Letters to Holly

Sunday, December 14

Second Show

The director calls us to announce an early call for make-up and lines. Unfortunately, only 2/3 of the leads get this call. When Doc and Brick show up at the normal time, Doc has missed half an hour of practice time. I drive him over to the stage, and we run the last scene as the audience begins to dribble into the building. We try to give Scrooge mnemonic devices. The script has plenty of them -- "fabricated future and counterfeit corpse" -- but they don't stick. Christmas Past has written the first words of her last two lines on her left palm, and now she's worried about the audience seeing them.

When the director called, I was in Spartanburg picking up Mom. It's a three-hour round trip, but she wanted to see the play, and she doesn't like mountains. I leave her to Your Sister while I go to the theatre early. I've warned them about what this play has become.

The dressing room still has no heat, and all of our clothes are a toasting 30 degrees when we put them on. So we at least feel properly Victorian. The costume lady has fixed my britches. I realized right before last night's show that the backside has split open. Thank God for black underwear.

Act One drags and drags as people clamber for lines.We've done this show every days since last Sunday. Our brains are mush. The line trouble is spreading to other actors. Scrooge mangles his first scene with Fred the nephew, giving away the scene's punchline early and forcing himself to repeat it to get Fred off the stand. Marley forgets the easiest line of the play ("A year ago today."). He is forced to say "I don't know" and Scrooge has to work Marley's correct line into his own. The leads are becoming fairly adept at ad-libbing by necessity, but that skill is backfiring: They add to many words to their dialogue and become lost when they realize they're not saying script words anymore. Brick sits next to me the entire first act, and he is shaking with laughter as the others lose themselves and freeze onstage. When we are alone during intermission, we practically on the floor laughing. We've reached that point. It's all goofy now.

The crux of the play is Act Two's conclusion, and that begins when Christmas Future takes the stand. Tonight, Scrooge leaps over an entire page of material with him and detonates the crucial "confession" scene. As he harangues the ghost, my character is reduced to simple yes and no answers. But tonight, Scrooge asks a question requiring a noun-verb answer, and I don't have one. I mumble a generic answer and then look to the translator to improvise and answer. He wisely jumps us ahead in the script. But Scrooge is now lost more.

The end is again the two actors scrambling their conversation, and we three ghosts are lest on the far stage left, whispering to each other as we realize we are wandering in the wilderness and our Moseses are working without maps. Tonight, the judge is clearly feeding them lines from his bench, but they are ignoring the actual lines as they follow their own dim notions of where they are in the script. We finally, finally get to the blessed line that gets us offstage ("Let's all go to my house for a party"), and we practically run passed the attorneys before they can leap back into the quicksand of wrong lines.

The director pulls me aside right before I leave. "You never complain," she says. I feel a little two-faced about this. I vent here, but remain optimistic there. I don't see the need to grumble aloud and add to the drama. I ask here why I should grumble there. I get to be Cratchit, and I have the most fun role as Future Christmas. I don't have to carry the show. I know my lines. I'm the youngest cast member. We're almost at the end of opening week. Monday's wings and beer are closer every hour. And we both joke: This is the best ad-lib exercise anyone could ask for. It's a different show every night.

The missus, my mom, and I dissect the show when I get home, and we stay up very late recreating what we saw. But here's the highlight of the day. As we talked earlier about British accents, Mom asked if we would sound like Monty Python, whom she could never decipher. How can they be funny if you can't understand them? Oh, but they're hysterical, I contend and grab my Python scripts. I read her the Dead Parrot sketch in my normal voice, and my Mom is grabbing her sides in laughter. I've tried to advocate Python to her since high school. And here we are.

Yeah, why should I grumble?

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