Monday, December 14, 2009

Theatah Stories - Encore

Dramatic truth be told, my theatre career, such as it was, coincided with my career as an actively single man. I was in plays from February 2000 to May 2004; I was a pre-Megan dater for precisely the same period.

During that time I suffered from sporadic attachments I convinced myself were very deep. Like a lot of people, I had a fling-instinct combined with an endemic sentimentality that made me treat every romantic caprice as a very serious matter.

I remember, for instance, Margaret's name popping up on my computer screen one summer evening. I had a reaction to it and, in the confines of my parents' nothing-happening basement, figured the female-inspired flush had to mean 'meant-to-be.'

I wrote to her, right then. Some trite line. Two minutes prior, I'd been perfectly unaware of my feelings. Now they were so urgent and rich. I'm ashamed that I declared myself electronically; but I'm frequently glad that I don't have to date and break-up in the cell-phone era, when that kind of knee-jerk romantic-ish-ness seems almost inevitable.

Back then, though, I just needed something to happen, always. And I worked to make mostly fake things--plays and hasty love--feel true. It worked, I guess. For a year or so, I gave florid speeches to audiences and to Margaret, trying to win them into my imaginary worlds.

Eventually, she went away to study in Europe and I kept playing repressed gay men onstage. We dated from afar--sometimes happily, sometimes passive-aggressively. But I wasn't going to be able to forgive her one thing: during my era of great-narcissism (is it over?), she withdrew some of her attention from me.


While Margaret was away, I 1) noticed Megan, 2) did nothing untoward.

When Margaret came back, I 1) was fired from my position as her boyfriend, 2) was cast opposite Megan in a silly play called Noises Off.

This next story begins with my pants around my ankles.

I should say before I continue with it, though, that, at the time, Megan and I spoke to each other only in averted glances.

But she already drew my constant attention. . .

. . .Like the smell of curry (though she smells nothing like curry).

Like a “don't-open-until-Christmas” package on December 22nd.

Like someone else's karaoke rendition of a favorite song--say, “Brown Eyed Girl”--that's both pleasant and flustering.

Like a bee in the room, like a bear.

Like a dark window during a horror movie.

Like a deer, or a dare.

Like the last stair on the staircase. Is it really there? I step: my legs buckle.

Such was my world-reordering awareness of SHE: said awareness a murk of non-stop anticipation, novelty, and fear; of beauty-lust and adrenaline; of doubt and knee-tingle.

(Our earliest extant picture)

So my pants were off and we were onstage rehearsing for the big show.

The play, a British farce filled to the gills with slapstick, called for me to sit on a prop-cactus and for her to pull the prop-needles out of my behind. This stage direction, as you might imagine, resulted in precarious perspiration for me.

Nothing else can be said about the placement of my stanky ass vis-a-vis her sweet face besides the simple fact that I was truly mortified. This was, after all, someone I was coming to care for deeply (not just fleetingly). I tried to play it cool, but of course I had to wear costume-room-underpants that weren't washed between rehearsals. And of course the director had to see the scene again, one last time, from another angle.

I assumed the position: my life was an abyss!

After that level of embarrassment, why not just ask her out? Well, I kinda-sorta had, which had gotten kinda-sorta no response, but things were a wee-ish complicated, as they tend to be; suffice it to say, I felt rejected and she didn't even know I'd applied.

Things carried on thusly. I had the distinct lower-hand. I don't want to overstate my romantic anti-heroism, but it was pretty substantial at that point. People were even starting to root for me, as if I was some pitiful movie character. (My brother told me not to let my inner Cusack stand in the rain.)

I bucked up. And began a campaign of being great to everyone she knew. If I could get enough of a buzz going, I thought, she'd have to date me! But we got our signals crossed again when I asked her out for coffee (she said yes, but we never went). I'd never been one to take a hint, but it was dawning on me that I might have to move on.

Until, hallelujah, one more show came around the bend just a few weeks before graduation. A Dream Play was more of an experimental venture. She played a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Jesus. For my role, I had to learn to write backwards (college theatre can't be parodied). At different points in the show I had to give Alice/Jesus/Megan a piggy-back ride, strike amorous tableaux with her, and hold her hand while I told her, "You are the hope of the world."

It was cruel. But we had gotten to what I thought was grudging respect, at least. We even had an intuitive friendship, though we still barely spoke.

The night before the show, we had a dress rehearsal until 4 o'clock in the morning. It was tiring and giddy. We were both asked to stay and help decorate a pillar with toilet paper. It was a ridiculous request and we felt loopy under the psychedelic lights. We conspired to escape together; we'd paid our dues.

Outside, there was a light late-spring rain and the sound of a couple bullfrogs, a light-orange haze from the city of Worcester, a light taste of something honey-ish and thick. I felt possessed, calm, conclusive. She still had on an angel's eyeliner, or an Alice's.

By the college's chapel, I slowed my walk to slow her walk, said "Hey," said "I've written you a letter," said "but I probably won't finish it before showtime," said "It just says, 'You're great,'" said "But you probably already knew I thought that."

I stopped.

Everything was eaves-dropping.

Her half-smile told me, "That's so sweet," which, as any guy knows, can be either good or bad. But the victory was in the declaration. We said, "Well, G'night," and took our solitary ways.

The next day I told her, sheepishly, that she was the hope of the world again. The lights changed and the show ended. I assumed that was that for us: but, thanks to her, there turned out to be an encore, one we didn't expect, one that's still going.

Neither of us has been in a play since that strange dream. We're done with that scene, at least for now. I am still working on her letter, though, and I'm nowhere near finished.

1 comment:

JSK said...

I have nothing deep to say but feel I need to let you know that I'm 1) Aww..... and 2)Enjoying the theater pics immensely!