Well, here we are. Dress rehearsal tonight and the firing squad — otherwise, known as an audience — tomorrow. Gulp!
Do you remember those movies, where the hero looks solemnly out into the darkness of the desert or jungle? He may be a cavalry captain in the American West or a white hunter in Africa, but his words are always something along the lines of: “It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.”
Well, that’s the way I feel today. With just one day to go before opening night, things are going uncannily well. The universe is cooperating for a change, and it makes me nervous. All the hiccoughs have been small. Take the issue of Manon Dumas’ dress.
It was recently borne upon me that Ruth Condomine (played by Manon) couldn’t wear the same dress during breakfast on one day and again in the afternoon of a completely different day. Damn! Cursing my fate, I raced out to the consignment shops, only to find them woefully depleted. Of course, they were: I had picked them over myself. In the end, however, I did find a very good dress (sezs me), but Manon almost cried when she saw it.
Now, unlike me, Manon has character. Faced with a costume she loathes, she does not throw herself on the floor, bang her heels and scream with temper. No, she takes a deep breath, looks at me piteously and says with only a slight quaver in her voice: “Oh well. It will be all right. I don’t mind.”
Now, I know how to respect courage when I see it. My early acting career was blighted, I recall, by the requirement to wear a white leotard on stage which did nothing for my plump little figure. The iron entered the soul. Perhaps as a result, I would never willingly subject an actor to trial by audience looking like a large white sausage or anything even remotely so loathsome. (Not that Manon, who has very sleek lines, could look like a sausage under any circumstances, but you get the idea.)
So away I went, with despair in my heart, to burrow again in the back of my closet, where, I feared, the vein of gold had long since been depleted. And damn me, if I didn’t stumble almost immediately on hidden treasure. You see, last year, I bought a beautiful red silk kimono for my character to wear. It was wrong for the part, but it was an object of great beauty, and I liked owning it. I put it away in the closet, therefore, intending to wear it myself, but I never did. Though I would like to be the kind of person who lounges around the house in red silk, in real life I am more drawn to red tartan flannel. And so, the kimono has lived a quiet life for the past year, forgotten by me and unbesmirched by marmalade and coffee stains. And it is perfect, absolutely perfect, for Ruth Condomine in the breakfast scene.
I would have said that that was that, except that last night, David Holton — who plays Charles Condomine with great charm and is otherwise a very nice person — broke it to me that changing from natty blazer and flannels into full dinner dress during a 60-second scene change was a BIT too exciting. I resisted the temptation to bite him, and I am off again this morning in search of a smoking jacket. (If only I were the kind of person who made lists and then referred to them, I am reflecting bitterly, these things would not happen to me.)
Laura Hall, the third member of the Condomines’ domestic circle, has been much less trouble, on the whole. Her only concern has been to ensure that her costume doesn’t fall off. (It is a little large.) Thanks be to God, we have found a simple and rather elegant solution that doesn’t involve any more life-threatening and possibly heart-breaking expeditions to the back of the closet.
Anyway, the rehearsals — and the demand for new costumes — end tonight. We are all more or less dressed. We have practised endlessly, and we are ready to take possession of the stage at last. No more bridge club rehearsals. No more long drives in the rain and fighting with alien keys. No more startled bridge-players fingering their panic alarms as they stumble into scenes of apparent domestic affray.
I am happy to report that no bridge-players were injured during the preparation of our play. Bridge-players are tough nuts to crack, in any case. They have to be, because they operate in a universe, ostensibly civilized, where the jungle lurks beneath the surface. I know, because I used to play bridge before I saw the light and retired (to universal relief). My memories are painful: the time I bid seven-no-trump on a seven-point hand springs to mind. Unfortunately, I was partnering my mother in that game. She was a doughty character, dangerous to cross. I can still see her face as I put down my hand, and she realized that children are, indeed, God’s punishment for sex. When you have seven points in your hand, mother explained to me coldly, the only decent response is silence.
Back to the theatre, where I fled after being driven out of the bridge halls of the nation. This is a very good-looking production, I think. Especially since I, as Madame Arcati, have decided to axe the red turban. What had once seemed a Good Thing developed a worrying tendency to make dogs howl. Indeed, Juno the Dog helped me to face facts. She took one look at the turban, fled into the garden, dug a big hole and tried to hide in the bottom of it.
All right, all right. The turban is gone. I still have some reservations, however, about the hat I am wearing in Act II. The stage manager, Barbara Merriam, laughed in a very odd way when she saw it swimming into sight last night. I was shaken. Having once believed the hat to be beautiful, I now realize it is funny, “in its comic implication.” Oh well, time is short, and to hell with the reviews. I have decided not to show the hat to Juno the Dog.
What do dogs know about fashion, anyway? They have it easy, don’t they? No worrying over what hat or dress to wear. Take Jake, for example. Long ago, just after the earthquake — which is how I remember the arrival of Jake the Dog in my life — I had one of those unpleasant fact-facing moments with regard to my personal appearance. I would look better, the universe informed me, if I were covered with glossy black fur and walked on four feet.
I remember the moment precisely. It was springtime on the Sparks Street Mall, and hoi polloi was creeping white-faced out of civil service burrows to sniff the air and nibble the darling buds of May. Jake and I were pacing along, more or less majestically. He had me on a short leash and was stalking in that collected way that only ballerinas and athletes share with four-footed creation. As for me, I was gamely trotting along behind on my stout little legs.
On that spring morning, my association with Jake was new, and neither of us had yet realized what an odd couple we made. We passed a young man, sitting on the edge of a planter and eating a sandwich. He paused as we passed and said warmly: “Beautiful!”
“Me?” I said hopefully. “No,” he admitted, “the dog.”
Ever since that morning, I have harboured a suspicion that the human animal would look better if evolution had not deprived us of fur. That’s what I used to think, anyway. As of this week, I’m not so sure. I went to a party last Saturday where costumes were involved. An old friend, who had spent his formative years in the Arctic, chose to appear in an ancient cariboo parka and wolfskin trousers (than which few things are more startling)! His appearance was certainly odd: he looked like a large, hairy sphere. However, it was the smell that made a real impression — a pungent perfume combining ancient dead animal with a delicate overlay of mothball.
The good news for you, dear reader — if you are planning to attend the play — is that Bill does not have a part, and most of our actors smell rather nice. They also look nice and, my God, they are talented. Feel free to book at ticket. You don’t want to miss that hat.
October 21-23, 27-30 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, October 24 at 3 pm
Call 613-842-4913 for tickets.