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This kid's cool onstage

For Eddie Karr, 15, the key to staying focused in 'The Visible Horse' is a sort of game with the audience: Don't blink.

November 12, 2002|Hugh Hart | Special to The Times

Until two months ago, Eddie Karr had never been onstage. But when "The Visible Horse" opened at the Court Theatre on Oct. 17, one day after his 15th birthday, the towheaded teenager skateboarded onto the lip of the stage and delivered a 15-minute monologue without missing a beat.

"Opening night, I'm shaking," he says, "and the director, Lisa James, told me, 'Go out there, speak clearly, get your point across and don't get ahead of yourself. Just talk to the audience.' So that's what I did and -- it worked!"

Karr makes it sound easy, but his performance in Mary Lathrop's two-character drama, also starring Wendy Phillips, has garnered critical raves. On stage every minute of the 90-minute show, Karr plays Scott, a young teenager trying to cope with his father's death.

"The first thing you realize is, he misses his dad, that's for sure," Karr says. "Scott hides it, but underneath it's really killing him. And the other thing I could connect to was, Scott's a kid. Like him, I still play with action figures every once in a while."

Also like most boys his age, Karr is comfortable on wheels. He saved the prop department a few bucks by bringing his skateboard and Razor scooter from home to ride around on.

After a recent performance, Karr, dressed in the same sweatshirt he'd worn onstage, squirmed in a folding chair and tried to explain the challenge of single-handedly commanding an audience's attention.

"It takes a lot of concentration," he says. "It's like a staring contest. You go, 'Don't blink, don't blink, don't blink,' and the second you start to think of something else -- 'Hmmmm, I wonder if there's a football game coming on tomorrow night?' -- the second you start drifting off, you'll blink.

"So every night at the beginning of the play, when I hear the music, I look at Wendy and go, 'I'll see ya!' and my heart's racing because once I go out there, I can't break [concentration] -- I can't blink. I'm Scott now. I can't stop for one second because then you're done for. You can still get the lines right, but the emotions aren't there, and if that happens, the audience is probably snoring, and you have to work really hard to get them back."

Karr may be new to the stage, but he's no stranger to show business. Growing up in Long Island, he landed his first acting role at age 5, on the soap opera "One Life to Live." After a few months, he was replaced.

"They wanted me to almost get hit by a car," Karr recalls, "but I was too young for that [kind of stunt] in the state of New York," he says. "Within one episode, my character went from being a 5-year-old, freckle-faced redhead, to this dark hair, brown-eyed 10-year-old. He got to dodge the car. But that's soap opera -- you never have a solid job."

About that time, Karr took his one and only acting lesson. "I didn't like it," he says. "I was little. It was boring!" Untutored but talented, Karr in 1996 won the role of troublemaking nephew Nathaniel Greene in the television family drama "Promised Land." With his mother, Ellen, and older sister Terese he moved to Salt Lake City, where the series was shot. By the time CBS canceled the show in 1999, Karr's parents had divorced. With his sister, newly remarried mother and stepdad, Karr came west, settling in Santa Clarita. After he switched from La Mesa Junior High School to home-schooling last winter, Karr snagged a recurring role in the sitcom "Grounded for Life" and enjoyed a dramatic turn in "Judging Amy."

Pickings were slim during last spring's TV pilot season, Karr says, but his luck changed a few weeks ago. Phillips, who'd played his aunt on "Promised Land," was offered the part of the widow Meg in "The Visible Horse." She promptly recommended her former cast mate to director James.

Karr auditioned four times before James decided to entrust him with the starring role. "This character's got more lines than Iago!" she says. "I was scared: Could he handle it? Would he have a sure hand onstage? But I saw just about every child ever born for this part, and while [many] were quite good, there was something about Eddie's emotional facility, the way he attacked the part -- he just got under my skin."

To bring "Visible Horse" to life, Karr realized he'd need to deepen his craft. "Rather than just pretend all the time, I guess I've learned how to find the little piece of me that is like Scott, and then you make it bigger. You kind of mix reality and acting together."

Whatever technique he uses, Karr gets the job done, especially during an affecting soliloquy when Scott bids farewell to his dad's ghost for the last time. "People ask, 'How do you cry?' and somebody answers, 'Just think of something sad,' " he says. "Well, that never really worked for me. What works is, you just have to get really into the scene, and it just happens. You can't sit there and go, 'I have to cry' or 'I have to get emotional here.' I just listen to the lines, and then think about how much I love my dad, and my stepdad. All I have to do is [imagine] my dad's head saying those words -- that's who I see. Just by doing that, it'll get you there."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

`The Visible Horse'

Where: Court Theatre, 722 N. La Cienega Blvd., L.A.

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. No performance on Thanksgiving Day.

Ends: Dec. 15

Price: $25

Contact: (323) 655-8587

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