Wednesday, March 13, 2013.
The house lights dim. The audience quiets.
ON THE BIG FLATSCREEN: Jagged yellow lettering on black:
By William Shakespeare with The Fletcher Correctional Players
ONSCREEN: A hand-printed sign, held up to the camera by Announcer, wearing a short purple velvet cloak. In his other hand, a quill.
SIGN: A SUDDEN TEMPEST
ANNOUNCER: What you’re gonna see, is a storm at sea: Winds are howlin’, sailors yowlin’, Passengers cursin’ ’em, ’cause it gettin’ worse: Gonna hear screams, just like a ba-a-d dream, But not all here is what it seem, Just sayin’. Grins.
Now we gonna start the playin’.
He gestures with the quill. Cut to: Thunder and lightning, in funnel cloud, screengrab from the Tornado Channel. Stock shot of ocean waves. Stock shot of rain. Sound of howling wind.
Camera zooms in on a bathtub-toy sailboat tossing up and down on a blue plastic shower curtain with fish on it, the waves made by hands underneath.
Closeup of Boatswain in a black knitted tuque. Water is thrown on him from offscreen. He is drenched.
Boatswain: Fall to’t yarely, or we run ourselves aground!
Yare! Yare! Beware! Beware! Let’s just do it,
Better get to it, Trim the sails, Fight the gales,
Unless you wantin’ to swim with the whales!
Voices off: We’re all gonna drown!
Boatswain: Get outta tha’ way! No time for play!
A bucketful of water hits him in the face.
Voices off: Listen to me! Listen to me!
Don’t you know we’re royalty?
Boatswain: Yare! Yare! The waves don’t care! The wind is roarin’, the rain is pourin’,
All you do is stand and stare!
Voices off: You’re drunk!
Boatswain: You’re a idiot!
Voices off: We’re doomed!
Voices off: We’re sunk!
Closeup of Ariel in a blue bathing cap and iridescent ski goggles, blue makeup on the lower half of his face. He’s wearing a translucent plastic raincoat with ladybugs, bees, and butterflies on it. Behind his left shoulder there’s an odd shadow. He laughs soundlessly, points upward with his right hand, which is encased in a blue rubber glove. Lightning flash, thunderclap.
Voices off: Let’s pray!
Boatswain: What’s that you say?
Voices off: We’re goin’ down! We’re gonna drown!
Ain’t gonna see the King no more! Jump offa the ship, swim for the shore!
Ariel throws his head back and laughs with delight. In each of his blue rubber hands he’s holding a high-powered flashlight, in flicker mode.
The screen goes black.
A voice from the audience: What?
Another voice: Power’s off.
Another voice: Must be the blizzard. A line down somewhere.
Total darkness. Confused noise from outside the room. Yelling.
Shots are fired.
A voice from the audience: What’s going on?
Voices, from outside the room: Lockdown! Lockdown!
A voice from the audience: Who’s in charge here?
Three more shots.
A voice, from inside the room: Don’t move! Quiet!
Keep your heads down! Stay right where you are.
Monday, January 7, 2013.
Felix brushes his teeth. Then he brushes his other teeth, the false ones, and slides them into his mouth. Despite the layer of pink adhesive he’s applied, they don’t fit very well; perhaps his mouth is shrinking. He smiles: the illusion of a smile. Pretense, fakery, but who’s to know?
Once he would have called his dentist and made an appointment, and the luxurious faux-leather chair would have been his, the concerned face smelling of mint mouth wash, the skilled hands wielding gleaming instruments. Ah yes, I see the problem. No worries, we’ll get that fixed for you. Like taking his car in for a tuneup. He might even have been graced with music on the earphones and a semi knockout pill.
But he can’t afford such professional adjustments now. His dental care is low-rent, so he’s at the mercy of his un reliable teeth. Too bad, because that’s all he needs for his upcoming finale: a denture meltdown. Our revelth now have ended. Theeth our actorth … Should that happen, his humiliation would be total; at the thought of it even his lungs blush. If the words are not perfect, the pitch exact, the modulation delicately adjusted, the spell fails. People start to shift in their seats, and cough, and go home at intermission. It’s like death.
“Mi-my-mo-moo,” he tells the toothpaste-speckled mirror over the kitchen sink. He lowers his eyebrows, juts out his chin. Then he grins: the grin of a cornered chimpanzee, part anger, part threat, part dejection.
How he has fallen. How deflated. How reduced. Cobbling together this bare existence, living in a hovel, ignored in a forgotten backwater; whereas Tony, that self-promoting, posturing little shit, gallivants about with the grandees, and swills champagne, and gobbles caviar and larks’ tongues and suckling pigs, and attends galas, and basks in the adoration of his entourage, his flunkies, his toadies . . .
Once the toadies of Felix.
It rankles. It festers. It brews vengefulness. If only . . . Enough. Shoulders straight, he orders his grey reflection. Suck it up. He knows without looking that he’s developing a paunch. Maybe he should get a truss.
Never mind! Reef in the stomach! There’s work to be done, there are plots to be plotted, there are scams to be scammed, there are villains to be misled! Tip of the tongue, top of the teeth. Testing the tempestuous teapot. She sells seashells by the seashore.
There. Not a syllable fluffed.
He can still do it. He’ll pull it off, despite all obstacles. Charm the pants off them at first, not that he’d relish the resulting sight. Wow them with wonder, as he says to his actors. Let’s make magic!
And let’s shove it down the throat of that devious, twisted bastard, Tony.
2. HIGH CHARMS
That devious, twisted bastard, Tony, is Felix’s own fault. Or mostly his fault. Over the past twelve years, he’s often blamed himself. He gave Tony too much scope, he didn’t supervise, he didn’t look over Tony’s nattily suited, padded, pinstriped shoulder. He didn’t pick up on the clues, as anyone with half a brain and two ears might have done. Worse: he’d trusted the evil-hearted, social-clambering, Machiavellian foot-licker. He’d fallen for the act: Let me do this chore for you, delegate that, send me instead. What a fool he’d been.
His only excuse was that he’d been distracted by grief at that time. He’d recently lost his only child, and in such a terrible way. If only he had, if only he hadn’t, if only he’d been aware . . .
No, too painful still. Don’t think about it, he tells himself while doing up the buttons of his shirt. Hold it far back. Pretend it was only a movie.
Even if that not-to-be-thought-about event hadn’t occurred, he’d most likely still have been ambushed. He’d fallen into the habit of letting Tony run the mundane end of the show, because, after all, Felix was the Artistic Director, as Tony kept reminding him, and he was at the height of his powers, or so they kept saying in the reviews; therefore he ought to concern himself with higher aims.
And he did concern himself with higher aims. To create the lushest, the most beautiful, the most awe-inspiring, the most inventive, the most numinous theatrical experiences ever. To raise the bar as high as the moon. To forge from every production an experience no one attending it would ever forget. To evoke the collective indrawn breath, the collective sigh; to have the audience leave, after the performance, staggering a little as if drunk. To make the Makeshiweg Festival the standard against which all lesser theatre festivals would be measured.
These were no mean goals.
To accomplish them, Felix had pulled together the ablest backup teams he could cajole. He’d hired the best, he’d inspired the best. Or the best he could afford. He’d handpicked the technical gnomes and gremlins, the lighting designers, the sound technicians. He’d headhunted the most admired scenery and costume designers of his day, the ones he could persuade. All of them had to be top of the line, and beyond. If possible.
So he’d needed money.
Finding the money had been Tony’s thing. A lesser thing: the money was only a means to an end, the end being transcendence: that had been understood by both of them. Felix the cloud-riding enchanter, Tony the earth-based factotum and gold-grubber. It had seemed an appropriate division of functions, considering their respective talents. As Tony himself had put it, each of them should do what he was good at.
Idiot, Felix berates himself. He’d understood nothing. As for the height of his powers, the height is always ominous. From the height, there’s nowhere to go but down.
Tony had been all too eager to liberate Felix from the rituals Felix hated, such as the attending of cocktail functions and the buttering-up of sponsors and patrons, and the hobnobbing with the Board, and the facilitating of grants from the various levels of government, and the writing of effective reports. That way—said Tony—Felix could devote himself to the things that really mattered, such as his perceptive script notes and his cutting-edge lighting schemes and the exact timing of the showers of glitter confetti of which he had made such genius use.
And his directing, of course. Felix had always built in one or two plays a season for himself to direct. Once in a while he would even take the central part, if it was some thing he’d felt drawn to. Julius Caesar. The tartan king. Lear. Titus Andronicus. Triumphs for him, every one of those roles! And every one of his productions!
Or triumphs with the critics, though the playgoers and even the patrons had grumbled from time to time. The al most-naked, freely bleeding Lavinia in Titus was too upset tingly graphic, they’d whined; though, as Felix had pointed out, more than justified by the text. Why did Pericles have to be staged with spaceships and extraterrestrials instead of sailing ships and foreign countries, and why present the moon goddess Artemis with the head of a praying mantis? Even though- said Felix to the Board, in his own defence it was totally fitting, if you thought deeply enough about it. And Hermione’s return to life as a vampire in The Winter’s Tale: that had actually been booed. Felix had been de lighted: What an effect! Who else had ever done it? Where there are boos, there’s life!
Those escapades, those flights of fancy, those triumphs had been the brainchildren of an earlier Felix. They’d been acts of jubilation, of a happy exuberance. In the time just before Tony’s coup, things had changed. They had darkened, and darkened so suddenly. Howl, howl, howl . ..
But he could not howl.
His wife, Nadia, was the first to leave him, barely a year after their marriage. It was a late marriage for him, and an unexpected one: he hadn’t known he was capable of that kind of love. He was just discovering her virtues, just getting to really know her, when she’d died of a galloping staph infection right after childbirth. Such things happened, despite modern medicine. He still tries to recall her image, make her vivid for himself once more, but over the years she’s moved gently away from him, fading like an old Polaroid. Now she’s little more than an outline; an outline he fills with sadness.
So he was on his own with his newborn daughter, Miranda. Miranda: what else would he have named a motherless baby girl with a middle-aged, doting father? She was what had kept him from sinking down into chaos. He’d held himself together the best way he could, which was not too well; but still, he’d managed. He’d hired help, of course -he’d needed some women, since he knew nothing about the practical side of baby care, and because of his work he couldn’t be there with Miranda all the time. But he’d spent every free moment he could with her. Though there hadn’t been many free moments.
He’d been entranced with her from the start. He’d hovered, he’d marvelled. So perfect, her fingers, her toes, her eyes! Such a delight! Once she could talk he’d even taken her to the theatre; so bright she’d been. She’d sit there, taking it all in, not wriggling or bored as a lesser two-year-old would have been. He’d had such plans: once she was bigger they would travel together, he could show her the world, he could teach her so many things. But then, at the age of three . . .
High fever. Meningitis. They’d tried to reach him, the women, but he’d been in rehearsal with strict orders not to be interrupted and they hadn’t known what to do. When he finally got home there were frantic tears, and then the drive to the hospital, but it was too late, too late.
The doctors had done everything they could: every platitude had been applied, every excuse offered. But nothing worked, and then she was gone. Carried off, as they used to say. But carried off where? She couldn’t have simply vanished from the universe. He’d refused to believe that.
Lavinia, Juliet, Cordelia, Perdita, Marina. All the lost daughters. But some of them had been found again. Why not his Miranda?
What to do with such a sorrow? It was like an enormous black cloud boiling up over the horizon. No: it was like a blizzard. No: it was like nothing he could put into language. He couldn’t face it head-on. He had to transform it, or at the very least enclose it.
Right after the funeral with its pathetically small coffin he’d plunged himself into The Tempest. It was an evasion, he knew that much about himself even then, but it was also to be a kind of reincarnation.
Miranda would become the daughter who had not been lost; who’d been a protecting cherub, cheering her exiled father as they’d drifted in their leaking boat over the dark sea; who hadn’t died, but had grown up into a lovely girl.
What he couldn’t have in life he might still catch sight of through his art: just a glimpse, from the corner of his eye.
He would create a fit setting for this reborn Miranda he was willing into being. He would outdo himself as an actor-director. He would push every envelope, he would twist reality until it twangled. There was a feverish desperation in those long-ago efforts of his, but didn’t the best art have desperation at its core? Wasn’t it always a challenge to Death? A defiant middle finger on the edge of the abyss?
His Ariel, he’d decided, would be played by a transvestite on stilts who’d transform into a giant firefly at significant moments. His Caliban would be a scabby street person—black or maybe Native—and a paraplegic as well, pushing himself around the stage on an oversized skateboard. Stephano and Trinculo? He hadn’t worked them out, but bowler hats and codpieces would be involved. And juggling: Trinculo could juggle some things he might pick up on the beach of the magic island, such as squids.
His Miranda would be superb. She would be a wild thing, as it stood to reason she must have been—ship-wrecked, then running all over the island for twelve years, most likely barefoot, for where would she have come by shoes? She must’ve had feet with soles on them like boots.
After an exhausting search during which he’d rejected the merely young and the merely pretty, he’d cast a former child gymnast who’d gone all the way to Silver in the North American championships and had then been accepted at the National Theatre School: a strong, supple waif, just coming into bloom. Anne-Marie Greenland was her name. She was so eager, so energetic: barely over sixteen. She had little theatrical training, but he knew he could coax what he wanted out of her. A performance so fresh it wouldn’t even be a performance. It would be reality. Through her, his Miranda would come back to life.
Felix himself would be Prospero, her loving father. Protective—perhaps too protective, but only because he was acting in his daughter’s best interests. And wise; wiser than Felix. Though even wise Prospero was stupidly trusting of those close to him, and too interested in perfecting his wizardly skills.
Prospero’s magic garment would be made of animals—not real animals or even realistic ones, but plush toys that had been unstuffed and then sewn together: squirrels, rabbits, lions, a tiger-like thing, and several bears. These animals would evoke the elemental nature of Prospero’s supernatural yet natural powers. Felix had ordered some fake leaves and spray-painted gold flowers and gaudy dyed feathers that would be intertwined among the furry creatures to give his cape extra pizzazz and depth of meaning. He would wield a staff he’d found in an antique shop: an elegant Edwardian walking stick with a silver fox head on the top and eyes that were possibly jade. It was a modest length for a wizard’s staff, but Felix liked to juxtapose extravagance with understatement. Such an octogenarian prop could play ironically at crucial moments. At the end of the play, during Prospero’s Epilogue, he’d planned a sunset effect, with glitter confetti falling from above like snow.
This Tempest would be brilliant: the best thing he’d ever done. He had been—he realizes now—unhealthily obsessed with it. It was like the Taj Mahal, an ornate mausoleum raised in honour of a beloved shade, or a priceless jewelled casket containing ashes. But more than that, be cause inside the charmed bubble he was creating, his Miranda would live again.
All the more crushing for him when it had fallen apart.