Monday afternoon we started rehearsals for Barefoot in the Park. I had been waiting for that mother-in-law part all summer. Right in the middle of a big monologue, Bud stuck his head up the stairs to the rehearsal room, located above the lobby, and signaled I had a visitor. Our director, being noble, called Coffee Break and I went down the steps three at a time. My enthusiasm vanished when the guest turned around and I recognized one of our hosts from the Clam Bar. We arranged to meet at’10:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Wayfare Inn. I had hoped the appearance of three of us would dampen his ardor. It didn’t, but I did. As we walked back to the theater afterward I echoed his desire to meet again saying that my fiancee and I had agreed to date this summer. The implied word marriage sent him rushing off without even a kiss. For weeks I had been waking up hoping to hear the crash of pebbles on the window.
On the two occasions I visited our solitary pay telephone in the costume shop, there had been fittings for the forthcoming production. With luck, and lots of costume fittings, I could hold out as long as George. The winner of course would be the loser. Nightly I still checked the parking lot. Sunday, during noon dinner, our director announced that there would be an emergency meeting in the lounge after coffee. The air immediately vibrated whispers as to whether there was a thief among us, our housing had finally been condemned or was the stew loaded with ptomaine. Each one came up with their own conclusion, mine being that a talent scout had observed me in a Barefoot rehearsal and the meeting was to announce my immediate departure for New York. I was quietly rehearsing a THANK-YOU FOR EVERYTHING SPEECH when our director began talking. Apparently there was a snag in obtaining the rights for the play that was originally to follow Barefoot and they were now switching to an all male play. My joy was overwhelming. Starting tomorrow, other than minimum duties, I had all afternoons free! Sharing my abandon with Dee and Nora in the kitchen, they immediately planned a week of casserole dinner so we could hit the beach daily.
Monday and Tuesday worked well but opening night brought a catastrophe that almost finished Barefoot in the Park and my summer. Wednesday I skipped dinner and spent the extra time at the Chatham Fishing Pier solidifying my lines. The mother did not enter until the middle of Act 1. I avoided the pre-curtain chaos and didn’t make-up until the play started. The first Act went smoothly and the audience was delighted.
Near the end of the play, the mother-in-law, caught in the typical Simon sticky situation, reappears from the neighboring bachelor apartment in same bachelor’s bathrobe and slippers. Only a slight variation from the final plot: one of the feet in the enormous slippers was broken. Between the final curtain calls my stage daughter hugged me and said you were great, that last scene was so real you had tears in your eyes! I said you would have too if your left foot was gradually filling a size thirteen slipper. Help me to the hospital. The quick change in the costume shop located about 50 feet from the back of the theater and linked to it by a rutted dirt road and the subsequent race for my entrance had been too much. I had caught that slipper in a pot-hole, fell, and bounced up to find a definite weakening in the left ankle. By the end of the play the foot had swelled enormously and turned eye shadow blue. The prompt application of alternate ice and warm water did nothing but the medicinal Scotch obliterated all feeling except the memory of the applause.
Thursday morning the doctor solemnly announced that the foot was broken and I must stay off of it for 48 hours. The directors wife and I exchanged glances and I said the Show Must Go On and what can you do to enable me to appear on stage this evening. Oh, he said. Well….(Dramatic pause), I can give you a walking cast if you promise not to put your foot down until eight o’clock tonight. All was saved, modern medicine had conquered again.
That evening, at 8:05, our loyal director mounted the stage steps and announced that due to an accident, one of the cast members was in a cast, but directed the audience not to ignore the total cast but only the foot cast. The real irony lay in the fact that my first entrance came after I had (supposedly) just climbed seven flights of stairs. When I staggered onto the stage there was an unbreathing quiet. I was supposed to pant for a few minutes and did so. The audience had been watching each character’s entrance, with bated breath, for 20 minutes, anxiously awaiting THE cast, and now it-was here. After considering the cast from all angles, I meanwhile dramatically panting, they decided to rise to a standing ovation. I, in character and panting diaphramically, smiled and made a mental note to write Helen Hayes in the morning and ask her to airmail the crown. The review, of course, I framed. Copies were sent not only to family, but also friends and casual acquaintances. There was only one person I didn’t send the review to, I knew he had it already.
The additional free time now with my other duties deleted, gave me hours to dream. And think. Since the left foot was broken, I could still drive the car and began to investigate the surrounding countryside with short excursions. One of the side trips turned out to be the high point of my summer. I caught a matinee of Little Foxes with Geraldine Page at the Cape Cod Play-house. Lillian Hellman herself could not have envisioned a more superb Regina. Afterward, over a lonely cocktail, I contemplated a future in theatre.
To do it well, one would have to subordinate every other desire. There was much more involved than G.B. Shaw’s quote “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” It was a choice between real life or spot life. Our leisure hour discussion that night delved into philosophical arguments as to the meaning of life and etc. Since Nora and Bud were openly holding hands, the final hour of Last Calls got into a heated debate over man’s intrinsic need to love versus career, goals, family and etc. Fundamentally we agreed but enjoyed argueing over semantics. Sunday dinner and only two weeks of -stock to go. The Hulk and I lingered over coffee and compared notes on Hopes not Fulfilled so far that summer. I was charmed at his disappointment in not getting to know me better until a few days later when I found out exactly why this hadn’t happened.
Both the mornings and afternoons of these last two weeks were to be spent in our final production, a Shakespearean Comedy. My foot problem had eliminated any chance for one of the juicier female parts involving much prancing about the stage, but landed me with the character (I was embarrassed to write this to friends) of the Fairy Queen. She appeared the last fifteen minutes of the play and again solved all the problems of those involved. Luckily I didn’t have to introduce anybody to their long lost son. Tuesday, after breakfast, our director asked me to help on one of the vitally important creative aspects of summer stock. Without investigating further, I immediately said yes and found I had agreed to paint the five by nine foot poster hung on the street in front of the theatre to advertise the final production. I, who had flunked Crafts in kindergarten. One entire afternoon was spent staring at the canvas trying to get an inspiration. I got a good case of sunburn.
Most of the men disappeared shortly after dinner to make up for the all male company. The cooks would be busy for another hour and I had just reread the newspaper headlines for the third time without assimilating anything. Watching the setting sun flicker through the windows of the lounge, I suddenly longed to be home. To be surrounded by the humdrum and mundane. Maybe my period was coming. I even missed doing the dinner dishes. Deciding that two aspirin and an hour at the laundromat might improve my spirits, I hobbled out to the kitchen to see if Nora and Dee wanted any laundry done. Bud was tied up in the ticket office that night and couldn’t make the Leisure Hour. Nora and Dee had gotten teaching positions in the same city and were discussing the possibility of sharing an apartment. Dee had already made arrangements to live with a good friend and felt that the three of them could manage in a two bedroom apartment. From there we went into a discussion of high-school classes and the initial problems of a first year teacher. Remembering my own beginning agonies I laughed and said that anyone who could manage 25 nitwits for three meals a day could certainly handle 30 teenagers in a classroom. At that moment the Hulk entered the bar with two boys in tow. The boys came to the table and stood there grinning at me. I began choking as I recognized Dean and Sid, two of my last year’s drama students.
Still to come: Part 4 (The finally)