Sunday, February 15, 2009:
I arrived in Salem via commuter rail with my costume bag slung over my should and my make-up case in hand, walking the few blocks from the station to the Gulu-Gulu Café. The sun was beginning to approach the horizon and the bricks of the Odd Fellows' Hall on Washington street were taking a warm golden-pink hue. I spied a large carving of Mister Punch (the name Pulcinella took when he moved to England) in one of the shops as I made my way to my destination, I took this as a good omen.
After coming through the front door, I introduced myself to the first staff member I met, explained that I was the evening's feature performer, and ordered an espresso and a glass of water. It was explained to me that Ryan, the host did not normally show up for at least an hour, which was well enough as I needed a time and place to prepare before my set.
After stretching out down in the basement, changing into my costume and make-up, and practicing a few bits, I came up at the appointed time only to discover that the café was much the same as it was when I first went down the steps, except for the fact that a mime in greasepaint and spandex was standing in the middle of the dining room with no idea what was going on. Ryan had not yet arrived. I had no idea who had come for dinner and who had come for the show and no one was approaching the mime to explain the situation to him.
I was soon met by a friendly couple, one of whom had come to read poetry, the other of whom was curious about my masks, but they, too, were uncertain of the evening's agenda. Soon after, a friend of mine, Lynne Sticklor, a poet and performer also known for her stage persona of "The Prize Lady" (not to be confused with the thoroughbred racehorse of the same name) arrived. Lynne had come to see the show but had no clue about Ryan.
Eventually as we checked the grapevine, we discovered that Ryan had been called away due to an emergency, and so as the featured artist of the evening, I took charge by delegating. Knowing Lynne's ability to engage and charm an audience, I persuaded her to take up the role of the evening's hostess. She signed people up for the open mic segment of the evening and started the evening's festivities with all the grace and confidence one would have expected if it had been her regular gig.
Lynne read a few of her own poems as well as works by other poets, including Walt Whitman. Some other poets read. There was a short feature by Rachel Clancy, a stand-up comic. In between the various acts, Lynne made me write a quick bio with which should could introduce me.
I opened with a trio of pieces from my poetry/mime repertoire, though I decided for the evening not to speak the titles, but to present them on cards that would unfold in various ways on string hinges I had made the night before. This repertoire is out of the ordinary so it is often hard to determine whether the audience is receptive at times, though I noticed the audience which had chattered through the other performers had become silent for me. After "Nemo of the Rails", I put on my Arlecchino mask and unfurled the string of cards that announced Arlecchino Am Ravenous.
As mentioned previously, the rehearsals had given me an opportunity to fine-tune the script of this short play, even as I am submitting it to theatre festivals. At the same time, I seem to have created a script that continues to challenge me as a performer to continue inventing new bits of stage business.
[That said, the aspect of me that writes had one bone to pick with the aspect that performs. While the performer is pleased as punch to engage in acts of simulated auto-cannibalism, and satirical acts of blasphemy, I caught myself engaged in a brief act of self-censorship when he cut short a reference to one of the more blatant anti-Semitic epithets from the The Merchant of Venice. However, since it is the writer who is blogging, and not the actor, he can't stop me:
Who the diavolo you think you are?
[Smiles in recognition, and bows.]
Oh! Buon Giorno! Signor Diavolo Lucifero dell’Inferno! Everyone say you look like Shylock, but no…
…Shylock more handsome…
[Back to Lucifer. Mimes putting arm over Lucifer’s shoulder.]
…Signor Diavolo no look like Jew! More like goat.
The last line was dropped, perhaps out of the actor's fear that the audience would not understand, or that he would be "making trouble." The problem is that the writer likes making trouble.]
I ended with an enraged Arlecchino stepping out into the audience and confronting a haiku poet who had read during the open mic. I returned to the stage, removed my mask and prepared for the finale, during which I overheard a woman explaining to her friends that "It's like Dante's Inferno as told by James Joyce!"
I ended with "A Child's Trip Through the Underworld," bowed, took my props from the stage and ordered a salad of fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, portabella mushrooms and greens, ate, cleaned off most of my make-up, changed out of my costume, paid my bill and caught the last train out of Salem, making my way back to Somerville within an hour.
Photos by Lynne Sticklor AKA The Prize Lady, except for facsimile of the title page of the First Quarto edition of The Merchant of Venice courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.