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center stage

published: 2012-07-11

A man sits next to me, in the dark. The glow of stage lights only vaguely touches his forehead. He leans forward, as if concentrated on the monologue. His tight shoulders push against the seams of his jacket. His neck is tense. His jaws clenched. His eyes pinched. The hands on which his chin rests have made fists.
And yet, he smiles.
He smiles, not wanting to think the things he thinks. He doesn’t want to hate the man who takes center stage. That actor who’s posture says he knows what he is doing. He emphasizes the end of every sentence. Takes long pauses between each paragraph. Makes grand gestures with his hands when questioning his fate. And frowns intently at a dark corner behind the audience, behind the lights, beyond what we can see.

I am watching the man beside me, not that man on stage.

The man beside me shifts on his chair. Even more forward still. As if wanting to understand something only he is questioning. The answer is held by that actor. The actor that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, while we remain in the dark. That actor, who knows no fear, shows no frailty.
The man beside me is the first to shout ‘bravo’. He claps so hard it hurts my ears. The nerves in his neck bulge. Bravo, he says, bravo. And now he’d like to leave. Fast. I am in his way. I am still sitting.

“I’m sorry,” I say. And while he waits for me to get my things, he carefully asks, “did you enjoy it?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ll know tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” he sighs.
“Creeps in this petty pace,” I say.
“Yes,” he exclaims.”You’re an actor too?”

“No,” I say, “are you?”

He nods and smiles. And then he looks at the floor, as if caught in a memory. Everything slips to that floor. All that tension. Now he looks soft. The light is on his face.

“Is he a friend of yours?” I tap the actor’s picture in the booklet.

“No,” he says. “but I took his place once. They know I’m good at Macbeth.”
When he next looks at me, I see that frailty, I see that fear.
“I’m really good,” he says. “I’m better than he is. Do you understand?”
Yes. I understand. That the man who isn’t good is on that stage. While this man is not.
And that all our yesterdays have lighted fools. The way to dusty death.

One Response to “center stage”

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