Chapter Two: Play With Fire
As the curtain rose, I took a deep breath and tried to get into character. I’d never tried to impersonate someone for more than a few lines — just long enough to skewer them, really. But I knew I would need way more than that to make this work. I tried to visualize myself sinking into Beatrice, or wrapping her around myself like a cloak.
It seemed to work about as well as “Visualize world peace.”
Act II begins with Leonato, so Kit started us off. “Was not Count John here at supper?”
Denis as Antonio replied, “I saw him not.”
Aaaaand . . . here I go! “How tartly that gentleman looks! I never can see him but I am heart-burn’d an hour after.”
I’m pretty sure the audience had been fooled by the magic that ChristinA and Tanya had wrought, but when I opened my mouth, they knew there’d been a switch. Not because my voice was off – it wasn’t, I was sure – but it was clear as day that I was stone cold sober. Maybe I should have played it drunk.
There was a lot of laughter, and a few good-natured boos, and someone shouted, “Bring back the lush!” Hero’s line got drowned out, but I figured they’d settle down — it’s a frickin’ long play, after all. Hopefully in the end the swap out would prove to be, well . . . much ado about nothing.
“He were an excellent man that were made just in the midway between him and Benedick: the one is too like an image and says nothing, and the other is too like my lady’s eldest son, ever more tattling.” My words were tart and teasing – it was Beatrice’s way.
The dialogue for this scene was much like the first scene of Act one – quick-witted banter, with Beatrice clearly overmatching everyone around her. I jousted with Leonato and Antonio before the rest of the crew joined them, and everyone prepared for the masquerade. It was going okay. I had the lines, the general tone, and the voice. But for once, I wanted more than “okay.” C’mon, Jon! Visualize!
Several couples had their anonymous exchanges—Don Pedro with Hero and Don John’s henchmen with two “ladies.” No one could have been fooled by the identities of the masquerade participants. Not here, and not in real life. I mean, seriously? He looks like the noble Don Billy Bob, sounds like him, smells like him, and has identical hair and eyes. But, hey, I can’t see his nose and cheekbones, so I can hock a loogie his way and say I had no idea, amiright?
But then it was my turn for masked conversation. And suddenly, almost effortlessly, as I looked at Dirk — as I looked at Benedick — I locked into my character. Or she locked onto me. I was Beatrice, and I was sparring with Benedick. . . . A most interesting gentleman indeed — like a snake, fascinating and dangerous.
Under the cover of the mask, I tease him mercilessly, telling him that Signior Benedick is the Prince’s jester — “a very dull fool; only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.”
Benedick fights back. Oh, he does try! But his famed wit is easily turned! I am the nimbler, besting him soundly in our battle of wits. Ha!
My next task is to bring poor Count Claudio to Don Pedro, and convince the youthful idiot that his prince had asked Leonato for Hero’s hand on Claudio’s behalf rather than his own. Claudio is earnest — painfully earnest! — so it’s FAR more trouble and effort than it would have been, had he even two parts of sense per hundredweight of sensitivity.
But, at the last, the thing’s accomplished. Done, and done.
The Prince, much taken with my wit and merry spirit, makes a half-hearted offer himself, asking if I will have him.
“No, my lord,” I answer lightly— but gently. So gently. “Unless I might have another for working-days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day. But I beseech your Grace pardon me, I was born to speak all mirth and no matter.”
He takes it well — a worthy prince, indeed— and finally, I made my first exit.
Keesha was waiting in the wings for me, and grabbed me in a fierce hug. “Shit, Dijon, you’re fantastic!”
Her words manage to jolt me back into reality. I stammered something — thanks, I think — then trotted backstage in search of water.
Julianne and Toby joined me there minutes later, since Hero and Claudio only have a few more lines after my exit. The chemistry between the two is real, and spills over into their roles. I poured them both a cup as they walked up, and Julianne repaid me with a breathtaking smile. “That was amazing. Just amazing!”
“We may get through this yet,” Toby agreed. “Unless the drunken damsel of Damocles recovers.”
I chuckled, and thanked them both. “My face still okay?”
Julianne gave it a careful look. “You’re still good, girl.” She turned strawberry rhubarb red and said, “Sorry, Jon. You just . . . I mean, you have no idea how good you are!”
“It’s okay,” I said in a gravelly baritone. “Hell, I feel pretty!” But I touched her arm lightly and added, in a normal voice, “If you don’t see me, no one out there will either.”
She shook her head. “Seriously— don’t worry about getting clocked. Your own mother wouldn’t recognize you.”
“That could come in handy sometime,” I quipped. “Listen, I’m not on ‘til the tail end of Scene Three, and I need to pee like a geyser. I think it’s gonna take a while to free myself up, if you know what I mean!”
She laughed. “Welcome to my world, sister! Go on. I’ll get Tanya so she can help put you back together when you’re done!”
I headed back to where the bathrooms are, and became aware of a fierce conversation taking place, fortunately with lowered voices.
“Swear to God, Jackson, I’ll hack your balls off with a rusty garden shovel! She was killing it — killing it! And now this?”
“Jenny Sue, be reasonable! Is it my fault she . . . .”
“Hell, yes, it’s your fault! You’re in charge, remember? The big shot director!”
And there, right in front of my most urgent destination, were Professor Hedrick and a woman who bore an uncanny — and distressing— resemblance to the girl who lay on her back between them, mouth open wide, emitting gentle snores. Someone had covered her up with a blanket. Shoulda maybe covered her face, too.
I decided the blunt and direct approach was best. “‘Scuse me, pardon me, coming through!”
“You!” said the older woman, trying to block my path. “Who the hell do you think you are, stealing my daughter’s part!”
But I was too desperate for subtlety. I dodged around her nimbly, leapt lightly over her daughter’s recumbent form, and pushed open the magic door to Elysian bliss. “Sorry, lady. We didn’t rehearse Snow White, and anyway we’re short on dwarfs.” Slamming the door behind me, I added, “blame your boyfriend.”
“Slut! Get out here!” She hammered on the door, but I ignored her in favor of more pressing concerns. Literally.
How to do this? Did I have to take the dress off altogether? Could I just hike it up without creating a mass of wrinkles?
Out on the stage, Don John and his dastardly henchmen gave way to Benedick, then to Don Pedro, Claudio, Leonato and Balthasar, executing their plan to have Benedick believe that Beatrice was in love with him. You know, in the alternative, people could just talk to each other. Sheesh!
On the other side of the door, the Artistic Director argued with a harpy over the future prospects of Lethargic Lynette. Gotta be lots of plays with parts for comatose young women, right?
Meanwhile, I wrestled with frickin’ spandex. Reinforced spandex. Jesus! It’s like pulling a boa constrictor over your nuts!
I finally got the job done and I was back out the door with only minutes to spare. Tanya was there waiting for me, but I had to run the gauntlet first. “Sorry y’all,” I said, once again hopping over Sleeping Not-Bad-Looking-With-Makeup.
“Just a God-damned minute, young lady!” The harpy managed to hook the back of my dress. “You aren’t going anywhere! My daughter worked hard on that part, and no one’s taking it from her!”
Moving slowly so as not to risk the beautiful dress, I knelt down beside Lynette, which got me out from under the hooked finger. “Hellooooo in there!!!” I made sure my voice was clear, but not so loud as to reach the stage. “Ding, ding, ding!!! Anybody home?? Stratford-on-Avon calling!” I gave Lynette several love taps on each cheek. “C’mon, Princess! Your adoring fans await!”
She paused her snoring . . . but only to belch. Then she snored louder.
I looked up at her mother, whose face would probably curdle a whole cow. Maybe a whole herd of cows. Cattle. Whatever. “Sorry. Lynette’s not home right now. Maybe try later.” I got to my feet.
Tanya said, “I gotta straighten that, and you’re on in, like, three.”
The harpy snarled, “Lynette’s going back on stage. Tonight! That’s final.”
I looked at Professor Hedrick, and saw that he was wringing his hands. Who does that? Seeing no help there, I turned back to the murderous mother. “Fine. I promise she’ll be back on stage tonight. But she’s not ready for this scene!” That disarmed her just enough for me to slip past.
“Hold still,” Tanya said.
“Not here!” I hissed, walking quickly. “Where’s Keesha?”
I headed that direction.
Tanya struggled to keep up. “Jesus, Dijon, she wouldn’t move if we had a tow truck winch! No way can we get her back out tonight!”
“Think of something.” We caught up to the stage manager. As Tanya fussed with my dress, I said, “Keesha, you need to get Lynette’s mom out of here. Back in the audience, at least.”
She nodded. “Yup. Got it. Tanya, can you take over here?”
Tanya nodded and Keesha dashed toward the back. Tanya looked on stage and said, “okay . . . You’re on in three . . . two . . . one!”
I strode onto a stage that held only . . .
. . . that fascinating, devilish Benedick! “Against my will I am sent to bid you come to dinner.”
He looks at me with a strange and disconcerting gleam in his eye, as if he were seeing me for the first time, or with new eyes. “Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains.”
There is no hint of mockery in his voice, and that itself is passing strange. A trap, no doubt, for all that I can’t see it yet. “I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come.”
“You take pleasure then in the message?” he probes.
Foolishness! “Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knive’s point, and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior, fare you well.”
And with that, I spun on my dainty heel — causing all the tassels on my hemline to whirl — and stalked off stage.
Tanya gave my shoulder a clout. “Good! Hang here; you’re back on in just a couple.”
I stood still, hoping no one noticed my trembling. It felt weird, like my personality was split down the middle. I remembered my mom telling me about a guy who was famous for doing impersonations when she was a kid. He used to dread doing some president that he really disliked, because he felt like he became the guy.
The other thing I remembered was telling mom that was bullshit. So, there’s that.
Benedick finished his short speech, the curtain dropped, and Hero and “Ladies” Margaret and Ursula took his place on stage. Then the curtain rose and the three ladies began plotting, because, yup. It’s what they do. Shakespeare.
Tanya gave me the countdown and I wandered out to “overhear” them discussing how I unfairly spurned the noble Benedick, who loved me dearly and was the greatest thing since Adam’s first fart. Once they were certain they had dropped all the hints they meant me to harvest, they departed with much maidenly tittering.
I stood in the center of the stage, and the spotlight pinned me like a bug in a display case.
In my mind’s eye I see the noble Benedick, with his intelligence and martial bearing. I reflect on all our verbal jousts over the years and wonder at the confidences I have just overheard. Were they right? Had I indeed misjudged him?
“What fire is in mine ears?” I wonder. “Can this be true? Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?”
I see my sharp wit for what it is — a path to safety. A motte and bailey to keep a fragile core from threat. Am I so weak as that? So small? Oh, fie!!! “Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, adieu! No glory lives behind the back of such.”
And suddenly, with a clarity I have never had, I know that I want the glory. All of it, to the last, fiery drop.
I can only hope that my new-found resolve comes not overlate. Imploringly, I add, “And, Benedick, love on! I will requite thee, taming my wild heart to thy loving hand. If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves up in a holy band; for others say thou dost deserve, and . . . I believe it! Better than reportingly!!!”
Again, the curtain fell. It took me a moment to recover myself, but then I hurried off-stage. I wasn’t in the next two scenes.
Keesha was back in the wings. “I got her out, but she’s in the audience. She’ll be pissed when her princess doesn’t reappear,” she warned.
“You’ve tried to revive her?”
Keesha shot me a look of pure disbelief. “Are you out of your fucking mind? If she even starts to look like she’s waking up, I’ll hit her in the head myself. You’re knocking it out of the park!”
“But . . . .”
“No buts. Zip it. Now go on back. ChristinA needs to freshen you up.”
Leaving Keesha to mind the e’s and cues, I got back to the makeup station and ChristinA hustled me into the chair.
I saw Tanya there as well, and reminded her, “I made a promise.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not really your call, Dijon.”
“No, it’s Hedrick’s call. He’s just . . . .”
ChristinA chimed in, “on family sick leave, seems like.”
“Kinda,” Tanya agreed. “Look, Keesha’s pretty much running this now. You want to mess with that?”
I started to shake my head and got a glare from ChristinA, who had to move her brush back from my cheek in a hurry. “No?” I said, making it a sort-of question.
“Right answer.” Tanya nodded in satisfaction. “You just go on doing what you’re doing, okay? For all of us. Focus on being Beatrice. We’ll take care of everything else.”
I sighed. “Okay.”
I closed my eyes and let Christina do her thing, while on the stage Don John caused the Credulous Count Claudio™ to believe that his new fiancée had a lover, and Dogberry and his lieutenants of the watch stumbled upon Don John’s henchman. But I ignored ChristinA, ignored the bustle and action, and focused on Beatrice.
I could feel her, just below the surface, waiting to re-emerge.
Soon enough I was back onstage, helping my lovely cousin prepare for her wedding. Hero is the most beautiful, the most pure, and the sweetest of women! Claudio — a fine man even if he is depressingly straightforward — does not deserve such a treasure. Still, she is happy, positively bubbling with delight.
But there — right there at the altar! — her beloved denounces her, calls her wanton and rejects her. And the Prince, noble Don Pedro himself, attests to the truth of Claudio’s calumny!
Oh, sweet Hero, so wronged! She swoons, collapsing, seeking the mercy of oblivion. Maybe of death itself. And all depart or are borne away — all save me . . . . and Benedick.
Alone of the men, he has not condemned Hero, professing himself amazed at the accusations against her. His comfort gives way to something more and he stands before me. So close. So solid.
“I protest I love thee,” he says, his voice soft but deep.
I take his offered hands in my own. “Why then, God forgive me!”
“What offense, sweet Beatrice?” He smiles, and his hands encourage me with a gentle squeeze.
“You have stay’d me in a happy hour, I was about to protest I lov’d you.”
His smile widens to one of joy. “And do it with all thy heart.”
And finally — finally! — I drop my denials and the defense of my wit, finding the courage to allow the truth in my heart to see the light of day, even though the sun has darkened. “I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest!”
He embraces me fiercely, then pulls back, holding my shoulders in his powerful hands. “Come, bid me do any thing for thee.”
I place my right hand, pale and delicate, on his chest. In a voice that is all at odds with the tenderness of our posture — a voice that is focused, determined, and deadly — I tell him the one thing, in all the world, that I desire at that moment.
And there, just as quickly as love had infused his features, so now his look is all alarm and incredulity. “Ha, not for the wide world!”
The tongues of men are so quick with the words of love! So quick . . . and so full of deceit. My joy turns to ash, the glory of our moment to ruin, and in a dead voice I say, “You kill me to deny it. Farewell.”
But even as I turn to go, he says, “Tarry, sweet Beatrice.”
We talk – we converse – and I give myself over to my fury. I denounce Claudio as a villain, who has destroyed the most perfect soul in all the world. I rail at the cruelty of fate, that I had not been born a man so that I might avenge her myself.
Benedick at last stops attempting to dissuade me, to quell the rage that boils within my breast. Simply, directly, like the soldier he is under all of his wit, he asks, “Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wrong’d Hero?”
My voice is iron, beaten and forged. It is steel. It is adamant. “Yea, as sure as I have a thought or a soul.”
And this, more than my passion, more than my wrath, convinces him. “Enough,” he says calmly. “I am engag’d, I will challenge him. I will kiss your hand, and so I leave you. By this hand, Claudio shall render me a dear account. As you hear of me, so think of me. Go, comfort your cousin. I must say she is dead; and so farewell.”
He takes my hand and lifts it to his full lips, planting the gentlest, the sweetest, of kisses upon it. Giving a last, loving glance, as if fixing my features in his mind, he turns and strides away.
The lights dimmed and the curtain came down. The stagehands dashed out to do their magic, transforming the wedding chapel into a prison. Huh. Wonder if that was subtle Shakespeare humor? Jim was in the wings with Keesha, gathering his crew for more of Dogberry’s slapstick.
I just stood in the center of the stage, lost. Who AM I?
Amidst the chaos, Julianne came out and took my arm. “Come on. Let’s get you off.”
“Ahh . . . thanks.” I felt confused. At sea. But leaving the stage definitely helped. We walked off in the opposite direction from where Keesha was putting together the crew for Scene 2.
“You okay in there?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m batshit crazy in here. You’re gonna need to haul my sorry ass away when we're all done.”
“Stay with us, honey,” Julianne said softly. “You’re doing great. We’ll get you through it, and we both have a long break here.”
It felt good to be, somehow, back in my own skin. To reaffirm my sense of self — my pure, irreverent and ironic core — I say, “alls I’ve gotta do is out-act a girl in an alcohol-induced coma, right? How hard can it be?”
We went backstage. Most of us were there, except for Keesha and the funny guys doing the watchman scene. I found myself relieved not to see Dirk; I wasn’t sure I could handle him right then. What do you want to bet he feels the same way?
“Where’s Hedrick?” I asked.
Tanya said, “Keesh kicked him out, and he went. I kid you not — Don’t get that chick mad at you!”
I shook my head. “Wow.”
“Looks like we’ve got everyone we need,” Tanya said, after counting noses. “Here’s the deal – Keesha has it all worked out.” She looked at Mike. “We’re going to need you to cover the Messenger part in the last scene. It’s just one line. Okay?”
Mike looked like a damsel in distress. Not “the house is on fire” distress, or even “I got spaghetti sauce on my white damsel (dis)dress.” More like “the line for the lady’s room is so long” distress. “But I’m on as Ursula in the prior scene. There’s no way I can change costumes in time.”
“It’s okay; Ursula doesn’t have any lines in Scene Three; she’s just there with the mourners. Keesh wants Julianne to do that. Give her your wig and no-one will notice at a distance.”
“But I’m in that scene,” Julianne said, puzzled.
“Yeah, but your thing’s even easier. We got it covered.” Tanya grinned.
I couldn’t help it. I sniggered. Then I chuckled, then started to laugh so hard it hurt. “Oh . . . you . . . evil . . . women!”
The rest of the team was starting to catch on, and they were having a hard time keeping their collective shit together as well.
When I was finally able to speak, I said, “Thanks, Tanya. I don’t like to break promises.”
She smiled at me. “Yeah, I got that part. And we owe you one.”
The play progressed through Act Four and into Act Five. The Prince supported Claudio’s claims against Leonato and his brother; Benedick made his challenge; Dogberry and his crew uncovered Don John’s villainy, and the henchman confessed. Claudio and Don Pedro, now knowing that they had been deceived, offered apology to Leonato, who told them that the only recompense he would consider would be for Claudio to be present as Hero was laid in a crypt, and then the next day to marry a woman of Leonato’s choosing, without seeing her face or knowing who it would be.
I know, right? Seriously real-life stuff. Gritty. Shakespeare is supposed to be a genius and all, but it did make me wonder about the crowd he hung out with. Who does this shit?
I went back on stage for the fake funeral scene, but I had no lines in that one. I was okay with that; I was actually a bit freaked about how easy it was for me to slip into Beatrice’s mind.
Lynette was laid out on a bier like an angel — more or less, anyhow. A kind of crapulous angel, I guess, but at least she wasn’t moving. Limp Lynette.
Claudio gave his most heart-felt regrets, and the entire troupe wept crocodile tears.
“Pardon, goddess of the night,
Those that slew thy virgin Knight,
For the which, with songs of woe,
Round about her tomb they go.
Midnight, assist our moan,
Help us to sigh and groan,
Graves, yawn and yield your dead,
Till death be uttered,
Lynette snorted – a somewhat unladylike sound — causing everyone onstage to freeze for just an instant.
Oh, come on! REALLY? Jesus, chick! Even a frickin’ DOG can play dead!
I gasped, deliberately echoed her snort, and converted it to a repressed sob. “Your pardon, Uncle,” I murmured to Leonato in a stage whisper. “I am overcome.”
He patted my hand, fighting to keep a straight face.
Claudio and Don Pedro hastily completed their remaining exchange, and the curtain dropped before Lynette had the opportunity to try her hand at playing Banquo’s Ghost.
Keesha was there in a heartbeat. “Okay, people, get her off!”
The stagehands rushed forward and grabbed the bier front and back.
“Ohhhhh!” Lynette said. “I don’t feeeeeel good!”
“Yeah, well, you kinda look like shit too,” Keesha said. “Wait, hold on. Sorry boo, I need the hair back.” With deft hands, she extracted Hero’s wig and returned it to Julianne. “Get ChristinA to help you with this. Go on!”
The stagehands moved off, carrying Lynette like a dead queen on a funeral barge.
Make that a seasick queen. One that just wished she were dead. Lubberly Lynette.
“Alright! Last push!” Keesha immediately forgot all about Lynette. “Everyone good?”
We all nodded. Sure as shit after chili con carne, I wasn’t going to piss her off!
“Right. Get your places!!!”
Naturally, Shakespeare ties up everything with a neat little bow. I managed to get through the big reveal, where Hero “comes back to life” and she and Claudio are reconciled and married, while staying largely in my own head.
But I had to be Beatrice one more time, and I had to make it count.
Benedick looks out over the assembled wedding party. “Soft and fair, friar. Which is Beatrice?”
Slowly – almost reluctantly – I remove my mask. “I answer to that name. What is your will?”
He looks into my eyes, and – damn the man! – says exactly the wrong thing. “Do you not love me?”
A pox on him! “Why, no more than reason.”
He smirks. Smirks! “Why then your uncle and the Prince and Claudio have been deceived. They swore you did!”
Oh, fine! Time to turn the tables. Damn you, YOU'RE the one who’s supposed to make the move! “Do not you love me?”
“Troth, no more than reason,” he replies, parroting my words.
“Why then my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula are much deceiv’d, for they did swear you did.” So there!
“They swore that you were almost sick for me!” he says, offended.
“They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me,” I respond with equal heat.
“‘Tis no such matter.” He pulls himself up to his full height, and I’m deeply annoyed at what a fine figure he cuts. “Then you do not love me?”
“No, truly, but in friendly recompense.” I’ll not go out on that limb, just to have you sever it at the trunk, my Lord Benedick! I am not so gullible!
Leonato, Claudio and Hero take this opportunity to save us from ourselves, presenting purloined missives we had written professing our love, one for the other.
Benedick looks chagrined — as well he should! He shakes his handsome head and says, “A miracle. Here’s our own hands against our hearts. Come! I will have thee, but by this light, I take thee for pity.”
Pity! After what he put in that sonnet! Whom does he think he fools? Not me, for a certainty. But I will serve him a like dish, and with a flourish! “I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.”
He laughs – a fine, full, merry laugh – and closes the distance between us. “Peace! I will stop your mouth!” And with that, he pulls me to him, inclines his head, and kisses me.
I feel the force of the kiss to my toes, and all my wit departs like mist before the rising sun. I yield utterly, joyously, flowing like water to mold my form to his. After an eternity, we break off, for all the wedding party – indeed, all the world – is applauding.
Laughing, as well. But that, I suppose, we may have brought upon our own selves,
A messenger arrives to tell Don Pedro that his villainous brother is fled, but my wise lord counsels his Prince not to think on him until the morrow. He turns to the Prince’s minstrels and commands, “Strike up, pipers!”
Music swirls and we pair off, Hero to Claudio, and I to my beloved Benedick. The dance begins . . . .
And the curtain fell.
I slumped, drained like a leaky radiator. Dirk gave my shoulders a squeeze, then let me go. Vaguely, I became aware of the sound of applause. Loud, sustained applause, from the other side of the curtain.
And Keesha was there, pulling us all off stage. “Okay, line up for the curtain call! Go, go, go!”
There was much jostling as we tried to get ourselves into some kind of order. The mood was insane. Euphoric. No one thought we were even going to get through Act I – not after that first scene.
The curtain went up, and all the bit players charged out onto the stage. Just in time, Keesha snagged me. “What are you doing?”
I was barely thinking straight. “Oh!!! Sorry! Just, we rehearsed me going out as the Messenger.”
Keesha shook her head, smiling. “Not tonight.”
Dogberry went out for his solo bow, to much laughing and whistling.
Leonato and Antonio. Cheers.
Don John. Catcalls, but it goes with the role. I expect he was grinning broadly.
Don Pedro. Much applause. He was really good.
Claudio and Hero. I could tell when Julianne hit the front of the stage. Thunderous applause. Shouts of “Brava!” drowned out by “Go, Julie!!!!” Poor Toby. But, he understands. You want to date Aphrodite Incarnate, you don’t get to play first violin!
I looked over at Dirk, and our eyes locked. Whatever it was I’d felt, he’d felt it, too. Man. We’re gonna need to talk . . . and won’t THAT be fun.
“Woo-hoo, hunky honeybunny! It’s SHOWTIME!!!” Lynette emerged from the shadows backstage, looking like something the cat dragged in, thought better about, and dragged back out again. She staggered forward, grinning like an idiot, and grabbed Dirk’s arm.
Benedick was gone, and poor Dirk looked baffled, lost, without any idea what to do. I walked over to them both, arriving just as Keesha showed up to find out what the hell was going on.
I smiled. “Go on, Dirk. Bring her out – they loved her.”
Keesha began to protest, but I cut her off. “It’s comedy. She rocked.”
Lynette smiled triumphantly and pulled Dirk onto the stage. The crowd roared, laughter filled the night, and the applause hit new heights.
I quirked an ironic smile at Keesha. “See what I mean?”
“How could anyone not feel what happened tonight?” She shook her head, disgusted and discouraged. “Jesus Christ! What's wrong with these people?”
“San Berdoo, Keesha. Gotta know your audience.”
“Shakespeare’s puking in his grave!”
I chuckled. “Nah. He wrote Dogberry. He’d get it.”
But a voice in my head said, He wrote me, too.
The crowd just kept getting louder. Someone started clapping a fixed beat, and suddenly everyone was clapping and stomping and shouting, over and over. “BE-A-TRICE! BE-A-TRICE! BE-A-TRICE!” Lynette must have been giving them a show, and I had to laugh. Damn, do they love her!
Keesha was looking at me oddly. She leaned in and said, “Jon . . . it’s for you.”
“They’re waiting for you.”
I wasn’t sure I heard her right. Huh?
“Go on, girl. It’s your night.” And she pushed me out onto the stage.
The whole cast turned my way and applauded as I walked between their ranks. Well . . . Lynette didn’t. She looked green, but her stomach might still have been taking orders from the Captain.
I couldn’t see much as I looked out into the theater. Nothing but blinding lights and the roar of a crowd.
For the first time, I realized that being an artist doesn’t have anything to do with being “precious” or having an annoying temperament or attitude. It’s about dropping your defenses and pouring yourself out until there’s nothing left of you. It’s about praying for the moments of magic — of glory! — that only such a sacrifice of self can make possible.
Keesha had been kind – strange, that, since she’d never had any use for me before – but she was wrong. The applause wasn’t for me. It was her name on their lips, and hers alone. All I had done was to surrender myself, for the chance — if only for one night, or even one moment — to be Beatrice.
He wrote me, too.
Tears streamed from my eyes as I bent my neck, lowered my head, and sank slowly, humbly, into a deep curtsy.
“BE-A-TRICE! BE-A-TRICE! BE-A-TRICE!”
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