The Show Did Go On
It's the day of opening night, three-thirty in the morning. Your desk is a Brady Bunch card house of drafts and books and Post-Its, and you slump on the couch, twitchy with reheated coffee and dread, and you shout over the fan, "I hate everything, Halacita, how did we get ourselves into this, why, why?" and she shouts back, "Remind me, Sarita, one N in 'Jeanette' or two?" and you don't even remember, you created these people and you made other people memorize their thoughts and you don't even know how to spell their names. You have dishonored your own dead.
You think to yourself that it is one of two things, this co-producer slumber party sixteen hours before the house opens. It is a great story that you will tell, laughing, along with all the other great stories, the slammed doors and forgotten shoes, the fire alarm going off during tech, the Sunkist vase in the women's dressing room, the showers of plaster on the fire escape, the big-handed grip of fear.
Or it is a sign: that you have made, at last, after years of apprenticeship, the most arrogant and expensive jewel in a diadem of sort-of-horrible-but-mostly-pathetic mistakes.
You make up the couch for Hala and you crawl into bed. You have to sleep, you have to get the five hours the universe has allotted to you, but tomorrow's to-do list is pinning your eyelids open, and when you finally do sleep, it's the next night and the backstage is deserted and Captain Patterson comes into the lobby with half his head gone and says with what's left of his mouth, "You can't polish a turd," and you try to tell him, "Watch me," but no sound comes out.
Then it's morning.
Then it's not. Coffee. Kinko's. More coffee. You pack a bag in your tiny hotel room — Maalox, clean shirt, box office list, smokes, necklaces — and you sit on the bed, you don't want to go, you can't do it.
You stand in the theater by yourself. The booth's window is fixed. The set is dressed. The bottled water is out. Djb is reading a magazine in the box office, a neat stack of programs at his left elbow, the list at his right elbow, clicking a pen, worrying for your sanity as you babble on about how to synch the music cues to the call times, because you keep forgetting to end sentences, or use verbs in them, and did you unlock the elevator, what if there's a fire, what if there's not a fire, why did you use your real name, why, why?
"I booth help there now."
Click-click. "Okay." Click.
Mr. Stupidhead calmly tells you, as if you shouldn't have figured this out for yourself, to synch the call times to the music cues and not the other way around. Doesn't even look up from his computer chess game, just says that "Mad World" is five minutes out so just do it that way, don't worry. You love that kid.
The house is open.
"Thank you, twenty."
You eat Maalox. Your mouth is paper-dry and they won't go down, you can't chew them, and Prager wants to know something about something and when you try to tell him, you emit a little yellow puff of lemon Maalox, and Buglione says, "Jesus, this is nothing. I think you should go back to the internet," and you consider taking that suggestion right that very minute, walking out of the building, dropping the keys down a sewer drain, changing your name to S. Douglas Lastname and living out your days as a blackjack dealer in A.C., where nobody cares. But you don't.
"Thank you, ten."
On the fire escape, Charles and Bruck stand above you and below you, running lines. You smoke, quickly, and you pray, quickly and fiercely. Just let me get through it, just through this one thing, I'll never do it again, my parents brought their friends, my friends brought their friends, I didn't know, I swear I didn't know, I've learned my lesson, never again.
"Thank you, five."
"Mad World" is playing. Mary Therese is in the chute, waiting, bobbing up and down. She looks perfect. She is counting in her head, telling herself things, just like you. Outside, Charles is pacing, and Ginger is snacking on Maalox. "Cemetery Gates" comes on.
"Thank you, two."
The women's dressing room is full. You want to crawl under the counter and sit, surrounded, defended, in that cloud of make-up and spray and crunched Altoids. You can't. The train is leaving the station.
The blackout. The hush. The music cue. Mary Therese shoulders the curtain aside and you close the door behind her, but you can still hear the cue, and you can sense Mr. Stupidhead in the booth, Mr. Stupidhead and Liz, you remember telling Mr. S, "A little bit Sling Blade, a little bit Boards of Canada, you'll know what to do," and he did, the audience is waiting now, in the dark, listening to a hillside with a pond, how Mr. S did that with sound you'll never guess, but it's working, you can hear them sitting, expecting.
The train is not stopping.
"Mary Therese on, Booly in the chute."
You and Prager stand on opposite sides of the exit door, listening. Patterson is just standing in the hall, shoulders squared, waiting, absurdly peaceful. Prager goes to whisper to Patterson, but you stay put, you have to know, and then, at last, the laugh. The house has chosen to side with you. It looks like you might just get away with it.
Ginger is telling a story, and you can hear the house listening to her, following what she says, wondering whether she'll remember her piece of gum.
Mary Charles goes blue, slowly, and then she's on her way.
You've gotten away with it.
Saturday night. Whatever happens now, it's almost over, and you can huddle in the booth and just listen to them, the actors, what they do with the words, playing them like a cello or checkers in the park, all of them proud and lost, just what you meant for them in your head months ago — how have they come to do this for you, these people, why, why? It looks so real. It all looks like a real play, lights and music and everything — how?
You picked good people — the best, as it turned out. You tried to believe. It worked. You got away with it.
Sunday afternoon. It's time to go home; the theater is clean, Ginger has her set furniture back, everything is done, except Charles forgot his tux so you drive it downtown. He lopes through the intersection to meet your car, and you watch him coming, that particular going-into-battle gait he has, and you think to yourself, "When he takes his shoes, it's done," and he takes his shoes and says "thanks," and you'll see each other around, and it's done.
You drive down to the West Side Highway, heading back to Brooklyn. It's not quite done — you still have to re-hem a pair of pants — but the sadness of "done" is with you on the ride home. Now that the fear is gone, you almost miss it. Almost.
Tonight you will sleep like the dead.
August 16, 2004
Tags: curmudgeoning Famous Ghost Monologues Mr. Stupidhead writing