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Kevin is thrown out of his first play- with two more such indignities to come before he is COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
Not every production can be a triumph, as we learn in part 3 of “Play Production Follies”:
> DEAR BRUTUS: WE ARE UNDERLINGS
. We were halfway through the first act of J.M. Barrie’s light comedy DEAR BRUTUS, when to the utter astonishment of all, our diminutive bulldog of a director suddenly strode out into the middle of the stage and stopped the play, shouting “HEY NOW!” to the stunned house full of our fellow students. The actors onstage recoiled in horror at the unthinkable becoming real. Suddenly, it was so quiet in the vast hall you could hear a snail fart. To all, it seemed the single most unlikely event imaginable! What the hell? What went wrong?* * *
. Charlotte Motter’s choice of spring play for 1972 was a huge disappointment to just about all of us. There were several factions lobbying for several different choices of material. One group wanted to do a Shakespeare play, another was clamoring for something more contemporary, like OH DAD, POOR DAD, MAMA’S HUNG YOU IN THE CLOSET AND I’M FEELIN’ SO BAD. (My sympathies lied with them.) And a third group advocated for a musical- something the theatre department had never undertaken. So when Ms. M. announced her choice of DEAR BRUTIS, a tepid, dated human comedy that premiered in 1918- it was a great letdown to all. It was a subtle work, written by a mature man- long after the simple verve of PETER PAN, and we just couldn’t relate to it, 54 years after the fact. We found it difficult to see the sweet, wry understated humor in it, because we were just such callow shits really, with no real life experience at all. On the first read, everyone decided the play was a dud, a turkey, a bore- so much moping followed.
. Studying the simple fantasy, I didn’t much care for any of the roles, with the single exception of a colorful character named “Lob”, in essence, a 200 year old version of Shakespeare’s etherial sprite “Puck”. I guess I must have complained a lot to my friends about the thin pickin’s, because when my pal Byron was cast in the role I coveted, he insisted that I be allowed to play the part. Byron would take the only other open role of Mr. Coda, a bland country gentleman- the part that would have gone to me, I gathered. Ms. Motter argued that Byron was really better for the part. He had seniority after all, and in fact had given a better audition. As a senior, it would be his last year there, but there would be other plays for me, a mere freshman. Nonetheless, Byron remained steadfast and refused to accept the role, claiming that it didn’t really matter that much to him, and he knew how much I wanted it. And though I felt guilty and tried half-heartedly to decline, Byron would have none of it. Eventually Ms. Motter had no choice but to acquiesce and award me the part of Lob.
. And so, all but typecast at 15, I found myself cast in yet another geriatric character part. And it’s all Lob’s show. The ancient man has invited a group of people to his country home for a weekend of mystery and transformation. He is seen only very briefly at the beginning of act one, before magically disappearing from an armchair- a stunt achieved by ducking stealthily out through a specially rigged fireplace façade when the audience’s attention was drawn elsewhere. Come the big reveal at the denouement, Lob has a much more substantial role to play, in a scene not unlike the one in THE WIZARD OF OZ, where the Wizard finally bestows his gifts on the unlikely trio of petitioners. It was a scene any actor would relish doing- the only good part of the play, as far as I was concerned.
. Rehearsals seemed to drag on f o r e v e r. We just couldn’t seem to find the wit in it no matter how Charlotte would attempt to cajole enlightenment from us. It felt like a doomed project, and since no one could muster much real enthusiasm for the play, we were usually bored, and no doubt boring. We spent the time monkeying around, goofing off, and trying to make each other laugh. When showtime came, we had two student matinees to get through before our one evening show- more like a sentence than a run. These afternoon performances were always packed, because astute fifth and sixth period teachers realized that if they sent their classes to the play, they would get two free hours of blissful on the clock respite, so most did.
. I had a shitload of makeup to apply to transform my youthful face into the face of 200 year old Lob. It was a very involved process that took a good hour to apply, but seconds to wipe away with cold cream and tissues. Our first show went okay, but my classmates were just as put-off by the material as we actors were, and they made beelines for the exits with great haste when the curtain fell. The following day, my brief appearance in act one went off without a hitch, but as the show progressed, our fellow students became less and less responsive. In fact, they turned gradually from an audience to a mob, talking loudly and whistling and hissing and throwing crumpled programs on the stage and completely ignoring our efforts. I knew student audiences were iffy, but this was ridiculous. The din from the house grew so great that we had to SHOUT to be heard above them. Without question: we were bombing!
. It was at this point, that the redoubtable Ms. Motter unexpectedly strode out onto the stage and called “HEY NOW!”
. We were absolutely floored. Ms. M. was such a stickler for strict professionalism, we could never imagine this happening in any hypothetical scenario. We flocked to the wings to see what was going down. Charlotte Kay Motter raised her hand with the authority of an Admiral and tersely lectured the students about their terrible manners, calling them “rude” and “selfish” and “ignorant” for so ungraciously accepting the gift we were offering them. Pacing the stage, she seethed: “These students worked hard for many, many hours to bring you this show. If you aren’t mature enough to appreciate all their hard work- you can all just LEAVE NOW AND GO BACK TO CLASS!”
Stunned silence. But no one moved an inch. In shock, they could not actually believe what they just heard. So Ms. Motter repeated herself, chiding: “HOUSELIGHTS UP, PLEASE. THE SHOW IS OVER! You should all be ashamed of yourselves!” The students shuffled out, mumbling quietly to themselves, and runners had to be sent to the teacher’s lounge to inform the loafing instructors that they suddenly had to return to their classrooms and finish out the sixth period. So it was, that DEAR BRUTUS was stopped cold, abbreviated, terminated before we could even get to act two. And because the second half of the play never happened, I didn’t even get to do my only big scene.
. After closing the curtain, our furious director assembled us all together onstage to reassure us that this fiasco was not our fault, and that she thought we were a fine bunch of young adults doing a good job with the play, encouraging us to gear up for our third and final performance the following evening. Surely our friends and family would not be as cruel and viscous as our clodlike classmates. Trudged back to the dressing room in shock, I sat in glum silence sullenly removing my extensive old age make-up.
. Word must have gotten around. The evening performance generated the smallest crowd that any of us could ever remember at a school play. Cast members probably discouraged their own people from coming. No matter. We weren’t too disappointed. In fact, most of us were more inclined to feel relieved. At this point we just wanted to this blasted turkey put out of its misery. It was a small audience, but polite. They giggled occasionally, and applauded long enough for everybody to take their bows at the curtain call, so the whole thing ended on a graceful note. Still, I don’t remember DEAR BRUTUS with a whole lot of bitterness or disappointment. It was… an experience. (Probably an experience every actor should endure at least once in their theatrical careers.)
. Thinking about it, the Shakespeare quote the play was founded on seemed very apropos: “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars- but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Kevin very much wants to be THE MALE ANIMAL, but it is not his time to be Top Dog.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.