Some years ago I saw Kevin Spacey in a theatre production in London. The play was called The Iceman Cometh. He was riveting for three hours. An actor like him doesn’t just act, he embodies the role. If a play is done well, you will lose the self-consciousness that comes with watching something staged.
But these days the closest I get to good acting is my two-year-old, who swears up and down that her older sister is to blame for everything, even when caught red-handed. She lies through her teeth and looks at me with her chocolate-brown eyes, framed by a curtain of long, dark lashes; she never looks away. It’s almost as if she believes her own lies. Almost.
I miss the theatre, though, and have thought about it often. It’s just one of the many things I used to do, way back before children, which I hardly ever do now. When there was a new staging of A Raisin in the Sun recently, I wanted to go – but I couldn’t think of anyone who would go with me. I kept telling myself I would buy tickets, but I never did.
Off to the theatre we go!
Just as I thought I’d have to make do with reality tv or my child’s manipulation for entertainment, I finally get my chance to relive my theatre-going days. The Chatterbox is invited to a production of Tom Sawyer with local children playing the roles. Her ballet friend is cast as a townsfolk and we thought we’d go along to lend her moral support.
The production starts at 7pm, which I feel is already bordering on the witching hour for small children. And then there’s the small matter of what the play is about – Tom Sawyer’s adventures with Huckleberry Finn. It’s hardly reading material for a five-year-old. Couldn’t they have picked something a tad more child-friendly, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears? But I cast these doubts aside.
The theatre is in a one-story building with a cavernous interior. I very much doubt it was purpose-built for plays. My guess is that it was once an auditorium or a church. The volunteers, who run the youth theatre group, have done their best to spruce up what would otherwise be a plain room with high ceilings and old, threadbare carpet.
We take our seats and I try my best to explain, in about five seconds, who Tom Sawyer is. The Chatterbox is hardly listening – all she wants to do is spot her friend on stage. After a nervy beginning, the kids start to relax a little. I’m distracted by small microphones they have taped to their face. Luckily, the 14-year-old playing Tom Sawyer is actually pretty good. Unlike some of the other actors, he doesn’t muffle his speech or deliver lines woodenly. He seems totally at ease with the ambitious role, which is quite a feat for a child who’s barely in high school.
I think I’ll go to sleep
The Chatterbox, who is sitting on me so that she can see better, starts to fidget after about 20 minutes. I glance at my watch and realize that this show is not going to be over after an hour as I’d hoped. Just before the interval, the Chatterbox whispers to me, ‘Is it almost over?’ Coincidentally, the lights go up. I have to explain patiently that we are only halfway through.
Five minutes into the second half of the play, my daughter announces in a too-loud voice, ‘I think I will just lie back and go to sleep.’ I’m starting to feel the same way. We’re getting to some of the more difficult material – Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have just witnessed a murder in a graveyard. Injun Joe, the perpetrator, blames the murder on a hapless local who doesn’t remember committing the crime but accepts his punishment, which is death by hanging.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph – my acting moment
My mind is wandering. I remember being cast as the lead angel in a play about the birth of baby Jesus when I was not much older than the Chatterbox is now. Our drama teacher, Mr Rush, believed that he was either destined for greater things or that we were. Neither was true. Despite endless rehearsals in which Mr Rush screamed at us like an army sergeant leading a platoon into war, I forget how to exit the stage and end up jumping off the front of the stage in panic. Everyone follows me, including Mary, Joseph and a menagerie of animals. Mr Rush had an apoplectic fit, and I was never again given a role with any responsibility for the rest of my elementary school years.
Tom Sawyer wraps up just before 9pm. These kids, I can tell, worked damn hard and they deserve the applause from the small crowd. I gather our things and run for the door. In the car I ask the Chatterbox what she thought of it. ‘I dunno,’ is her reply. I explain how Tom Sawyer is a mischievous, misunderstood boy who does a good thing at the end – he saves someone’s life by being brave and telling the truth. I sense I’m not getting through. I change tack. ‘He’s a bit like the Raging Bull,’ I say. ‘A bit naughty sometimes, but a good person.’ She seems to accept this. I don’t explain that, unlike Tom Sawyer, the Bull has not yet learned the value of telling the truth.