Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Features and More

After misadventures in Hollywood, theater mainstay Joseph Alan Johnson finds his voice in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — To say Joseph Alan Johnson has been waiting awhile for his big break is an understatement.

"When I was 12, I wanted an agent!" says the 54-year-old local theater star. "As a kid, I would tell my mom, 'I'm much better than the actor who plays Ernie on My Three Sons. I want to go to L.A. now!' "

That L.A. adventure would come; the fame he craved is another story. It wasn't until 10 years ago, when Johnson moved here to be closer to his parents, that his talents for acting, writing and directing merged into a full-tilt-boogie creative assault.

Now things are getting good.

As well as acting in 30 productions in the past decade, Johnson has written and directed a handful as well, including last year's Cellmate Confessions, which satirizes the popular "mugshot" online sites and scandal sheets littering convenience store counters. It started at [email protected] but ended up at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa — a highlight in a career chock-full of almost-famous moments.

His new genre-tweaking production, Green Card Wedding Bridesmaid, which he wrote and directs, is a quick-lipped rom-com in which boys kiss boys, boys kiss girls and girls kiss girls, all on a saucy carousel of a marrying-for-moolah plot with twists and gender flips. "It's sexy from every angle," he says. "I'm telling you, people won't even make it to their cars after seeing this one!"

In his day job waiting tables at Cassis, the French restaurant on Beach Drive, Johnson came up with the basic idea for Green Card. In tribute, the play includes waiter jokes ("You may be a Harvard MBA, but you still need someone to serve you a BLT") and a winking Cassis shout-out that brought a howl from an opening-night crowd that included a few co-workers.

With a small, pretty cast and plenty of zingers, Green Card is ideally sized for its intimate setting in the L Train theater — although Johnson worried if the play also would be ideal for his mom, too.

"Oh yes, he warned me about it, and it is sexy and racy," laughs 84-year-old Charlotte Johnson, who saw the final dress rehearsal. "But that's Joe. He's always ahead of everyone else; he was the first of my children to play with kids out of the neighborhood."

Born in Charleston, W.Va., a teenage Johnson went to acting school in New York ("We went to parties at Calvin Klein's") and then tried movies out in Hollywood ("I played teenagers until I was 28"). He appeared in B-movie guilty pleasures such as The Slumber Party Massacre and Hollywood Hot Tubs. He tried out for Fast Times at Ridgemont High; he lost out for the lead role in Mask to Eric Stoltz.

He was frustrated with his career; he was also frustrated with having to live a double personal life. "Back then it was taboo to be gay," he says. "I was blackballed by an agency because I knew one of the agents was gay."

So he moved to Rome, working with the masters of Italian horror: Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava. When he got tired of that, he moved back to L.A. And so on and on. Fame and fortune proved elusive. He had yet to take a crack at writing plays, but under the Florida sun, that proved to be his strength.

"Success is very elusive," Johnson says. "A showbiz career is no certain bet."

And yet, he persists.

He's trying to get Cellmate Confessions published and performed by a major theater group, although getting widespread exposure can be tough. Still, he has high hopes for the future of Green Card, too.

No matter the setbacks, no matter the showbiz cliches, finally having creative success makes all the struggles worthwhile. "There is nothing else! There is no other life!" Johnson laughs. "You marry the acting life like a nun marries Jesus!"

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] and (727) 893-8467. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Comments
Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Hotly anticipated Ichicoro Ane is now open in St. Petersburg

Noel Cruz seemed remarkably chill. As did his partner Kerem Koca. All around them in the Station House building in St. Petersburg, workers pounded the last nails, bartenders unpacked boxes of glassware and jewel-toned bottles of Amari, and the kitche...
Published: 12/12/17
Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

Party like it’s Christmas in Narnia with these recipes perfect for tea time

As a kid, I always looked for doors into other worlds. I blame Narnia. In C.S. Lewis’ classic novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four British children step through a magic wardrobe into Narnia, a world filled with talking animals and plenty ...
Published: 12/12/17
Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season. The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christop...
Published: 12/11/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Dec. 12

Petula Clark: The two-time Grammy Award-winning artist is known for hits like Downtown, I Know a Place, My Love and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love. 2 and 7:30 p.m., Central Park Performing Arts Center, 105 Central Park Drive, Largo. $34.50-$49.50....
Published: 12/11/17
Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

Is Gilbert Gottfried really that annoying in real life?

A new documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried reveals someone more mild-mannered than his stage persona, married with children, verging on dull. His voice doesn’t grate, dropping half its nasal quality and all of its foul-mouthed bluster....
Published: 12/11/17
Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

Mario Batali on leave from ‘The Chew’ and restaurant empire after sexual harassment allegations

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, chef and television personality Mario Batali offered up his views on how to combat sexual harassment in the workplace for an Oct. 30 video for Fast Company."You need a workplace free of fear, that harbors an...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

Restaurant review: Let the food and outstanding cocktails at CW’s Gin Joint transport you back to the 1920s

TAMPAMaybe it’s the twinkling chandeliers. All skajillion of them. Or maybe it is the rhythmic syncopation of ice cubes in shiny shakers. It could be the old-timey metal dessert cart with its silver cloches and chafing dishes, or else the chummy-but-...
Published: 12/11/17
Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

Restaurant review: 1895 Kitchen Bar Market needs to do a lot more to stand out in downtown Tampa

TAMPA Just a block away from CW’s Gin Joint, the folks at Urban Juice Co. have retooled, taking the historic Franklin building, one of the city’s oldest, erected in 1895, and re-envisioning it in September as 1895 Kitchen-Bar-Market, a "...
Published: 12/11/17
Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

Sting rocks the house with old and new hits in Florida Orchestra gala

ST. PETERSBURG — In some ways, the Florida Orchestra’s gala with Sting looked like other concerts of a mega-star. Most of the fans who packed the Mahaffey Theater bought their tickets the day they went on sale. They cheered and sang along at the open...
Published: 12/10/17
Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Dec. 11-17

Katy Perry: The Teenage Dream songstress roars into Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Friday ($45.75-$195.75). amaliearena.com. Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights begins Tuesday, bringing fun celebrations including Hanukkah in the City at the Sundial St. Petersb...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/10/17