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Theresa, Chapter 45 by Hebe Dotson

| Dec 7, 2009
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The Story So Far (TGF subscribers can read earlier installments): Terri has had her SRS and she’s looking forward to her small role in a new Broadway play. However, she learns from her lawyer that her in-laws are going to court to seek custody of Jessie. To avoid having papers served on her, she’s joined the Berkshire Players, a traveling theatre company, disguised as a male actor named Terence McAllen. Terence will play Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet. Theresa graphicProblems crop up right from the beginning. Linda Jewell, the actress playing Katharina in Shrew, comes on to Terence and is angered by his refusal to respond. The married couple playing Romeo and Juliet have a serious drinking problem and, to Terri’s consternation, the Players have a one-week engagement scheduled in Syracuse – the one in New York, not the preferable one in ancient Sicily. Terri rationalizes that she and Jessie will be in and out of New York before the Norrises can possibly learn they are in the state. On opening night, as Terence is dressing to play Benvolio, Rudy Fletcher (the Players’ director), tells him that he’s had to fire Romeo and Juliet for being too drunk to perform. Terence will have to play Juliet and Rudy will play Romeo – and they successfully pull it off.

Shrew opened the next night. After the performance, the cast gathered in the theater lobby to greet friends, acquaintances, and occasional drama critics. One of the latter buttonholed me, introducing himself as Martin Kovak, a theatre critic for the Syracuse Herald-Journal. I didn’t recall seeing his name on the Herald-Journal review, but it nevertheless seemed familiar.

“Haven’t I seen your byline in the New York Post?” I asked.“You must have a phenomenal memory. Yes, I’m also a Syracuse stringer for the Post. Every now and then, I report something interesting enough to get a byline.”

He had a number of questions for me about my theatrical experience in general and with the Berkshire Players in particular. One of his questions took me completely by surprise. “Did you ever play Juliet?” he asked.

“Years ago,” I said. “I spent a year at a boys’ prep school in Connecticut and played Juliet there. All the female parts were played by boys.”

“Littlefield Academy?”

“You must have a phenomenal memory, too.”

“No, just a shot in the dark. I know Rudy Fletcher played Juliet at Littlefield, so I thought there might be some connection.”

“Rudy was several years before my time,” I said. “I first met him a couple of weeks ago, and I found out then that we’d both been Littlefield Juliets.”

“There seems to be some mystery about who played Juliet here last night.”

“It’s no mystery to me,” I said. “Elizabeth Furst played her – quite well, too, from all I hear.”

“Miss Furst is like you, Mr. McAllen. No documented theatrical history.”

“I don’t have one because I adopted a new stage name for personal reasons. She may have done the same thing.”

“Changing stage names seems a bit unusual for an experienced actor. Could you tell me your reason for doing this?”

“I would if I could, Mr. Kovak” I said, “but then it would become a public reason.”

“Well, thank you for your time, Mr. McAllen. I’ll be here again tomorrow night, and perhaps I can talk with Miss Furst then.”

That was interesting, I thought. I’d have to be at my most uncommunicative  tomorrow night.

***

Theresa graphicThe crowd in the lobby was much thinner than it had been for Shrew. That wasn’t too surprising, I thought, since relatives, friends, fans, and critics tended to come to the opening night performances. The Players were an out-of-the-area group, so there were probably not too many of the aforesaid fans, friends, and relatives in the neighborhood of Syracuse. But there were undoubtedly some, and most of them must have attended R&J’s opening night.

As I glanced around the lobby, I spotted Martin Kovak coming purposefully toward me. Why hadn’t he been here for opening night? A nasty little suspicion fluttered through my mind. Perhaps he wasn’t here for the plays at all. Our Katharina, like all the other cast members, knew that I didn’t want publicity. But she was angry with me, and one way to get back at me could be to give me the gift I didn’t want. So, after all the R&J opening might folderol, she could have told some contact at the Post about a mystery person, gender unknown, playing both Petruchio and Juliet. And, come to think of it, I’d noticed her in an earnest conversation with Kovak after the Shrew performance. I’d thought they were discussing her performance as Katharina, but maybe not…

“Good evening, Miss Furst,” he said. “I’m Martin Kovak from the Syracuse Herald-Journal, and I certainly enjoyed your performance this evening. You were one of the finest Juliets I’ve ever seen.”

“Thank you, Mr. Kovak. I’m glad you enjoyed the play.”

“You seem to have come out of nowhere to replace Debbie Lee on very short notice,” he said. He was scrutinizing my face, presumably trying to find points of resemblance to Terence McAllen. I’d used every makeup trick I could remember in my effort to not resemble Terence.

“I’ve played Juliet before, and I do have a good memory for lines,” I said. “The other cast members were just wonderful at helping me get the blocking right.”

“Even so, you had what? – half an hour? – to get into your costume and makeup. That’s phenomenal.”

“It was more like an hour,” I said. “That’s enough when you know what you’re doing.”

“You certainly aren’t lacking in self-assurance,” he said. “It’s as if you were born on a stage. And yet – I haven’t turned up any mention of your name anywhere. I’d think an actress of your caliber, as young as you are, would have been reviewed somewhere.”

“You’ll have a first, Mr. Kovak,” I said with a well-rehearsed tinkling laugh. “There’s a reason. My daddy would kill me if he knew I were appearing on the stage this fall, so I had to make up a stage name that he wouldn’t recognize when he reads your review.”

“Quite a coincidence – you and Terence McAllen both taking on new stage names simultaneously.”

“Maybe Terence is scared of his daddy, too. I’ll have to talk to him about that. Perhaps we can form a support group.”

“Have you ever played Petruchio?”

I let out another peal of girlish laughter. “Terence told me you’d ask me that. That’s just too funny!”

Kovak seemed to give up the effort to nail me down. We chatted about life on the traveling stage for another minute or two, and then he wandered away.

***

I’d had my second encounter with Kovak Wednesday night. Much too early Friday morning, the phone rang in my hotel room. “Hello?” I mumbled.

“This is Bob Squires. Am I speaking to Theresa Sayers?”

I had to think for a minute. “Um, yes; this is Terri.”

“Good. I think I’ve called every number in the northeastern United States, trying to locate you.” He’d called my mother, who’d referred him to the Tulleys, who’d given him the number for the Berkshire Players business office in Northampton. After some discussion, they’d given him Rudy Fletcher’s hotel room phone number in Syracuse, and he (after further discussion) had provided my number.

“Why are you calling?” I asked, hoping he’d realize he‘d called the wrong number and would apologize and go away so I could go back to sleep, but knowing that this was highly unlikely.

“Why are you in New York?”

“Why not?”

“Are you insane?”

He clearly wasn’t about to go away or speak in declarative sentences. I forced my eyes open and looked at the bedside clock. It was the crack of 10 a.m. “I’m in New York because I signed a four-month contract with the Berkshire Players. I expected them to perform in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but then I found out they had a one-week run in Syracuse. I figured we’d be in and out of New York before the Norrises found out, so I took a chance. It’s Friday now, and we’ll be on the road again in about 48 hours, so I think we’re okay.”

“I’m not as sure as you are,” Mr. Squires said. “I had no idea you were back in New York until I saw an article by some fellow named Kovak in yesterday’s Post.”

“Oh, no! What did he say?”

“He said there was a rumor among the Berkshire Players that one person – male or female? – no one knows – is playing both Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.”

“That’s a one-woman rumor,” I said.

“What? No matter. It does sound as if he hadn’t been able to confirm his story, but we’re not suing him for libel – he said you were excellent in both roles, by the way.”

“Thank you, Martin.”

“The problem isn’t the article. I would have found it interesting and amusing, and then thought nothing more about it, if it hadn’t been for the photos.”

“Photos? What photos?”

“The Post printed two photos, both credited to someone on the Berkshire Players staff. One is labeled, ‘Linda Jewell and Terence McAllen as Katharina and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.’ The other is ‘Rudy Fletcher and Elizabeth Furst as Romeo and Juliet.’ I recognized you in both pictures, and if I can recognize you, so can Mr. and Mrs. Norris.”

“I know they read the Post,” I said. “I’ve seen it in their apartment.”

“In that case, they’ll almost certainly have gone to court today to request custody of your daughter.”

“What do you think I should do?”

“Get out of New York as soon as possible. If you manage to leave without having papers served on you, call me when you can and we’ll discuss our strategy options.”

“And if I do get papers served on me?”

“Keep calm and don’t do or say anything that could hurt your case in court. Just remember that your in-laws aren’t monsters. They love your daughter too and they think they’re acting in her best interests. If you have to give her up, call me and we’ll decide what to do next.”

***

We gave our last Syracuse performance Saturday evening. There had been no sign of the Norrises. After the show, Rudy Fletcher called the cast and crew together on the stage. “Congratulations to everyone!” he said. “We got off to a rather rough start to this engagement, but we all worked together to overcome our problems, and our audiences loved both plays. As you know, we were supposed to go back to Massachusetts tomorrow, but there’s been a slight change of plans.”

Uh-oh.

“We were going to be down for four days before opening in Williamstown, but one of my friends has arranged for us to have two nights – Tuesday and Wednesday – on the Scyros College stage.” Uh-oh again. “We’ll go there tomorrow morning and set up tomorrow afternoon. We were able to work through the problems resulting from our unanticipated cast changes, but on Monday we’ll take the opportunity to polish up both plays – I have some ideas!” There were good-natured groans all around.

“We’ll have abbreviated technical rehearsals Tuesday morning. Then we’ll have our R&J Tuesday, Shrew Wednesday, get back on the road early Thursday, and set up in Williamstown that night.”

Uh-oh number three. I looked around. Everyone seemed happy with the news. The Berkshire Players were a bit unconventional. All cast and crew members were paid sort of a minimum weekly wage, but received a bonus for each performance they worked in. As a result, they were usually pleased to have down time at home replaced by extra working time on the road.

“Any questions?”

“Where’s What’s-Its-Name College?” someone asked.

“Scyros College, in the town of Scyros,” Rudy said. “It’s about 45 minutes south of here. Good school with a great drama department and a terrific theatre. Dr. Hauser, the head of their drama department, is an old friend of mine. She caught our two opening nights and decided we should perform for her students and the townspeople. She has a pretty good budget, so she can afford us – she might even make a profit from ticket sales.”

And thus I returned to Scyros…

To be continued


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Category: Fiction

Hebe

About the Author ()

One of TGF's longest running authors, Hebe has been writing for TGF since the 1990s. With a focus on TG fiction she also has covered mythic crossdressing and recently has reported on TG events.

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