Went to a play last night.
It's not all sand, surf, and seafood for us down here. Occasionally we go in for some culture. Play was Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, the play Hello Dolly! is based on and it was put on by the Ohio University Players, a summer rep company in residence here, made up mostly of college and graduate school theater majors with some New York pros brought in to mentor the kids and take on roles that are beyond the talents and skills of the student players. Julie Harris is going to be starring in The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds at the end of the season. The parts of Dolly Gallagher Levi and the irascible merchant of Yonkers, Horace Vandergelder, were played by professionals.
I was in a production of The Matchmaker in college and after the show the twelve year old, Oliver Mannion, asked me which was better, this one or ours. Not having seen ours, I couldn't really say. Our audiences seemed to enjoy our shows. They laughed a lot. I think our production was more rollicking. We played it at a faster pace too. We played it on a bigger stage as well, and our romantic lead, the actor who played Cornelius Hackl, had more room to move about, diving over and behind furniture, throwing himself across the floor, running, leaping, collapsing in dizzied heaps, and showing off all the tricks he'd learned from watching Dick Van Dyke reruns all the time when he was growing up. He was an audience favorite, as a result, but I thought then and still think he was miscast and would have been better in the part of Cornelius' young sidekick, Barnaby Tucker.
I played Cornelius.
And I'm inclined to say that their Cornelius was better because he was better-suited for the part and that their Barnaby was better than our Barnaby and better than I would have been even.
Our Dolly was just fine, even if she wasn't a professional, but our Vandergelder didn't come close to theirs. Theirs was funny and charming, in an irascible way, and he didn't let his Cornelius or his Barnaby or his Dolly steal the show out from under him.
But there's no way I'll ever know, is there? I enjoyed their show and didn't spend much time thinking about our show while I was watching it. Doesn't mean our show wasn't on my mind.
Thursday when I went to the theater to pick up our tickets I loitered in the lobby to study the faces of the members of the company in their headshots which were displayed on the wall just outside the ticket office, trying to guess who would be playing which part, an idle game that was really a matter of me asking myself which face I'd cast in which role if all I had to go on was faces. But I was pretty sure I'd picked out the actress who'd be Mrs Molloy, the young widowed ladies hatmaker who wishes she could live up to her reputation as a wicked woman, on the grounds that if you had in your company of actors those freckles, that cream-colored skin, that snub nose, those pink lips, and that tangle of black hair and you did not attach them to a character named Irene Molloy it's because you also had another perfect arrangement of freckles, cream-colored skin, pink lips, snub nose, and tangle of black hair that belonged to another, better actress and you'd cast her. Since there was only one of these maps of Ireland up on the wall I figured she must have been nabbed for the part and I was right.
Our Irene Molloy had the right combination of freckles, cream-colored skin, snub nose, pink lips, and dark hair too, by the way.
The other lucky guess I made was based on what I call the Carol Burnett Syndrome. Look for the cutest girl who also looks like she has the best sense of humor and the most mobile features and assume she will appear onstage in a hideous costume with the make-up trowled on to make her ugly, old, foolish, or otherwise comically grotesque, playing a small part that she will milk for every last ounce of laughs. I found my candidate and sure enough, she turned up as a clownish servant in an oversized mob cap, giant circles of rouge on her cheeks---meant to make her literally apple-cheeked, but combined with her mob cap and apron, making her look like a half-crazed Raggedy Ann---speaking with a yumpin yiminey accent that made the Muppet Show's Swedish Chef's seem subtle. And she got her her laughs.
Deservedly, and talentedly. A true ensemble player, she saw her character as an extension of the ditsy, self-dramatizing, and overly-romantic rich old lady she works for, doing the rich lady's comic legwork, fetching, carrying, feeding her straight lines and capping off jokes and bits of business in ways that made what was already funny funnier.
Every high school drama club and college theater department seems to have one of these Burnetts. (Professional companies go out and hire character actresses of the required shape, look, type, and age.) Often they're pretty enough, as well as being more than talented enough, that they ought to be playing ingenues but the companies also include an even prettier actress who can handle a love scene but can't do comedy to save her life. This is why, although I never saw who was in there, I can't help thinking that hers was one of the female voices I overheard talking in the office while I was standing there studying their pictures. She, if it was her, and another actress, were talking about a musical she was going to be in, in which she had a small part. The female lead was a "bit of an airhead" who can sing up a storm but apparently doesn't know what to do with herself onstage when there's no music backing her up. Whoever they were, both sounded as if they were used to this sort of thing and even understood and supported the reasons for it, despite the fact that it cost them big roles they coveted and could probably shine in.
I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. I never try. I just do. And while I was still there two more actresses entered the office and added their voices to the conversation and one of them delivered the news that his girlfriend had been at the show the other night.
They talked over each other excitedly, so I'm not sure I got this right, but as far as I could tell one of the actors in the company is having a summer fling with one of the actresses (who may have been one of the actresses in the office) but it's a casual fling and neither one of them appears to think it ought to matter to the girlfriend back home, although it might have been nice if he'd mentioned that the girlfriend was coming into town to see the show.
This has caused some awkwardness for the actress who has to pretend she and the actor are just pals for a few days.
As I was listening to this, I was thinking theater people.
I was thinking it not with a sneer but with a smile of fondness and a pang of nostalgia.
Something else was going on in my imagination as I was looking at those photographs and trying to match faces with the characters they possibly played. I was looking for the faces of our company, trying to find resemblances, trying to remember us as we were then. And I did it. We never had our headshots posted outside our theater but I could see them there nevertheless. Three of the girls in the cast I could see with special clarity.
Of course I did.
I dated them.
Not all at once. And not during run of the show. But that same year. Our Dolly, our Irene Molloy, and our comic servant. That same year I also went with two girls in the next play I was in and one of the girls who did make-up for that show and a girl who lived three floors down in my dorm who was friends with the girl who did make-up.
Remind me again why I left the theatre.
Now you may think I'm bragging, and I guess it does look like I had a heck of a year. But at the time I thought I was practically a monk because another guy in our show---he played the head waiter at our Harmonia Gardens; he was better than theirs---dated all of them.
I don't mean all the girls I dated. Though he did.
I mean all of them.
Every girl in the cast. Every girl who worked backstage. Every girl who was friends with every girl in the cast and every girl who worked backstage.
But if you'd known him and you were girl he'd have dated you too.
Resistance was futile.
Funny thing was, he wasn't at all good looking. He was skinny and kind of homely. In fact, he looked like a rat with a blond afro.
But he was a rock star.
Fronted the best band in a college town full of good bands.
His signature song was Van Morrison's Moondance. He sang that one and at the end of it there'd be at least eight girls at the foot of the stage ready to run away with him right then and there.
Every other girl in the audience was being held back by a boyfriend.
So I dated three girls from our show? Big deal.
He dated all of them.
My friend Annie.
She was the only one I knew who'd ever turned him down and meant it for good and all.
Annie was something of a female him. She was skinny and kind of homely but if she decided she wanted you, you were hers. And she didn't even have to sing Moondance.
It wasn't the case that she decided she didn't want him. Nor was she standing on a principle. She'd just decided that it would be good for him if he couldn't have the whole candy store whenever he wanted it.
By the way, Annie wasn't one of the three.
I was another one who wasn't going to be allowed to run riot in the candy store. Plus, she worried about me. She was afraid she might eat me alive and leave nothing behind but a few well-picked bones.