Jesse Dayton has a hard time shaking the voice. Without warning, he breaks into Kinkyspeak: "A happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life," he growls.
Back out of character he also admits that his cigar consumption has gone up since he signed on as one of three people portraying the titular subject of Becoming Kinky: The World According to Kinky Friedman, a new musical play that began a four-night run at McGonigel's Mucky Duck Monday night.
The play first started to come together two years ago after a 2009 benefit performance of Always … Patsy Cline at Stages Repertory Theater. That production was written by Stages founding director Ted Swindley. Friedman was in attendance. The following day, Houston philanthropist Carolyn Farb, who chaired the benefit and had also supported Friedman's previous run for governor of Texas, kicked around the idea of a stage production based on the life, music and writings of the musician, writer, philanthropist, occasional gubernatorial candidate, animal lover and general Texas iconoclast. Swindley ran with the idea.
While Friedman's trademark humor is present in Becoming, the production isn't strictly comic. "For anybody who thinks this is just a regular play," Dayton says and laughs, "this is not. It's very irreverent at times, but there are some hard-core sections of it, you know? This isn't just a typical feel-good play."
Swindley says he "wasn't a die-hard fan or anything," but after Farb's pitch, he did some homework. "It felt like there was a lot of magic here," he says. "It just felt right, plus I'm real nostalgic for Houston, having lived there for 17 years."
The biggest challenge, Swindley says, was condensing Friedman's larger-than-life persona. "It was a tough distillation process trying to capture Kinky," he says. So he hatched the idea of three Kinkys in the production: a young, Peace Corps Kinky, singer-songwriter Kinky and the more recent Kinky. "Of course, we also had to have Little Jewford in the cast as an added bonus," he says.
Farb says her goal with the play is that it "will immortalize him. He's like Will Rogers, a great iconic figure of our time."
Dayton likens Friedman to "Texas' own Hunter S. Thompson. He's always been an important figure in all of our lives as Texans. There's a lot of truth and depth, even to his goofier stuff."
Friedman spent part of last week watching rehearsals. "It's beyond surreal," he says. "I'll tell you that.
"But to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I'm glad he's the man I've chosen to misrepresent me."
As for the future of Becoming Kinky, Swindley says there are plans after its debut in Houston to shop it around the country. Friedman would like to see it performed beyond the U.S.
"The purse-lipped Baptists in Waco won't like it, because it's irreverent and edgy," he says. "But there's a certain magic to it. It's going to kill when it gets to New York or London. The farther it gets from Texas, I bet the better it does."