Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Small Dinner Party

Contributed by Steven McCasland

Upon reading of Vaclav Havel’s death, I couldn’t help but wonder who would pass me the potatoes at my very imagined dinner party. My make-believe companions have been leaving me one by one and now it’s just me, the roast beast and a bunch of empty chairs. Which brings me to Ionesco. Whom I would most probably not invite for the sake of my sanity. And I can’t imagine that he and Ethel Merman would get along. She’s a no-nonsense kinda broad.

Here’s how I picture it:

Dorothy Loudon has volunteered to provide the entertainment. The chanteuse stands on a small stage, accompanied by baby grand, bass and percussion. And as she sings about how she ain’t got nobody, my guests begin to arrive. There’s Ethel Merman, who is always the first to arrive and the last to leave. And with her comes that brassy laugh. We joke for a moment, admire Dotty’s song-selling and Ethel heads to the drink cart as Tennessee Williams walks in through the door, a cigarette dangling from his very handsome mouth. “Hello, darling,” we say, kissing each other’s cheek.

Outside, I hear a car horn beep three times. The party is barely beginning when Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence step out of the Rolls Royce and walk up to the door. The booze is sure about to flow!

Arthur Laurents was supposed to come. But he called an hour prior to say that he wouldn’t come if “that bastard” was going to be passing the broccoli. I insisted he’d pass the corn, but Arthur wouldn’t hear it.

I survey the room. I wonder if this odd band of legends might look more like a reality show on Bravo than a dinner party in the village. A few more musicians have arrived. I hear a trombone wailing as Tennessee grabs a refill. Dotty’s feet are tapping, moving, the fringe on her dress shaking and everyone’s eyes are on her. Heaven. Three more guests to go.

I tried inviting Pinter, but he hesitated.

The doorbell rings and in comes Vaclav Havel with a stack of books he saved from burning. Plays. Presents he brought for me, his favorite pupil, the bibliophilic theatre nerd. (I won’t leave the apartment for the next four weeks. I’ll be too busy reading.) Noël is dancing with Gertie in the corner, whispering something naughty in her ear. Her pearly whites shimmer when she laughs.

And soon, the final guests arrive: Lanford Wilson and Moss Hart walking through my door. Moss looks dapper in a white suit and coat-tails. Lanford’s in sweatpants and hasn’t shaved. But he’s here. And who could ask for anything more? Kitty Carlisle-Heart is running fashionably late. Moss just couldn’t wait any longer.

Suddenly, there’s a lull. Ethel tells somebody to “shut their front door” as Dorothy begins a quieter song. Something Louis Armstrong once sang. I think for a moment, would he like it here? Would he have brought Ella? But the tangent dissipates and I spot Tennessee with a notepad. I’ve read his journals. I wonder – does he know? Has my voyeuristic pleasure embarrassed him? And as the guilt makes me blush (or is it the scotch?), they’re gone as quickly as they came. The room is silent. No band playing. Dorothy’s stopped crooning. And the only ice cubes clinking are the ones in my glass.

But I mustn’t waste any time getting sad. I’ve got too much work to do. Theirs. I’ve got to finish what they started. Isn’t that why I’m here? Isn’t that why we all are? But before I get back to editing a 23rd draft or climbing a ladder and re-focusing a light or being sentenced to the back row of the chorus line, I’m gonna take a moment to raise my glass and say,

“Here’s to another year in this crazy, messed up, awesome, remarkable, ridiculous, wonderful, miserable, exciting, spectacular, soul-sucking business we call show!”


Steven Carl McCasland is the Artistic Director and founder of The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective. When not writing plays and drinking Pinot Grigio, he can be found directing productions around New York. Credits include: Hamlet at the Red Room, A Doll's Life at The New Ohio, Crossing Brooklyn, WSXR Players' 1944 Broadcast of Twelfth Night and more. His play neat & tidy debuts at The Living Theatre this May. To learn more about Steven and Beautiful Soup, visit Will-you-won't-you join the dance?

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