I Remember MamabySchuppinzigh©
My Mom was nearly forty when I was born, with me being the last born of four children - Michael, Susan, Marilyn and Charles.
However, this story's all about Mom; I was around her a lot. Dad was the owner of a business; Michael was working for Dad – my sisters went off together by themselves.
Mom, or Elizabeth, sometimes Liz – took care of the house and the kids. She was the one who took us to the things we needed to be at – the sports events, the performance events and other stuff.
I got into theatre as a young boy, not just at school – also with our local community theatre. Mom took me to auditions, rehearsals and performances, sometimes manhandling Dad and my older siblings to come and see me perform.
One of the plays I auditioned for was an oldie but goodie called 'Life With Father,' a nice little story with 18 characters. Mom sat with me as I filled out the audition form, helping me as needed.
"I remember this show, honey – a long time ago; I did theatre... must be where you got the talent, certainly not from your father!" she said.
Looking around I said, "Mom, there aren't any 'Vinnie's' around here that I can see. Try out – you could be my Mom on stage as well as off," I chuckled.
"Oh, that's supposed to motivate me? – I did love the stage!" she said.
"Try out – you get in, or you don't get in, what's the harm in that?" I reasoned.
She got up and walked to the counter, the lady there said, "Oh; you've decided to try out after all."
"Well, my son Charles, who's been acting since he could walk, talked me into it. When do rehearsals start?"
They talked for a while; Mom seemed to enjoy the moment. She came over and sat back down. "Well, Charles – I guess I'm trying out after all."
"Great Mom, we can audition together," I said really excited about this. She'd never talked about herself from back when she was a young girl, even though she's been taking me to these tryouts for a while.
They called my name, "Charles Sladek?"
I got up. "Break a leg, honey," Mom said.
"Aren't you coming in order to read with me?" I said, turning to her.
"Oh, yes – sorry," she said grabbing her purse.
We walked into a room with three people behind a desk, each with a yellow pad. One looked up and said, "You're not Charles."
"My son asked me to try out with him; I used to do theatre a very long time ago," she said blushing a bit.
"No harm in that, what's your name?"
"Elizabeth," she said handing them her audition form.
"Wow, Elizabeth – you've done a few plays it appears."
"They were all back in South Dakota," Mom replied.
"Have you looked over a script?" she was asked.
"No, but I was always a pretty good cold reader," she said getting more confident as the conversation continued.
"Charles, you'll read Clarence... Mom; you'll read Vinnie, the mother?"
"Yes," she said quietly.
"We'll need to hear your 'outside voice' today Elizabeth – is that all right?"
That broke everyone up, including Mom, who took a big breath and waited.
"Start with Vinnie's speech to the maid, whenever you're ready..."
Vinnie: "If Mr. Day speaks to you, just say; 'Yes Sir,' Don't be nervous - you'll get used to him."
Clarence: "Good morning Mother."
I give her a kiss on her cheek per the directions.
Vinnie: "Good morning Clarence."
Clarence: "Did you sleep well, Mother?"
Vinnie: "Yes, thank you dear (to the maid) We always start with fruit – except the two young boys, who have porridge."
Clarence: "Jiminy! Another wreck on the New Haven. That always disturbs the market – Father won't like that!"
Vinnie: "I do wish that New Haven would stop having wrecks."
The casting committee all chuckled.
Vinnie: "If they knew how it upset your Father – My soul and body – what's happened to your coat?"
"Thank you both very much – a new face, and a talented young man... expect a call."
Mom and I put our scripts down, the guy, who'd done most of the talking stopped and handed Mom back a script. "Put that in your purse please Elizabeth – I want you as Vinnie! Put one in for your son as well, maybe not Clarence, but John would work out too. See you at read-through – say nothing as you leave please," he said as we tried to hold in our exuberance.
The counter lady said good-bye as we left. We got in the car; I saw Mom's hands shaking. "You were wonderful, Mom – your life experience should help," I said chucking her shoulder a little.
And she was great – she helped me learn lines; she learned hers so quickly. She knew all about upstage, downstage and everything else. What do they call that – a diamond in the rough?
With me being the only one of us kids still at home, I was 14 – we spent a long time working together; I ended up with Clarence after all, something about chemistry? After our initial blocking, Mom and I made it our goal to be off script the following week.
The gentleman playing Clarence Senior, or 'Father' seemed taken by my mother, who told him in front of me, that 'she was just playing a part' and no more.
Complete run-through's came along and Mom dazzled – gosh was she a natural at this. I knew I'd be playing sons and friends for a while, but she was destined for greatness.
We had three weekends of performances, nine in all. On opening Friday night, after it was over... our director brought flowers up on stage for Elizabeth. She Ok'd my calling her that. Dad was there, along with my sisters.
On the upcoming Sunday, with no performances - Elizabeth tried out for Cat On a Hot Tin Roof – I did too. I got one of the 'Children,' while Mom auditioned for Maggie – the lead female. Her audition was bitchin'; she did the monologue in the first scene,
"Hear them? Hear them screaming? I don't know where their voice boxes are located, since they don't have necks. I tell you I got so nervous at that table tonight I thought I would throw back my head and utter a scream you could hear across the Arkansas border an' parts of Louisiana and Tennessee. I said to your charming sister in law Mae, honey, couldn't you feed those 'precious little things' at a separate table with an oil cloth cover?"
She went on, nailing the slight southern accent, doing the flirting the scene expected and was playing with the tie of the young man reading Brick towards the end of the scene.
The casting committee all applauded, 'Brick' gave her a kiss on the cheek, which she stayed in character for – and was handed the script right then and there. We walked out together, her with script in hand – still with Maggie's attitude!
That particular season included The Music Man, Private Lives, (Mom got in that as Sybil) I DO – I DO, Strange Bedfellows and finishing with A Little Night Music. I heard Elizabeth singing around the house before, but when she heard ALNM was the final show of the season; we went and tried out together.
I had gotten a growth spurt, so she thought I could play Frid, while she auditioned for Desiree. I girl I remembered from school was there to try out for Fredrika, Desiree's 13- year-old daughter. I was by no means a singer, but I went in with Elizabeth for her audition.
Now, she's been in three 'straight plays' not having given a hint to anyone there that she could sing. At home, she'd gotten the sheet music and taught herself 'Send in the Clowns.' With music and lyrics by the incomparable Steven Sondheim, she motioned at the piano player to start the music – he did with a light touch,
"Isn't it rich? Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air.
Send in the clowns."
"Isn't it bliss? Don't you approve?
One who keeps tearing around,
One who can't move.
Where are the clowns?
Send in the clowns."
"Just when I'd stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again
With my usual flair, sure of my lines,
No one is there."
She paused, but was motioned to continue!
"Don't you love the farce?
My fault, I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want -
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother they're here.
Isn't it rich?
Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late
In my career?
And where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns
Well maybe – next year?"
I, along with everyone within the sound of her singing, was applauding her - she graciously bowed, then pointed to her pianist.
On the way out we were handed two scripts. As we passed the group of people who had yet to have auditioned, they got up and applauded my Mom.
A few ladies came up and said, "I knew better than to think you wouldn't be here – but who knew you could sing?"
Taking her hand, I proudly said, "I did!" and we left.
When we got to the performances, there were three pieces of music that never failed to bring down the house, 'You Must Meet My Wife,' 'Weekend in the Country,' a magnificent number with all the principals - and of course, 'Send in the Clowns.' The word got out about this new actress in our midst, Elizabeth Sladek. We were sold out two weeks before we started the run.
Elizabeth was remarkable! When the run of the show was over, after getting glowing reviews in the paper, Mom was done.
"I got that out of my system, didn't I Charles?" she said to me.
"I sure do hope I find and marry someone as talented as you are Mom," I said practically crying.
"Charles, you will – I read somewhere that boys use their Mom as a model for the woman he ends up with. I saw you talking to Edith, who played Fredrika – she seems nice. Invite her over sometime, OK!"
I did end up with Edith, we went to high school and college together – our first child was a little girl; we agreed to name her Elizabeth.
Mom never did any more theatre after that one season. She really did 'get it out of her system,' I'm proud of her. Edith and I still do the occasional show - Mom gets to baby sit her 'little Lizzie,' as she called her granddaughter.
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