Guys and Dolls Redux by Steve Carr
My story "Guys and Dolls Redux" in Tuck Magazine, out now.
5:36 AM - 20 Apr 2018
Guys and Dolls Redux by Steve Carr
1 – The Audition
Jim knew his limitations and his strengths. What he knew about himself was that he was a damned fine actor. Hadn’t everyone said so during the six performances he had most recently given in the lead role of Dodge in Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child”? The audiences gave him and the rest of the cast a standing ovation. And hadn’t the university newspaper in their reviews praised him for that performance as well as the two previous performances as Willy Loman in “Death of A Salesman” and as Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey”?
In the letters to the editor section of the paper fans wrote about his range, the depth and sensitivity he brought to characters, and the inevitability that after college he would be on Broadway someday. He had fans, a cadre of mostly sorority sisters who had pledged themselves to hang on to his coattails all the way to stardom. So sitting in the back row of the theater waiting for his name to be called to deliver his audition he was certain that the lead role of Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls” was his even before he walked on stage; it was like taking candy from the proverbial baby.
Also, Megan Rowdy was auditioning for the lead female role as Sarah Brown, and she was certain to get the part, and in those same newspaper reviews, Jim and Megan’s chemistry in lead roles was mentioned more than once. Watching her auditioning on stage as he was doing that moment he had to admit she was a good actress with or without him, but who in their right mind would want her without him?
Jim’s limitation was that while he was an adequate singer with a pleasing voice, he wasn’t a particularly talented singer. He had been in one musical prior to auditioning for this one, and his role was as the Senator from New York in “1776,” which was basically a chorus position, and that was in high school. In the short time between graduating high school and taking beginning acting and theater stagecraft classes at the university he was now in, he had grown by almost a foot, his complexion had cleared up completely, and he knew how to deliver a song. It was that delivery, given in the form of the audition piece of the Emcee from “Cabaret” that had secured his position in the theater department; being able to act and sing, even if only marginally, being a prerequisite.
Admittedly his other audition piece as Iago from “Othello” was the far more impressive of the two, but he had never really intended to be in musicals anyway. Tragedy and human suffering or foibles was more his forte than musical comedy.
“What happens if we don’t audition for a role in this?” he had asked the theater director and professor, Dr. Dawson who preferred the students address him that way.
“If you want other roles in other plays then you will audition for it,” he said.
Jim liked Dr. Dawson in the way you like someone because they hold your future in their hands. He didn’t resent him, but he clearly knew that being on Dr. Dawson’s good side was a definite advantage. Even if Dr. Dawson was less effusive with praise for his acting abilities than the audiences, fans and newspaper reviewers, Jim was aware that even without saying it, Dr. Dawson had cast him in the lead roles because he had talent. “You do your homework and come prepared,” was, in fact, the only true compliment that Jim had received from the professor.
That Dr. Dawson seemed a bit too touchy-feely with the females in the classes and on stage, Jim tried to ignore for the most part. That Megan Rowdy was one of the females Dr. Dawson put his hands on just a little too frequently, Jim knew had worked to his advantage given she had his ear and she was as enamored with his talent as an actor as everyone else. Watching her on stage reading from the “Guys and Dolls” play script with Dr. Dawson sitting in the middle of the theater watching her also seemed perfunctory on both their parts at best. She was certain to get the role of Sarah, just as he was certain to get the role of Sky.
2 – Don’t Sing So Pretty
Something had gone terribly wrong. Jim stood on stage next to Ned Armstrong and Eric Stone, nice-enough guys, but minor personalities in the theater department who until now had only been cast in walk-on roles with few lines. It wasn’t surprising that they had been cast as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Rusty Charlie, since the roles didn’t require anything except the ability to sing a little, but what was surprising to Jim was that he had been cast as Benny Southstreet.
When who was cast and in what roles had been posted on a sheet of paper pinned onto the door of Dr. Dawson’s office, Jim had run his finger down the list several times in disbelief that he had been relegated to a role that could have been done by any of the other lesser talents. He would have been satisfied being cast in the second-to-lead role of Nathan Detroit, but that was given to someone who Jim barely knew, Mark Eggston. As far as Jim was concerned, Mark’s acting was wooden at best.
Standing alone on the stage with Ned and Eric with the sheet music in his hand with the play’s music director in the pit at the piano he could barely open his mouth to warble out “I got a horse right here.” It was far from being Shakespeare.
Standing on the stage and for the tenth time singing about a horse named Paul Revere, Jim tried to imagine all the excuses he could give to Dr. Dawson to be allowed out of the role and the play, but he knew that now that the play had been in rehearsal that the chances of being let out of it were even slimmer than even before the auditions. He wrestled with the conflicting thoughts that any and every role was a learning experience for an actor but likewise some roles just were not suitable for some actors. The role of Benny Southstreet was not suitable for him no matter how he looked at it. Additionally, Ned and Eric seemed perfectly happy with their names being further down the list from those of the leads when the playbills would be printed, but Jim wasn’t happy about the thought of it at all.
Now the music director was complaining. “Stay in character, quit trying so hard and don’t sing so pretty, Jim.”
Jim wondered, “What does that even mean?”
3 – Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat
Crossing campus as the first snow flurries of winter began to fall, Jim found himself walking behind Dr. Dawson who had his head tucked down and walking as if he were in a blizzard. Jim hurried his footsteps and came up beside the professor.
“Hi Dr. Dawson, do you have a minute?” Jim said.
Dr. Dawson glanced over at Jim but continued walking. “I’m on my way to a staff meeting. What is it?”
“Well, to be perfectly honest I hate the play and I hate my role in it,” Jim said.
“It’s a great American musical, Jim. You’re doing fine with your role.”
“Yes I know it is but I really hate doing it. It’s not right for me,” Jim said more emphatically then he intended.
Dr. Dawson stopped and looked at Jim. “The show opens in four days and you’re just now telling me this?”
“You pretty much said I had to audition for it,” Jim answered.
“Yes I suggested that you had to audition but I didn’t tell you that you had to accept a role.” Dr. Dawson began walking again and over his shoulder said, “but since you did accept a role I will make your life a living nightmare in the drama department if you drop out now.” He walked into the administration building as Jim looked on, dumbfounded.
4 – Opening Night
As he left his dorm and began the trek on the lightly snow-covered walkways to the theater, Jim felt anything but excited about it being opening night. Jim looked up at the early evening sky and wished on a twinkling star that something, anything, would put a stop to what he felt he was about to endure. The full dress rehearsal the evening before had gone without a hitch, but being on stage in a purple suit with large pink squares did nothing to allay his fears that he looked as clownish as he felt. Not wishing to rain on Ned and Eric’s parade, he tried to be as cheerful as possible every time before and after the rehearsal they broke into a spontaneous outburst of “I’ve Got A Horse Right Here,” while jabbing him in his sides with their fingers. At the door going into the theater he ran into them as they were entering also.
“Hey there Paul Revere, you all ready for the big night?” Ned asked in his usually over-the-top good mood.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Jim said attempting to muster up a smile.
“I think he has a bit of the stage jitters,” Eric said, putting his arm around Jim’s shoulders and leading him through the door.
In the backstage passages and dressing rooms the cast was jovial and noisy. This was mixed with an atmosphere of nervous expectation. Jim made his way through a small cluster of mob-extras milling around in the passageway talking in giddy tones like the few happy passengers of the Titanic who realized they were getting seats in a lifeboat. Jim went into the men’s restroom and went into a stall and leaned into the toilet and threw up. He walked out of the stall just as Dr. Dawson walked into the restroom.
“It’s going to be a full house,” Dr. Dawson said happily as he went to a urinal and unzipped his pants.
With the sound of Dr. Dawson’s urine hitting the porcelain of the urinal, Jim left the restroom and went into the large dressing room. He was the last one putting on his costume just as the lights dimmed briefly then came back up, alerting the cast that they needed to be in their places offstage. In a few minutes the curtain would be going up.
Standing behind the curtain in the wings just off stage, Jim watched as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Rusty Charlie sang about the horse races. The audience was quiet as they should have been, awaiting the real action of the play to begin, only the usual coughs and sneezes being heard coming from those seated in the theater. At the right moment, at the right note being played by the small orchestra, on cue Jim walked out on to the stage.
Benny Southstreet had arrived.
Turning slightly toward the audience Jim saw them all: all the faces in the audience, the sorority girls, his fans, the guy who did the newspaper reviews, faculty and staff that he recognized. They were all there. As an actor in this type of play he wasn’t supposed to notice the audience or to acknowledge their existence at all, but for the first time in any play he had been in Jim did notice them. Every seat was filled. The last thing he heard at the moment he was to join in and before he found he couldn’t say or sing anything at all was Ned and Eric singing “we got a horse right here.”
5 – Requiem for a Horse
Sitting alone at a table in the food court, Jim flipped the page of the book that was required reading for his Greek Mythology class. On the new page was an illustration of the winged stallion, Pegasus. He took a sip of his soda through a straw while staring at the horse. Giving up theater and never going on stage again didn’t upset him as it did at first when he realized his stage fright was permanent and debilitating. He no longer had fans or articles being written about him in the university paper, but that was okay. The review of the opening night of “Guys and Dolls” had not mentioned him at all, not that he had to be led off stage by Dr. Dawson without uttering one word of the song and not coming back on stage any time that night, or any subsequent night, or that he had dropped out of the drama department and had changed majors. His dreams of going to Broadway someday had died even before they took full flight. He was as he had always been, someone who knew his limitations and strengths.