Arena Stage Ch. 02bysr71plt©
I could tell that Mr. Masters was nervous about this first meeting with the director and dance master at Arena Stage that afternoon. He had been peevish and snappish all morning—well, more so than usual—finding fault with everything and being detailed about the clothes he wanted me to lay out for the meeting and then rejecting them and upbraiding me for what I thought went together and was appropriate. And mostly I knew he was on edge because he had accosted me on the upstairs landing, taken me down to ground like a lion pouncing on a gazelle, stripped my trousers off, and fucked me hard and cruelly, giving no heed to whether or not I was comfortable, and not noticing—or caring—that my head was bouncing off the stair railings.
But this was not new to me. Mr. Masters was always like this before an important performance. Nervous, overcompensating for his flashes of self-doubt, and randy. I could smell the sex on him—his precum and musky "marking" scent, the building of lust—as he built up to preperformance nerves. I knew it was coming, and I knew that when he grabbed me wherever I was, I was to open my legs to him as I tumbled to the ground or the table top or over the chair arm or on the bed, to relax and open myself to his thick master's tool as he plowed up into me in one killing thrust—like a lion. And a lion he was, and there was many a young man in the theater who envied me for having Mr. Master's cock stretching and punishing my channel. He was a lion of the theater, a Pulitzer-winning playwright. A great talent. Still. Or at least most still granted him that status.
I could understand why Mr. Masters was nervous today. We had nothing else coming up on the schedule other than this special production at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., to mark the venerable, highly acclaimed regional theater's closing for two years for a total rebuild of facilities. The theater had contracted a first-rate New York director, Leonard Handelsman, to stage a high-profile closer play, and Handelsman, over some opposition, had insisted that my employer, Creighton Masters, pick one of his own plays for that production. Mr. Masters had the necessary name value, but he was considered past his peak. And he was taking a risk in what he was going to propose today as the play. Handelsman was, no doubt, expecting a revival of one of Mr. Master's highly successful plays. But Mr. Masters was going to propose a new play—and although his last two had done well with the critics and the box offices, he had a spate of "not quites" before that since the staging of the fifth of his acclaimed "D" plays. The sixth of the "D" plays, Descent, had been the first of his "not quite" nonsuccesses.
What he was going to suggest—no, demand—today was the staging of the seventh and last of these plays—he had always said there would be seven, and when asked by the press "why seven?" he'd always shot off a flippant, "there were seven deadly sins."
But after the nonsuccess of the sixth "D" play, no one ever expected this series to be completed.
Defiance was his seventh play, and, as I knew and no one else did, it was the last play he'd done any work on at all—in fact, he hadn't written more than barebones outlines for years. The well, at last, seemed to be dry. Both he and I were counting on a success with Defiance to start his creative juices again. So, there was every reason for him to be nervous about selling himself at this meeting; we were near the end of the road.
No one but me knew how long we'd been near the end of that road. The polishing of those last two stage successes and even the bulk of Defiance was my writing, not his. He still had the spark of genius. He still knew the hooks that grabbed the theatergoer and inspired the actor to his or her best work. But he could do no more than paint with a broad brush now. I had been filling in the detail work.
Still, it was his genius and in honor of his early brilliance that brought me to him and that kept me with him despite his extraordinary demands on my life, not the least the sexual demands. But that's what you do for a lion of the theater. You live in his shadow and do all you can to keep his armor burnished. And I lived in hope—in the hope that he would regain his greatness for the detail work as well as the brilliant broad brush.
We weren't broke, but, given Mr. Masters's lavish lifestyle we perpetually were close to that. Everything about the man was bigger than life, not just his physical presence and his charisma and robust body and good looks, which he had maintained into his late fifties, but his living and spending as well. He was a legend in the theater and had knowledge of that and every expectation of living up to it.
A case in point was this townhouse on 7th Street in Southeast Washington within a short walking distance of Arena Stage on the Washington Channel waterfront. When Mr. Masters heard that Leonard Handelsman, the director, had brought his quite large yacht in and docked it right on the waterfront near the theater in the Capitol Yacht Club, Mr. Masters had been determined we weren't going to be upstaged and insisted on renting this small townhouse—just a wedge of a two-story place in fifties' style modern. Mostly glass and a living, dining, and kitchen combination downstairs and a loft bedroom above. All for an astronomical price even by New York standards.
But I had to admit that it would be convenient to the stage, if Mr. Masters was able to sell his idea of risking it all on the concluding play of the "D" series. If.
I worried a bit about Handelsman. He could have gotten any playwright he wanted for this production. It was guaranteed to be highlighted in theater circles this coming season. Why had he chosen Mr. Masters? They weren't contemporaries. Mr. Masters was a good fifteen years older than Handelsman, and Handelsman was at the height of his theater cache. He was in the theater stratosphere and still climbing. Mr. Masters was on the descent, and the question of whether he was still in the stratosphere was moot—and even more a question to me, who knew our true position.
But there seemed to be something that Mr. Masters had with Handelsman.
As we entered the dance practice room in the Arena Stage complex, where the all-important initial planning meeting was to take place, I saw at once that there was more to the Masters-Handelsman connection than I had supposed. Handelsman was reacting toward Mr. Masters as if he was a visiting god—which, of course, encouraged Mr. Masters to act even more the part. I could sense his reassurance building. And that would mean more sex after the meeting. Mr. Masters celebrated his ups as vigorously as he compensated for his nerves. Mr. Masters was still vigorous and oversexed for his stage of life—and he was built for it.
I couldn't help but turn my attention to the third person at the flimsy card table in the middle of the vast, dimly lit, polished-floor dance studio as I settled in a folding chair a good six feet in back of Mr. Masters and just out of the periphery of his vision. Placed just so, I could hop to to meet his frequent demands for documents and scripts from the overwhelming collection of items he had insisted I manhandle over to the meeting—most of them purely for show and bravado.
I was in my element here. A dance studio. And the third man sitting at the table was the dean of Broadway dancing, a legend in his own right, Miloslav Cersenka. I was actually a little taken aback at seeing him. Rumors were floating around Broadway that he was dead. And, indeed, he hadn't worked a show there in two years. And yet here he was, in the flesh, although the flesh these days were weak. He was still powerfully built, but his body was gaunt and almost cadaverous, only his dedication to dance seeming to enable him to hold on to muscle tone. His skin was translucent, and there were blotches of bruising on his arms and on one cheek. More damning—for him, at least—there was an ivory-headed cane propped up against the table by his side. If some leg ailment prevented him from dancing, he might as well be dead. Not dead perhaps. Not yet. But not far.
I had once worshipped Miloslav Cersenka. It was he who brought me to New York from my Midwestern town. Not he himself, physically, but the legend of him. I was a dancer. Tatesville, Ohio, was no place for a young man to be a dancer. Tatesville, Ohio, was a bedrock of high school football. I was built slight and said to be "too pretty" to try to make it on the football field, but I had been drawn early into the world of dance instead. That was no talent to have in Tatesville. It flagged you as a pansy. And sure enough, shortly after my eighteenth birthday, the vice principal of the school trapped me backstage in the high school auditorium late one afternoon, and when I went home that night I no longer was a virgin.
The problem was that I enjoyed it.
And that, coupled with my love for dance, meant I had to leave Tatesville. I saw movie musicals at the local theater, and I noted that, more often than not Miloslav Cersenka was credited as the dance composure and director. I read up on everything I could find on Cersenka, and then, when the opportunity came, I went to New York to break into the theater, hopefully in one of Cersenka's productions.
As I auditioned, never reaching the heights of a Cersenka production, I heard that you had to devote yourself totally to Cersenka to be one of his production dancers. Totally. It was said that he insisted on fucking all of his dancers, male and female, and that only through this level of control would he trust a dancer to work in his troupe.
That was no problem for me, but I'd never managed to land an audition with Cersenka.
Before that ever happened, I landed an audition with Creighton Masters. And audition of a similar kind, but without the hope of dancing at the end.
I was dancing in the off-Broadway launch of one of Mr. Masters's "not quite" plays three years previously, a play that didn't get to Broadway and didn't make much of a splash off Broadway either. I was glad to get the work, but I knew my dancing wasn't getting me where I wanted to go.
I was vulnerable. Creighton Masters was a big deal to me. When he suggested we lunch together one afternoon, several hours before the show, I was thrilled. I assumed we would be in a group, but we weren't. He turned all of his charm on me—just me. I doubt anyone but those who have come under Mr. Masters's spell would understand how flattering and disarming that was. He asked me if I wanted to see his suite. Then he had wine delivered and told me to amuse myself, that he felt like taking a bath. Then he asked me to come in and scrub his back. Then he asked me to undress and join him in the tub. And I said yes to it all. Without a second thought. This was Creighton Masters, the lion of playwrights. He was on his back in the tub and pulled me down onto his lap, facing him, and embraced my chest tightly in his arms and thrust up into me with a cock I never could imagine that he had. And while I moaned and groaned at the taking—a possession more filling and vigorous and deep than I had ever known before—he marked me as his. As he fucked me a second time that afternoon, he offered me the position as his assistant.
I danced that night, in pain, and my legs not able to close. But that was my last appearance on stage.
I had been practicing the last several months, preparing for a return, if our financial circumstance dictated that would be necessary. Not knowing if I could ever again be even as good when I stopped. But knowing we needed contingencies. I, of course, hadn't let Mr. Masters know this. He would have been outraged. He would have considered it treasonous, I know at the thought that I doubted in the least that he could continue as he always had.
It was this thought of maybe returning, however, that made me melt at being in the same room with Miloslav Cersenka, not more than ten feet from where he was sitting. I had never hoped to be this close to the dance master.
I had handed out scripts at Mr. Masters's direction, and he had not let the other two open the covers initially. He was waiting for his moment, this man of high theatrical drama. And in the interlude, I had been reminiscing—on how Mr. Masters had come into my life—rather how I had come into his—and how drastically my life had changed at that point. My attention went back to the men at the table when I heard Handelsman and Cersenka gasp. Mr. Masters had let them open the covers and see the title—Defiance.
"Can this be?" Handelsman was exclaiming.
"I said there would be seven," Masters answered. "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 answered in that dismissive voice I knew so well. I knew even more about that voice, though. I knew it was the product of desperation.
"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. Its 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."
It was then that I discerned another presence in the room. It must have been some movement in the shadows over by the practice piano that had arrested my attention. I looked over there, but it was just too murky. But, yes, there did seem to be another man, a tall, dark man, leaning on the top of the piano at the far side of it from here. I wondered why I couldn't see him better.
I heard the name of the seventh "D" play, and my attention went back to the animated discussion between Mr. Masters and Handelsman and the dance master.
"Defiance?" Cersenka was saying, a question mark in his voice.
"Precisely," Masters said in a voice that told me he thought he had won them over now. "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 hollow, faraway voice. And then everyone stopped whatever they were doing, as Cersenka was coughing a deep-throated cough. Bringing something into the room that hadn't been there before. A sense of reality? Of inevitability?
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."
I knew then that Mr. Masters was in his element. They had been won over. They were looking deeply in the play, taking it seriously. Our play. Well, now, I couldn't think that—not "our" play; I was being presumptive. My contribution couldn't have been significant—and it certainly couldn't be voiced. Mr. Masters's play. His concluding masterpiece of the "D" series. He looked Cersenka directly in the eye then and said, "Perhaps yes, perhaps no. You have not read this last script."
It wasn't long before Cersenka had made his exit of the room, leaning on his cane in a heartbreaking, slow progression, and the other two men at the table were rising, scraping their chairs on the polished wood floor. The stage director, Handelsman, scooped together the papers strewn on the table top, and I saw him motioning over toward the piano in the shadows.
My breath stopped and I gasped inwardly as a black giant emerged from the shadows. No wonder I hadn't been able to see who was lurking back there. He was ebony black and was wearing a black turtleneck and black trousers. He was a hulking muscle man, but he moved gracefully on the balls of his feet as he came over to the table at Handelsman's summons. He was a handsome man. He could have played a tribal African chief on stage. And all eyes would have gone to him whenever he was there. I wondered if he was a dancer or an actor.
But then Mr. Masters snapped his fingers at me, and I started gathering up all of that gear he had made me bring over for appearances sake.
Handelsman was speaking to the black giant, who was being attentive to him, although I felt by his bearing that the black man saw himself as in no way subservient to the stage director. "I have invited Creigh and his assistant to the yacht, where we can discuss this more comfortably and over drinks and dinner," Handelsman said. "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," the black man answered in a breezy tone, which I then got the impression he was using to impress me—to show me the difference between me as Mr. Masters's dogs body and him—because he introduced himself to me as Gil Johnson, Leonard Handelsman's assistant.
Johnson was giving me "that" look—as if he could see straight through me and the relationship I had with Mr. Masters, as if he knew I was nothing better than a sex slave to Mr. Masters. And, disconcertingly, as if he, the big black man, already owned me as well.
I turned away from him in embarrassment and not wanted to let him see that I was impressed by him, that something at the center of me was showing interest in him. I gathered up the rest of the paraphernalia I'd brought into the room. When I was upright again, he pointed to the doors at the back of the room.
As we turned to walk out of the room, he laid a hand on the small of my back to guide me in the right direction, which I enjoyed. Then, outside the room, when we turned right to go down a dark flight of stairs that led to an exit out on 6th Street, the black giant moved his hand down to cup my buttocks. Just like he knew he'd made me already.
Out on the street, he turned to me and smiled. "They won't need us. We can go to the yacht later rather than sooner. You've got the keys to this townhouse of Masters's, don't you?" He squeezed my butt cheek in his broad hand and was leaning in close to me. I liked the feel of his hand. It burned right into my ass. But I wasn't free to do what I wanted. Masters demanded exclusivity. He never wanted to wear a condom; he said he did everything on the spur of the moment and condoms disrupted the moment. I wasn't free to fuck anyone else—no matter how inviting this obvious offer was.
"Mr. Masters's will expect me to be there when he arrives, I said."
"This Mr. Masters owns you, I take it?" the black giant asked. But he was still smiling and seemed to be amused.
"Pretty much so, yes," I answered. There could be no meeting, no relationship. So there was no reason for me to be coy.
"OK, I'll take you on over to the yacht. But I don't think I'll stay around very long. And I don't think you will either."
I wondered what he meant by that as we walked the two blocks over to the waterfront, but then, when I saw the yacht, I was mesmerized. It was one of those old fan tail yachts from the 1920s, all polished teak superstructure on top of a glistening white hull. Pretty long, but small enough to get into a channel like this. I figured it made a pretty nifty home away from home, though.
Gil Johnson waited for me, asking me about my background and being guarded about his in return, until Mr. Masters and Handelsman arrived, all animated talk. Once embarked, they walked right by us where we were sitting in the semicircle of cushions at the stern of the ship, entered the salon, and disappeared down a corridor at the far end of the that toward the bow of the ship.