It may not be a reverse 3½ somersault tuck, but it's awfully close.
For his first major plunge into acting, four-time Olympic gold medal diver Greg Louganis recently took over the role of Darius in the off-Broadway production of Jeffrey. The Paul Rudnick play about love and sex and AIDS among New York City's gay men is at once hilarious and moving, and Louganis does a wonderful turn as the "dumb" boyfriend who is a dancer in Cats.
"This role was definitely an optional and not a compulsory," says Louganis, who graduated from UC Irvine as a drama major. He decided to tread the boards, rather than jump from them, following his last Olympics, the '88 Games in Seoul. Since then he has taken acting lessons and played such conventional, jock-friendly roles as the Prince in the Long Beach (Calif.) Civic Light Opera production of Cinderella and Tony in the Sacramento Music Circus production of The Boyfriend. Earlier this year he was invited to New York to check out another Tony, the husband in off-Broadway's Tony N' Tina's Wedding, a part recently played by former New York Met outfielder Lee Mazzilli.
"That role didn't interest me," says Louganis. "But then I saw Jeffrey, and I inquired about the casting of Darius."
When Louganis, who also makes a cameo appearance as himself in the upcoming movie The Mighty Ducks 2, got the part in Jeffrey, he relocated from Malibu to Manhattan. The biggest drawback of the move was that he had to leave behind his five Great Danes. "One of them, Donna, just finished a job as a stand-in in Beethoven's 2nd," he says. "It was only three days work, but that'll keep her in kibble for a while."
Louganis has long been active in AIDS-related causes, and he was a close friend of Ryan White, the young hemophiliac who died of AIDS in 1990. "The play also hit home for me because I spent a lot of time at the bedside of my father, Peter, before he died of lung cancer," says Louganis. "I still write him letters and that separation, that ability to communicate with the dead, is very much a part of Jeffrey." Indeed, when the ghost of Darius tells Jeffrey to "be nice to Sterling [Darius's boyfriend]," there are few dry eyes in the house.
Kent Ferguson, a friend and longtime diving rival, thinks Louganis should be very proud of himself. "I happened to be in New York on business and was able to catch Greg's second performance," says Ferguson. "The fact that Greg is taking a chance and lending his name to a play about such an important issue is impressive enough. But he was also terrific in the role. Degree of difficulty, 3.0. Straight in, no splash."
The former Olympic diving champion's new platform is the off-Broadway stage.