Me at 23, at a very special men's club in Scotland. Or so I was led to believe...
About three years ago, I started a series of stories devoted to a month I spent in Scotland participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, back when I was young and had a full head of hair. I passed the time with a group of actors from Trinity, including future Tony-award winning actress Viola Davis.
The composition book I used as my journal, which is the source for these stories, has been sitting on my desk for the past three years, waiting for me to open it up and tell the next chapter.
Monday, August 14, 1989
"We can't get lost, Doug," I said, as we wandered through the windy and narrow streets of Edinburgh. "I want to see the dancers roll around naked in corn starch!"
One thing you had to give the Fringe Festival, there was no end of interesting theater to be found, in small theaters and auditoriums scattered on each and every block. The night before we had seen "Hanging the President," a powerful Anti-Apartheid piece about two convicts sentenced to die in a South African jail, which featured (and I'm quoting from my journal for this one) "graphic nudity and lots of homosexuality." Egad!
One guy actually shit in a bowl onstage! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Actually shitting onstage. What guts that must have taken.
As for the nudity, Viola complained that the naked men all had tiny dicks, and the only man she was actually interested in never took anything off. Good to see I wasn't the only size queen in the audience.
Tonight's theater adventure didn't sound as cutting edge, but it did sound entertaining.
It's not every night you get to see people rolling around naked in corn starch, after all.
The play was called Other Worlds, by a group called Abiogenesis.
By the time we made it through the Edinburgh maze, the show had already started, although we had only missed about five minutes.
Our group was sitting in the front row of the small theater. I moved past Vi to sit next to Missa. She had a really strange look on her face, as if she were about to give birth or something. "Is everything okay?" I asked.
She looked over at me, with large brown eyes that glistened, as if she were on the verge of tears. "Why?" she asked, and she had trouble getting even that out.
"You look like you're about to cry."
She pointed to the stage, her chest heaving back and forth, involuntarily. "Watch," she managed to say.
Was the show that intense? I didn't think anything could have surpassed "Hanging the President." Crapping in a steel bowl, after all! How can you top that? I turned my head to the stage. I watched.
The lady on the stage stood alone. She was a small, bird-like creature, dressed in a purple leotard. She spoke in a weird monotone, every syllable over-articulated, as if she was a stroke victim. In the background, unearthly space music played.
"Time," she said, pointing to a large watch on her hand. "Moves on..." She moved one step toward the front of the stage. "As the pop-u-lation..." She moved her hand to her belly, mimicking pregnancy. "Pro-gresses..." Then, one huge step toward the audience.
Oh. My. God.
Suddenly I understood why Missa was looking the way she was.
What's the worst piece of theater you've ever seen? Take that and multiply it times two.
This was definitely the worst, for me. I mean, it was laugh-out-loud bad, and the worst thing was, we couldn't even laugh, because we were sitting in the front row, with all eyes on us. So we had to keep it all in. By the end of the first act, my eyes were watering, too. I was laughing so hard inside that it had to come out, somehow.
"And also, they're incredibly rude," complained the director of another Edinburgh production, "Is Their Life After High School," during intermission. "My kids had to stand in front of them in the parade yesterday. We spent hours decorating our float! You know what they did? They walked down the street and made weird barking noises at the crowd. Weird barking noises! Can you imagine a worse group to put in a parade?"
I thought about our parade entry, which had been even more half-baked. At least they had a method to their madness. Our banner had been made up of curtains we had taken from the flat we were staying in, wrapped around a broom handle, with the name of our group spelled out in glow-in-the-dark duct tape. Our straggly bunch had included a man in a toga and a lady in a giant ape costume.
"No, I can't possibly think of a worse group," I lied.
"Act Two's about to start," said Missa. "This is the one with the corn starch!"
"I can't wait!" I said, and turned to Vi. "Try to stay awake this time, would you?" Viola had fallen asleep during Act One.
"I can't promise ANYTHING," said Viola.
"What a rip-off," I complained at the Scots Club, later that night. "Just a couple of saggy boobs covered in corn starch. Everyone ended up looking like shake and bake."
"The scene after that was the worst," said Missa.
"What was it?" asked Margot, our Shakespearean-trained thespian, who had had, by all accounts, spent a "lovely" evening at the theater.
"It was set in the future," said Missa. "The dancers were supposed to be androids. They used clothes dryer tubes for robot arms."
"Honestly, they looked like the Robot in Lost in Space," said Doug, nursing a Brandy Alexander. "I expected them at any moment to start calling out, 'Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!'"
"How was the audience for your show, tonight?" I politely asked Talullah, our resident prima donna without an ounce of prima in her. She had been performing that night at our theater at the French Institute, as Queenie. Think "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" on anti-depressants.
She pursed her lips. "Small. Appreciative."
Margot raised her hand up, behind Tallulah's back. Held up three fingers.
"Oh, look who's here!" said Missa, pointing to the table next to us. It was Aleister, who was the adorable young assistant of Harold, the festival organizer. 22, blond hair, blue eyes, the gift of gab like you've never seen.
"Rhodeislanders!" Aleister announced, staggering toward us. "Howya all doing tonight?"
"How are you, Al?" asked Margot.
"Do better with another drink in my hand," he said, and lurched toward Tallulah, who sniffed and turned away from him.
"I'll be happy to get you a drink, Aleister," said Margot, standing up to move to the bar and accommodate him.
"Mmm, I bet you would. Wanna go somehere else?" Aleister asked. "I kin show you around the town."
"Whereabouts?" asked Missa. "What would be fun?"
"Dunno," said Alesiter. "How about Chapp's?"
"Where's Chapp's?" Missa asked.
"Jist round the corner," he said, and winked at me. "A very special kind of men's club."
Missa looked at him shrewdly. "How special?"
Aleister grinned. "It's a nice gay bar. Wouldn't that be fun?"
"Oh no," said Tallulah, turning around to glare at Aleister. "Certainly not that!"
"Why not?" asked Aleister, clearly enjoying offending her. "What else do you want? Well, we could get ourselves into a bit of a gang bang, then, eh?" He asked innocently, before moving his head down to nibble at Talullah's neck.
"Young man!" said Tallulah, pushing Aleister away from her neck. "I'm old enough be your mother!"
"How bout it, mum?" Aleister said seductively, moving to take another nibble at her.
Tallulah screamed in horror and started whacking at him with her purse.
"Calm down, boy," said Margot, smoothly placing a beer down in front of him. That got his attention. "Come over here and put your talents to some real use."
Missa and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. This might actually turn out to be a better show than Abiogenesis.
And it was. We all went back to the flat. From what the ladies said later, Aleister was really, really good at back massages.