Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Poor Player by David Rasey

A Poor Player
by David Rasey

The auditorium was silent. The seats were folded and empty, their purple crushed-velvet upholstery faded by dust. The gilt curlicues decorating the vacant balcony were dull in the low light. The great crystal chandelier failed to sparkle below the frescoes that were all but invisible in the darkness of the vaulted ceiling. The air in the grand theater was heavy with the sour, dry-spicy smell of abandonment and spoiled dreams.

The only movement, except perhaps for unseen mice, was on the vast wooden stage. A spotlight followed a man as he walked slowly to center-stage. He was dressed in the puffed-sleeved, pantalooned, long-nosed costume of Cyrano de Bergerac. He stopped and stood for a long moment, head bowed and hands clasped behind him. Then he raised his head and looked from side to side. Dim figures stood in the wings at either side of the stage, watching him in silence.

He smiled and clapped his hands. “Come then, friends, come!” He bowed and spread his arms. “Come walk with me on the boards once again! Let’s take our stage before the great show begins, and have some fellowship together.”

Other players drifted out from the wings. This one was dressed to play Blanche DuBois, that one to sing the lead in “La Boheme”, still another dressed as Don Quixote de La Mancha. On the left, the Jets gang advanced in dancing lockstep, snapping their fingers. Opposite them, the Sharks did likewise. Both gangs tried to out-scowl each other without laughing and failed. The ghost of Hamlet’s father hugged and passionately kissed a pale Desdemona while nearby, Quasimodo danced a jig with the Phantom of the Opera. All the stage was a world, and happy pandemonium reigned.

Cyrano, smiling, took no part in the conversations or hugs, or kisses either friendly or fiery. He remained remote and detached, observing. Women drifted by and dropped curtsies; he only nodded and bowed slightly in return. Men clapped him on the shoulder and shook his hand. He gripped their hands with only brief warmth. Between visits with the players, his expression, though smiling, was tense and sad.

Finally, he went to the front of the stage, turned, and clapped twice. “Quiet! Be silent and be still now, my friends, and attend me.”

The murmur of happy people cut off with the suddenness of a thrown switch. One by one, the players turned with expectant eyes to Cyrano.

“Welcome, welcome all, to this gala performance,” Cyrano said, his rich, oily voice carrying across the vast space. “Here in the Palace Theater, which has been home and mother and lover and killer to us all for so many, many years, we are assembled as the greatest acting company ever to grace the boards. I salute you, one and all, first and foremost to last and least!” He put his hand over his heart and bowed.

The assembled company bowed and curtsied in return. Applause, hesitant at first, then swelling to scale-model thunder, rang out. Whistles and hoots and the stomping of booted feet added to the din. Through it all, Cyrano smiled and bowed and made extravagant flourishes with his arms. He made no attempt this time to silence the company. The cheers and applause faded by degrees until an eerie silence was all that remained.

“I thank you, family and friends,” said Cyrano. A tear rolled down from one eye, cutting a smeary track through his make-up. He let it fall unheeded. “Today is the culmination of all we have worked for and studied and striven to be all these long years. No one of us could ever have been what we were or be what we are without all the others.”

Applause threatened to break out once more, but Cyrano stilled it with a gesture. When silence was restored, he looked up into the gloom above the great stage. “You there, in the flys, is all ready?”

“Ready as can be!” a voice called back.

“Right then, stand by,” Cyrano shouted up. He lowered his head and looked at the players. “Okay, everyone, stage rear and…Places! Places all! Now is the hour! The show must go on!”

The company, all talking in low voices, moved to the rear of the stage. They formed two lines stretching from the wings at stage left to the wings at stage right with the speed and ease of long practice. No was crowded off-stage.

Cyrano took his place ahead of the first line, facing the empty seats. “Ring down the curtain!”

A great red velvet curtain, pleated and beautiful, descended with silent grace. It cut across Cyrano’s vision, hiding the seats in the auditorium row by row. When at last it touched the stage, he turned once more to the company behind him. He took a deep breath, held it, raised his arms, and balled his hands into fists. “Stage lights up!”

A bank of lights above the stage snapped on, flooding the backstage area with light.

Cyrano whirled back around. “And… Curtain!”

The great curtain lifted once more.

The house was still empty.

“And…Action!” Cyrano screamed. His voice was charged with high good humor and maniacal cheer.

The far left wall of the theater imploded with a huge, dull boom as the blade of a bulldozer crashed through it. Broken bricks, glass, splintered beams, and dust rained down onto the stage. A shaft of sunlight hit the stage like a white-hot spotlight, catching Cyrano in the face, making his eyes glow like stars.

The assembled company disappeared like dreams in an awakening mind. Silks and satins, chiffons and taffetas, cottons and chintz, all sighed down to lay abandoned on the littered stage. The players, having strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage, were heard no more.

“Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell!” Cyrano screamed, shaking his fist at the machine. He snatched up a piece of broken beam and hurled it at the bulldozer. It bounced off the blade without effect. “Be thy intents wicked or charitable, thou comest in such a questionable shape!”

The bulldozer backed out, revved and bellowed black smoke, then charged and hit again. The left wall collapsed completely, taking a large portion of the ceiling and the great chandelier with it. Fragments of painted frescoes fell on the velvet seats, among shattered crystal droplets. A tapered light bulb lay on an angel’s face like a frozen tear shed for all that had passed.

Cyrano vanished.

The long rubber nose fell to the stage, bounced once, and was covered by the puffed-sleeve shirt and pantaloons as they drifted down, empty and inert, to the stage.

The ‘dozer mounted once more unto the breach, crashing into and destroying the stage in a welter of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Author bio:

David Rasey is a writer living in the Southern Tier of New York State. He has been writing for most of his life and has published in other publications, including The Monsters Next Door, Liquid Imagination, Literary Fever, and Clockwise Cat. When not writing, he facilitates a writers group, builds and flies kites and model airplanes, gives slavish obedience to his cats, and thinks about writing.


Ken Hull said...

David, Very enjoyable; great job bringing Shakespeare to life, translating his quotes to modern times, a tragedy he would be proud of.
If Shakespeare were alive today, he would be rolling in his grave.

Anne said...

Ah David, your story is more than character or action driven, it is mind driven and therefore devious and cruel. You tell us that the house is empty. How can that be? The house is the counterpoint of the stage. If there are ghosts on stage there must be ghosts in the house.The innocent are attached by the bulldozer (a good metaphor for reality). Only then is the stage attached. At first I thought this is a "What if" story. What if The Palace is destroyed? But no, the question is what if the humanities are destroyed. Answer: We would all be ghosts. Then the question must be: What then?

The writing is exquisite. Your story cruel but brilliant. So you are forgiven.


Margo said...

As always, you are crafty and wonderful. I enjoyed this as much, no, maybe more than a certain other story we both know.
I have always loved your mind!

Terry Walton said...


As I read your story, I shared the emptiness and ire that your main character, Cyrano, felt as he stared out into an empty, crumbling auditorium. Thank you for introducing me to "A Poor Player".