Tales of a Night Walker
By Bert McKenzie
Copyright 2010

Chapter 10

It all started with an argument I had with my boss.  "I really don't think
this is a good choice," I said for the seven hundredth time.  "What about a
nice murder mystery?"  But did anyone listen to me?  No.  The Auburn
Community Theatre was just too small to do Hamlet.  The company had only
been in business for fifteen years, and I had taken over the job of
director just two years ago.  I had come to know the talent pool, the
audience and the budget.  Shakespeare was not a good choice for this
theatre.  Those shows all had large casts and our little community group
just didn't have that big of a pool of talent to draw from.  Our audiences
were looking for comedy, farce and maybe even romance.  A nice musical
would make them happy.  But what did this rural Midwestern suburb know of
the classics.  Shakespeare would put them to sleep if they even attended.
And where would we get the money for all those period costumes?

"It will be great, trust me," Harriet said.  "We need something really
different to kick off our 1975-1976 season."  She was the president of the
board of directors, and as such my boss.  "You said you wanted to stretch
us.  Well this is our stretch for the year.  After this show we'll settle
back for a nice Neil Simon comedy."

So here I was, Frank Williams, one of the best directors in community
theatre, about to direct Shakespeare.  And could they pick a nice
Shakespearian comedy?  No.  They had to pick Hamlet.  The only thing worse
would be the Scottish Play.  If they wanted a tragedy, Romeo and Juliet
would have been nice.  At least it was full of romance.  But they wanted
Hamlet.  I had to admit I was a bit scared, not just for the obvious
reasons, but because I have never done Shakespeare.  This show really could
be my undoing.  So far everyone here in this little Midwestern community
thought I was God's gift to theatre, but this might be my one really big
flop.  Could I stand it if they all saw what a fake I was?  Now would be
the time to say "So long," and head for greener pastures.  But the truth
is, there were no greener pastures.  I was very lucky to find this job.
The arts are one area where it is just never that easy to find employment
so now was not a good time for me to go job hopping.  So with nothing
better to go to, I set my sights on casting Hamlet for the Auburn Community
Theatre.

When I graduated from college with a BFA in Theatre and Acting, I thought I
would head for New York and make it big on Broadway.  Well, I did my stint
as a waiter, a cab driver and even a dog walker.  Finally I managed to land
a role in an off Broadway show.  I played the lead in an obscure little
play called "Six Months on the Floor with Spiders."  I was the husband
about to walk out on my clinging wife in a play about divorce and the
dissolution of marriage in America.  The show ran for almost a week,
closing with absolutely terrible notices.  But it did allow me to
springboard into another off Broadway play.  My good looks and charm were
big assets.  I stood 5'9" with wavy auburn hair and hazel eyes.  My classic
features made me very photogenic so my resume shots garnered attention and
often got me an audition.  But in truth my acting just wasn't up to what my
resume indicated.  I probably would have done better as a model.  In print
ads no one cared if you were (what did the last review say?), "Wooden... a
manikin would move across the stage with more grace."

But the people of Auburn KS seemed to think I was something special.
Francis James Williams, former New York actor sounded very impressive when
they were looking to hire an artistic director for their little community
theatre.  I certainly didn't mind being a big fish in a small pond.  I was
able to choose most of the shows, cast them, direct them and enjoy the
praise that came my way from actors, board members, tech crew and audiences
alike.  Okay, a Broadway actor I might never be, but I was doing just fine
as a tiny community theatre director.  At least I thought I was till they
decided to push Hamlet on me.

The first night of casting we had all the regulars.  Buddy, my stage
manager, gathered up the audition forms and we flipped through them.  Every
one of the proposed cast members had done at least one or two shows with me
in the past.  Several could be quite good.  A few were mediocre and a few
were downright awful.  But what was I to do?  I still didn't have enough
people to fill all the roles in the show.  So I tentatively cast every
single one of them and crossed my fingers in hopes that more people would
show up the next night.  As fate would have it, the second night of
auditions brought in just enough to do the show with one role empty.  I
still hadn't found a Hamlet.  There was no one who could play the
melancholy Dane.

"Well," Buddy said slowly, "You could do it."

"What?" I asked in surprise.

Buddy seemed to gain momentum.  "Seriously, Frank, you could play Hamlet.
We could get one of the board members to come in and guest-direct the show
and you could play the lead."

I laughed, but in the back of my mind wondered if it would work.  I would
much rather be on the stage than out in the house as far as this show went.
If it flopped, it would be someone else's responsibility.  The idea was
beginning to grow on me.  Then he walked in.

Everyone seemed to notice him.  For me it was those incredible eyes.  They
were the oddest shade of green, almost an iridescent emerald.  My first
thought was that the man must be wearing contacts.  No one's eyes could
really be that color.  He seemed to exude charm and charisma.  He stepped
over to the desk and picked up a casting form and began to fill it out.

"Boss, he looks good," Buddy whispered.  "You think maybe he could play the
lead?"

"We don't even know if he can act," I whispered back.

"Hello," the newcomer said shyly as he stepped up and handed Buddy the
audition form.  "I'm Jefferson Smythe.  I'd like to try out for a part in
your play."

I stood and reached to shake his hand but he seemed to take a step back,
keeping his hands at his sides.  "I'm Frank Williams," I introduced myself.
"I'm the director.  This is Buddy Higgins, our stage manager.  Please grab
a script and we'll have you read a few parts, if that's okay."

Jefferson Smythe nodded and smiled at the two of us.  I literally felt my
heart skip a beat.  This man was gorgeous.  He was at least 6'2", tall and
thin, with a pale complexion, long blond hair that fell to his shoulders,
and those intensely green eyes.  As a gay man, I knew this new man was
having quite an effect on me and I guessed the man was probably having the
same effect on every woman in the room.  But the oddest thing was he seemed
to have drawn the attention of all the other men as well.  Maybe it was his
ethereally good looks or maybe it was the proud bearing with which he seem
to carry himself.  I had to literally shake my head to break the spell.

"Could you please step up there and try the speech on page 98?" I
requested.

Jefferson stepped up onto the stage, walked to the center and looked out.
"Here?" he asked.

"Here's good...I mean there is fine."  I had to get a grip on myself.  I
had been around attractive men in the theatre before.  Okay maybe not this
attractive, and certainly not here in Auburn, but still...

"Alas, poor Yorick," he said with a natural melancholy.  "I knew him,
Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy."  I gasped.
The man was reciting the monologue and not even glancing at the book in his
hand.  He was perfect.  I had never seen such pathos in that character
before.  I wanted to cry as I heard the actor read the part.  It made me
feel that I too knew Yorick and was devastated at his loss, to be reduced
to a fragment of bone.  "Dost thou think Alexander looked o' this fashion
i' the earth?"  When he got to the end of the speech you could hear a pin
drop.

"What about To Be or Not to Be?" Buddy asked.  I just nodded, not sure I
could find my voice.

"To be, or not to be.  That is the question.  Whether 'tis nobler in the
mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms
against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?  To die; to sleep; no
more; and by a sleep to say..."  The words came to life as never before.
The character was there on the stage.  It was as if Mr. Smythe himself was
contemplating suicide and death.  What would it be like?  Would it end his
troubles here on earth or only lead to an afterlife of more pain?  I
glanced around and saw that others were just as captivated by his acting.
But it wasn't acting.  It was as if he were living the part.  Several
others in our assembled group had tears in their eyes and a few sniffs were
audible.

I had him read with a few others to see how he handled dialogue and
interaction.  He was so giving, so natural.  No one wanted him to stop.
But eventually I did stop him.  I thanked everyone for coming and promised
to be in touch in the next two days.  It was Friday evening and we would
start rehearsal on Monday.  "Make sure I have your phone numbers and
addresses," I said as the would-be actors began to file toward the doors of
the auditorium.

"Excuse me," Jefferson said, stepping up to the table where Buddy and I
sat.  "I'm afraid I don't have a phone number."  I noticed the slight
southern accent as he spoke.  "I'm afraid I just moved in to town."

"Well, that does make it a bit difficult to contact you."  I glanced around
and saw that we were the only two still in the auditorium.  Buddy had
wandered backstage to turn off lights and make sure the stage door was
locked.  "Okay, here's the deal.  I'd like you to play the lead, Hamlet."

Those green eyes seemed to widen in surprise.  "You want me to do the lead.
I'm very flattered, Mr. Williams, but ..."

"Please call me Frank."

"Okay, Frank," he repeated.  "But I'm not sure I could do justice to such a
large part."

"The way you read those monologues!  If you could just hear yourself," I
said.  Suddenly, the house lights snapped off as Buddy threw the switch
backstage.  For just an instant, I looked up and Jefferson's eyes glowed
back at me.  It was like looking at a cat or other wild animal in the dark.
But just as suddenly as I saw them, they disappeared and I was again in the
dark, wondering if I had just imagined it.

"Sorry," came a voice from the stage area as Buddy walked into view
carrying a flash light in one hand and a pile of scripts under his other
arm.  "I thought everyone was gone.  I figured you would wait in the
lobby."

"Yes, of course," the strange man answered and the three of us walked up
the main aisle toward the doors.

"So, will you do it?" I asked.  "I'd give you time to think it over, but as
you don't have a phone, I'd just have to come knocking on your door
tomorrow."

Just for a moment a note of panic or at least apprehension seemed to appear
in those green eyes.  "Alright," he agreed.  "I'll give it a try."

"Here's a script," Buddy said, holding out one of the books.

"I'm pretty familiar with the play," the man replied with his slight
Southern drawl.

"South Denmark," Buddy giggled.

"So where are you from, originally?" I asked.

The man looked away, almost as if he were seeing his home far away.  "I was
born in Virginia.  My father had a little spread there.  But that was way
long ago."

"It couldn't be that long ago.  You're only 23," Buddy said, looking at the
casting sheets he carried with the scripts.

"Why, yes, of course.  You're correct.  I guess it just seems like long
ago," the man replied.

"Well, we'll see you at 7:00 on Monday," I said as I held the door for the
stranger.  Jefferson stepped out into the night, nodded to the two of us
and walked rapidly away into the darkness.

"He's awfully odd," Buddy said.  "But I think he'll make a great Hamlet."

"I think you're right, Buddy."  I took the casting sheets from the stage
manager and jumped into my Chevy Vega to hurry home.  Once there I sat down
at my desk and began assigning parts, writing the various roles in the
upper right hand corner of their audition sheets.  I ended with Jefferson
Smythe.  I neatly printed HAMLET in the upper right hand corner, and then
settled back to look at what the man had filled out on the sheet.  His
name, Jefferson Wesley Smythe III.  He filled out his address as 451 SW
11th Street.  That meant he only lived a few blocks from the theatre.  He
had no doubt walked to the audition.  Age, he put down 23.  He looked 23,
but there was a definite sense of maturity about him that seemed much
older.  Height, 6'3", weight, 150, hair, blonde, eyes, green.  It was an
adequate physical description, but it really didn't do him justice.  It
didn't mention the thin, almost gaunt face with high cheekbones and deep
set eyes.  His lips were a ruddy color in high contrast to his extremely
pale skin.  His shoulders were wide and conveyed a sense of power that
would have been absent from anyone else of that thin physique.

In the section that said employment he had written, none.  Did that mean he
was looking for a job?  Or was he independently wealthy and not worried
about having a job.  I read the other questions on the sheet.  Did he have
transportation?  No.  What role did he want?  Any.  What else had he done
in theatre?  Studied, but never performed.  I wondered what that meant.
Maybe he was a recent graduate.  He didn't list any school, but then no
specific question referred to that.  It was hard to believe that he had no
experience.  How could anyone have read those monologues with such feeling
and never performed on stage?

I was definitely obsessing over this man.  He was a stranger to this
community, a place where I had come to know just about everyone.  And he
was someone I wanted to get to know better.  I hoped we could be more than
just actor and director.  I wanted to be Jefferson's friend.  I'd love to
be more, but if that was all I got, I would be happy.  I sat down with my
director's script and began working on the blocking for the show.  I
couldn't wait for my first rehearsal with Jefferson Wesley Smythe.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                    Back      Main     Next

                                                                       Discussion Forum