Rehearsed, the new play was ready to launch. Two weeks of readings, staging rehearsals, technical nights and costume fittings had helped Margaret prepare for her seemingly thankless part in the play. Her role, now called Janette Morgan, was rather straightforward and, as she had told people, really required her to look interested while others spoke and did things. She did have a good moment or two in each act where she said things that proved to be oddly relevant, but they were only moments and Margaret held out no hope for any recognition from this experience, not from critics or audience, not from her peers either.
At the first preview things seemed to be going well. The audience was responsive and even the few ticket-buyers among them seemed to be supportive. As near as Margaret could tell no one left during the intermission, which she knew was a good thing, one that didn’t always happen.
Her scene in the final moment of the play was her best opportunity, she knew, now that the lines had been adjusted into a better fit for her and her character. Janette Morgan was a thirty-something spinster with a long-lasting crush on the leading man’s older brother, a character named Frank Bird. Throughout the play she spent most of her time ogling Frank, played by Hanson Michaels, yet another member of the second company, a young man who played older men with finesse. Her few lines were always thrown in his direction, usually to his departing back. In this scene, however, she had the chance to converse. Barely. Her dialogue went like this:
Frank. Sit with me for a moment. (He does.) You must know I’ve always cared about you, what you do, how you are, like that.
I know it. I always did know it. It’s just that you are such a pretty thing and I can’t imagine what my life with you would be like. I can’t see us old together. I can’t see us at the end of life, Janette. I can only see us as we are right now. You so young and beautiful. Me, older and graying, and paunchy and sour.
You’re not sour. You’re not, Frank.
Ah, so lovely. But so wrong. You have no idea how hurt I was when Felicia left me. You can’t imagine what I went through when the bank failed. You cannot possibly see what I’ve seen in my lifetime, the despair of armies of humanity when war devastates their homelands, the misery of soldiers who bring those people only the tip end of bayonets.
Ah, you are so sweet. So very gentle and concerned. I feel it in the simplicity of your utterances. I would marry you, Janette, just for the sympathy, that sweetness. It could keep me alive for an eternity. It could.
Marry me then.
And let you lose yourself, your hopes and your bright future in the gloom and darkness of my existence? I don’t think so. I couldn’t ask you to bear my name.
Then bear mine instead. Lose all that haunts your past in the anonymity that comes from being Frank Morgan.
The movie star? The wizard of Oz? I don’t think so. No. I really don’t think so.
(With that, he exits leaving Janette alone on the sofa, sobbing. Curtain.)
Margaret had only that much to work with after a frustrating night of nothing and even though the light was still being thrown onto her fellow actor she made the most of what had been given to her. It was certainly an improvement over the role as written, approached at that first rehearsal when Serious (bang), Serious (bang), Serious (bang) had been the order of the day followed by her ridicule at the hands of the director. He, curiously, had later devoted himself to making her role work for her.
"Any part you play," he had said to her at the next rehearsal, "is like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are identically colored. You have to figure out how those all-too similar bits fit together."
"I understand that," she said back to him, "but what I don’t understand, right now, is her." She smiled wanly at Frank, the real Frank and not the character. He smiled back at her and, after a single intake of breath, sighed.
"I see my work is cut out for me," he said. "So, let’s begin tackling this woman and find out for ourselves who she’s supposed to be in all this."
By the end of the basic rehearsal period he had made progress with Margaret’s interpretation of the role. She wasn’t uncomfortable with her long silences any longer, for he had choreographed her into a different sort of reality, a "wait and see" mentality that factored out physically into an ever-in-motion revolution about the stage. She moved like a cat stalking an equally predatory victim, but one not up to her size or standards. There was a constant caution about her and her meanderings always brought her to a perceived goal, though rarely to the one she was hunting - that was always Frank Bird. This feline femininity fostered a freedom she hadn’t felt before. She even ventured to try it out on a date with one more member of the company, but he simply freaked out and left her at the bar of the small restaurant in downtown Stockbridge, leaving her to walk the two miles back to the Lavan Center where she lived.
On this first night with a real audience Margaret found that her restaged, rethought character was pulling a great deal of attention. Even with very little to say she was now a major presence and at the curtain call she received the lion’s share of applause, even a cheer or two. Her Frank Morgan, Hanson Michaels, shot her a very nasty sidelong glance as the lights dimmed on them for the last time that night. And backstage, immediately after, he let her have it.
"You scene-stealing little bitch!" Michaels shouted at her. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
"I’m only doing what the director gave me."
"Smug, prissy little virgin!" Michael slapped her with words.
"I am not ‘little,’" she answered him, her voice also rising to near-shout level.
"Still smug, then, still prissy and still a virgin!" His reply was bitter. "I don’t think I can take three weeks of this crap!"
"You’ll have to," came the director’s response from across the backstage cross-over ramp. "You’ll have to do what little you do, Hanson, and do it just the way I gave it to you or I’ll have you hauled off the stage with an old-fashioned ‘crook.’ And I know we have on in props somewhere."
"I’m all right, Frank, let it go," Margaret said to her director. She had placed herself between him and Hanson.
"Don’t defend me, Margaret," Hanson said, shoving her aside. "I can handle myself quite well."
"Don’t make me hit you, Hanson," Frank said quietly.
"I wouldn’t put it past you to knock me out cold, just to get on stage yourself in the part," Hanson spat out at Frank.
"Hanson, stop it!" Margaret heard her voice say the words, but they made no sense. He wasn’t actually doing anything. "Hanson, please."
The young actor backed away from his angry director. He looked at Margaret for a moment, then at Frank, then he turned and walked away, muttering things that neither of them could quite hear nor understand.
"He’ll get over that, and he’ll be fine," Margaret said. Frank stared at her for a moment.
"You know that, do you?" He asked her. She nodded but felt herself grow quite cold as he spoke again. "How could you know that, Margaret? Margaret NEVER knows, does she?" Her hands were icy, and her throat was frozen. "Margaret never knows." He paused, looked at her unable to respond to him. "Does she?"