After raising the money, casting the play, starting rehearsals, and finding a place to stage it, the playwright found out that his backer had stolen away, leaving a smattering of IOU’s behind. The publicity people had also vanished, eloping with the thin air. All that was left of their campaign were scattered envelopes and mailing labels, endlessly spewing out of the printer.
Even the set designer, the one person the playwright trusted, had fallen apart at the seams. He clattered about in a state of free fall, designing the same scene over and over again, complaining that he had predicted it all. This sort of thing was to be expected, he said, it was bound to happen. The set designer took on the appearance of a person suffering a fatal disease; inconsolable, drained, piqued. He had become his own worst enemy and offered the playwright little relief.
The playwright was now on his own. The props lay about like lost homing pigeons with no place to go. The stage manager, frozen in her seat in the auditorium, sealed her lips in a smirk and would not even respond to her name. And members of the cast were now tossing hard looks at the playwright, muttering words of rebellion. Testing whether his play (or any other play for that matter), so conceived and so dedicated, could long endure. To top it off, the leading man had exploded into a bitter, resentful temper tantrum. A big bushy-haired bruiser, his carbuncular face flushed with wine, he shook his locks like a dragon, and spewed denunciations; accusing the playwright of everything under the sun. He demanded that the schedule be adjusted to fit his needs. I have other work to do, he said, and besides the lines were too difficult to memorize.
Ratcheted up by the fury of the leading man, the cast called for a break. They gathered in the green room, and decided that the playwright should be put on trial. While the cast argued tactics in the green room, the sound technician played Chopin on the grand piano in the pit. The playwright loved Chopin. He went about humming sweet nothings with arpeggios, waiting for the ax to fall. He would do nothing to spoil the mood, nothing to insult Chopin.
The cast filed in, silent, seething, bent on denunciation. Surrounding the playwright on stage, some sat on stools, others rested heads on one another’s laps; studying the playwright for any sign of remorse. The playwright fell into automatic, preparing for the worst. The cast questioned his motives in writing the play, and his ability to stage it. They were tired of rehearsing the scenes. The only way to get the play on, they said, was to let them do it their way. The task would be difficult, but they welcomed the challenge. Hadn’t the playwright told them that they should claim the play as their own? Would he object if they asked him to leave? They promised to invite him to rehearsals, and reassured him that he’d be in for a surprise on opening night.
The playwright didn’t know what to say. He felt like he had been glued to his seat and the seat had caught on fire. Finally he commented that the cast owed the public a reasonable facsimile of his play. People paid good money to see his work. The cast had the obligation to put on a semblance of what he had written. Give or take a few changes. The theatre is like life, he said, rub it the wrong way and it will leave you. Think of Aladdin. Didn’t he patiently rub the lantern until the genie appeared? We can all learn from Aladdin.
The cast stiffened noticeably.
Then the playwright made a fatal mistake. He said that Moss Hart once remarked that performers were forever stuck in their childhood, like flies in a dish of amber. The cast rose as one, furious with the playwright. None of them knew who Moss Hart was, and messing around in a dish of sticky amber was beyond the pall of their experience. This was not the way to talk to artists, they said. The playwright never took their feelings into consideration. Never listened to what they had to say. The playwright was in a world all his own.
I am in a world of my own, he shouted back. I created it. I took your feelings into consideration from the beginning. I walked around your misgivings on tippy toes. Gave you room to feel whatever the hell you wanted to feel. All I ask is for you to find a way to work without destroying everything in sight. His words fazed them not one whit.
Suddenly the leading man burst in off the street. Right on cue. Something he had never done before. Like a rogue elephant he trumpeted four lettered words and a string of expletives. Slapping his script down at the feet of the playwright, he spit and walked out the door. “Fuck you,” he shouted, slamming the door shut. Then he reeled back in without missing a beat, and delivered his final say-so. “Why are you guys sitting around talking to this idiot?” he roared, spinning his arms like a windmill. “Walk out now and join me! Just say no!” Then he stomped out the door and locked himself out.
The atmosphere trembled with dire circumstance, and there was no way to put a cork on it. The playwright wanted to walk out too. If he stayed, he’d have to put up with even more rage. If he turned the play over to the cast, his play would evaporate. He’d be stuck on the sidelines. A discarded has-been, waiting to be invited to rehearsals, allowed only a gratuitous comment now and then. And there was no guarantee that his play would go up on the boards. He decided that he might as well lose face with whatever face he had left. He apologized to the cast for having mentioned Moss Hart. Regretted that he poured their feelings into a jar of amber. It was terrible that he had not taken their feelings into consideration. He’d level the playing field, put himself at risk. Bond.
All decisions would now be shared with the cast.
The playwright felt relieved that he had got it off his chest. Having risen from the dead, life had a brand new set of wheels. He announced that he would step into the leading role, playing the part that the leading man rejected. I will take my knocks like everyone else, he said. If only you will accept me as an equal. In his heart of hearts he knew he had a terrible time memorizing lines, especially his own. But what other option did he have?
No one said a word.
The playwright put on his philosopher’s cap. He told the cast that the history of theatre was rife with incidents where people turned adversity around and won the day. What counts is getting the play up on the boards, for better or worse, until death do us part. The cast sighed. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, the playwright said, rising to the occasion. A fear of judgment, which is understandable, and a fear of not succeeding where others might have done better. Which is also understandable. If necessary I will do all the roles myself. If anyone wants to leave, I understand. I will not take it as an insult.
Suddenly he felt a deep, unfamiliar calm. A warm smile emerged, surprising him. He stood tall and proud and lingered in his new found smile. The shocked cast rose one by one, defiant as ever. I wish you all well in whatever life pursuits you follow in the future, the playwright said. The cast, with stern pride, like Civil War generals, saddled up their high horses and clip-clopped out the door. Having calculated the playwright’s conditions of surrender, they decided to return home, with a horse and a plow and their pride intact.
The set designer stood in the wings amazed, fully recovered from his dread disease. The sound man dropped Chopin. The stage manager, rising out of her smirk, applauded the playwright. She waved her clipboard at him like a cheerleader. Then she went backstage and carefully placed the homing pigeon props in their proper cages. Over the next few days the set designer created striking cutouts of the characters of the play. The stage manager rolled the cutouts about the stage in a compelling flight of the imagination - from the known to the unknown. A signature of my style, the designer said proudly. Script in hand, the playwright, with new found freedom, took on all the characters at once. He became a man of many faces and voices. Action and dialogue rocketed back and forth on stage with assurance. Joy overwhelmed the team. Together they had built their vision of the play into a satisfying whole, a simple exquisite theatrical experience, totally enveloping the theme of the play. Something fresh and original, pulled together against odds. A free-for-all of cut outs.
On opening night, the audience rose with a standing ovation. The playwright took innumerable bows to great applause. The set designer and stage manager joined him on stage. Taking their well deserved kudos together, they applauded the audience fervently. The critics went bananas. Here it is, in the first decade of the new century, one critic said, and this play will continue to resonate in the next. A daring dramatic leap; transcendent, metaphysically significant. Most of all, entertaining. Endlessly inventive mobile images criss- cross the stage, like homing pigeons, nesting at just the right place, in the nick of time. Beckett’s minimalism topped by a new theatrical paradigm. Treasure the play like you treasure your life.
The playwright made a fortune. Revenge was sweet and profitable. Riding out of town, he rolled down the convertible top, placed his aviator glasses on the tip of his nose, opened the glove compartment and tucked the check inside. Picked up by the wind, the check flew out the window. Well, on the runway of life you never know what’s coming off next, he thought, as he reached out into the thin air, with high spirited integrity.