Thursday, January 24, 2013

No Curtain

Last week, when blogging about missed entrances, I mentioned the fact that I once missed a curtain call. That wasn't quite accurate. There was no curtain involved.

In fact, most of the shows I have done in the last seventeen years have not involved a curtain. They have either been fairy tales performed outdoors or interactive murder mysteries performed around tables in a banquet room, dining room—or, in this particular case, on a patio.

It was the final performance of the first production of my first mystery script, The Last Cruise of the S.S. Minnow, at Dakota's Steak House in Simi Valley, California. Our previous performances had been in the second-floor banquet room, but on this particular night the banquet room had been booked for another function, and we had been moved to the patio at the back of the restaurant. This wasn't a problem. The weather was beautiful, as it nearly always is in Southern California. We had to make some minor adjustments for entrances and exits, but everything went just fine, right up to my death scene.

(I always prefer to play the victim. It means fewer lines to memorize.)

I timed it so that when I was shot ("by a .22 caliber revolver—a weapon easily handled by a man or a woman"), I would end up next to the buffet table. Then, when no one was looking, I could discretely roll under the table, crawl out the other side and into the shrubbery, then make my way around to the front entrance of the restaurant and hang out in the bar until curtain call.

At least that was the plan.

I was shot, I fell, and I rolled under the table—just as planned. I crawled a few feet, then, when I thought I could no longer be seen by the audience, I attempted to get to my feet, while still moving forward. In doing so, I learned a valuable lesson:

One should never attempt to move in more than one direction at a time.

I lost my balance, stumbled a few feet, and fell to the ground on my hands and knees. "That could have been worse," I thought, as I began to pick myself up. Dakota's was perched on top of a hill. I counted myself lucky that I didn't roll all the way to the bottom.

Then I looked down and noticed that there was something odd about the little finger of my left hand. It was bent to the side at 90-degree angle, and I could see a little bit of bone peeking out through a hole in the skin.

"That's not right," I thought.

There was hardly any blood and no pain. At the time, my only concern was how this would affect the show. At least I had no other scenes—just the curtain call. I picked myself up and made my way to the front of the restaurant.

One of the restaurant's owners happened to be in the foyer, talking to some of the staff. "Adam," I said to him, holding up my finger, "I'm afraid I've hurt myself."

"That's great!" he said, laughing. "What is it, plastic?"

"No," I said. "It's my finger. I fell on it."

He immediately stopped laughing and arranged for a staff member to drive me to the emergency room.

As it turned out, the finger wasn't broken (only dislocated), and I still felt no pain (only embarrassment). The doctor cleaned the wound, shot some anesthetic into it, popped the bone back into the knuckle, and neatly stitched up the hole. He explained that the reason I felt no pain was that I was in shock, and he gave me some powerful pain killers for later. They came in handy when I was awakened in the middle of the night by my finger screaming obscenities at me.

But for now, I felt fine. I had missed the curtain call, but I was damned if I was going to miss the cast party.

Especially when I had such a good story to tell.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Invisible Man Award

Most of my nightmares are about theatre, and most of my theatre nightmares are about missing an entrance. In my nightmares, it's never my fault: someone has taken my costume, my makeup, my prop. The one time it actually happened, I had no one to blame but myself—well, myself and one of my fellow actors, who shall remain nameless. (Mainly because I can't remember his name. He was playing the role of an English lord, so I shall refer to him as "His Lordship.")

I was playing the role of Johnny Tarleton, son of underwear tycoon John Tarleton. The play was Misalliance, by George Bernard Shaw—a play that is chiefly remembered as the source of the oft-parodied line delivered by my character, "Anybody on for a game of tennis?" It was the second semester of my freshman year of college, my third show, and my biggest role yet.

During this particular performance, His Lordship and I were chatting in the green room, waiting for our entrance. We were probably talking about the ceramic bowl I was supposed to have smashed in the previous scene. (It worked in rehearsal, but in every single performance, no matter how hard I threw the thing to the floor, it would not break. At the final performance, I hurled it with such force it bounced off the floor, ricocheted off a flat, and rolled off the stage—finally coming to rest against the foot of an audience member in the front row.)

The green room was separated from the stage by some distance; a speaker on the wall allowed actors awaiting their entrance to listen for cues. At some point in our conversation, His Lordship and I simultaneously noticed that there was no dialogue coming from the speaker. After making sure the speaker was functioning properly, we simultaneously came to the realization that the reason there was no dialogue was that the actors who were supposed to be speaking were not on stage, and that those actors were us. We dashed down the long, dark corridor to the wings and made our breathless entrance, much to the relief of the actors onstage, who were desperately trying to improvise in the style of George Bernard Shaw.

At the theatre department award ceremony at the end of the school year, His Lordship and I were dubiously honored with "The Invisible Man Award."

* * * * *

Anyone who has been on the stage will agree that, as embarrassing as it is to be the Invisible Man, it is much worse being onstage when someone else misses an entrance. Karma dictated that sooner or later it must happen to me—as it did just a few years later, during a community theatre production of Chekov's Three Sisters.

There were four of us on stage that evening, waiting for the Invisible Man. Fortunately, all of us were reasonably seasoned actors with the good sense to keep calm and remain in character. The man and woman playing clandestine lovers flirted shamelessly. I, seated between them and playing a shy, awkward military officer, acted shy and awkward—an easy task when you are sitting between two people who are flirting shamelessly. The fourth member of our quartet, who was playing a broody, dangerous military officer, sat in the corner and brooded dangerously. We were all, if I may say so myself, brilliant. I doubt if Anton Chekov himself would have realized that anything was wrong. I'm fairly certain the audience didn't. (Unless they happened to be "theatre people." Theatre people usually notice when something goes wrong during a performance because they expect something to go wrong during a performance. They know that something goes wrong during every performance. It's one of the cardinal rules of theatre.)

Finally, after what seemed an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, our Invisible Man entered and the play continued.

* * * * *

I am proud to say that, since receiving my one and only Invisible Man Award, I have never missed another entrance—although I did, due to a spectacular display of clumsiness, once miss a curtain call.

But that's another story.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


Nearly everyone has experienced the literally gut-wrenching horror of the norovirus, otherwise known as the "stomach flu." It doesn't last long—usually less than twenty-four hours—but while you are experiencing it, you feel like you are dying. Dying, in fact, seems like a preferable alternative.

The norovirus is highly infectious. You hear countless horror stories of it decimating schools, retirement homes, and—worst of all—cruise ships. (The plumbing in cruise ships is notoriously sensitive. Imagine the strain put on it when everyone on board suddenly begins spouting from both ends. Talk about horror stories.)

I have personally encountered the norovirus a number of times over the years, and, while my memory is not the best, I remember each encounter in vivid detail: fever, chills, aching joints, and miserable hours spent in the bathroom.

There was, for instance, that time when I was about thirteen. Our family was living in a big, old, two-story house in Goshen, Indiana. Behind the house was a detached, two-story garage that had once been a stable. My Aunt Vonna was visiting from Fort Wayne, and she had taken us kids to Olympia Candy Kitchen—an old-fashioned, family-owned diner/soda shop/candy store on Main Street—and allowed us each to pick out a bag of our favorite homemade candy. I chose chunks of white chocolate, which I immediately devoured. It tasted delicious going down. It was nowhere near as good when it came back up a couple of hours later.

We were just sitting down to dinner when it hit me. I asked to be excused and raced to the bathroom. I did not receive much sympathy at first—the general opinion was that I had simply eaten too much candy—but when it became apparent that I was really sick, my mother put me straight to bed. I spent a feverish, hallucinatory night filled with strange noises—loud voices, banging doors, the wail of sirens. When I arose from my sick bed in the morning, weak and shaky, I discovered that our garage had burned down during the night. The fire department had been called; everyone had gone outside to watch; the entire neighborhood had turned out. It was positively, hands-down, the single most exciting thing that had ever happened to our family.

And I missed the whole thing.

Not only that—to this day, I cannot stand the taste of white chocolate.

There is no cure for the norovirus, and there is no vaccine against it. You simply have to ride it out. However, there is some good news. Some extremely clever scientists have devised a robot to help them study the way the norovirus is spread. The video below shows the robot in action. They call it "Vomiting Larry."

Much as I admire scientists, I will never understand them. Here they have the genius and imagination to build something as marvelous as a vomiting robot, and the best name they can come up for it is "Larry."

Did none of them think to call it "Ralph?"

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Holding Back the Darkness

This is the weekend we take down the Christmas lights and decorations. I can't think of another chore that's as depressing, unless it's unpacking after a vacation. Every year, I'm tempted to leave at least the lights up until spring. After all, the whole point of Christmas lights is to bring a little light and cheer to the darkest days of the year. (And yes, I realize that we are past the solstice and the days are getting longer, but we still have quite a bit of darkness to go.)

The only thing preventing me from leaving the lights up (aside, probably, from the homeowners association), is the fear that I will be labeled "eccentric."

Every year when it comes time to take down the Christmas lights, I think of Seth Ward. He was once a prominent attorney in Kosciusko County, Indiana, which is how my father knew him. I tried to find information about him on the Internet, but the only thing I could find was an old newspaper clipping with a picture of his house on Lake Wawasee. The article mentions some of the unique features of the house, and that Mr. and Mrs. Ward enjoyed entertaining friends there. The article is undated, but judging by the car parked in front of the house, the picture was taken a decade or two before my time.

The house certainly didn't look like this in the 1960s, when my father pointed it out to us on a visit to the lake. By then, it was almost completely hidden by overgrown trees and undergrowth. Anyone would think it was deserted—and possibly haunted—were it not for the many Christmas lights and decorations that adorned the place year round. I was fascinated by the contrast between the dark, dreary house and the cheerful (though somewhat faded) lights and decorations. I was also fascinated by the story my father told of how Mr. Ward had wanted to bury his deceased wife in the front yard.

My father said he was "eccentric." I thought he was just plain crazy.

Now, however, I feel sorry for him him. The poor man must have been devastated by his wife's death. Her absence took all of the light from his life. The Christmas lights and decorations were a feeble attempt to hold back the darkness. Sometimes, during the darkest part of winter, I can imagine how he felt.

But spring will be here soon.