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Posts Tagged ‘Rodgers & Hammerstein’

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Four — Part II

In Fiction, Theatre, Writing on August 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm

(If you don’t like spoilers, start here.)

Day Four: Friday, 21 July 2017 – Part II

“There you are!”

I jumped the jump of the guilty explorer. Judy was right outside the door to the basement stairs.

When the hell did she get there?

“What are you doing in here?” Judy stepped in and stood next to me, looking down at the basement door.

“Did you hear that?” I said.

“Hear what?” she said.

“That sound, like a broken baby doll crying,” I said.

“A broken babydoll? Reminiscing about our ex girlfriends, are we, Edward?”

“Ha! No, I mean a doll, like a doll that looks like a baby. The kind that go, ma-ma, and cry and stuff.”

Judy was silent a second. Then she said, “You heard that from down there?”

“Yep,” I said.

“That’s not good, Ed. I think you should stay away from this door. You might be tempted to go down there. That’s dangerous.”

“Why?”

“Asbestos. We never go down there anymore. That door down there’s supposed to be closed,” she said. Her voice echoed back from the darkness below. “Baby dolls in the dark. That’s creepy. Whew. Anyway Ed, Allison has something for you to try on. Let’s get away from painful death,” and she tugged at my right shoulder, pulling me out into the light.

The theatre was alive with sounds and conversation.

Where was everybody two minutes ago?

I followed Judy across the stage to the ladies’ dressing room / costume shop. Allison was there with pants, shirt and boots for me to try. “These need to be worn up at the level of the navel,” she said.

“The naval navel,” I said. “Zing!”

I glanced at my phone and all jokes left my mind.

It was 5:17.

When I arrived, it was 4:30 (4:32, to be precise). My explorations of the theatre and its environs didn’t take more that fifteen minutes, but let’s say sixteen minutes in case I’m wrong. So that means it was 4:48 when I found those stairs to the basement, when I heard the broken, mechanized cry of the baby doll.

I lost time.

As far as I know, Judy spoke to me a couple seconds after I found the stairs. There’s no way I was standing there for roughly half an hour. I felt a daze settle over me as I began to gauge inner processes.

I was in a bad car accident in 2015. Whiplash plus head bang = multiple concussion points. It affected some things in my brain. I’ll keep the details to myself for now, but I can assure you: loss of time is entirely new. If anything, I’ve been more vigilant about time since the accident: I want to make sure I’m spending it in every best way after coming so close to breaking my hourglass.

“Edward? You okay? You look like you just remembered your funeral,” Allison was saying.

I laughed. “My coffin has cleared up, now all I’ve got is a runny nose.”

With a wave and a smile, I headed off to try on the pieces. They fit. I kept the boots on for rehearsal. I studied my lines, I had conversations, but all of it from a place of detached analysis.

As the evening progressed, I began to feel more normal. It was very simple: I spent more time exploring than I’d thought. It’s easy to lose track of time when engaged in mysteriousness. Nothing more than that.

As for the sound from the basement and the various sightings of Dolly Lurker, I have a clear explanation now: because I am the only one who has seen these things, I think these are random hallucinations, phantoms conjured by my brain as it’s healing. Add to that a bout of ghostly childhood trauma, and it’s quite possible that this is nothing more than a subconscious gas bubble rumbling up from the bog of my past. It will burst, it will stink, it will make me gag, but the air will clear.

I felt so relieved; I kept thinking, It’s a good thing I haven’t mentioned this to anyone.

We ran what we’d staged in Act I, continuing up to just past Younger Than Springtime.

I was getting ready to leave at the end of the night, putting my phone in my back right pocket, when I found it.

A card, high quality stock, slightly larger than a business card. A Celtic pattern embossed around the edges. A message in exquisite penmanship, from a fountain pen, in deepest indigo:

Montclair Historical Society.
Monday, 3 pm.
Come alone.

Woodminster: South Pacific, Day Three

In Theatre, Writing on August 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

(If you are confused, start here.)

Day Three: Thursday, 20 July 2017

When I returned to Woodminster from the Trevarno District of Livermore, Admiral Judy called me into her office. It’s just off the main office backstage, near the stage door. She said, “Here’s your paycheck, Ed. Don’t lose it on the slippery slope of curiosity.” She waved her hand in the general direction of stage left, the men’s dressing room … and the slope. Her eyes came to rest, I remember, on an old newspaper clipping pinned to the bulletin board behind me.

“Some people like to look for mysteries where there are none, Ed. When they do, they write conversations that never happened. Look: this conversation, right now, never happened. You’re making it up. And that’s exactly what I’ll tell anyone who asks. You’re a talented writer. Not an investigative reporter. Go. No. Further.” With each of those last three words, Judy thumped her index finger on the yellowed, faded article. Then she stared at me, silent, for a full ten seconds before leaving the office.

I took a picture; the article is transcribed below:

July 6, 1952
Montclair, CA

Local Girls Missing
by Ginger Trancas

A missing persons report has been filed for Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, both Sophomores at Piedmont High. They were last seen on Castle Drive in Montclair on the evening of July 4, wearing shorts and sneakers and matching blue gingham tops. Anyone with information should call Officer Bill Whiting with the Piedmont Police Detectives [faded to a smudge here]

It is not known at this time whether sightings of a lone figure among the trees of Joaquin Miller Park are in any way related to the girls’ disappearance. Most residents in the neighborhood attribute these sightings to high school pranksters, but local florist Betsy Hillebrandt tells another story. “I saw it clear as day,” says Hillebrandt. “I was gathering eucalyptus for my arrangements. [faded into a smudge here, too] about fifteen yards away from me. Just watching. Gave me the chills.” When asked what it looked like, the flighty florist fumbles. “Well, it was tall,” she says. “Its face looked pale, but I couldn’t see clearly. It was almost dark. But it was holding some[faded, smudged]

“Nothing to be concerned about,” says Officer Whiting. “Mysterious figures in the trees could be shadows, could be hobos. There’s no definitive proof that the girls went anywhere near any ‘mysterious [faded, smudged] saw what Mrs. Hillebrandt describes, wouldn’t they just run away and holler at the top of their lungs?”

That’s one thing everybody who lives near the park can agree upon: for the first time in years, Joaquin Miller Park was silent on the 4th of July. “Not a single firecracker,” says Ed Proust, whose backyard is separated from the park by a low picket fence. First time I haven’t [smudged] hose ready for a fire in a decade. If those girls were screaming in there, we’d have heard them.”

“The girls could be at a friend’s house, and they both have cousins in Reno. There’s no knowing what they might get up to,” says Officer Whiting. “Speculation only fans the flames. We expect them home any time now.”

For the sake of the friends and families of Louise Archer and Bess Tremaine, we hope it’s sooner than later.

Setting aside the rampant editorializing and somewhat egregious alliteration, it was an informative article. A little too informative, in fact. I began to suspect I was being pranked. So convenient, this article — just sitting there, coincidentally tacked to the bulletin board in her office. I went in search of Judy, but every time I got close to her, she was called – or simply went – away.

Call me paranoid. I started watching everyone very closely. Did I see a hint of mischief behind Linnea’s smile? Was Joel intentionally not looking in my direction because he might laugh if we made eye contact? Was Johann laughing at me, or at something Bryan said? That seems unlikely – Bryan’s what we call, “destined for hammers.”

Retreating into my work, I doubled down on memorization. We ran what we’d staged, then continued staging the show to just after I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair – the only song in the R&H canon dedicated to cum.

I allowed my questions about the figure, the doll – and now, the disappearing girls – to be subsumed by the need to master my lines. By the end of the night, I’d concluded that it was all an ornate hazing ritual. This is my third year at Woodminster, perhaps this is how they test us at the end of a probationary period. Frankly, that’s what I would do if I had a theatre company. Which is why it’s probably better that I don’t.

With a lighter heart and a far less suspicious cloud hovering at the edges of my vision, I left rehearsal that night determined to get them all back. Something really clever, but simple. I chatted with Amanda for a bit before getting into my car, then sat listening to NPR and waiting for my phone to recharge enough to listen to Aaron Mahnke’s LORE podcast on the way home.

Charging my dead phone to 5% takes about five minutes. Someone back at the stage door was laughing. Occasional cars would pass my spot – the last on the right in the lower lot, if you’re looking at the lot from the stage door – as the remaining actors and staff went home. The laughter at the stage door continued intermittently – like someone was going, “Ha-Aa! Aaaaaahhhh,” every thirty seconds or so.

I saw the lights turn off, and Judy left about one minute afterward. My phone was at 4%.

There were still people laughing back at the stage door, so I decided I’d drive over there in a second to mock them for their late-night caterwauling. There was a pause on the radio, and in that silence, the laughter came again.

It sounded wrong. Like someone in pain.

I glanced back through the hatchback on my Prius, but the glass is tinted – it’s hard to see details that far away.

I rolled down both front windows to see my driver and passenger rear view mirrors better, putting the car in reverse, which starts it beeping. The radio was still on.

The laughter was much closer to my car now.

I turned the radio down, put the car in drive to stop the beeping, and turned to look back at the stage door, rolling down my back windows, too. I could see the stage door clearly now.

It was locked. There was nobody over there.

From the trees on the dark slope in front of my car came, “Ma-ma! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhhhhhhghhhhhssssss …”

I froze. I didn’t want to look.

“Ma-MA! Ma-MA! Ahhhahhaaahhhhhghlllllhhhhssssss …”

It was louder.

Closer.

I turned front.

It stood in the shadows, just down the slope from the front of my car, baby doll held out into the glow of the streetlights, tilting side to side.

My windows are down.

It took a step forward. More of its arm was exposed. Pale white flesh. I did not turn my headlights on. I didn’t want to see.

Throwing the car into reverse, I tried to speed backward. My emergency brake was still on. I slammed my foot into it – unlocking and re-locking the brake three times before it released.

Another step forward.

I zipped backward, braking to avoid slamming into the curb separating the lot from the slope. The figure turned toward me.

I tried to roll up the windows. They wouldn’t move. I looked at the control panel. I’d engaged the driver lock. In my car, it stops even me from rolling the windows up or down. Also, the cruise control has stopped working. Unrelated. Moving on:

I’d like to say I tossed a few witty bon mots before I got the windows up. Something like, “How’s this for a glass ceiling?” Or, “You know what they say, when the Lord closes a window …” Too wordy. Maybe, “Glass half full me once, shame on you!” Or maybe, “Listen, Precious, I don’t have the ring.

What I think I said was, “Holy fuck FUCK! Get the fuck, get the FUCK, GET THE FUCK –”

Giving up on the windows, I threw the car into drive and hit the gas, slamming into every pothole on the road out. I think Oakland Parks and Rec is aiming for a record. There are more holes in that road than in my plots. And that’s saying something.

I remembered to turn on my headlights as I was passing the Ranger Station at the top of the hill. I wondered if the rangers know anything about Dolly Lurker. Regardless, I didn’t get much sleep that night, my thoughts returning to the same image for hours:

I could be wrong. It was dark. I never turned on my headlights while it was in front of me.

I thought the figure was wearing blue gingham.

Woodminster: South Pacific

In Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Theatre, Writing on August 8, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Day One: Tuesday, 18 July 2017*

[*Note: This entry and the next few are a direct homage to James A. Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, upon which the musical South Pacific is based. If you read that novel — and you should — you will see that I have based the first few entries of this series on his first few chapters.

This was originally something I had intended to continue throughout, but as certain other elements of the story took over, I elected to abandon Michener in favor of Hightower. I hope it brings an uptic in urgency, in spite of any detriment to quality.

With apologies to the ghost of James A. Michener,

— Edward Hightower]

I wish I could tell you about Woodminster Amphitheatre. The way it actually is. The sparkling bay. The infinite specks of light after sundown. Redwood and Eucalyptus swaying gracefully toward the east, as if gesturing actors to springboard to New York. The mountainside upon which clouds are torn apart each night by our sets and lights, whirling around actors to embrace us in surprise ambiance, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating tech rehearsals, the full moon shining over a full house, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.

But whenever I start to talk about Woodminster, people intervene. I try to tell somebody what the blistering afternoon heat is like, and the first thing I know I’m telling them about the first time I auditioned at Woodminster and Harriet Schlader took me back out onstage before I could leave, insisting that they sing me for a role that matched my type. “Would you sing him for the Pirate King, for the love of Pete?!”

Or somebody asks me, “What is playing a 2,000-seat amphitheatre really like?” And before I can describe the tidal wave of terror that fuels my every entrance, I’m rambling on about Rod Voltaire Edora, man of ten thousand talents, who willingly designs and sometimes – as in the case of Honey Bun in this production – applies specialized makeup for me. May his success ever increase.

I love working at Woodminster. It’s a temple to the arts in the middle of a redwood forest. It was built by the WPA. It has a bomb shelter underneath it that is sealed off because, I surmise, cleaning it out would be prohibitively expensive for the city of Oakland. All of these things conspire to make me love the place itself.

The people are generally splendid and specifically delightful; I believe this is because the powers that be recognize that hiring talented people who are also easy to work with leads to an overall positive experience for all involved. When the cast is having a good time together, the show works that much better.

We’re rehearsing South Pacific. I’m playing Luther Billis. My call today was 5:35, and the first order of business today was to learn my music with Daniel Thomas, who was also music director on my first two shows at Woodminster: The Producers (2015) and Shrek (2016). Daniel works fast, he’s efficient and succinct. I have a total of about ten sung lines in the show. And I’ve played this part before (The Willows Theatre, 2003). So it took all of five minutes to nail down and record my material. After that I was free to wander the theatre until rehearsal with the full cast.

I chatted for a while with Chris Vettel and Amanda Johnson (Emile De Becque and Nellie Forbush, respectively), until we were given an official hour’s break between 6:00 and 7:00. They headed off on individual errands, and I went up to the roof of the theatre.

There are picnic tables all over the top of Woodminster. You can reserve them for a picnic before the show. During rehearsal, they’re a great area to go run lines, work dance steps, or fart. There’s a whole unspoken theatrical etiquette around farting. As a gentleman, I prefer releasing flati away from the sensitive palates of my fellow thespians. Where better than a deserted theatrical rooftop?

Smuggling what felt like an angry octopus in my intestines, I made my way to the roof from the stage left stairs. An array of symmetrically-placed rat shit dotted a two-foot radius around trash cans near the top of the stairs (thanks so much for your attention, City of Oakland.) The rooftop picnic terrace above the men’s dressing room, being farthest from the stage door and any sparse chatter I could hear, became my immediate goal: a nice shady spot to study my lines. And fart.

From the distant corner of that terrace, you can lean over to look at the slope below: clad in dry, golden grass, it craves goats to crop it even as it tempts the gods of fire. Occasionally I see goats on these slopes, but not often enough, and never this far into the park. From this corner one could rappel the short distance to one of three or four exterior windows on the dressing room. Glancing around to make sure I wasn’t going to offend a napping soprano, I let fly the gaseous demon trapped in my bowels.

Oh, the glory! How she spread her wings and with what guttural joy she warbled! Like a wet latex umbrella being forced from the deepest recesses of a pipe organ. Hail Mary, full of Bass. Thus relieved, I turned to sit and study my lines.

As I did so, I caught a glimpse of something through the branches of a nearby pine. In a thicket about twenty-five yards away, a face: white, expressionless, with empty eyes. A mask? Leaning out over the edge, I pulled my glasses on. Whatever it was, if anything, had gone. The branches where it might have been were wiggling. Against the wind.

I wanted to go explore that spot, but was accosted upon my return to the stage by the charming Amanda Johnson, whose kindness and talent I hold in very high regard. I confess that, until documenting today, I was thereafter distracted by the necessities of staging.

We blocked Act One, until the middle of Scene 3, ending right after There Is Nothing Like A Dame. Men were released from rehearsal at 9:33, women were kept to work vocals.

I can’t stop thinking about that mask.