Arena Stage Ch. 01bysr71plt©
All of the lions were present now. And, as I would have guess from his reputation, the king of the jungle was the last to arrive, swirling in with his cute-boy assistant trailing behind him, juggling all of the paraphernalia the "great man" traveled with. I gotta admit that I was disappointed that Creighton Masters lived up to his reputation on first look. In fact, he was even more so. We were gathering in the dimly lit dance practice hall on a gloomy late afternoon, the overhead lights fifteen feet overhead doing little to illuminate the blueprints and note cards strewn across the rickety card table in the middle of the polished hardwood floor.
But once Creighton Masters appeared at the double doors at the far end of the room, bellowing his, "Hi ho, Lenny" and his "Oh no, don't bother to rise" Milo, the room took on a luminance that was astonishing. I smiled when I looked up at the window and saw that the sun had emerged from the clouds over the nation's capital just at the moment, but I didn't discount that the Master had planned that for his grand entrance.
Leonard Handelsman and Miloslav Cersenka had risen, their faces beaming and broadcasting their pleasure, their feeling of completeness, as Creighton Masters strode down the length of the room toward them, his oversized trench coat flapping about him like angel's wings. Of course they stood in homage; he had told them not too, but he knew they would, for Masters was the Master.
"It's good to see you again, Lenny," Masters nearly bellowed, as he swept his Stetson hat off his head with a flourish and flipped it off to the side, on the hardwood floor. He grabbed for one of the half dozen free folding chairs haphazardly scattered about, all within ten feet of the card table, turned it to where its back almost touched the side of the table across from where Handelsman had been seated and to the left of where Cersenka had been sunk into his chair at the table. With a grand motion of both arms held out wide, Masters motioned for the two to return to their seats, which they did, turning their faces toward Masters as if he was going to deliver a sermon they ached to hear.
Masters turned to Cersenka. "And you are looking very well, Milo."
"Thank you, and you too, Mr. Masters," Cersenka murmured in his heavy Czech accent.
I thought this was pretty ironic. Cersenka looked like shit. His health seemed to have deteriorated sharply in the two years since my own boss, Handelsman, and he had worked on that Broadway musical that had the misfortune of opening the night a major freak Hurricane roared down the canyoned streets of New York City. The musical had been saved, but that largely was on the reputations of the show's director, Handelsman, and its dance master, Cersenka. Shortly after that run, Cersenka was rumored to have entered a private hospital, not to be heard again until called forth for his momentous production.
Cersenka was still lithe and well-muscled and moved with a grace that was the hallmark of a premier dancer. But he was gaunt, his cheeks hollow, and his head bald for the first time I'd ever seen him. It was highly unlikely that Masters had missed the change in him in these two brief years.
"No, 'Mr. Masters' now, Milo," Masters said, with a jocular, almost genuine smile. "I'm so happy you have signed on with our little venture here."
"You call and I come," Cersenka answered.
"I could not have conceived of doing it without you," Masters answered.
I wondered if the Cersenka could discern that Masters was full of shit on this point as well as I could. I handled all of Handelsman's correspondence. I knew that Masters had tried to engage someone else entirely for this production for months and had only given in to Handelsman's begging that Cersenka be given the nod, that it was a production that he ached to do.
I thought on one of Masters's last letters to Handelsman on the subject in which he said he didn't want a dance master who would die in the middle of rehearsals. So I knew he knew that Cersenka wasn't well. And Handelsman knew that too.
I looked over at Handelsman to see his reaction, and he was smiling worshipfully at Masters, oblivious to the elder man's deceit. I remembered to punish the stage director for that when we'd gotten back to the yacht that night.
I'd heard that Masters, the playwright, and Handelsman, the stage director, had once had a close mentoring relationship some fifteen years earlier when the director was in his twenties and the playwright in his forties—that Masters had given Handelsman a leg up on Broadway by insisting that he be given productions of Masters's plays—and I knew Handelsman's proclivities—intimately—so perhaps something was becoming clear to me here. I took a moment to decide what that meant to me, whether I was jealous. But no I wasn't. My principal duty as Handelsman's "right-hand boy" might be to sleep with him and fuck him regularly. But I couldn't say that it bothered me that someone had been there before me. Not as long as he paid me well.
"So, what do we have here?" Masters, the playwright, asked as he leaned over the card table and looked at the pile of papers strewn around there.
"We didn't know what you planned," Handelsman, the stage director, answered, so we have collected various configurations for the stage. "We're gathered now. Perhaps you can tell us—"
"You want to know what I have in my little case here that's worthy of the last production at Arena Stage before they close down for a total rebuild?" Masters asked. His eyes were twinkling; he was enjoying the grand tease.
Masters raised his arm and snapped his fingers without looking back behind him, and the young man who had followed him into the room, burdened down with cases and scrolls and unidentifiable lengths of material, materialized and pulled three bound manuscripts from a briefcase, and, at Masters's sweeping direction, bestowed one each on the stage director and the dance master, and gently, almost reverently, set the third one down on the table in front of where Masters was setting. He then turned, set part of his burden down, pulled another folding chair up to a place about six feet behind Masters and to the side and settled in the chair. He dug into the briefcase and extracted a fourth manuscript and perched it on his lap, pen in hand, ready to take notes.
Masters continued teasing the other two, admonishing them not to open the manuscripts yet, and giving them an interminable running story on the "intolerable" plane trip down to Washington, D.C., from New York. Handelsman's hands were trembling as he fingered the edges of the manuscript cover. Cersenka's face bore a somewhat pained look, as if a flash of heartburn was shooting through his chest.
I took these moments of tease to size up Masters's assistant, as I viewed the tableau at the card table from where I was standing in the shadows, not really in the group, leaning on the practice piano. He was small but well formed. Blond, curly haired, a face that was as much pretty as handsome. Broad, sensual, Bryonesque lips. Startling blue eyes. I at first thought he was a teenager, but now that I looked at him more closely, I could see that he was just small of stature. And he had the grace in his movements of a dancer. I bet myself that's what he'd been when Masters took charge of him.
One thing was very clear. He worshipped Masters as much as the other two men at the table did. He hung on every word Masters said, ever ready to be there, serving his every need, if summoned. And the gaze he trained on the back of Masters's head wasn't just one of subservience or respect. It was a look of love.
It seemed quite likely to me that Masters was fucking him—if I was right that Masters and Handelsman had such a relationship a decade and a half ago. If so, I envied Masters. He looked quite fuckable to me too.
Masters's voice boomed out, signaling his change of topic, and I returned my attention to the card table tableau.
"You may open the manuscripts now," he said. He was so self-important that I wished someone would take him down a notch. This was really Handelsman's show. When the five-decade-old Arena Stage, the acclaimed regional theater located at Washington, D.C.'s, southeast waterfront, decided to completely demolish its once-revolutionary theater complex, dominated by one of the nation's first theaters in the round, and totally rebuild, in a two-year process, it had wanted to go with a bang. The theater was famous for discovering new acting and playwrighting talent and second productions straight on to Broadway. For a last play in this complex, it wanted to extend that tradition in such a way that its reputation carried it through the dormant reconstruction years. And they had turned to Handelsman, a Broadway director at the height of his fame, to put together that production.
Bringing in Masters had been Handelsman's doing. Masters hadn't had a hit in several years, and, as much of an icon in the theater that he was, he probably would not have quickly sprung to the minds of the ever-experimenting, edgy Arena Stage board for this particular play slot.
It would seem that Handelsman had picked well, though, because even as he and Cersenka were turning the cover board of the manuscript, I heard them gasp in harmony—and it was a gasp of appreciative delight.
"Can this be?" Handelsman exclaimed.
"I said there would be seven," Masters said. "I know it's been a decade, but this is my proposal for the production."
"I don't know what to say," Handelsman said. "You could take this directly to Broadway. Any producer and any theater on Broadway would clear time and space for this. You would have no trouble finding financial backing even in these tight times."
"I believe the occasion is worthy of it," Masters said in that supercilious voice, which, however had the clear ring of authority and entitlement to it.
"Another of the 'D' plays? A new play? I expecting a revival of one of your many Broadway triumphs. But another 'D' play? We will eclipse Broadway for its run."
"That is the idea, yes," Masters said. "And not just another 'D' play—the last 'D' play. It's premier. Here in Washington . . . at Arena Stage. I do believe they will remember that for two years at least, if I do say so myself."
I couldn't fault Masters on that statement, as egotistical as it was. He had won three Pulitzers and five Tonys for five of the earlier 'D' plays, called these because of the alliteration of their titles, which thus far had progressed from Delight, to Desire, to Decadence, to Deceit, and then to Descent. Only the last, Descent, had not lived up to the legend in its Broadway run. And there were those who doubted then that there ever would be the seventh 'D' play that Masters had boasted of. After that Masters had a spate of misses, plays that were good but not memorable, that didn't match the quality and impact of the first five 'D' plays. There was talk than that he had lost his edge—and even after his last two plays that had returned to the brillance of his early work, he was being talked about in theater circles in the past tense—which had made Handelsman's insistence of a Masters play for this venue all the more curious and risky.
But it seems that Handelsman's trust had been well founded. And I found myself racking my brain, trying to figure out what this seventh and last play in the series was titled.
"Defiance?" Cersenka questioned, speaking up for the first time since they had opened the manuscript and thus answering the question that had been in my mind. How strange. Not an ending really, but the beginning of a new cycle.
"Precisely," Masters said, his voice warm with triumph, proud of his work and of the surprise it engendered. "The unexpected. I always intended the unexpected at this point. I know what everyone was thinking, what they were thinking the final title would be . . ."
"Death," Cersenka whispered in a ghostly voice, stopping everyone in the room in their tracks, causing them to hold their breath, the heavy silence punctuated by the hacking cough Cersenka devolved to after interjecting that word into the air.
After a minute, Masters sniffed and said, "Yes, well. I know what people thought. But I always thought that would be a bit too obvious."
"Obvious, yes," Cersenka said. "But it's there, isn't it? It's there in all of them, all of the 'D' plays, lurking in the background. Death."
Masters looked radiant, accepting what Cersenka was saying as an accolade to his talent. But then he said enigmatically. "Perhaps yes, perhaps no. You have not read this last script."
"Yes, well, perhaps it is time that I did, Cersenka said. We have not that much time to stage an entirely new production. I too assumed it would be a revival. Something that could be slightly reshaped, brought into the current decade. But a whole new play. . . ." He paused momentarily to let the task that was before them sink in; they were all stage professionals of the first rank. They all knew a new production for the Arena Stage, given the time frame, would be a Herculean task. But all three, including Cersenka, had been infused with excitement from the moment they realized that they quite possibly had an earth-shattering event in their grasp.
"It has dancing scenes, this last play?" Cersenka then asked, obviously not yet fully believing. "And a score? It already has a score."
"Yes, of course," Masters answered in a slightly wounded voice. "That has been key through the series. They all have dance sequences. And, yes, certainly it has a score—but you will be able to recognize themes in the score from the earlier six plays. That is purposeful. This is the last, the linking play. The glue to my masterpiece."
"Then I best get started," Cersenka said. "If you gentlemen will excuse me. I have a score to review and dancers to hire." He rose, apparently in some pain, and took up an ivory headed cane, and started to move toward the double doors at the other end of the shadowed room. He stopped, though, beside the chair of Masters's assistant and took the surprised young man's chin in his hand and lifted his face.
"You are a dancer, are you not?" I was amazed that Cersenka had reached the same conclusion as I had about the young man. I had not noticed that he had realized the youth was in the room at all.
The beautiful young man cleared his through in embarrassment at the attention paid him, and answered in a small, melodic voice. "I was, yes . . . I was. But not now. Now I work for Mr. Masters."
"Perhaps, though. Just perhaps you still want to dance," Cersenka said. "Yes, I see it in your face. Perhaps, just perhaps I will see you at the auditions."
Even more embarrassed now, the young man moved his chin from Cersenka's gentle grip, and his eyes returned to the back of his boss—I could just as easily say "of his master."
"I don't think—"
"Well, perhaps," Cersenka repeated, and then he turned and tapped his way, slowly, yet gracefully straight for the exit.
Neither Masters nor Handelsman had seemed to notice this exchange at all, they were already so deeply engrossed in preliminary discussions about the coming production. But I certainly noticed. Handelsman had worked with Cersenka before. I had been there. I knew Cersenka. He would not have a single dancer in his troupe for a production that he did not fully control, fully possess. He fucked them all. The sexual dynamics in the room had just been kicked up a notch—and the Master apparently hadn't even noticed it.
My attention was arrested by the scraping of chairs. Masters and Handelsman were rising from the table and Handelsman was scooping together the papers strewn on the table top and motioning me to come over and help him. Masters snapped his fingers as well, and the young assistant dutifully stood up and started to take up the gear he'd brought into the room, most of which Masters had made no use of.
"I have invited Creigh and his assistant to the yacht, where we can discuss this more comfortably and over drinks and dinner. Show his assistant to the ship, will you, Gil? Creigh and I will be along shortly, after we have broken this momentous news to the theater director."
"Sure thing, Lenny," I answered. Masters may have his assistant cowed, but I was the top in the relationship between me and my employer. He was the one who opened his legs to me and begged for the fuck, who moaned at the working of my cock inside him. We were well beyond the Mr. Handelsman stage, Lenny and I.
As I approached the young man, his eyes went big, as if he'd seen me for the first time. And perhaps he was seeing me for the first time. I would pretty much have blended with the shadows where I was standing over at the side by the practice piano. And he had only had eyes for his employer.
And I could well understand how he would be taken aback when he first saw me. I was at least a foot and a half taller than he was and, from his perception, a hulking—maybe even a menacing—presence.
He turned away from me to gather up the rest of the paraphernalia he had brought into the room, and I felt an intake of breath and my cock started to swell. He had a beautiful butt. Nice rounded butt cheeks and trousers tailored to show his crack. The close-fitting legs of the trousers revealed strong, well-muscled thighs. I had obviously been right. A dancer, and a well-exercised one too. He must still practice. I wondered if Masters knew he was still practicing, or whether this was the young man's secret, the last vestige of a grab for independence. I didn't think Masters would be pleased to know that the young man hadn't completely given up his dream for him.
As we turned to walk out of the room, I laid a hand on the small of his back, ostensibly to guide him in the right direction toward where the yacht was moored not more than a hundred yards from the theater complex, at the Capitol Yacht Club on the Washington Channel, a finger off the Potomac River, at Water Street. This had been one of Handelsman's stipulations to taking on this production; he required mooring rights within a short walk of the theater so that he could continue to live in the style he had become accustomed to.
My hand was like that of a giant compared to the young man's diminutive size. I felt him shudder when I did this, but I also heard him give a little sigh. And I caught him looking up into my face—although I don't think he knew I saw his expression. I knew he was impressed by the size of me. If he only knew. He would certainly tremble if he could see the size of my cock.
And there, right then, I became determined that he would see the size of my cock. I decided that I would have him sometime during our shared stay here. The rehearsal and production time for this play would take a minimum of three months, maybe even four if the play did so well that they put off the start of demolition, which I knew was covered as a possibility in Handelsman's contract. I'd never required more than a week to have any man I wanted.
As we moved into the darkness of the corridor outside the dance rehearsal room, we had to turn to the right and go down a flight of unlit stairs to get to an exit out onto 6th. In redirecting the young man, I let my hand move down and cup one of his butt cheeks. I felt him tremble, but he said nothing and didn't attempt to shake away from my hand.
I laughed when we reached the street and I pointed to where a walkway would give us access to Water Street across the wider and busier Maine Avenue. He asked me why I laughed, but I dared not tell him the truth.
I had laughed at the image of the dance master, Miloslav Cersenka, and me in a race to cuckold the great, cocky Creighton Masters.