During the second half of my high school career, I was very much taken up with playing Dungeons & Dragons. The core group consisted of Jim, Patrick, and myself. Others were frequently included, but we were the three mainstays. Most often, we played at Patrick’s house at the dining room table, so we were pretty well integrated into Patrick’s family. In particular, we were often joined by Patrick’s younger sister Cindy. I don’t recall that she actually played D&D much, but we always enjoyed her winsome presence.
However fond we may have been of her, though, she was still our buddy’s kid sister, and this placed her at constant risk of being teased. If our only contact with her had been while playing D&D, this sort of teasing might have stayed within certain comfortable parameters. But as you may well infer, another curtain of opportunity was about to be raised…
Cindy, much to everyone’s excitement, was cast in her first play, a high school production of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. At one time, this play was commonly produced by a great many amateur theater groups (it won the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama), but I haven’t heard of anyone producing it in some time. Cindy was cast in the small but important role of a brainy girl who presents her science fair project.
As with any first-time actor, Cindy was nervous as opening night approached. Her anxiety was clearly heightened when she learned that Jim and I were both planning to be there on opening night. And this is where our story turns…
Jim and I arrived at the Dominican High School Auditorium early so that we might stake out a prime location. We ended up being seated in the front row, dead center. The orchestra pit was rather small, so this put us pretty close to the action, where we might easily be seen by anyone standing on the stage or, say, peeking through a curtain.
Cindy’s big scene was a solo turn for her character. She was to stand alone on stage for several minutes, proudly explaining her science fair project to the audience. The director had staged the scene to take place in front of the main curtain, all the way downstage, so Cindy was to be no more than 20 feet from the front row while performing a lengthy monologue.
The moment the lights came up on her scene, Jim and I burst into hysterical laughter, which caused Cindy to pause while recoiling in shock. Then, before she could even begin to utter her first line, Jim stood up, leaned over the orchestra pit railing, and took a flash picture of her.
In retrospect, I could hardly have blamed Cindy if she had simply left the stage at that moment, but she chose to push on, shaken though she was. Her entire scene was performed between gasps of hysteria and hyperventilation, but she got through it, even as Jim and I continued to cackle at her every utterance.
No, I can’t say I’m proud of that. If there truly were a God of the Theatre, I suppose Jim and I would have brought a plague upon both our houses for that stunt. It is to Cindy’s credit that she was able to continue being friendly to us thereafter; that she was able to look beyond our boorish behavior and see the nice boys we might be otherwise. It is worth noting, though, that Cindy has apparently, to date, never been tempted to pursue a career on the stage.
Postscript #1 — Several years later, I was cast in a production of Fiddler on the Roof. Our director was the same woman who had directed that fateful production of Marigolds. One night after rehearsal, she and I were chatting and the subject of that earlier production came up. I told her about what Jim and I had done in the front row on opening night. Her eyes widened. “That was YOU???!!!” It seems that, unbeknownst to us, this was also HER debut as a director. She explained that she’d been stuck in the back of the house that night running the show, but she’d seen the commotion down front and would have liked nothing better than to go down there and bounce whoever was responsible. Happily, enough time had passed that she and I were able to share a laugh over it (whew!).
Postscript #2 — It was not too long afterward that I began to visibly wince at the memory of my actions that night. As I became more and more immersed in theatrical pursuits, the memory of this incident became a touchstone, reminding me of who I didn’t want to be, as well as reminding me to invest in my craft the respect I wished to elicit from my audience. I figured if I could do that, I would always be assured of having at least one satisfied person in the theater!
* Or at least, the rottenest thing I ever did that I’m going to talk about in this journal!