Editor's note: On Oct. 4, Jimmy Joe Steenbergen died from complications from pulmonary aspiration at the age of 85. Jimmy Joe was much loved in the Fort Worth theater community, a man who performed with Jubilee precursor Sojourner Truth Players, then Casa Mañana and, most notably, Hip Pocket Theatre. He was a Southern Baptist preacher turned actor turned trapeze artist turned local legend. Jimmy Joe was perhaps best known for playing the title character in Simons' legendary musical The Lake Worth Monster (oh, what we wouldn't give to have that one revived some day), and he also traveled with the troupe when they performed in London and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the early '80s. He was last seen onstage in June 2015's The Enchanted Lake, a musical meditation on death.
When we asked Johnny Simons to write an appreciation of Jimmy Joe, he wrote it as a play in nine scenes, which you can read below. For those of you not familiar with Hip Pocket, Molemo is Johnny Simons' commedia dell'arte character, who has appeared in many of the plays on HPT's stage. You might recognize a few other names, such as "Babe" Garrison and Quentin (that would be McGown).
You can read Mark Lowry's obituary of Jimmy Joe in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, here, which has more about his life. There will be a memorial for Jimmy Joe at 5 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Hip Pocket Theatre. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you donate to Hip Pocket, which you can do through their website.
And now, the play:
A brief play about JIMMY JOE in nine scenes
By Johnny Simons
Scene 1: Casa Mañana
Scene 2: Grissom and Friends
Scene 3: Hip Pocket Theatre
Scene 4: The Circus
Scene 5: Return to Hip Pocket
Scene 6: Scotland and London
Scene 7: Another Return
Scene 8: The Enchanted Lake
Scene 9: Finale and Curtain Call
Scene One - Casa Mañana
(Music. Lights up on MOLEMO and BABE Garrison, an attractive blonde actress. Music fades under dialogue.)
MOLEMO: I don’t have an actor to play Long John Silver. How the hell do I direct Treasure Island without a damn Long John Silver, babe?
BABE: Momo, I know just the guy. His name is JIMMY JOE and he’s a Baptist preacher.
MOLEMO: What? A Baptist preacher? Jesus Christ!
BABE: He’s right outside. I’ll bring him in to see you.
MOLEMO: Oh my lord! What’s he doing here?
BABE: I’m taking him to lunch.
MOLEMO: Good lord!
BABE: Now, behave yourself, Momo. Don’t be naughty. Promise?
(BABE exits. MOLEMO checks out her ass as she sashays away. Music. MOLEMO paces. BABE reenters with JIMMY JOE. He’s big with a broad grin and a barrel chest. A sparkling earring adorns one ear. At his throat, a beaded necklace of wood. JIMMY JOE wears a faded denim vest, unbuttoned, with no shirt. A forest of chest hair cascades from his breast. Faded jeans, a matching cap, and battered boots complete his wardrobe.)
BABE: MOLEMO, this is JIMMY JOE.
MOLEMO: Well, howdy do, Mr. Joe?
(He extends his hand. They shake. JIMMY JOE’s grip is firm and ultra tight)
JIMMY JOE: Call me JIMMY JOE.
MOLEMO: Sure thing. Call me Momo. BABE tells me you’re a preacher.
JIMMY JOE: Yep. I still marries ‘em and buries ‘em.
(JIMMY JOE grins some more, then suddenly laughs like Woody Woodpecker. BABE and MOLEMO look at each other, smiling. They both know that Long John Silver stands right before them, bigger than any life they’ve ever known. Music rises as light fades.)
Scene Two – Grissom and Friends
(Light restores. Music fades under dialogue.)
JIMMY JOE: I’m telling you, Momo, I got a perfect place to put on a play. It’s in the courtyard of an old motel out west on Highway 80. It’s been turned into an artists compound called “Grissom and Friends.” Come on out and look at it I know you’ll like it and I’ll even build you a damn stage if you’re just come check it out.
MOLEMO: But I’m still working at Casa Manaña and going to school.
JIMMY JOE: Well, life’s a trip. You just got to keep your bags packed.
(Music rises as Woody Woodpecker laughs again. Light fades away.)
Scene Three – Hip Pocket Theatre
(Light restores as music slides under dialogue. JIMMY JOE and MOLEMO stand on the rustic stage built by loving hands under a savage summer sun.)
MOLEMO: JIMMY JOE, you’re the Lake Worth Monster!
JIMMY JOE: I am?
MOLEMO: You are.
JIMMY JOE: Well…okee-dokee. What’s it about?
MOLEMO: It’s about you, of course.
JIMMY JOE: I like that! Is Dugan doin’ the music?
MOLEMO: ‘Course he is.
JIMMY JOE: I like that even more.
(They shake hands as lights black out.)
Scene Four – The Circus
(As calliope music rises, lights up on JIMMY JOE wearing a curly blond wig and hanging upside down from a high trapeze. MOLEMO stands below.)
MOLEMO: How do you keep that wig on while hanging upside down like that, JIMMY JOE?
JIMMY JOE: Elmer’s glue.
(More Woody Woodpecker laughter.)
MOLEMO: Well, come on down here and take me to see the Tigers like you promised.
JIMMY JOE: Alright hold on. Will you catch me?
MOLEMO: No way.
JIMMY JOE: Okay. Never mind. I’ll be right down.
(He swings into space, releases the bar, then falls into an ancient net stretched out far below. As he falls, he hollers, “Mo-le-mo!” As JIMMY JOE leads MOLEMO toward the Tigers, they pass elephants grazing on bales of straw and baboons grooming themselves under a dome of faded Canvas. Approaching the Tigers, JIMMY JOE starts to open the cage door.)
MOLEMO: Hey, wait a minute.
JIMMY JOE: What’s wrong?
MOLEMO: Don’t go in there!
JIMMY JOE: Why not?
MOLEMO: I don’t want to see you go in there with them. It’s too dangerous.
JIMMY JOE: Aw, Rat Dookey! There’s no danger here. They’re only cats. I’m just going to go inside and say hello.
(He steps into the cage. The tigers snarl and bear their fangs.)
MOLEMO: Oh my God! I can’t look!
JIMMY JOE: Come on, now. They’re just big kitties.
(He calls to them…)
JIMMY JOE: Here, Kitty Kitty Kitty.
(The Tigers roar.)
MOLEMO: Jesus Christ!
(Woody Woodpecker laughs again, as light fades away and music builds. In the blackout, more roaring.)
Scene Five – Return to Hip Pocket
(Music fades. Light restores revealing a frantic scramble of actors scurrying about, packing gear into cardboard boxes. JIMMY JOE roars up on his Harley in a dense cloud of red dust. He dismounts in amazement.)
JIMMY JOE: What the hell’s going on?
MOLEMO: We’ve gotta get out of here. That idiot that lives back there in the clay shed just threatened everybody with a pistol.
JIMMY JOE: What?
MOLEMO: I sent Carl and the other guys in Brave Combo back to Denton. Sent the audience home as well.
JIMMY JOE: Where are you movin’ to?
MOLEMO: Down the road apiece, closer to the lake. There’s a barbecue joint over there called Oak Acres. Come on, JIMMY JOE, give us a hand.
JIMMY JOE: God almighty! Threatened you with a pistol?
MOLEMO: Well… Life’s a trip. Just got to keep your bags packed.
JIMMY JOE: Amen to that, Brother!
(MOLEMO attempts a feeble Woody Woodpecker laugh as lights black out and Celtic music rises.)
Scene Six – Scotland and London
(Lights up abruptly. JIMMY JOE is dancing by himself. In one paw he holds a pint of dark beer. In the other, a straw cowboy hat which he waves joyfully. Everyone in the pub urges him on, clapping and stomping to the Celtic beat.)
JIMMY JOE: Yee Haw!
(Suddenly, A team of rowdy, drunken footballers enter. They begin to taunt JIMMY JOE.)
FOOTBALLER: Hey, mates, look. It’s fookin’ John Wayne!
(Music stops abruptly. JIMMY JOE stops dancing, puts his hat on, takes a long swig of his pint, then turns to face the hecklers.)
JIMMY JOE: You boys got a problem?
(The drunken gang advances.)
JIMMY JOE: Let me tell y’all somethin’… if you guys can’t act like gentlemen, you’re gunna to have to leave.
FOOTBALLER: For your information, old mon, this is our pub.
JIMMY JOE: Your pub?
FOOTBALLER: Aye, 'tis. We always roost here in the Fiddler’s Arms after a game.
JIMMY JOE: Well, tonight the Fiddler’s Arms are wrapped around me and my pals here. But y’all are welcome to stay if you can behave yourselves.
(The footballers look at each other, then burst out laughing. JIMMY JOE takes another pull of his pint, puts down the glass, then begins to roll up his sleeves revealing forearms as big as Alley Oops. Every Texan in the pub stands in unison, ready to ride.)
MOLEMO: We’re with you, JIMMY JOE.
JIMMY JOE: I know you’re with me.
(A frozen silence. Light fades. Music resumes. After a moment light restores and music fades under. JIMMY JOE, surrounded by several bosomy Londoners, is laughing heartily. The women giggle and paw at his expansive chest. JIMMY JOE’s shirt is unbuttoned to the waist. A cat skull necklace adorns his hairy breast.)
JIMMY JOE: Oo-weee! You London gals are fine as frog hair!
(The girls giggle and squirm.)
JIMMY JOE: I ain’t never goin’ home! I’m livin’ here in old London town for ever and ever, dammit! Forever and ever!
(A Woody Woodpecker laugh erupts from his open maw. The women fall all over him, as light fades and music rises once again.)
Scene Seven – Another return
(Lights up on Oak acres. MOLEMO and JIMMY JOE converse in the tree house, legs dangling over the edge.)
MOLEMO: Glad you’re back home, Mr. Joe.
JIMMY JOE: Ran out of money, momo. Hated to leave them beteated British gals, but had no choice.
MOLEMO: Well, I’m glad you’re back home. Let’s do some plays.
JIMMY JOE: Aye! That’s what I wanted to hear. I want to be Kerchak, King of the Apes. I want to be the Grand Old Trout. I want to be…
MOLEMO: Whatever you want to be, that’s exactly what you will be. Okay, JIMMY JOE?
JIMMY JOE: Thank you, darlin’.
(They embrace. JIMMY JOE plants a big sloppy kiss on MOLEMO’s cheek. Light gently fades. Soft music slowly rises.)
Scene Eight – Enchanted Lake
(Lights up. Music continues, drifting like a milky white cloud over Silver Creek. JIMMY JOE and MOLEMO sit left of center on an old crate.)
JIMMY JOE: I like this new place. It’s startin’ to take on some character.
MOLEMO: Yeah, I’m startin’ to like it as well. Took a while.
JIMMY JOE: You got anybody to play the old man in your new Enchanted Lake play?
MOLEMO: Well, I was hopin’ you might do it, JIMMY JOE. What do you think?
(JIMMY JOE smiles broadly.)
JIMMY JOE: You think I’m too young for the part?
MOLEMO: It’ll be a stretch but I think you can handle it. How old are you, anyhow?
JIMMY JOE: 10 years older than you, idjit. Don’t you remember?
MOLEMO: Course I do. You’re 85.
JIMMY JOE: Soon to be 86.
MOLEMO: Well, I got nobody else to play the roll, I guess you’ll have to do. We’ll start tomorrow evening. 7 p.m. How you gonna get there? You know you can’t drive.
JIMMY JOE: Quentin’s in the show. He can pick me up and take me home ever’ night.
MOLEMO: That’ll be somethin’ of a drag.
JIMMY JOE: Well, sweet little Kristy ‘ill help out too, I bet’ya.
MOLEMO: Sounds good. I’ll see you mañana, okay?
JIMMY JOE: Okee-Dokee. What’s the play about, Momo?
MOLEMO: It’s about you, of course.
JIMMY JOE: That’s what I like.
(MOLEMO helps him to his feet. JIMMY JOE shuffles down right toward the exit. MOLEMO watches him go, then whispers to him quietly.)
MOLEMO: Hey, old man…
(JIMMY JOE turns to MOLEMO.)
MOLEMO: I sure do love you, JIMMY JOE.
JIMMY JOE: I love you too, darlin’. Bye-bye.
(He blows a tender kiss, then turns to exit with a Woody Woodpecker laugh. Light fades in silence.)
Scene Nine – Finale and Curtain Call
(After a moment of silence, golden light begins to glow very slowly. The stage is empty. A distant voice sings softly from somewhere way beyond.)
I’m slipping away into tomorrow
Slipping away far from today
Drifting away from heartfelt sorrow
Slipping away from yesterday
I’m setting my sights on heights to follow
Losing my life to live again
Filling my hearts deep empty hollow
With heavenly light full to the brim
In the lake at the end of the world
The lake of destiny
(Silence again, then the golden light fades very, very gently until it vanishes completely in darkness. In the darkness we hear the faint echo of Woody Woodpecker’s laughter. Soon, even that sound fades away into eternity.)