Arena Stage Ch. 04bysr71plt©
I slept very poorly because of what was going on over my head in the loft bedroom. I'd stayed late at the theater, mostly in the hope that they'd be finished for the night before I came back to the 7th Street townhouse, but they were just getting started good then. All of that grunting and groaning. I knew that Mr. Masters was giving it to him good. I could almost feel every deep thrust, hear every answering groan and moan, as if it was coming from me. So often it was. I knew just how it felt to be power fucked by the great playwright, Creighton Masters.
And I missed it whenever it wasn't me.
We were three weeks into the stage rehearsals of Defiance, and we, Mr. Masters and I . . . well, OK, I was in that process of readjusting the wording and movement on the stage to meld naturally to the actual actors performing the work and to the director, Leonard Handelsman's, changes of the blocking—the who stands where when—of the staging to meet the special needs of theater in the round.
This was all a convoluted process that few realized a stage production went through—this adjusting of the written script to meld with a particular production of the play. And the process this time was almost farcical. Handelsman sat in the third row of the theater and put the actors through their paces. Most of them still had scripts in hand, but we were getting very close to the "scripts down" rehearsal stage, and most the actors were weaning themselves away from these props already. The end of this stage would also pretty much finish the need for me—and for Mr. Masters, for that matter—although the playwright would, of course, remain lounging at the back of the theater, basking in the beauty of "his" lines, scowling occasionally when he thought a golden line had been swallowed, clearing his throat when Handelsman—or anyone else—made a suggestion that sullied "his" brilliant prose, and otherwise making himself insufferable to the director, who, when he then was being mastered by the playwright in the bedroom could deny him nothing.
Mr. Masters sat three rows behind Handelsman and to the side far enough that Handelsman only needed to turn his head to consult. Mr. Masters's function was to take notes on changes Handelsman was requesting in the scripting as he went along for a complete rework of that portion of the script overnight to be available for another run-through the next day. At least the was the theory of what Mr. Masters was doing. In reality, he was doodling on his pad, drawing fanciful castles in the air, while I, sitting just behind him and to his side, was taking the real notes. Because it was I who was going to be staying late that evening to recast and recopy the script pages for the morning. Mr. Masters hadn't polished or recast—or even wordsmithed—his scripts since he had taken me under his wing and into his bed three years earlier.
Sitting at the back of the theater all of this time, brooding and just watching the rest of us interact, was the hulking Gil Johnson, Handelsman's assistant. I found him particularly disconcerting, because sometimes when there was a break in the note taking, I would glance back and up to the upper levels of the seating, and he'd be watching me. Every time. I found it both flattering and scary. I'd done my best to let him know my loyalties were fully with Mr. Masters. But he didn't care. He always seemed to be watching me and always seemed to be making clear that there was some unfinished business between us.
I found that particularly confusing and frustrating considering how relationships around here had shaken out.
As usual, last evening the rehearsal went late. I had rather more changes to make in the script than I had anticipated. Mr. Masters and Handelsman didn't even bother to suggest that I join them at the Flagstaff restaurant over on the waterfront before retiring to the Boxoffice for their after-dinner brandies and cigars before the rest of our typical night around here unfolded. Gil gave me an apologetic look and walked out behind them.
When I was alone, I gathered up all of my notes and walked through the maze of corridors backstage, which, this being a theater in the round, actually swirled around the stage under the raised seating, until I reached Handelsman's office. This was a dressing room he just more or less taken over without any sort of formal assignment. It would revert to a dressing room when the actual performances started, at which time the director is pretty much superfluous unless the opening night reviews point to flaws that can be easily fixed by recasting of this or that. At this point, both the director and playwright might have to go into furious brainstorming and work again.
Since Handelsman's tenure was temporary, the dressing table had become his desk and the costume racks and chaise lounge for settling a principal actor's nerves were just pushed off to the side.
With a sigh, I settled down in front of my laptop computer that I had perched on the dressing table and brought up the existing script side by side with the notes I'd been tapping in over the five-hour rehearsal.
"I brought you a sandwich and a Coke."
The deep baritone voice surprised me, and I gave a little cry and turned to the door.
"Thanks . . . thanks, Gil," I said, "That was thoughtful." I realize my tone was a little icy. It was, in fact, a thoughtful thing for him to do . . . a very nice thing. This was all just so awkward—especially after what he had told me he felt—and what I'd told me I felt.
He walked over and put the aluminum foil-wrapped sandwich and the can of Coke, beaded with cold sweat, on the top of the dressing table next to the laptop and then moved his hand to where his fingers were lightly pressing on my forearm.
"Sean . . . I'm sorry. I . . ."
"I have more work to do here than I thought I would, Gil. Thanks for the food. That . . . that was very thoughtful. But don't you have someplace you need to be?"
He retracted his fingers. They had felt like hot pokers. I was glad he'd backed off. But, who was I fooling? No, I wasn't really glad he backed off.
I started to say something, but I couldn't really think of what to say. And it didn't matter anyway, because when I turned toward the door, he was gone.
I soldiered on, the rewrites taking twice as long as I anticipated, because I couldn't take my mind off Gil. He had tried to say something. He had wanted to talk about it, but I'd cut him off. Eventually, of course, something had to be talked about. Someone had to say something. This was all becoming so convoluted—and so out of the character of anything I had imagined.
It was after midnight before I got back to the townhouse. So, I thought the place would be quiet. It was uncomfortable enough to have to sleep on the sofa downstairs—where I'd been sleeping for a week already. But it was impossible to sleep hearing the sounds from upstairs.
Still, I must have gotten some sleep, because they woke me up the next morning—late, as usual. None of us were morning people—as they clattered down the staircase in the high-ceilinged living room and started scrounging around in the kitchen for something to quell the hunger that all-night fucking built up.
"Did you finish the rewrites?" That was all Mr. Masters said. He didn't ask if the sofa was uncomfortable or if I minded being displaced from my place in his bed or if I minded that he fucked someone else just above my head when he had insisted on exclusivity for both of us. He was the lion of the theater, the great playwright. And he didn't owe anyone explanations. Certainly not me. And I wasn't being snide. I understood how it was with us and what my role in his life was.
That didn't mean I had to like it.
"Yes," I answered, as I stood up from the sofa and scrunched my back, trying to get it back into alignment. "Everything's on the table in the director's office. Copies for everyone, including the actors and lighting man."
"Good. I'm going to the theater and put in my appearance," Mr. Masters said. And then he was gone. No sense of embarrassment or apology for his behavior—for his need for instant gratification anywhere he sought it and anyone he wished to exploit to get it.
And still I loved him. He was the greatest playwright of the living theater, and I was in awe of the privilege to serve him.
But now, as I watched him walk away from me and out of the door, not a care in the world, the only word I could think of him as was "bastard."
"Sean . . . I . . . I'm sorry."
I turned on Gil, ready to let loose all of my ire and hurt on him. But he was sitting there, at the kitchen counter, with nothing but sleeping shorts on, and I couldn't hate him. It wasn't just that he was beautiful. Big and black and muscled and handsome as he could be. It was because I knew it wasn't his fault.
"I don't know—"
"I didn't know why I gave in to him either," I said, cutting in on whatever apology Gil was going to give me. He didn't owe me anything, not really. It wasn't as if he and I meant anything to each other.
Easy to think or say. But still, there was some deep hurt inside me, and it wasn't only because Creighton Masters was being Creighton Masters. Any illusions I might have had about Creighton Masters had slowly but surely been stripped away over the years. But as long as he was the master playwright . . .
But then, almost as if he read my mind, Gil changed the subject.
"You've been working every night. And Creigh . . . well, Creigh hasn't been."
I looked sharply at Gil, and at least he had the decency to look sheepish. Of course Mr. Masters hadn't been working the last week of nights. He'd been screwing Gil. I could only imagine what Leonard Handelsman thought of this. Gil was supposed to be screwing him. But Handelsman hadn't been showing any signs of anger. And he took long lunch hours—and took Gil with him back to the Boxoffice for those. So, I assumed Handelsman was getting his balling as well. Gill Johnson was quite a busy boy.
"And so?" I asked.
"And so, it's you who are doing the script rewrites, isn't it?"
I didn't answer for a long moment, but then I decided there was no reason I couldn't admit it to Gil. "Yes, I've done the rewrites."
"How much of the writing have you done and for how long?"
The million-dollar question. Out in the air at last. "I do pretty much all of it," I answered. "But Mr. Masters still has the concept and the broad brush look. I just fill in the words."
"How many of the words . . . and for how long?" He certainly was a persistent bastard.
"Pretty much all of them, I guess," I answered. And then because he'd asked it twice and probably would continue asking until I answered. "And for the three years I've been with him."
"That would mean, in terms of plays?"
"The last two . . . well, the last three, counting Defiance," I answered.
"In other words, all of the plays credited to his comeback phase," Gil said. His tone was flat, and it wasn't a question.
I didn't respond, so after a moment he spoken again. "And you've stuck with him."
"The genius is still there," I answered, my chin set, my fists bunched up. Somebody had to defend the lion of the theater. "He'll come back. He just needs confidence. This staging of Defiance is just the thing."
"And if it isn't?" Gil said softly. "And if he doesn't come back after Defiance, how much longer will you—?"
"He will," I shot back, and then I added. "I'm sure he will . . . but as long as it takes, I guess."
I turned and started up the stairs to take my bath, now that I wouldn't need to be walking over fucking bodies.
"Somebody needs to tell Lenny," Gil said, still softly, to my retreating back. "If you won't tell Handelsman, I think I must. I have professional responsibilities too."
"I don't see that it matters," I turned and said, eyes flashing. "Handelsman is getting the script he wants. He hasn't complained. He's salivated all over Mr. Masters on the high quality of the script—through the changes."
"Still . . ."
"And what makes you think he doesn't already know?" I asked. But before Gil could respond to that, I hurried up the stairs and into the bathroom.
When I came back downstairs, Gil was gone. And he'd washed up after Mr. Masters and himself. At least he'd spared me that indignity.
I wouldn't be needed at the theater now until after the noon hour. Mr. Masters and Handelsman would be closeted with the dance master, Miloslav Cersenka, discussing the integration of the dream dance sequences into the fabric of the play as it was being recast.
I didn't want to be there for that, and Mr. Masters had excused me, with a knowing smile, although I don't know what it is he thought he knew. He likely knew I hadn't abandoned my love for the dance and was frustrated at having a dance master of the caliber of Cersenka at hand without the opportunity of working with him. Even if so, Mr. Masters didn't know that I was continuing to practice for the day when I might have to earn much of our daily bread.
With that in mind I began clearing the furniture to one side in the living room of the 7th Street townhouse. I was lucky in that the townhouse had wonderful highly polished oak floors. I also was lucky that the banister of the staircase wrapped around in an embellishment on the first floor that gave me a near-perfect barre position—a railing at a good height to hold onto as I did my practice warm-ups.
I put a recording on the CD player and started through the five basic positions, limbering up for the more difficult positions to follow.
My thoughts went to Cersenka and the maddening knowledge that he wanted me for the Defiance dance troupe—or at least said he wanted me.
I had taken the opportunity—or made the mistake, I'm not sure which fit best—of attending one of his early audition sessions. He would only select one final candidate at each audition, which would seem strange to those who didn't know that full control, full dedication to him was one of the prices of a successful audition.
He walked into a room with some twenty dancers in it on that audition day. It was early in the audition cycle, and several of them would ultimately be picked for the troupe. But only one on this day.
I was sitting apart from the others, those trying out for the troupe, but when Cersenka tapped into the room, using his ivory-headed cane to lean on and looking as gaunt has he had on that first meeting I had attended in this practice room—gaunt but rangy, with sinewy muscles and handsome, hollow-cheeked face, he surprised me. He walked halfway down the length of the room, with its polished wood floor and bereft of any furniture other than the practice piano and a scattering of folding chairs, none of which were occupied by the dancers. All of the dancers were striking a pose, hoping to be noticed by the famous dance master.
But I was sitting and Cersenka stopped beside my chair and looked down into my now-upraised face. "Mr. Singleton, isn't it? Creigh Masters's Mr. Singleton?"
"Yes," I answered, impressed he had made the effort to find out who I was.
"Are you here to audition, Mr. Singleton?"
"No, just to watch the audition . . . if I may," I answered.
"Of course. But you are a dancer, aren't you, Mr. Singleton? I see it in your form."
"Yes, I was," I answered. "But there really has been no time to keep up with it. Mr. Masters keeps me—"
"Yes I know what Mr. Masters keeps you doing, young man," Cersenka said. And then he voiced something between a sniff and a snort.
"But you look like a dancer to me. Should you ever want to audition, I'm interested. Yes, I'm definitely interested."
I blushed and lowered my head and thanked him, and Cersenka tapped beyond me and organized his audition rota.
I was embarrassed, because I fully understood what Cersenka was offering. I was sure the rumors were true. And they did prove to be true on this day.
Cersenka only made it through eight dancers when he saw something in a young, red-headed woman that he thought would be suitable for Defiance. He whispered a few sentences to her, and she nodded her head like she understood and accepted what he was saying. He told the seven dancers who had already auditioned unsuccessfully for him that they were released. But he told the others they were free to attend the next audition. I left him standing there with the young woman dancer and filed out with the rest.
After checking in at the stage, however, to see if Mr. Masters wanted me for anything, I was sent to Handelsman's office to retrieve some lighting charts he'd left in there. My journey took me by the door of the dressing room Miloslav Cersenka was using, and I heard the sound of sex on the other side of the door. Just as I had been told, Cersenka was applying the last element of the audition to the young lady. In ensuing days, I saw that she had made the troupe.
My limbering-up exercises finished, I moved out to the cleared space and went en pointe and practiced some of the more challenging positions. Today I concentrated on my glissades and the fouetté en tournant, practicing the latter until I almost was dizzy and falling to the floor. I was pleased. In spite of the lack of sleep and the cramped sleeping position, I had done them well.
When I got to the theater, the actors were finishing up a run-through of act 1, scene 2, and Handelsman seemed pleased. There had been a lot of rewriting to do on this section of the scene the previous evening, and I hadn't been given very good directions on how to change the wording. I had to do a lot of my own interpretation of what Handelsman had wanted. So, I was particularly pleased when he turned and raised a "thumbs up" to Mr. Masters, with a broad smile.
When I arrived, the lighting technician had a long ladder set up at one edge of the stage, and Gil was holding it steady while the guy was up in the rafters over the stage, resetting some lights. When he came down the ladder, Gil didn't move away at once, and the lighting technician, who was perhaps in his late thirties and a bit on the pudgy side, was on the lower ladder rungs, inside Gil's arms, while they whispered to each other for a couple of minutes. Then the ladder came down, and Gil helped the lighting guy take it down one of the four ramps that led beside the seating down from the circular arena stage into backstage area.
Not long after that Handelsman sent me to his dressing room for some papers, and I heard the sounds of taking beyond the open door of one of the dressing rooms. The long ladder was propped up along the corridor wall. I looked in, and the lighting technician's belly was hanging over the back of a chair, and his jeans were down around his knees, and Gil was standing between his legs and pumping his channel with an impressive brown cock.
I hurried on, both flustered and disturbed by what I saw. I didn't condemn Gil for getting it anywhere he could—or, more likely, the lighting technician getting it wherever he could. But I was disturbed that my first reaction was one of envy—of wishing it had been me bent over that chair back.
I was barely back in the theater and seated behind Mr. Masters, when both he and Handelsman were rising. The actors were clearing the stage. I wondered why the rehearsal had been called; it barely had begun. Or maybe they were just taking a break.
But Mr. Masters came out to the aisle and started up to the back of the theater, where the exits were. I moved to follow him, but Handelsman voice rang out.
"Could you come to my office with me, Sean? I have something to go over with you there."
I looked quizzically at Mr. Masters, but he just turned to me and spread his arms and shrugged. Obviously he wanted me to go with Handelsman.
When we entered Handelsman's office, I went in first. He followed, shutting the door and leaning up against it.