What’s up Doc?
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” As R.W. Boyle talked about being Doc Holliday, he was blazing with intensity. He slapped his hand down on the table and pointed in the air. His gaze fiercely locked, he slipped easily into his “Doc” persona.
“My name is Doc Holliday, and you know who I am,” he said. “You think you do, but you don’t.”
He’s been giving speeches like that for years.
A self-proclaimed “portraylist,” the 67-year-old’s world very much revolves around this alter-ego of his. Throughout the year, he can be seen at local parties and performances. He gives moonlit speeches at the Frontier Historical Society’s annual Ghost Walk. He does street theater at the Glenwood Caverns. It’s his life.
“My game is perfection within the art form,” he said. “That’s what I’m looking for.”
From the sound of it, he wants his audience to expect no less.
In tonight’s show, “Young Doc,” and tomorrow’s “The Street Fight in Tombstone” he explores different aspects of this famed character’s life. With each performance, he strives to jump into the spirit of the man. His Doc has just a cursory knowledge of modern times, but has come to give folks a window into his time, salty language and all. These aren’t scripted out performances, but spontaneous ones, drawn from Boyle’s deep knowledge of his subject. The episodes last a bit over an hour, with time allotted afterward for questions.
“It’s a wonderful way to do theater,” he explained. “And it’s a wonderful, sugar-coated way to get your history.”
History is something Boyle’s got quite a past with. At 14, he was re-creating gun battles for tourists in Denver. While he “never gave a hoot” about schooling, he said, he always cared about what had come before him. In the early 90s, his amateur fascination became a bit more serious when he joined Michael Chandler’s group of “gunfighters,” who performed that famous Tombstone showdown in downtown Glenwood Springs. Boyle played Morgan Earp and later his brother, Virgil. At some point, local Marti Yost saw the show, and thought Boyle looked more like Holliday than anyone else. She invited him to portray the man at a party she was hosting. After that, Boyle’s connection to Doc never let up. He began to study and study the man, until he became a true expert.
“I don’t exaggerate Doc Holliday. You don’t have to,” Boyle said. “He was bigger than life.”
While in his shows, Boyle may simplify history into bite sized pieces, he doesn’t shy away from tough subjects. Yes, Holliday’s southern family owned slaves. Yes, Holliday became a sickly fellow who looked much older than his 36 years when he died. But, as Boyle sees it, Holliday was also a true “self-made man.” He’s the kind of guy who could go from being a trained dentist to a real Western icon. He taught himself to play cards ” and became an artist at it. He taught himself to gunfight ” and became a legend because of it. To Boyle, he represented “what was honorable and desirable about the west” but was a “fire breathing dragon” at the same time.
And Boyle presents this exactly as he sees it, warts and all.
“I don’t pull any punches,” he admitted.
A man of science, he doesn’t feel he’s channeling Holliday. Still, he’ll go up to the old cemetery in town and talk to the man. He reads about Doc, even dreams about him. It’s that unflinching immersion that Boyle thinks sets him apart from so many other history buffs.
In his mind, “reenactors” are people who just dress up in old-timey clothes and re-create battle scenes and such. “Impersonators” only play a character, without understanding the historical context. But “portraylists” ” his own word ” are ones who both know a person through and through and all that history that surrounds them. Boyle sees himself in the tradition of his friend, Case Hick’s portrayal as Theodore Roosevelt and Hal Halbrook as Mark Twain.
They live and breathe their characters, Boyle thinks. For him, during each show, that’s the gold standard.
As he put it, “I’m going to do it the best way I can to tell it like the way it was.”
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Garfield County libraries will host James Edward Mills in its second event of the spring lecture series for a virtual conversation about changing the faces of the outdoors.