We went to the theater last week. On a Sunday evening, cold, to see a play my mother had read about in the Tribune and later termed The Show That Had That Scene With The Naked Guy. It had other merits, of course, like an onstage pool of water and literary references, but when we stepped into the elevator with no one else around she looked down, shaking her head: “I just don’t know why he was naked.”
It was the aggressive sexuality of it all, the nude’s lack of subtlety, that made her so uncomfortable—but there was something else, maybe. He was so transparent up on the stage. There he was, all of him. His heart-shaped birthmark, usually tucked into his trousers like a piece of gum stuck between the leaves of a napkin, breathed free instead under hot lights. She felt, I think, like a voyeur.
Well, the show has begun, but I remain as immobile as the audience members looking expectantly at me. The show is Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, and I am the Princess. I spend the first half of the hour-long performance sitting profile to the audience, my back resting against the stage-left wall, my face wearing a pout fit for a paralyzed princess. I remain woefully comatose until a dashing young soldier arrives to rouse me with his fiddle.
With my body at rest, my eyes roam freely about the theater. Sometimes I watch the show that unfolds before me, the very show I will soon enter, whose plot I will complicate, whose characters I will confront. Sometimes I watch Stravinsky’s music swim about the theater, over the balcony, between seats, upward towards the impossibly high, arched ceiling. Sometimes I watch the audience and relish in the inversion of spectatorship: Who is the performer now? I silently dare them.
The lights dim, voices hush. The stuffy indoor air is loaded with the weight of awaiting. Across the scarlet curtain they are frantic, harried, rushed. They dab on one last layer of beige powdered mask. They look into the mirror and at once they see another face. It’s happened before—it happens every night and twice on Sundays—but it’s always a procedure. Costumes on, stage positions set, poses at the ready, the lights go out and the curtain is drawn back. It’s showtime.
From the heat of Fever we’ll move, this month, to the beam of the show. Our posts will broach the thrill of acting and the beat of performance. The heady pleasure of cosmetics in disguising a face—the tiers of fabric swathing a body—the lingering note of a final score—are heaved onto the stage for the taking. In our reach, theater is on an equal footing with theatricality. We’ll be publishing pieces that explore all sides of the dramatic, pieces that hammer drama into the contours of routine.