"The comet came through our solar system last in 1986," he says, "and it was then that I got the basic idea for writing the piece. It was the result of me and so many others who were attempting to observe the comet. The bottom line is that we couldn't actually see the comet because there was really heavy cloud cover, but I did observe and was privy to a dialogue between a very elderly gentleman and his family in which he related his childhood experiences and his experiences as a young man growing up into adulthood and 'seniorhood,' if such a word exists. Obviously, this guy was a walking history book. So I went home and as a writer I began to fashion a character who had had those experiences."
"I think even now, following the recent terrorist activities, that Halley's Comet has a spiritual reference that enhances it and makes it even more powerful and more attractive to audiences," Amos says, noting that history can be both a hard teacher and a tremendous source of comfort. "Now we need to balance the tragedy with some degree of -- not humor per se -- but levity that allows us to look at life not unlike the way that this old man does. He's lost a son in each of the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam, and he lost a daughter during the civil rights movement. So obviously the pain caused by mankind's lack of ability to get along with others -- he feels it on a personal, visceral level. It's the old man's contention that the comet isn't coming by for us to see it, but it's coming by to check in on us and see how we are doing. It's his contention that the comet is really an emissary from the Almighty that is coming to check on the condition of this experiment that he calls mankind. To see whether or not the experiment is worth continuing. The old man is pretty much asking the comet, 'When you get back to the headmaster tell him all of his sheep down here are not lost.' Some of them still know who the headmaster is. If people can read between the lines and come away from Halley's Comet with some kind of spiritual recharging of their batteries, so much the better. Particularly in these times."
After 10 years of steady touring, Halley's Comet has not lost even an ounce of allure for its creator. "As an actor," he says enthusiastically, "all of the roles I ever wanted to play when I was younger, all those roles that were denied me for one reason or another, I've been able to recreate for myself. This [old man] character morphs into his own 18-year-old son during the Second World War. He morphs into his own redneck captain, into an Italian-American sergeant. At one point it's suggested that he has become his own 10-year-old great-granddaughter when he relates a story about looking at her jeans she's bought that have more holes than material."
This kind of socially conscious entertainment comes naturally for Amos, who, over the course of his career, has had the opportunity to work with a number of visionary writers and producers, including Norman Lear.
"Prior to Norman becoming the preeminent producer during the '70s, TV was all pap," he says. "It didn't address pertinent issues. But on Good Times and All in the Family, issues like teenage violence, gang violence, seniors being forced to eat pet food we addressed 25 years ago. I couldn't help but carry that into the writing of Halley's Comet."
Of course, not everything Amos has been involved with has been quite as intellectually stimulating as Lear's socially conscious sitcoms. When asked if he ever looks back at pictures of himself wearing a leather thong for the fantasy flick The Beastmaster, Amos roars with laughter. "There are a couple of things that motivated me to do that film," he says. "Number one, the mortgage was due. Number two, I wanted a role that was going to be fun. They didn't tell me what the costume was going to be. And it wasn't X-rated by any means. I did, however, get invited to a lot of strange parties in certain parts of Hollywood. There was always a P.S. on the invitation of 'feel free to wear your costume.' I declined."
Germantown Performing Arts Centre, Friday, October 5th