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The play's the thing.

If you think the sound barrier is broken only by a man hitting his thumb with a hammer, then you've never heard the vociferation of a ten-year-old busting through the front door to vociferate to the family and to every other family within a three-block radius: "I'm in the play!"

After all these years of family folly and frustrations this particular episode should have long been relegated to the vast burial ground in my skull's upper chambers. But at this season of the year, with its hubbub and extra drain on the family finances, I have no trouble remembering The Play to its finest detail. (I mention the added expense only because this happened BCC - before credit cards.)

Anyway, after the hugging was over and the last tear had run its course, little Shari's doting mother sat down to write announcements to all friends and relatives within a 300-mile radius. Father, however, managed to keep his emotions harnessed by thoughts of it, and if so, how, he might become involved in this off-Broadway (at least 2,000 miles off) production.

There would be no question about the if. The how, however, is what keeps the event fresh in my mind to this day.

Private rehearsals for the drama, scheduled for three weeks hence, would be held at the Civic Center. Thanks to the city father;s stupidity, Civic Center had been built, by actual count, 22 blocks from our house. Hence, someone (guess who?) would be required to make the round trip twice in a night. Or else someone would have to sit in the car in topcoat and earflaps with the engine running and the heater on high and try to read by the glove compartment light until little Shari had portrayed the role of Gloria, second attendant to Queen Glinda the Good, to the director's liking.

The effort, of course, would leave her fatigued to the point where only a hamburger and French fries on the way home saved me from having to carry her into the house. Then the round trips stepped up from one a week to three a week. And in the final week I would take my topcoat off only to go to bed.

Little Shari's mother, in the meantime, was happily engaged in shopping for the finest of exotic fabrics (if price tags are any criterion) for the costume. We're talking here of bolts of bright red yard goods, yards of silk tulle, and gold braid enough to decorate a circus wagon. Little Shari at that time weighing all of 60 pounds with rocks in her socks, one could only speculate that the seamstress had in mind having enough material left over to whip up a dress or two for herself, with maybe a matching handbag and umbrella.

Thinking the financial hemorrhaging had stopped, I foolishly stuck my billfold back in my pocket. What brought it back out were the catered luncheons for the daytime dress rehearsals, parents being on the cateree end of the expense. There was another bite on the dwindling bankroll for an 8" x 10" glossy of the cast and another of little Shari in costume, besides a dozen wallet-sizers for relatives living outside the 300-mile range.

And that should have done it, right?

Don't be naive.

"Have you got an extra five?" Shari's mother casually asked as I was hunting up my earflaps for the final rehearsal.

To my recollection I have never had an extra five. Which I promptly mentioned. "Five bucks - for what?" I asked with feeling. "Has Shari got a tapeworm or something?"

No, Shari didn't have a tapeworm or something. The cast was buying a little something for the teacher directing the production.

"And what do they have in mind?" I asked with even more feeling, "a little beachfront lot on Cape God?"

Even after coughing up the five spot, I still had hopes that by eliminating such nonessentials (compared to Shari's shot at stardom) as food, clothing, and utilities, we might get through the month without having to refinance the car.

That was before I dragged in from work on the night of the extravaganza, to be greeted by a highly suspicious burst of enthusiasm from our starry-eyed little Bette Davis-in-waiting.

"How many tickets you going to take, Dad?" she asked, tripping over the roll that reached to the floor.

"How many tickets you going to take, Dad?" she asked, tripping over the roll that reached to the floor.

"How many pins do they cost?" I asked, going along with the gag.

"Come on, Dad. they're only. . . ."

Holy smoke, the kid wasn't kidding. Those tickets were to be bought by genuine in god we trust American cash. And before I could get my tongue disengaged from the roof of my mouth, doting mother slipped into her role of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller to announce, "It wouldn't hurt us to take at least ten - it's for a good cause."

What was good about a hardworking, tax-paying, one-wife citizen going bankrupt in his prime so that the perpetrator of this event could own a waterfront lot on Cape Cod, I didn't bother to ask.

Nor did I bother to ask why the aroma of dinner wasn't infiltrating my nostrils. Who but Scrooge II would expect the mother of the star to slave over a hot microwave when she is already powdered and preened and regaled in her new bright red dress with the red silk tulle and gold braid trim? Or were the family stomachs too tense with excitement to risk taking on food? Would they prefer to eat in the calm following the play? We would eat before and after, risk or no risk, as I should have known. And I would skip lunch for the next two weeks to make up for the double whammy.

Shari threw up in the car on the way to the theater.

At the stage door the family all wished her the traditional happy "break a leg," then went in to occupy four of our ten paid-for seats. A full stomach coupled with exhaustion from three weeks of rehearsals, however, began to take their toll. by the time the houselights lights were dimmed, so was I. I managed to get past the dance of the Sunflowers, and could but vaguely recall the gyrations of the Gillikins. But when the Woggle Bug was showing the Winged Monkeys how fast it could woggle, I woggled off into my own private land of make-believe.

The next thing I knew, doting mother was jabbing me in the ribs and rasping, "She's on!"

Sure enough. Resplendently bedecked in red and gold, there stood our hopes, our fears, our dreams of early retirement, looking pretty enough to make one forget, for the moment, his many missed evenings on the sofa after diner. And while we held our collective breaths (not a bad idea, in a couple of cases), speech after speech after speech, there she stood, still pretty, still poised, still bedecked, still still.

Finally, leaning over to the one still holding her breath, I inquired if little Shari's role was that of a mute. The answer was another elbow in the mid-section, followed shortly by a terse, "Now!"

Yes, those overly lipsticked lips at last were parting, to emit, oh how flawlessly after only three weeks' rehearsals, the dramatic words:

"Not at all, for Glinda the Good knows and sees everything!"

The curtain falls, the play is over.

Totalling the cost on the drive home, I figured it came to something like $14.50 a word - not counting doting mother's dress, handbag, and a pair of lampshades. (The umbrella didn't work out.)

Daughter Shari currently is but a dissertation away from her Ph.D., having nothing to do with the theater. As for her mother, however she invaded my privacy only this morning to announce, "Bridget is going to be in the Christmas play!"


"Our great-granddaughter, for heaven's sake. I thought maybe I'd volunteer to help with the costume."

That is why - for your information only - our checkbook is no longer in its usual place in the top left-hand desk drawer. Until little Bridget's play is over, you'll find it stashed on the bookshelf behind Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

I thought it most appropriate.
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Title Annotation:author remembers his daughter's school play
Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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