باران ساز

کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 21

باران ساز

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متن انگلیسی فصل

Rainmaker

I gave the pool my daylight hours—crack of dawn to dusk. At night, it was all theater.

My epiphany on the Blue Ridge compelled me to stop by the Daytona Playhouse to see if I could help out backstage. I just wanted to be a part of the production. Ray Jensen, the artistic director of the playhouse and the director of the soon-to-open musical, The King and I, asked if I had ever acted before. I timidly shrugged. Yes? I was going to add, “Not that much,” but before I could open my mouth, he said, “Great, how would you like to be in The King and I?”

The part was mine! But, wait, what part? Ray said, “The Kralahome, the King’s prime minister and right hand.” He handed me the script and said, “We rehearse in an hour. Try to memorize your lines by then.” I looked at him dumbfounded. He laughed. “I’m kidding. You have a week.”

I learned my lines in no time, and my castmate, Louis Rego, assisted me with my extensive makeup. He applied purple eye shadow to my lids and the bronze body makeup everywhere else, in an attempt to turn an Irish and German kid Siamese. The makeup went a long way toward convincing me that I could pull off the performance. I was intimidated and nervous about doing a full-fledged production, in a musical no less, but for some reason I’d been given this opportunity. I was not going to waste it.

After early performances I would remove the purple eye shadow, but it left a distinct pink hue on my eyelids. I drew a lot of attention (including some unwanted romantic advances) as I went around town with my eyes painted pink. I consulted Louis for advice. He told me to put a layer of Vaseline on my lids prior to the makeup. That would allow me to wipe it all off after the show without leaving any color behind. Perfect. I did as Louis instructed.

In a very physical performance under the hot stage lights, near the end of the play, the Vaseline began melting into my eyes. Apparently, I had applied too much. I tried to wipe it away but the damage was done: my eyes were stinging and burning and everything on stage was a blur, though I could make out the shapes of people and objects just enough to fake my way around. I gave a disastrous performance. Or that’s what I thought. At the end of the play when the king was dying, the Kralahome was bereft and I knelt down by his majesty’s side to recite a few mournful last words. Vaseline tears streamed down my face, forming a small puddle on stage. As I struggled to concentrate, from the darkness of the audience I could hear sympathetic murmurs. Did I hear people crying?

At the curtain call, my applause was much bigger than it had ever been. After the show, audience members and cast congratulated me on a great performance. No one knew that I was using a PEV (Performance-Enhancing Vaseline).

Later that night, I thought about what it would be like if I could elicit that kind of reaction in people by really feeling the emotion, truly experiencing the pain of the character—allowing real tears to flow or relishing real affection or getting overtaken by real anger or feeling real anything on stage.

I’d gotten a taste of what it was to be an actor: a real actor with a real audience. I gave something to the audience, and they fed off me. And then I fed off them. I could feel a kind of hive mind at work in the darkness of the theater. A symbiosis. A connection. I didn’t have any craft. And I didn’t have a vocabulary to describe it then. But I felt its power. And I wanted more.

After The King and I, I acted in There’s a Girl in My Soup. And then Ray Jensen asked Louis and me to produce Tennessee Williams’s play The Night of the Iguana. We agreed. Let’s see what producing is about. About three days before we opened, Ray Jensen quit. He’d been embroiled in a fight with the board of directors and tempestuously walked out.

With nowhere else to turn, the board asked Louis and me to take over. Louis was more experienced, and he thought it best if he called the show and handled the technical aspects, while I stepped in as creative director. I had three days to put the finishing touches on the play, which centered on a defrocked priest, Shannon, who’d ended up in subtropical Mexico and was coming to terms with his failures.

The play was about self-imprisonment, how we can be trapped by our own decisions, our own inadequacies. I thought about how I’d felt jailed by the rain on the Blue Ridge Parkway. What if we could make it rain on stage? I was imagining a gossamer wall of water, a wall you could see through but couldn’t fully penetrate. It was perfect for the story.

I talked to the construction guy and we devised a plan to fashion a system so that rain could hit the roof and then cascade down to form a curtain between the actors and the audience. The water would flow into a trough hidden downstage, which would lead to a basin outdoors. We figured out a way to do it cheaply, without inflicting any damage on the theater.

We took it to the theater board and described how it could safely be done, but some complacent board members weren’t comfortable with such a “crazy” idea. “We don’t need to do that,” they said.

“We don’t need to do anything,” I argued. “None of us needs to be here. But we’re here to tell the story the best we can for our audience. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

I fought for it and eventually won. It rained on stage. It wasn’t just a visual trick, it supported and amplified the story. Our audiences loved it. They gasped in awe.

A year before, I was a police science major. Now I was demanding rain. And getting rain.

As the Playhouse’s season was ending, my brother heard about parts in the chorus of the annual Summer Music Theater. I auditioned with a song I knew well from my nights at the Aku Tiki: Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender.” Not your typical audition song for musical theater, but it was all I had in my hip pocket, so I gave it a shot.

Ed and I both made the cut. (In retrospect, I don’t think the local talent pool was that deep.) We were offered the summer gig. It paid $75 per week. Terrible money, even back in 1978. But we weren’t doing it for the money.

The lineup was Two Gentleman of Verona, Pirates of Penzance, and Damn Yankees.

I loved Damn Yankees, of course, because it was about baseball. In the cast was a talented but reckless actor, Kevin McTeague, who played the role of Mr. Applegate, aka the Devil. The role was fun and wicked and powerful. I coveted that part.

One day, McTeague disappeared. We heard he’d split with a girlfriend to parts unknown. I thought maybe I would throw my hat in the ring. Maybe I could play Mr. Applegate. But I never followed through on my impulse. I was just a kid. I’d barely made the chorus; I’d be foolish to think I had a shot at the part. I wasn’t ready.

For the first time, I felt the pang of wanting more than I had, more than I was given, more than I’d allowed myself to think was possible. Someday I should play that role, I thought. Maybe even on Broadway.

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