Cunning Old Fury / 11 November 2001
I’m tackling a dual role in this play that is written in purple ditto ink, bound in yellow, a combination of Adventures and Looking-Glass, assembled by a professional contemporary playwright, the sex cut out, scenes collapsed and conjoined, short and palatable for fourth-graders. I think we all have dual roles. My costume-change is easy, though, unlike some of my classmates who have to hustle backstage (the cafeteria kitchen) and quickly untie and -hook some enormous papier-mache monstrosity or god forbid you’re one of the playing cards, lugging around twin pieces of painted plywood like The End Is Nigh or Eat At Joe’s, these skinny kids, smart and talented (and so no physical coordination whatsoever)—
(Smart and talented but not at acting, not at all, let’s go on the record, maybe at numbers or dioramas or maybe filled with potential more than anything, really, but no potential for acting or even competent memorization of lines. And OK, I’ll include myself among them though at least I have the ability to deliver a line with sincere deadpan apathy [surprise!]. But of course there’s one, S. Green, taller than anyone and probably astonishingly beautiful except no way at this point, and she has projection like nobody’s business, she understands the value of drama and knocks it into the head of every parent out in the cafeteria.)
—smart and talented, trying to move silently in the dark, encumbered by these unbelievably elaborate and awkward costumes. The spray-painted foam, the modified sleeping bags, the glue and glue.
Me, though, just a kind of dumpy, loose, brown, one-piece felt suit, sealed up with velcro, dark socks (brought from home). To change costumes all I have to do is swap tails and cowls and I transform from Mouse to Cheshire Cat. Dealing with safety pins in the shrill chaos of the kitchen. Maybe the first unsmiling Cheshire Cat in the history of this story.
We’re only doing the one show, and you can watch as strings of dialogue fall out of our heads as soon as we spit them out, gone. The wrong syllables are consistently emphasized. Intonations are flatlined. We fumble the Anglicisms and think they’re stupid. Cues are way missed. S. Green covers for people—Don’t you want to tell him something about the queen? Maybe you want to know where she is? We want to die, we want to pee so bad, and the applause is raucous.
We bow and stumble and pictures are taken and there’s juice and this amazing sense of relief and we look around and: We did something, did we do something, didn’t we build something and show it around and wasn’t the applause raucous? Am I nuts or did we create something with just the help of a professional contemporary playwright but otherwise all on our own?
Kids trickle home with their parents, riding in the backseats of dark cars, weird to be at school at night, the construction paper on the walls looking like the work of somebody else, the windows all wrong, but I go spend the night at Marc’s, leaving in a strange car, this was something we arranged before we even knew about this play and even though we were warned about being too tired after our stunning performance we stuck to the plan, really wanting to stay up all night. We don’t make it, but we flip to late-night Showtime, and I don’t even have basic cable, and it’s a laboratory, white, sterile, bright lights up at the ceiling, rows of hospital beds, sheets, and women are sitting up and they have long, black, wavy hair, and they pull off their hospital smocks and they’ve got nothing on underneath, you can see their 1970s breasts and we, we don’t know what to say, but the cafeteria is gone, the applause is gone, the glue and the tail and it’s all gone, and we’ve traded down, that’s clear, we’ve traded it all for something that feels darker, scarier, and I pretend to fall asleep.