Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tears, and a Clown

Our high school, like a LOT of high schools, put on a production of "Our Town".
Why not? No scenery.
Some chairs, two step ladders, you're done.

I, along with a lot of my friends, auditioned.
Everyone had some part to play.
Rehearsals were like playing house in a small town with only my bestest friends living in it.

Our director was a small woman with a big personality.
She could make the biggest trouble makers behave.

Even Bob.
Bob also had a big personality.
Only Bob was a teenager and didn't know when to turn it off.
Bob was like a big, clumsy puppy, running around trying to get affection and approval.

Bob played the father of the female lead, Emily.
A mature father figure. Ha!

If you are familiar with "Our Town", you know it's a three act play following the lives of Emily and George, two young people growing up, growing old, and dying in a small town.

Emily dies.
I played Emily.

There's a scene after Emily is dead that she attempts to relive just one day in her life.
It is a tragic, emotional scene in which she realizes how much time we all waste not living, not enjoying, not being with those we love while we have them.

In this scene, Emily realizes that her little brother, who had died young, is still alive and getting ready for school upstairs. She turns toward the staircase, arms outstretched, longing to hug him and appreciate him once more. Just once more.

Early on in rehearsals, our director made it very clear to me that she expected the audience to weep at this scene.

I said, yeah, yeah, sure.

After one particular practice when I had been goofing off, cracking people up (it's what I do), she told me, "You need to take this seriously. I expect every person who sees this play to cry. They deserve that. It is up to you."

"I can't do that," I told her. "I feel stupid."
She grabbed my shoulders and made me face her. "You will do this."
And when I smirked at the floor, she gave me a little shake until I met her eyes. "You must. Otherwise, I have picked the wrong person to play Emily."

Could I?

Could I really?

From then on, I gave it a little more honest attention.
When others were feeling goofy, I tried not to crack a smile.
When others had to be serious, I was serious for them, too.

Maybe it was the days ticking away till opening night, but there seemed to be a little less horsing around. A little more effort.
A little more weight.

But not Bob.
Bob refused to cut his hair for the play. (Nice, "Dad". Your hair is longer than mine.)
Bob continued to bounce around backstage like a hyper puppy.

Meanwhile, I focused on that one scene.
That one motion.
That one moment when I turn to the stairs, reaching for a brother I hadn't appreciated in life and now it was too late.
I figured, if I could nail that, I'd have it.

I practiced at home.

I made my friends watch me and tell me if my face was right.

Finally, my best friend (who was playing Emily's mom) stopped in the middle of practice and muttered to me quietly, "Cut it out. You're making me cry."
"But..." I sputtered. "It's only me!"
"I know!"

Hello.
I had it.

I had it!

***

Dress rehearsal was surprisingly quiet.

Even Bob (who managed to hide his hair in a ponytail under his suit collar) whispered his jokes and tiptoed while he pranced around.

But it was only a ruse.
This day, he was going to be funny.
You know, to lighten everyone up.

This day, he was going to stand off-stage at the top of the staircase.
And when I turned, arms outstretched to my long-dead little brother, Bob would be standing there, out of site of the director, reaching back for me.

Ha. Ha.
Funny, eh?

But, having worked with Bob for weeks, I was not surprised.
Nor was I distracted. (I am the Ice Queen!)

Because when I turned, tears streaming down my face, I hit Bob with Emily's look of complete loss and heartbreak. Utter despair.

Bob's smile faltered.
He looked back at me confused.

And as the scene continued without a hitch, I could hear his bewildered voice backstage.
"She's crying! She's crying!"

Even as I went on and spoke my lines, in my head I was thinking, "Up yours, Bob."

Later, my friends told me Bob had run from one person to the next backstage muttering, "She's crying!"
To which my friends replied, "We know, Bob. She's been doing it for weeks. Shut up."

But, my favorite report later was how Bob ran up to C-man backstage. "C-man, dude, she's crying!" and C-man looked up wordlessly with tears on his own cheeks.
(Luv ya, C!)

***

That could have been enough.
But it wasn't the best.
Not yet.

The director was pleased with my progress.
She couldn't wait for a real audience.
She couldn't wait for me to feel what it would be like.

I don't remember how many nights the play ran.
Probably only two.
But I remember my own family didn't come to see it until the last night.
And then, eh, kinda only because I begged them to.

So, no big deal.

Everything went as well as expected.
I could hear the satisfying sound of sniffles as I spoke alone on stage.
The curtain fell.
We took our bows.

And as the audience filed out, I leapt off the stage to find my folks who had been sitting near the back of the auditorium.
Floating on that post-production euphoria.
Greeting people I knew as I went.
"Hi!"
"Hey! You made it!"
"Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it."

And finally coming up behind my mom and my sister.
"Hey!" I bubbled. "What did you think?"

But when they turned around, they didn't say anything.
In fact, my mom had a hard time trying to smile at me. Like half her face wouldn't move. Like she was having a stroke.
And my sister was blowing her nose and dabbing at her bloodshot eyes.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Are you okay?!?" Oh god. Did something happen?

Did someone die?!

My sister threw her arms around me and hugged me... hard.
"You were really good!" she sobbed loudly.
"What?"
Confused, I looked at Mom, but she couldn't speak. She only sniffed, tried to smile again, and nodded. She wasn't having a stroke. She was trying hard not to cry any more.
"Cut it out!" I said. "It's only me!"
My sister sniffed. "I know!"

I had made my own family weep.
I had moved them.
They, who knew me better than anyone.
They, who knew I was a big goofball and never took anything seriously.
I had touched them and made them feel something big.
They had felt the loss that Emily felt.
They got it.

This time, when I started to cry, I wasn't acting.

11 comments:

Lemon Stand said...

That is sooooo cool. So why aren't we seeing your name in lights?

Mrs. Who said...

Dammit, you've got me crying.

Roses said...

Lemon Stand: Does it count if the lights are those snap lights the kids get for Halloween?

Mrs. Who: Maybe I should have put a tissue advisory on this one?

Thank you both!

Richmond said...

Awesome!

HapKiDo said...

Great story! It definitely gets your eyes welling up.

Anonymous said...

Dang, I'm wiping tears too!
Darin

Roses said...

You are all very kind.

You don't know how much that means to me.

HapKiDo said...

You know, maybe it shouldn't but reading this got me feeling a little better on a day when I desperately need it.

If there ever was a post I could point out & say, "Here, this is Roses", this would be the one.

Absolutely stunned reading this after all this time. Thanks for this.

Roses said...

Hapkido: Just the fact that you read this twice and commented again speaks volumes.

Consider yourself hugged.
Big.

HapKiDo said...

I think this is one of those I'll come back to often when I need to be reminded of what's really important... :-)

Thanks for the hug. I really needed that!

Cute animal videos said...

Good job done with the post !! You got me little teary!