86 Cued Up

Here I go, I thought, as I got ready to head to the theater a bit after dinner on Friday. Opening night.

“Are you psyched?” Lee Ann asked me, as I headed out the door.

“Psyched? I am flying!” I responded. It was actually happening. I was about to perform the largest role I had ever done.

“That’s great. Well, we’re all going to be there to root you on. Terry and I should get ready to go, I guess.” And she went into Terry’s bedroom, while I headed out the front door.

I had opened the door when I suddenly realized that I wanted to have something to read while backstage, just in case I couldn’t talk to anybody, so I pulled the door of the room closed again and returned to my bedroom to grab a book. I was about to leave again, but I froze when I heard my roommates’ voices.

“You still think this is going to be bad?” Lee Ann asked. “She’s really worked hard on this play.”

“I don’t know,” Terry answered. “She was good in the small roles she did last year, but this one is really big and more complicated. I told you when she was cast I thought it was too much.”

“I remember. I disagreed then, and I still do. I think you’re underestimating her.”

“Maybe. But seriously, you saw how she freaked out just dancing with Bill. How is she going to play a loving newlywed on stage?”

“I don’t know.”

“Me, neither. I just don’t know how she’s going to pull it off.”

How… how could she say something like that? Or even think it? I peeked out my door, but I didn’t see them. Cautiously moving along the wall, I confirmed that they were still in Terry’s bedroom.

“You’re not going to tell she did a poor job, are you?”

“Of course not!” insisted Terry. “I’m going to the show to support her. I’ll keep my opinion to myself.”

“And she might actually be good.”

“I hope so,” she said skeptically.

I was trapped. They would be horribly embarrassed if they knew that I had overheard them, but I had to leave and they would hear the door open again. Fortunately, being as wound up as I was also meant that I could sometimes see the obvious solution. Chiding myself for almost missing it, I just opened our door and called out, “Hey guys, I forgot my book!” Then I pretended to grab it from my bedroom and left again with a cheery “See you there!”

I couldn’t believe it, though. How could Terry doubt me? She’s the one who had known Marsha since the beginning of freshman year. Hadn’t they talked about acting at all? Well, to be sure, she and I hadn’t really said much about it; in fact, I’d explained about blocking and she had seemed interested, and hadn’t mentioned that ‘I’ had already done so the year before, so maybe not. How well had she and Marsha known each other, anyway?

Partway to the theater, I stopped and shook my head. This was not going to work; I couldn’t be worrying about what my roommate thought, not if I wanted to give a good performance. I wanted to give one good enough that she would be amazed, and take back what she had just said about me. I wanted her to admit that I had surprised her. I wanted… I shook my head again to clear it. I couldn’t be thinking about Terry, not now.

I could feel the tension when I entered the dressing room. Naomi and Jo were already in front of the makeup mirrors, and I would have to wait my turn. I was the first to go onstage, so I thought I should have had first crack at the mirrors. If I had not gone back for my book, if my roommates hadn’t decided to tear me down behind my back, I would have been here first. It wasn’t fair.

I opened my mouth to say something, but just as I did, Naomi turned to me. “Hey, Marsh. Do you want to get in here? You’re on stage before I am.” I snapped my mouth shut in embarrassment.

“Actually,” I admitted, looking at the clock, “there’s plenty of time. You go ahead. You’re doing Jo’s make up as well as yours.”

“Not until I get my base done, she’s not,” Jo chimed in. “I can do that much myself.”

“So I’ll wait,” I concluded. “I brought a book to read, anyway.” I will not be a stuck-up diva, I promised myself.

I didn’t really want to be reading just now, but I couldn’t justify pushing my way ahead; not now. Of course, I wasn’t actually getting any reading done. I kept hearing Terry’s voice: “I don’t know how she’s going to pull it off.” “… this one is really big and more complicated…”

I snapped the book shut in frustration.

“Something wrong, Marsh?” Jo said, looking up.

“No, just a bit of opening night jitters, I guess.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. I told my friends to come tomorrow night, so I could almost think of this as a rehearsal.”

“No!” Naomi yelped.

“Yeah, seriously, Jo,” I chimed in. “I’ve got all my friends coming tonight… and I really want to impress them.” And Vicky should be coming too, I reminded myself, probably with Kevin.

“I’m kidding!” she protested. “I’m going to go all out, tonight. Just… I’m just getting a bit nervous, that’s all.”

“Neither of you should be nervous,” Naomi scolded us. “You were fine in rehearsals; Alvin cast you both, and he knows what he’s doing.” She stood up. “OK, Marsh, I’m done. Jo, let’s have a look.”

As I sat down, a knock came at the entrance to our dressing room. “Are you ladies decent?” Alvin called.

“Decent?” Naomi answered superciliously. “We’re spectacular. Come on in.”

“I just wanted to drop this off,” he said, walking in with a large bouquet of flowers. “Looks like you have an admirer, Marsh.”

“Me?” I squeaked. “Who’s it from?” Maybe my roommates had sent them, I thought. That would have been a nice gesture, no matter what Terry said about me.

“I didn’t know the guy, Marsh. Sorry.” He put the flowers on the makeup table next to me. “I’m going to address the cast in the green room fifteen minutes before curtain. See you then.” And he left.

“A secret admirer, Marsh?” Jo cooed. “Sounds like somebody might have a date for House Parties after all.”

“I have no idea who this is from,” I protested. I had been sure that I had successfully discouraged every guy who might have been making eyes at me, much less who going to be doing something so disgusting as sending me flowers. I stared at them as though they were going to jump me.

“Aren’t you going to see who it’s from?” Naomi prompted me.

“Oh, right.” I gingerly took the note that had been stuck to the flowers and opened it. And gasped, “It’s from my high school drama teacher! Why is Mr. Condrin here?”

“Your drama teacher?” Jo echoed. “That’s really cool!”

“Yeah, except…” Suddenly all I could think of was the story Alvin had told about Camelot. “The last show he directed me in… I missed an entrance and screwed up a scene.” Or rather, Marsha had done so, but he wouldn’t know the difference. “What if he expects me to mess up again?”

“Will you cut it out?” Naomi snapped. “Stop talking yourself into a bad performance. If he came all this way, it has to be because he remembers you fondly and wants to support you.”

“Maybe,” I muttered. All I could think of was that Alvin had expected Marsha to be doing this role. He’d assigned me a much smaller one. And if Marsha could have made that error, what might I do? I managed to get my make up all right, but a lot of the joy had gone out the evening, to be replaced with dread. I should have just confessed that I couldn’t do it, I scolded myself. Alvin knew what he was doing, all right, and he cast me as comic relief, not the lead.

I sat quietly through Alvin’s opening night pep talk. It was all about how hard we had worked and how we were a great cast and a lot of other stuff. Mr. Condrin used to say that, too, and then I – or rather, Marsha – had gone and blown it.

When he was done, Alvin come over and squatted down in front of me. “Head up, Marsh,” he said quietly, so that nobody else could hear. “I know you’re nervous. This is a big role. But I saw you all through rehearsals. Whatever you did in your old life, I promise you, you can do this. I had plenty of chances to replace you, but you proved that you could do it. Not some other version of you. You.”

I looked up. That sounded positive.

“Stage fright is perfectly normal. But you have the ability, and you worked hard, and you will be fine.” He straightened up, and spoke aloud, “I’ll be back at intermission. Break a leg, all!”

“Places, everybody,” called the stage manager.

Jo and I exchanged hugs. Jared came over and gave me a fist bump. I headed out to the stage, and waited for the radio announcer’s voice and my cue.

Applause greeted me when I made my first entrance, and I thought I heard a few of my friends shouting my name, but I ignored them, and forced myself not to smile. That wouldn’t have been in character, and I needed to be in character, right now. I could feel the stage-fright butterflies brushing their wings against the walls of my stomach.

Fortunately, the radio announcer had a few lines yet before I had to speak, which gave me a chance to collect myself, and focus on being a young newlywed starting a guest-house with her new husband. By the time Jared made his entrance, and we moved into our choreographed kiss, habit built of two months worth of rehearsals took over, and I was able to ignore the butterflies’ fluttering.

I could hear the audience listening intently. They chuckled appreciatively at the antics of our young fake architect, Chris. They applauded at Giles’ verbal take-down of the overbearing Mrs. Boyle (Jo playing her role with verve), and I had to wait until they finished to restart my line after a slight stumble. On the whole, though the scene just… flowed, and Paravicini’s scene-ending wicked laugh caused more than a few intaken breaths.

One very quick scene change later (and a backstage costume change for me), and we were into the second scene. We had the audience. Pete was playing the eccentric Paravicini with incredible flair, drawing suspicious murmurings on almost every other speech. Cody’s bass rumblings gave a solid grounding to his portrayal of the gruff Major Metcalf, and though it all, Jared and I seemed to just click as though we actually had been together for a year. When I ended the act by discovering Mrs. Boyle’s dead body and screaming, more than a few girls in the audience screamed along with me.

During the intermission, we were bouncing with enthusiasm in the green room. Alvin stepped in to quell the congratulatory air.

“Great first act, folks. But please remember that we have another act to do. Don’t get too cocky. Remember your timing, remember your eye contact, and have fun.”

“Well, I’m dead now, and I’m going live it up!” Jo cracked. “I’m just going to sit down here and listen to the rest of you work.”

We all got into position behind the curtain and back into character. I had to force down my excitement into the state of panic that Mollie was displaying over the shock of finding Mrs. Boyle, and Jack took charge of the scene as Detective-Sergeant Trotter. The second act was even more exciting for me, because that’s where I had my best scenes: a tender moment with the young and confused Chris, followed by a clash with the now suspicious Giles, involving the two of us accusing one another of deceit.

“Mollie, what’s come over you?” Jared asked plaintively, near the end of the latter scene. “You’re different all of a sudden. I feel as if I don’t know you any more.”

“Perhaps you never did know me,” I responded, bitterly. “We’ve been married how long – a year? But you don’t really know anything about me. What I’d done or thought or felt or suffered before you knew me.”

He took a second to stare at me before continuing with his sorrowful accusation, “Molly, you’re crazy…”

“All right then,” I snapped. “I’m crazy! Why not? Perhaps it’s fun to be crazy!”

He came right back with an angry, “What the hell are you…?” and then after a second, he continued, “… doing… Mollie? … Why would you say that?”

What was he doing? He had already finished his line, why was he still talking? As I looked at him with shock, I saw that his eyes were wide and staring at something behind me; or more correctly, as I realized to my dismay, at nothing. Pete, as Paravicini, was supposed to enter right then, from behind me. He was supposed to interrupt us. But obviously, the two of us were still alone on stage. We had used up all of our lines for the scene, confident that Pete would come in. And he hadn’t. We were stuck.


  1. scotts13 says:

    Sadly, I’ve developed the bad habit of skimming over parts of what I read when they seem irrelevant or uninteresting; the excessive (to me) detail about the play has again triggered that response. On a less personal note, is this a real play we’re supposed to recognize? If not, the use of the proper names of characters (which we’ve never heard before and never will again) is distracting and confusing. Much better to simply say “the Detective-Sergeant” and drop the “Trotter”.

    The story proper has enough characters to track, and some of them are already difficult to distinguish.

  2. Russ says:

    > On a less personal note, is this a real play we’re supposed to recognize?’

    Um, yeah. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is one of the classic murder mystery plays, now in its 58th year of consecutive performances at the West End Theater in London (at over 24,000 performances the longest running play anywhere, ever). We’ve been talking about it since chapter ten. In this particular case, I promise you, the detail is not superfluous.

  3. scotts13 says:

    >> Um, yeah. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is one of the classic murder mystery plays

    Ah. You mentioned the title (not, I think, the author) but since that rang no bells I assumed it was made up or obscure. As uncultured as it sounds, not all of us care for live theater. Onward, then – I’ll take it on faith the name “Trotter” is significant. (GRIN)

  4. von says:

    The play has played an odd role in the story, and certainly one that is very different than I thought it would. The trick, for me, is the role of the various tensions in the book, and how they come out in this chapter.

    In that light this chapter is, for me, an interesting mixed bag.

  5. scotts13 says:

    Hmm, the real play within the fictional story… and it’s significant. What odds will I get it turns out Marsh is an entirely normal (except perhaps mentally) young actress who got too far into a prior role, and forgot it wasn’t real? A real woman, playing a fictional character, who’s playing a different fictional character… actually seems a bit like Christie herself, circa 1926. (Thanks, Wikipedia)

  6. von says:

    If this weren’t first person, that would be an interesting twist. It hoped for a while that the whole thing was going to be an advertisement for the play 🙂 Certainly the play within the story could be very interesting.

    I had originally hoped that the play was going to include the climax of the story; but this hope was shattered long ago. Given the build-up tho, it seems to me, literarilly, that the play should at least play (pun intended) a large role in the story. I am afraid I am doomed to disappointment there, too 🙁

    Second fun question. Now that some of us have said who our favorite character is (feel free to add to the list); what is it that you ‘want’ to happen, or to find out about? Do you want to find out how this happened? What really happened? Who Jeremy is, really? If Marsh will ever have sex with Jared?

    What is your burning question… that’s my question for you.

    Mine is, how will Marsh’s father react once he actually understands what has happened, and how foolish he has been in his handling of the situation so far?

    (Not my only question, just my burning question)

  7. scotts13 says:

    >> If this weren’t first person, that would be an interesting twist.

    The first person voice is not that big a problem; after all, she’d HAVE to delusional to some extent to make the idea work. The bigger problem would be the interaction with the people in on Marsh’s secret; having her imagine those as well is a much longer stretch.

    Frankly, I’ll admit I have no real idea what’s going on in the story. To extrapolate from what’s been shown – looking for the researchers in a time travel experiment – would indicate a story that’s barely begun. At 86 chapters, I have a hard time believing that; it’s already getting tiresome. So it must be some sudden twist that will be revealed to everyone’s surprise.

    As to what I “want to have happened,” that would be for Marsh’s transformation to be a real experience. I have very little patience for “it was all a dream” or “you could always have clicked the ruby slippers” or somesuch. I not only want but NEED for everything to be explained at the end, otherwise I’ll have to print the story out, have it bound nicely, and cackle maniacally while I feed it into the fireplace. I’m not that fond of puzzles and mysteries in general; they annoy rather than intrigue me. Jeremy is part of that.

    For the oddly narrow and probably facetious question about Jared… it depends on the revelations above. Anywhere from “Yay, healthy adjustment!” to “That’s just wrong…”

  8. von says:

    >>The bigger problem would be the interaction with the people in on Marsh’s secret; having her imagine those as well is a much longer stretch.

    Yes, this was what I was referring to. If it was all internal I would agree with you.

    The question about Jared was not meant to be a question about Jared, but a listing of possible ‘questions you want answered’.

  9. von says:

    I, personally, still think that hypnotism fits best with the facts on the ground so far. Not a casual hypnotism tho, but one that was very involved. Super hypnotism. The time-travel hypothesis makes no sense. Based on the Dean’s statement (unless it has been edited) I would argue that the hypnotism was partially user-determined as well.. that Marsha deliberately decided to go ‘all the way’ and become a boy in her memories.

  10. scotts13 says:

    I have even less patience for hypnotism, brainwashing, memory erasing or implanted memories, and the like. I find the entire concept abhorrent, and presumably because of that I’ve almost never enjoyed a story of that sort. The closest to acceptable was Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller. Read it; it should scare you, too.

  11. von says:

    I wasn’t speaking of what I wanted to happen, but of what seems to fit the facts best. I don’t know I have the same prejudice you do, I even have a memory erasing story on my drawing board.

  12. Jacana says:

    I’ve been reading for a while.

    I’m in my school’s Drama club (highschool) and after we finished our fall play (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abriged)) our Drama coach told us to come up with suggestions for a serious play.

    Thinking of this, I suggested Moustrap, and the idea took off.

    I got cast as Trotter, and we actually just finished our last performance last Saturday. I wanted to thank you for giving me the idea to suggest this. I got cast in the biggest role I’ve ever had (SO MANY MONOLOGS!!).

    I really look forward to seeing how this story will progress.

  13. Russ says:

    That is so cool – I’m glad you had the opportunity. And thanks for letting me know!

  14. April says:

    But you don’t really know anything about me. What I’d done or thought or felt or suffered before you know me.” <– it's actually "knew me"

    Aside from grammar, my heart was pounding the entire time I read this chapter. Great work! 😀

    (another missing comment … I must be doing something wrong)

  15. Richard says:

    Ok I just had to respond to von here. I’m sure you’ve read the whole story by now but I’m commenting like you didn’t. While the hypnosis theory has some merit, I don’t think that it would be an experiment done by the physics department.

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