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Friday, June 14, 2013

A Viper in the Bubbly by John von Daler

                Two Roman soldiers crossed swords over the entranceway to the old theater. As I went through and under this belligerent welcome, one of them started a rhythmic tattoo on the other's helmet with the edge of his sword. Soon the doorway was swinging and their bare, hairy legs were toeing a kind of jazzy jig beneath their leather tunics.  
                  
                I had come to see a farce called "Cleopatra". My actress friend who also headed the company played the title role. If you can imagine Phyllis Diller rolled together with Helen Hayes, then you have some idea of what J. was like on stage. Tonight, fully made up and in costume including her pointed headdress, she stood a stately watch over the arrival of the audience as her slavegirls outbid each other to see who could sell the cheapest program. As usual havoc reigned in this wacky theater.
                J. had called me to arrange a meeting about a coming production for which I was supposed to compose. She would leave a ticket for me at the box-office. She promised me that we would share a bottle of champagne someone had given to her in her dressing room after the play.
                I took my place among the unmarked, old-fashioned upholstered chairs in what once had been a stylish little theater, but which now was decorated pleasantly with dolls and puppets and bric-a-brac from another era. We squeezed in together to watch what these nutty, playful performers, most of them really actors from children's productions, could make out of Rome and Egypt before Christianity.
                 We saw Caesar in a puppet show and Marc Anthony on a trapeze among other shenanigans in the first act. The intermission came all too quickly, but we trotted out obediently to talk and stretch, knowing that the second act would be at least as crazy. Of course Cleopatra would have to die...
                When we came in to the second act everyone found  places except a couple standing in the aisle as the houselights went down. They were quibbling with some people sitting in the second row, something about who was to sit where. Evidently two children who had not been able to get seats beside their parents in the first act had used the break to move, thus displacing the two people now ranting in the aisle.
                This conversation filled the hall as the audience quietly waited for the second act. The lights dimmed again and then went out. A spotlight focussed on the drawn curtains. A jewelled hand took hold of the curtain edge and Cleopatra stepped into the dazzling light. Her face was painted fiercely with blues and greens and pinks, her eyes were framed in black, her lips were colored a brilliant red and she formed her words like an oracle. She spoke very, very quietly:
                "Here we are trying to tell a modest story about the misuse of power and the lack of consideration among men and women of power."
                Her voice got louder and deeper.
                "Suddenly we discover that the very people who have come to watch our story have decided to give us their own, living example!"
                Now it reached the pitch and intensity of an angry tigress.
                "You will find empty seats a few rows back. Take those immediately!!"
                And then she spoke in an intense whisper.
                "And as a reward for your trouble, please come backstage afterwards. I have a bottle of champagne for you!"
                She turned her back dramatically on the audience and disappeared. Everyone clapped. Except for me.
                I could already see our bottle of champagne in a plastic bag in the hands of the displaced couple backstage after the play. They were bowing and stuttering and excusing themselves before hurrying into the night to drink their ill-gotten gains in some suburban villa.
                I would get a cup of tea.
                For some reason the second act did not live up to my expectations.
                Oh, well, what price art...

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