Once upon a time long, long ago, theatre was invented. About 15 minutes later, I was cast in a production of George Bernard Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion.
Peering back through the nainsook scrim of geezer memory, it seemed like a real good time.
The planet, at the time, was lousy with hippies…when hippies were still hippies and not yet freed from the specter of the Selective Service. Student loans and Aids had not yet been invented. Ways were free, which was good ‘coz we didn’t have much money. But, as Bob Dylan explained; “When ya got nuthin’, ya got nuthin’ to lose…How does it feel?” Well…actually…it felt pretty good.
There was no snow ever. I didn’t own a coat. For a buck-ninety-nine you could get a 21-shrimp plate (plus fries and a drink) for a vegan (as defined in those days before we learned to spell keto and sushi) lunch at the Kampus Korner. Two more bucks would get you a burger and a beer at the Paddock Club for dinner. I didn’t need the beer so I was left with some change for the pinball machine. Besides, I had rehearsal for Androcles and the Lion to navigate and needed a clear head.
Androcles and the Lion featured an actor in a floppy lion suit growling and crawling about the stage. Imagine… a university training students for a then non-existent career as a sports team mascot. Still, our last governor would have preferred that to teaching them about French literature.
And you just know that’s gotta be cool.
I remember I played a beggar/criminal type in rags and scabs. I remember I yelled a lot. I remember I was definitive. I was excellent. I was the reason to buy a ticket.
I remember being shocked that the play’s review overlooked my six lines. I assume it was a rigged review.
I recall there was a character named Ferrovius; another poor person destined to be devoured in the arena. Ferrovius would come to the theatre each night, put on his make-up, and dress for the show. He would then report to the costume shop, where the costumer would tease and spray his hippie-ish hair into a foot high maelstrom of chaos. Ferrovius would then leave the costume shop, march directly to the full-length mirror in the green room, whip out a comb, and fiddle with his “do” until he had a Troy Donahue thing happnin’ that Troy woulda envied.
In those ancient days, this is what we called a Proud Boy.
I learned from watching this routine.
I knew that as a species, we lie.
I learned from this observation that within the spectrum of deceit we practice, we lie most fiercely to ourselves. We preach against vanity and we teach against vanity as a cautionary tale in the theatre.
But then we put a full-length mirror in the green room.
But in a world of modern Proud Boys, and coronaviruses, and children in cages, and the designated hitter, this vanity and self-foolery seems more charming than destructive.
One night I watched our Androcles rehearsal of the first scene. It was a lively and erudite scene between Androcles and his harridan wife. It ended with the wife slapping Androcles. Ah, that Shavian wit.
I knew the actor playing Androcles, and I had done a couple of shows with the actress playing his wife. After his scene, Androcles and I were chatting and I decided to be helpful.
“You know, I’ve worked with your wife. She’s a remarkable actress.”
“Yes. I’m glad she’s playing the part.”
“You may not know…uh…she…uh…gets very…uh…pumped up…on opening night. You…might want to be prepared.”
“Oh, I get excited too! It’ll be great.”
I watched the opening scene from the wings on opening night. The big first moment came. The wife’s eyes grew eggs-over-easy. Her hair began to rise like Sigourney Weaver’s in Ghostbusters. Her face ruddy-fied to borderline ruby. She inhaled and several audience members fainted from the dip in available oxygen.
It was titanic.
Her heels were firmly planted. Her hips opened in front of her shoulders. The arm came through after the hips with flashing bat speed, and the launch angle was a pure 30 degrees.
Androcles dropped straight to his knees on contact and spun 180 degrees, which was good: it left him aimed in precisely the correct direction to slither off the stage.
There were several seismic centers in the region that measured the event and one even issued a tsunami alert before realizing the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek was completely underground in Lexington.
No one was seriously hurt and the play went on and I was great…all six lines spot on.
I don’t really remember a bit of what I did.
Probably, after that first scene, Androcles didn’t remember either.
At least he didn’t include it in his autobiography.