Chapter 3 – The Play’s the Thing
“Now my would-be thespians,” Stanton McIver said in his overly accented voice, “It’s time to start choosing our parts for ‘Hamlet.’”
The 15 class members looked at one another. It was the first day of the third week of the class, and they knew this day would be coming when they’d be chosen to play certain roles in the production. Some of them had already set their eyes upon certain parts.
Secretly, Kenny wondered if he’d not be a perfect choice for Hamlet, since he always considered Hamlet to be a rather confused and indecisive person; he toyed with the idea that he’d play him as a bit effeminate. In McIver’s sometimes over-the-top flaming mannerisms, he figured the professor might even agree with Kenny’s assessment of Hamlet. Then again, might not even the more flamboyant Jimmie not fulfill the role even more fittingly?
Suddenly, Kenny had a crazy thought: why not play Ophelia? Didn’t everyone say he made a perfect-looking girl? Even his voice carried feminine characteristics, and with a little coaching, he was sure he’d make a believable young lady. He almost laughed out loud as the thought entered his mind. How ridiculous!
“First of all,” McIver began, “We’ll not worry about gender in this play, since we’ve got 15 actors and only three of you are male. As we all know, in Shakespeare’s time, there were no women actors, with men taking the stage in the female parts. Many of you young ladies will be playing male roles, and I can see some of the young men in here might easily play female roles. What is critical now is who will do the best in each role.”
He paused and seemed to look directly at Kenny. He then continued:
“Now I have passed out several small pieces of paper to each of you, and I want you to write on the blue piece the part you think you would be best able to play. Don’t be shy. If you think you could be a good Hamlet, write it down. Also, put your name on the paper so I know who you are. All I do is to ask you to be realistic in what you think your capabilities are.”
He paused again.
“Then on the yellow piece of paper, write down the name of the persons in this class who you think might make the best Hamlet and the best Ophelia. Again, don’t worry about the sexes.”
“Can we confer among ourselves?” Mary Lindstrom asked.
“No way,” McIver replied. “I want you to do it privately and honestly. Give me your real feelings now. This is not a popularity contest, girls and boys. You’ve got ten minutes, and no talking among you. And you should not sign the yellow slip, since I want you to make your choices anonymously so you can be honest and fair. Understand?”
“May I ask another question?” asked Carla.
“Why are you concerned only with Hamlet and Ophelia?” she asked. “Ophelia really doesn’t have as big a part as . . . ah . . . ah . . . say, Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.”
“Very good question, Carla,” the professor began. “Because, dear actors, we’re not going to attempt to do the entire play. It’s far too long, and since we are inviting many high school students to see it, we want to give the story a twist that should interest them. That means we’ll concentrate on the broken love affair of Hamlet and Ophelia.”
“That’s cool,” Carla said.
“And also students, I’ll be narrating a story line for the audience as we go along. We want to show the audience just how exciting a Shakespeare play can be.”
“I suppose the boys from the basketball camp will be there?” Carla asked.
“Oh yes,” McIver said, with a smile. “That means we’ll need a particularly fetching girl play Ophelia.”
Kenny looked over at Mark, surprised to see his roommate had developed an impish grin; Mark nodded at Kenny and smiled a bit broadly, causing Kenny to wonder what was on the boy’s mind at the moment.
Finally, Kenny wrote on the blue paper, “Hamlet,” adding his name as the part he thought he could play.
On the yellow sheet, he wrote “Hamlet to be played by Mark” and “Ophelia to be played by Jimmie.”
He folded both sheets, and looked again at Mark, who again grinned conspiratorially back at him. Kenny still couldn’t figure out what was on Mark’s mind.
Professor McIver collected the sheets of paper from the students and he announced that he’d look at the papers, consider the recommendations of all the students and then make his own conclusions as to who would play what part. “I’ll look at the slips over the lunch hour and announced his decisions at the start of the afternoon session,” he said. The rest of the morning was spent with each student taking a turn at reading the famed “To Be or Not to Be” speech, with each presentation followed by an analysis of the performance.
Wisconsin’s fields, trees and foliage turn a lush green in June, fueled by the cool spring rains of the climate, and this year was no exception. Stepping out from the school building at the lunch break, Kenny couldn’t help but be swept into the sparkle of the bright blue sky, the glimpses of the lake through the trees and the unexpected warmth of the day.
Mark joined him in the walk to the cafeteria for lunch.
“I just love this time of the year,” Kenny said. “It’s so incredibly pretty here.”
“You love beautiful things, don’t you?” Mark said, placing a hand on Kenny’s bare forearm as they walked.
“I guess,” Kenny replied, suddenly feeling a tinge of excitement as he felt the other’s hand, so light and gentle on his skin.
“It’s only natural for you, Karen,” Mark said softly, using his girl’s name. “You’re such a beautiful thing yourself.”
“Quiet, Mark. Don’t use that name here. Somebody’ll hear you.”
“Well, it’s true. I thought you were so pretty the other day so I suggested you could be Ophelia.”
“You what? Oh no, Mark. You’re teasing me now.”
“Why not? Men played the female parts in Shakespeare’s time and you’re just so pretty. You’d be perfect for the part.”
“I don’t know, Mark,” Kenny said, realizing that everything Mark said was true. Besides, hadn’t he secretly thought about playing the role, too?
“And I think Carla and Mary suggested you, too.”
“Oh my God,” Kenny said, his thoughts racing, picturing himself as a copy of the fragile beauty of Jean Simmons in the 1948 movie version of Hamlet. He saw himself wearing the diaphanous white frock that Simmons wore when she drowned near the play’s climax. He had seen the film dozens of time and had several times envisioned himself as Ophelia, a fact he never told anyone about.
“You’ll be perfect for the part, Karen,” Mark said, whispering the name this time.
Kenny blushed and then smiled at his companion, wanting badly to reach over and smother him with kisses. He didn’t do it, of course, since they were in the middle of campus with throngs of students wandering about. The thought warmed his heart and made this magnificent June day even more heavenly beautiful.
At the cafeteria table, Mark and Kenny were joined by Mary and Carla and the four talked openly about how the parts should be cast. There was no question that Mark, as the only openly masculine boy in the class, should be Hamlet, although Carla wondered whether such a “hunk” could adequately portray the sometimes diffident and indecisive Hamlet.
“I think Mark can portray that weakness of character,” Mary said. “In fact, he’s perfect since Hamlet was renowned as a warrior. So you need a masculine guy, who can also be reflective and melancholy. It’ll take a good acting job to pull it off, and I think Mark can.”
“Yes, yes,” Carla added, enthusiastically.
Carla said she’d like to be Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. “I wanna be sinister,” Carla said.
“That’ll be easy for you,” Mary said with a laugh.
Carla gave her friend a sharp, but playful jab in the arm.
Mary said she’d like to play Polonius, the pompous, old courtier who played a major role. They all agreed she’d do fine in the part.
“How about Kenny?” asked Mark.
“Oh that’s easy,” Carla said. “Ophelia.”
“Yes,” echoed Mary.
“I knew Karen would be perfect for the part when we first dressed her up for the beach,” Carla said.
“I couldn’t,” Kenny protested, though his protest seemed weak.
Kenny felt tense as the afternoon class session opened, half wishing he’d get a male part so that he’d be spared the attention of playing a female part.
“Let’s not keep you all waiting about my choices for the parts,” Professor McIver said. “First of all let me say this. You are all excellent actors and just because you may not be chosen for a certain part does not mean I value your skill any the less. Some of you will be disappointed and you’ll have to learn to live with that disappointment. Remember, it comes with the profession. You’ll have more disappointments than triumphs, but believe me the triumphs and the joy of participating in a successful performance in whatever part so makes up for the disappointments.
“Finally, I want you to know that I will not – that is no, n-o-t – tolerate anyone coming to me to say that they want a certain part. The only discussion I’ll have about this is any of you feel you are incapable of handling the part. Then I might consider changing your role, but you have to have a sound reason that will convince me to change my mind. Understood?”
The students replied almost in unison with a “yes.”
Kenny’s stomach began to growl and he felt light-headed, worried that he’d be named Ophelia and might face ridicule for the part. Alternately, he knew he desperately wanted the part. Why was life so confusing?
“Let’s take care of the Hamlet part first,” Professor McIver said. “I don’t think there’s much debate about this assignment. All of you – except one person – said the part should be played by Mark. So Mark, you’ve got the part, and I know you can do it justice.”
The class applauded the selection, and Jimmie, sitting next to Kenny, whispered: “I wonder why no one named you or me.” He giggled in an exaggerated girlish manner. Kenny smiled and looked over to Mark, feeling the urge to run over and throw his arms around the boy.
The professor continued down, listing his choices for the parts. Mary was to play Polonius; Carla to play Gertrude, the mother of Hamlet, and Jimmie would be Laertes. Kenny’s name was yet to be called, and there was no mention of who’d play Ophelia.
“What’s he got in mind for you, I wonder?” Jimmie said to Kenny in a hushed voice.
Kenny’s stomach was in knots, as he waited for what he knew was coming; hadn’t everyone said he’d be a natural for the part?
“Now for other key role in this play, that of Ophelia,” Professor McIver began. “Again, all of you, except one, named this person to play the part.”
Kenny waited, holding his breath, for him to continue, but realized the professor was looking directly at him, as were the others in the classroom.
“In the traditions of the ancient theatre,” McIver began in a stentorian voice, “You all chose Kenny to be Ophelia, and I must say you all noticed something in our fair Kenny that told you he’ll make a lovely and beautiful Ophelia. And I agree. Kenny, you’ll be the doomed damsel in our little play.”
There was enthusiastic applause; Mark rose from his seat and several others followed with Jimmie rising and leaning over to give Kenny a flamboyant kiss on his cheek. Kenny sat, growing red-faced and finally stood offering a pronounced curtsey that brought even more applause. It was obvious he was a popular choice.
“So we’re going to be lovers,” Mark said to Kenny as the class ended and they walked back to their room.
“Sort of weird, isn’t it?” Kenny responded.
“Not to me, and I hope not really to you.”
Kenny was taken aback by this comment, which sounded like this masculine friend was looking forward to a relationship as lovers. Could he mean that Mark longed for such an affair, even though he, Kenny, was a boy, although a quite girlish boy?
“I find myself so attracted to you, Karen,” Mark said. The pair had stopped along the pathway which wound through a small wooded area. “You’re really so pretty and I’ve been dreaming about this for sometime.”
The boy took Kenny’s hands, engulfing Kenny’s slender soft hands into his large strong grip, and he drew Kenny forward, kissing him on the lips, and holding the kiss there. Kenny felt his penis grow hard, and he let himself fall into the other’s arms.
“Oops, someone’s coming,” Mark said, quickly releasing Kenny. The two continued to the room.
Professor McIver told the actors that since time was short they’d have to begin to “act” their roles even outside of class or rehearsals.
“That means you ladies who have male parts will have to observe and pickup the mannerisms of men, and that’s something you must try to do 24/7,” he said the next day. “And Kenny, you should consider acting girlishly continually and I might even advise beginning to wear more female clothes so that you get comfortable with dresses and skirts.”
As the students had been told many times by the professor, actors had to become consumed into the roles they were playing, even if it meant affecting their daily lives. Kenny had looked up McIver’s background on the internet and learned he had been at the famed Actor’s Studio and was taught in the method acting style.
Carla, who was sitting next to him in class, leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, Karen, I think we can outfit you and make you a pretty Ophelia.”
Kenny grew noticeably red in the face, feeling embarrassed at the attention he was getting, apparently due to his obvious natural femininity. Did everyone think he was some kind of weirdo or sissified boy? As he thought about it, the idea grew on him more and more and he began to realize that the female life was so natural for him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mark, sitting two rows away, seemed to signal to him, and Kenny took a quick glance. Did Mark just wink at him, he wondered? Yes, that’s what he did, accompanied by an impish smile.
At the lunch break, Mark and Kenny found a picnic table just outside the cafeteria; the college had set up an outdoor dining area that was used on pleasant days. The two boys carried their trays out, hurrying to claim the table before others; Mark quickly placed his tray on the table, and looked to Kenny.
“Here, let me help you,” he said softly, taking Kenny’s tray and placing it next his so that they’d sit next to each other.
To Kenny’s surprise, the other boy took his hand and helped him step over the bench in order to sit down, and Kenny realized Mark was treating him as he’d treat a girl friend.
“What are you doing?” Kenny asked, worried that others might be seeing this action and mark them as a homosexual couple.
“Just being a gentleman,” Mark replied.
“But, everyone’ll be looking . . . “
“Of course, but how else is a man to treat his woman? Remember, we’re lovers in a play.”
Kenny accepted the other’s gentle support and daintily stepped over the bench seat and found his place. Mark moved in right next to him, and soon the other places on the picnic table were occupied by others from the class, including all four girls who had accompanied Kenny to the beach on the previous Saturday.
“We’re all going to help you dress,” Carla announced as they settled into their lunches. “Both Emily and Sally will bring outfits to my room for you to wear and we’ll see that we can outfit you.”
“When do you want to do that?” Kenny asked.
“Right after class, so she can be dressed as Karen for dinner time,” Carla said.
“Boy I’d like to be there,” Mark said, “And see my love get even prettier.”
“No way,” Mary said sharply. “Only after we’re done can you see her.”
“Yeah, think of it like a wedding when the groom can’t see the bride until she walks down the aisle,” Sally chimed in.
“Oh I can’t wait,” Emily said. “I got just the outfit for her. She’ll look so stunning.”
Kenny was unused to getting such attention and wasn’t sure he enjoyed it.
“This is turning into a class project,” he said.
They all laughed, and Kenny felt a hand gently touch and caress his inner thigh, realizing that Mark was already feeling that he was sitting next to a pretty girl. Kenny wondered whether he should brush the other’s hand away, but suddenly felt warm and excited by the massaging fingers. He welcomed the touch. Wasn’t that the way a girl should feel?
The four girls almost came to blows as they discussed what outfit would make Kenny the prettiest of girls.
Sally wanted Kenny to wear a yellow summer mini-dress with spaghetti straps that showed a lot of skin. She held it up against Kenny and announced: “Look how stunning it will be for her.”
“Oh my God no,” protested Emily. “That’s too . . .ah . . . provocative. It’s almost sinful, Sally.”
“Oh pooh,” Sally said. “You’re such a prude. You must realize that Karen has such lovely legs and they’re worth showing off.”
“They’ll also show her panties,” Sally argued.
“We got time. Let her try it on and we’ll see what we think,” Carla suggested.
Kenny listened as they argued, but found the idea of wearing such a revealing dress so exciting; most boys who would wear such a dress would just look ridiculous, he thought, but he knew how dainty and feminine his own body was. Maybe he should show it off.
“Don’t I have a say in all this?” he finally asked, as they continued to argue. “Let me try it on.”
He retreated to the bathroom, where he took off all of his clothes and put on a strap with a sanitary napkin to capture his penis, followed by a crème-colored layered panty. Totally nude, except for the panty, he emerged from the bathroom.
“Such a lovely body,” Emily said.
“I’d kill for that body,” Carla said, whose own physique was larger and wider than Kenny’s.
“She has a cute butt, too, and even little girl breasts,” Sally said.
“Awww, come on,” Kenny protested. “Let’s get on with it.”
They fitted him with a bra that matched his panties, filling it was breast forms brought by Sally, herself a girl with tiny, almost adolescent breasts. “These’ll give you a nice b-cup size, Karen, which is big enough for a petite girl like you,” she said.
He blushed, realizing that all four of the girls were calling him Karen and referring to “her” and “she.” It was as if he ceased to be a boy in their presence. He had been so ashamed to take off his shirt in public – and particularly in gym locker rooms – because of his unmuscular frame, but for some reason he felt totally comfortable in being nearly nude in front of a bunch of girls. It was as if he fitted in as being one of them. He liked the idea.
The yellow dress fit him perfectly, and they all were excited at how he looked.
“Isn’t she luscious?” Carla said.
“Yeah, she’ll have every boy on campus lusting after her,” Sally said.
“Maybe it’s too hot for her,” Emily said. “Won’t that make her look sluttish?”
“What do you think, Karen?” Carla asked.
Examining himself in the mirror, he felt his own penis hardening within its restricted pouch. The girl Karen was indeed hot and seductive in the dress.
“I love it, but maybe it reveals too much,” he said. “But let’s call Mark over and see what he thinks. He can’t wait to see me.”
“Really? That’s so sweet,” Carla said. “I’ll call his cell.”
“You’re a true princess, Karen,” Mark said, standing back and looking at the lovely girl in front of him.
Kenny, by now feeling totally feminine in the light, flowing dress, turned this way and that, flailing his skinny, soft arms with his skirt rising up his thighs in a most provocative manner. He flicked his hair gently and touched the sparkling clip-on earrings that dangled.
The four girls, by now proud of their creation, applauded, followed by some giggles.
Mark crossed the room and quickly captured Kenny in his arms, and drew the lovely girl firmly but gently close, placing a soft, lovely kiss on his lips. Kenny felt weak and grew limp in the strong boy’s arms, welcoming his caresses on his smooth skin.
“That’s enough now, Mark,” Carla warned. “You don’t want to ruin her lipstick or dress.”
“Isn’t she a dream?” Mark said, released Kenny from his grasp. “I need to show you off, Karen. All the guys’ll be so jealous of me.”
Kenny smiled at the prospect of being paraded before a bunch of testosterone-motivated boys; he truly felt he was now the epitome of girlhood. There was a lingering fear that someone might detect a bit of the old Kenny within the appearance of loveliness that he felt he presented and he’d get outed. Yet, being with Mark, easily one of the most athletic boys in the summer camp, he felt safe.
“No, you’ll not show her off, Mark,” Mary interrupted. “She’s our for tonight. We created her and we need to show her off.”
“Aww, come on!” Mark said. “She needs a escort. Let me be her escort tonight.”
“You mean come along with all us girls?” Carla asked.
“If it has to be, yes,” Mark said.
Quickly turning toward Kenny, he said: “Karen, dear, would you join me tonight. I’d like to take you out to that Summer Festival on the Lakefront and show you off.”
Kenny was troubled now. He owed so much to the four girls who had accepted him and created him into a lovely young girl, and making him so suitable to play Ophelia, that he didn’t want to disappoint them; yet, he yearned to walk into the festival arm-in-arm with a strong young man like Mark.
“Oh no you won’t, Mark,” Carla said. “We dressed her up because we’re going to have a girls’ night out. She’s coming with us.”
“But, wouldn’t she rather be with me?”
“Maybe, Mark, but you’ll have your time with her,” Carla said. “We dressed her, and we’re all going to Pizza Alley but it’s girl’s only.”
“She should change into something less sexy, I think,” Mark said.
“Crap, Mark,” it was Sally talking now. “We’re all dressed about the same. What makes her different?”
“Well, she’ll get hit on.”
“We’ll protect her,” Carla said.
“Why can’t I join you?” Mark pleaded.
Carla looked at her girl friends, finally agreeing. “Ok, come along, Mark. It’ll be fun.”
Karen shrugged, realizing her evening was planned for her.
(To Be Continued)
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