Twenty years on, company still grows through thick and thin| MARK HUGHES COBB

Mark Hughes Cobb

Things that thin with age:

Your eyelids. As a veteran of sleep clinics, I know this is why it's more important than ever to wear a night mask, as thinning of the eyelids mean light pours in and wakes you all the more easily, even if you're not looking. Your attention matters not, so much as the rays zipping in, triggering "wake up!" chemicals in the brain. Fading levels of elastin and collagen are also to blame for drooping. Paul Westerberg: "How young are you?/How old am I?/Let's count the rings/around my eyes."

Your hair. It's a joke among friends, gym acquaintances, and service people that I'm "big guy with the hair," and I cannot deny that is an apt, though not complete, I hope, description.

The coif has inspired jealousy in men, and liking, verging on loving, in women. I've been asked to bequeath the mane in my will. A woman spotting me across the Bama bar lobby asked my hair out on a date. Guess I was invited, too.

One year I internally vowed only to cut it if an entire week went by without a woman remarking on it, usually while touching. That rope grew to the middle of my back before I finally gave in and cut a few pounds off, to allow me to swim with ease. Still, I've less volume than before. Can't tell if it's individual strands, or numbers of follicles, but it's noticeable, by me at least. Within a few years, I'm kind of hoping it thins so blatantly that I'm driven to, at long last, hack it all off, down to the lumpy bone. Don't mind the 666.

Your bones, muscles and joints. They lose volume after 30, though we've seen that working out, especially with resistance training, can seriously slow muscle loss, bone deterioration and such. Elvis knows that thanks to consistent activity, and trying to keep up a healthy diet, I'm basically dense as ever — there's a joke here somewhere, and it's on me, thank you, Bruce.

Your skin. As with the eyelids, lowered collagen causes your body's largest organ to gradually lose the ability to repair itself.

Your patience. Not to be confused with tolerance, which I think grows, as you remember the times you fell for that stupid line, song or significant other, as you mellow slightly into appreciation of human folly. No, it's patience: You just don't want to waste time on things that don't add value. Which leads to:

Your days. It's unpleasant to approach each hour and minute like this, but it may also raise appreciation for each moment. In other words, unless you see me actively walking away, I am pleased to see you, even if I'm working — the laptop is a clue — in a public place. Really, that's just how my resting face looks.

So what's so funny about peace, age and understanding, thank you Nick Lowe (yes, Elvis Costello had the hit, but Nick penned it)?

I'm still waiting on wisdom, don't-give-a-frak attitude, the complacent acceptance of what I've achieved, and lack of churning disgust for those things I don't.

Terry Pratchett, who you've seen in this column more than thrice, if you've read more than three, died at 66, tragically too soon, from a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's. But even far back as early Discworld novels, he showed acuity of insight that some call wise beyond his years.

Pratchett would have been under 50 when he wrote: “If you trust in yourself ... and believe in your dreams. ... and follow your star. ... you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy.”

A few years before, he'd written: "Could they do it? They were old men. And then he thought, 'Yes, they are old men. They have been old men for a long time, which means they have learned many things. Like lying, and being crafty and, most importantly, dissembling.' "

So maybe growing should be less about eternal knowledge, and more about craft.

Currently, I'm guiding a lucky cast of 13 ranging in age from just-turned-22 to older-than-me, with several varying points between. The Rude Mechanicals is rapidly — in less than three weeks — putting on stage a new-for-2022 "Much Ado About Nothing."

Natalie, who helped cut my last "Much Ado," on long Sunday nights at Mellow Mushroom over pretzels and dark beer, worked long-distance for this one.

This production was originally planned for 2020, so while we had an entire pandammit's span, much was accomplished years back. Nat-Nat worked textual magic finding correspondences in language when I suggested an innovation — far as I can see, it's never been done before, in the more than 400 years since "Much Ado"'s debut — to cut the two "gulling" (fooling) scenes together, so Beatrice and Benedick overhear of each others' loves at roughly the same time, but from differing ends of a garden.

Not sure if my inner thermometer has grown thin, but when 100-plus temps started firing up early — as I'm typing, it's solstice, first day of summer — there was no hesitation in moving all four shows this week indoors, to the Allen Bales Theatre, aka our inclement weather alternative.

It's a chore, as is leading any group endeavor. Those in my cast and crew derive not just from differing ages, and thus experiences, but backgrounds. Candace grew up on the African continent with missionary parents, and though still a 20-something ball of energy, catches pretty much all my ancient movie and pop-song quotes, to the extent I'm beginning to think she's googling it all behind my back.

Like Candace, a handful are scholars, writers, editors, and educators, as well as thespians. Jacob finished his master's degree at the University of Alabama, and Charlie is in progress. Jordan was a comedic, dramatic and musical star during his years at UA's theater and dance department, and is now teaching high schoolers some of what he knows, driving in from Birmingham each night to execute Dogberry in high dudgeon. Andrew, who due to being an actually white-bearded fellow is playing such in "Much Ado," is a lawyer, with family. He came in and worked not just on Father's Day, but his birthday. Troupers.

New-blood Maggie graduated from UA weeks ago, while starring as Audrey in The ACT's "Little Shop of Horrors," and enjoyed her solstice birthday in rehearsals.

Melissa, another new face, is co-working on Theatre Tuscaloosa's "Mamma Mia!," and like Exa, is a working mother. When I feel stressed, I try and put myself in their sensible yet fashionable footwear. Prepping as Beatrice for the second time, Exa burnished her hair to flame, with no prompting from me, possibly because she knows I'm drawn to red on the head.

Rachel, her fellow ginger — Wait, is that a slur? — studied and became friends with Exa at UA earlier this century, and has leapt eagerly into her first role in years.

Casting people you know well can be a comfort, as with mainstay Wes, who turns against type — though versatile, he's often employed for comedic value — this summer as villainous Don John.

Laurie and Koji Arizumi, present in that first Rude Mechanicals summer, when we evolved from idea to company, provide drums, woodwinds and harp. Over the decades, they've had to miss a couple; those productions didn't feel right. With them stage left, cueing dances, storms, wars and effects, our dimensionality expands vastly.

My smartest move was bringing back, as we did for the 10th celebration, my Puck, Melanie. When we met, she was a UA undergrad. Andre, who cast and directed that first "A Midsummer Night's Dream," prophesied: "She hasn't done (any theater) yet, but you will love her." True, 20 years later. She's here, far more mature than I, to keep my thinning patience and increasingly scattered brain from flying off.

We opened Wednesday night, and will be performing again Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 for live pre-show music, and 8 for the 90-minute show. Free, because as we've done since 20 summers ago, we're giving this living creation as a gift, within a theater, a place of peace, love, and early Modern English understanding.

Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at, or call 205-722-0201.

This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Twenty years on, company grows through thick, thin| MARK HUGHES COBB