.”
And his least proud moment? Oh, I can’t tell you that.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
Lengthy pause on my part, then: “Tell me something most people don’t know about you.”
“There’s nothing. My life is an open book. What you see is what you get.”
“Including the clichés?”
Tom laughed again. Damn, this is a happy man.
Procrastination bothers him, the sound of other people’s laughter delights him. More minutiae: his middle name is James, his favorite color is blue, and he could eat chicken wings and blue crumbly cheese until he falls over, stuffed. His hobby is gardening, he sings only on the bathtub and the longest running time of any of his shows was eight months for Shear Madness.
He’ll be leaving town after the run of I Am My Own Wife, for a six months tour of Shear Madness but will be home for Christmas when the show plays the Broward Center.
Tom plays Charlotte, a transvestite, in I Am My Own Wife, plus over thirty other characters. It’s his first one person show, but not his first in a dress. He starred, with Ian Hersey in Greater Tuna at Mosaic Theatre in 2004 and also in The Mystery of Irma Vep at Blowing Rock Stage Company in 2003 and again at Actors’ Playhouse in 2006, both times with John Felix.
And we know none of his ancestors jacked sheep, or anything else, because one day when Tom was doing Shear Madness at The Kennedy Center in DC he went to the National Archives at the Smithsonian and saw a video on genealogy. He was fascinated and went back many times to the research center, searching through census and military records, and thus finding that all his ancestors were thoroughly goody two-shoes.