From The Actor's Nightmare (by Christopher Durang)

An accountant named George Spelvin is baffled to find himself on the stage of a theatre. The stage manager tells him that ``Eddie'' (Edwin Booth) has been in a car accident and George will have to go on for him. The curtain goes up on a play which is either Private Lives, Samuel Beckett's Checkmate, or Shakespeare's Hamlet. George wings it as best he can, but is lost when his co-stars exeunt.

I find it hilarious in mauling Shakespeare, and yet strangely poignant in the very real fear which it portrays.

GEORGE: ``Oh don't go. (Pause; smiles uncomfortably at the audience.) Maybe someone else will come out in a minute. Of course, sometimes people have soliloques in Shakespeare. Let's just wait a moment more and maybe someone will come. (The lights suddenly change to a dim blue background and one bright, white spot center stage. GEORGE is not standing in the spot.) Oh, dear. He moves somewhat awkwardly into the spot, decides to do his best to live up to the requirements of the moment.)

To be, or not to be, that is the question. (Doesn't know any more.)

Oh, maid. (No response; remembers that actors call for ``line.'') Line. Ohhh. Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind's eye to kill oneself, or not killing oneself, to sleep a great deal. We are the stuff that dreams are made of, and out lives are rounded by a little sleep.

(The lights change. The spot goes out, and another one comes up stage right. GEORGE moves into it.) Uh, thrift, thrift, Horatio, neither a buyer nor a lender be, but to thine own self be true. There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. Amazing how potent cheap music can be. Out, out, damn spot! I come to wive it wealthily in Padua; if wealthily, then happily in Padua. (sings) Brush up on your Shakespeare; start quoting him now; Da da...

(Lights change again. That spot goes off; another one comes on, center stage, thought closer to the audience. GEORGE moves into that.) How is China? Very large, China. How is Japan? Very small, Japan. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands - one nation, under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.

Line! Line! Oh my God. (Gets idea.) Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell. But most of all because they offend thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. And I resolve to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.

That's the act of contrition that Catholic schoolchildren say. Catholic adults say it too, I imagine. I don't know any Catholic adults. Line! (Explaining.) When you call for a line, the stage manager normally gives you your next line, to refresh your memory. Line! The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain upon the place below, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil. Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well. Get thee to a nunnery. Line.

Nunnery. As a child, I was taught by nuns, and then in high school I was taught by Benedictine priests. I really rather liked the nuns. They were sort of warm, though they were fairly crazy too. Line. I liked the priests also. The school was on the grounds of a monastery, and my junior and senior years I spent a few weekends joining in the daily routine of the monastery -- prayers, then breakfast, then prayers, then lunch, then prayers, then dinner, then prayers, then sleep. I found the predictability quite attractive. And the food was good. I was going to join the monastery after high school, but they said I was too young and should wait. And then I just stopped believing in all those things, so I never did join the monastery. I became an accountant. I've studied logarithms, and cosine and tangent . . . (Irritated.) Line!

(Apologetic.) I'm sorry. This is supposed to be Hamlet or Private Lives or something, and I keep rattling on like a maniac. I really do apologize. I just don't recall attending a single rehearsal. I can't imagine what I was doing. And also you came expecting to see Edwin Booth and you get me. I really am very embarrassed. Sorry. Line!!

It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before. It's a far, far better place I go than I have ever been before. (Sings the alphabet song.) a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k,l,m,n,o,p,qq,r,s,t . . . (As he starts to sing, enter ELLEN TERRY, dragging two large garbage cans. She puts them side by side, gets in one.) Oh, good. Are you Ophelia?

                             - Christopher Durang, "The Actor's Nightmare"

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Tue Jul 11 23:25:54 2000