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People Who Don't Understand Brecht Don't Understand Life

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"Commend me humbly to his majesty, and tell him that I labor all in vain to ease his grief and work his liberty; and bear him this as witness of my love." Demetria placed the ring in the messenger's hand and let her eyes linger, forcing the audience to see the lie, making them complicit in it. Then she turned back to Mortimer.

"A positively chilling Queen Isabella," said the review in the New Burbage Herald. "The great Demetria Foster's Isabel plays your heartstrings like an instrument, manipulating the audience's emotions as she manipulates the men who control the shape and scope of her life. Foster rather stole the show from the woefully miscast Edward II, but was well-matched against Brian Jacobs' stately Young Mortimer."

Darren's first memory of the theatre was of sitting with his Aunt Rosalind at New Burbage, watching his mother in Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. He was perhaps six. His mother was resplendent in a dowdy dress and so much thick makeup he had trouble recognizing her. But at the end of the night, when Rosalind took him back to Demetria's dressing room, she looked like herself again. "Did you like it, my love?" she kept asking him, and he kept singing back lines from "Mack the Knife."

By then, Darren's father had already absconded to the wilds of Nepal, supposedly on a photographic assignment for National Geographic, but he never came back. There was a divorce in absentia and last Darren heard, the man was living either in Kyoto or Brisbane, depending on which of their annoying distant relations had decided to bother Darren that week.

Darren's mother trod the boards at New Burbage for the bulk of the 1960s and early 70s, and she was magnificent, legendary. That was what all the books about theatre said – and not only the ones about Canada, Rosalind hastened to tell anyone who would listen. No paean to the stars of twentieth century theatre was complete without a section devoted to Demetria Foster.

Darren went through a cynical phase around age twelve and thirteen, when he realized that some kids at school really did only talk to him because he had a world renowned and marginally famous mother. The fame machine, for that was what it was, appalled him.

She said to him then, tossing her thick black curls, "Darling, I would be who I am whether anyone wrote about me in the newspaper or not. Deal with it!"

"But they only care because you're famous!" he yelled back.

She shrugged. "Fame makes people curious. People only go to Niagara Falls or Banff because they're famous, you see?"

He made a horrified face. She was serious; she thought this was reasonable. "You're calling yourself a tourist destination, Mother! Do you even hear yourself?"

She crowed a triumphant, "Yes!" and laughed until she was blotting tears. Then she picked up the telephone and called Rosalind to share Darren's youthful outrage, even though Rosalind only lived on the next street and would be around later anyway. Darren stomped off to his room to lose himself in The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars until his mother regained her senses. That always took a while, and thus gave him lots of time to imagine ways Bowie could stage it.

Demetria died of breast cancer when Darren was fourteen, and Rosalind raised him on a strict diet of theatre, literature, art, and salacious gossip mocking the celebrities who flocked to Toronto for festival season. She sometimes provided theatrical costume designs to New Burbage, where she held lifetime season tickets, and co-owned a gallery of modern art with a reputation that superseded its actual success. Far too much airfare had been gambled away on trips to galleries in London and Berlin in hopes of enticing other galleries to lend pieces for shows, but every now and then Rosalind or her business partner Gavin would hit pay dirt, and they could pay the gallery's insurance premiums for the year without appealing to the Ministry of Culture for another grant. Sometimes Rosalind or Gavin took Darren along to Europe, which is how Darren came to know Berlin's art scene, by night and by nightclub, visit by visit, with Gavin swearing him to secrecy every time.

After those trips, coming back to Ontario, where the other kids in his classes were obsessed with hockey and finding someone's older sibling to buy the two-fours for that weekend's party, seemed rather like being marooned on a distant alien planet. Even the Toronto theatre scene, which was far richer than most of the rest of the country's, was stultifying by comparison. It was miserable. Darren was miserable.

But university would be different, Rosalind and Gavin both assured him. At university, he would find other creative people his own age. He would be free to explore new ideas without the desperate constraints of the capitalist system his poor aunt was bound by, and Darren would define his own glorious path.

Oliver had only been Artistic Director at New Burbage for a year when an old friend at York posted him a VHS tape of one of the senior project performances. Oliver popped it into the machine in his office, prepared himself for a good laugh, poured himself a drink, and pressed play. It was a two-person show featuring the most beautiful young man he had ever seen locked in fierce argument with a loud, wild-haired compatriot, the tension between them almost tangible. Oliver expected it to end with a kiss or a fight, but no. Rather it ended with the beautiful one sucking the loud one's thumb into his mouth. The argument slid into a long and contented sigh, the free hand caressed the beautiful cheek, and when the thumb slipped free, out sprang a shy and thoroughly unexpected sonnet.

Oliver reread the accompanying letter. It said, "The pretty one is Geoffrey Tennant. He did our Romeo last year and made the audience weep every single night. The other one is Darren Nichols, son of the late Demetria Foster and nephew of a certain New Burbage board member, if I recall correctly. He's really quite good when he bothers to act, but his penchant for theatre of the absurd is rather tragic. His directorial work, meanwhile, is quite interesting, if still in an extremely fledgling state. Geoffrey does help to rein him in somewhat.

I suspect you'll be saddled with Darren, given New Burbage's time-honored tradition of filial nepotism. Geoffrey, though, will be a gift to any company in the world. Offer him anything it takes, Oliver. You won't regret it."

The next morning there was a note in his message box asking him to return Rosalind Foster's phone call.

Oliver rewound the tape and watched it again, watched young Geoffrey deliver a line of pure doggerel with perfect irony, watched his eyes as he tracked Darren's flailing arms as he declaimed on Beckett and Gorbachev, watched his hand grip Darren's shoulder, fingers squeezing, staying.

Oliver would accept Darren in a heartbeat – and the press would eat that up with a spoon, so it wouldn't be a total hardship – if it meant getting Geoffrey to New Burbage. They were hardly more than untutored youths, obviously, but this lovely, young Geoffrey Tennant! Oliver would take him under his wing and make him a star.

"I cannot believe this!" Darren said over their dinner of takeout from Yong's. They had an apartment of their own, thanks probably to Rosalind. In this, they were very much the envy of the young company, who were crammed into an ancient four-story rooming house.

"What?" Geoffrey asked.

"Where to begin." Darren drew out the syllables and sighed in frustration. "First, my beloved meddling aunt. Nothing I tell the woman will make her desist from interfering, and then invoking the spirit of my mother to make me stop yelling at her."

"Well, at least she cares?" Geoffrey offered quietly, and Darren frowned. He knew Geoffrey's parents had never been to a single one of his plays, not even the ones from elementary school. But such compassion was wildly misplaced when it came to Rosalind Foster, Darren was sure.

"She cares about her own Machiavellian plans, not about what I want. It's all about Mother's legacy. I swear, ever since she wrangled the position on the Festival board, she's become fixated on creating a family dynasty. Frankly, it's frightening."

Geoffrey fumbled his chopsticks. "You don't want to play Edward?"

Darren threw up his hands. "Of course I want to play Edward! That's hardly the point! I mean, ridiculous staging problems aside—"

"It stands up," Geoffrey insisted. "People remember the one Ian McKellan starred in from 1969."

"Where he wept through the whole thing and didn't demonstrate a single iota of backbone, even when it was called for."

"But he was beautiful in it. Heartbreaking. I'll rent the video for us tomorrow."

Darren folded his arms over his chest. "I refuse to weep and wail for five acts! I don’t care what Oliver wants."

"Of course not. Your Edward will be completely your own." Geoffrey stopped, belatedly realizing. "Your mother played Isabel, didn't she?"

Darren rolled his eyes. "God, do we have to talk about the legend of Demetria Foster?" He sighed. "Geoffrey, Mother's ghost aside, I'm afraid I'm simply not ready for this. Fucking nepotism."

Geoffrey leaned in and kissed him softly. Darren hummed into his mouth, shifting into a better sprawl on the couch.

"You know what's irritating is your Gaveston," said Geoffrey when the kissing slowed to a stop.

Darren snorted. "Chad. Can you believe that? I know Oliver has a reputation for fucking the apprentices, but dear God in heaven!"

Geoffrey made a pained face. "Please don't ever make me think about Oliver having sex, with anyone, ever."

Darren laughed. "Aunt Rosalind has stories."

"That I never want to hear."

"She wants us at supper on Sunday, by the way." Darren nudged a takeout carton more securely onto the coffee table with his foot, and then let himself gaze at Geoffrey for a long moment. "It would be easier if you were my Gaveston," he said, finally. "Not that I want that; it's far too small a role for you."

"No, it's not." Geoffrey kissed him again. "I have no idea why Oliver's throwing us into the deep end like this, and it's great on the resume. But if I were your Gaveston, we'd get arrested for performing lewd acts on stage."

Darren met this kiss eagerly, and then pulled back, frowning in distaste. "Chad, God."

"He isn't entirely terrible," Geoffrey said. "And he's easily attractive enough for the role."

Darren slapped Geoffrey in the chest. "He looks like a member of Duran Duran!"

Geoffrey pretended to ponder this before breaking into a grin. "All right, there is something of the keyboardist about him, I suppose."

Darren laughed in triumph, and then shook his head to clear it. "I did have plans here." Carefully, he pushed the coffee table away from the sofa and ran a hand up Geoffrey's thigh.

Geoffrey caught his hand and kissed the heel of it. "It shall suffice me to enjoy your love; which whiles I have, I think myself as great as Caesar riding in the Roman street."

Darren shut his eyes for a long moment, feeling Geoffrey's lips on his palm, his teeth. "Damn it, Geoff. Now every time Chad says that to me, I'm going to be thinking of this."

Geoffrey pulled Darren's shirt up and off. It fell to the floor, just missing Geoffrey's forgotten plate of Chinese. "Good," Geoffrey told him, and pulled him in for another long, hard kiss.

"You are a petty, petty man," Geoffrey declared, bursting into Oliver's office the day after the first rehearsal.

Oliver flicked a finger, and Geoffrey obediently shut the door behind him. "Yes, darling, petty is my middle name. Come have a drink." He poured them each a generous glass of whiskey, sliding Geoffrey's across the desk.

Geoffrey took it, scowling. He'd spent more time with Oliver than he'd ever imagined being able to, this his first year with the Festival. Oliver was a wonder, he was brilliant. Geoffrey was learning so much, and – best – Oliver seemed willing to listen to him, too, even though he was so much younger than most of the company.

"Drink up," Oliver prompted, and Geoffrey did before he could stop himself.

"Fuck, this is Pavlovian," he said, making a face at Oliver.

Oliver smiled sweetly. "I am your director. Your job is to take direction. Once you become a director, then you can feel free to ignore me entirely."

Geoffrey rolled his eyes. "You're humble, too." He stood up. "Christ, Oliver. What the hell are you doing with this casting?"

"Oh, don't tell me you're another one of those against having Sheel play Isabel," Oliver said with dismay.

"Don't be ridiculous. She's great." Sheel Bannerjee was planning a strident and slightly brittle Isabel, although the reviews would inevitably get hung up on her family's Punjabi heritage and ignore the fragile balance between Isabel's tangled motives and her vulnerability to manipulation. "This isn't about Sheel. This is about us."

Oliver folded his hands. "Please, Geoffrey, no one would believe you as Edward II. You exude far too much strength of character."

"Bullshit! Darren has plenty of strength of character, and besides which, the script doesn't ever say that Edward is a weak person. It says he's so passionately in love with his – lower class – boyfriend that he fails to defend the realm. That's what pisses off the barons!"

"What, did you want me to cast you as Gaveston, then?"

"No!" Geoffrey practically shouted.

"Then what are you arguing about, my dear? You're going to make a splendid Mortimer, I have no doubt."

"Oliver." Geoffrey tossed back the last of his drink and stared at him for a minute. Then he just shook his head.

"My poor, dear Geoffrey," Oliver said, standing up. "Don't worry. It's going to be a much better production than you can imagine right now. You'll see."

Geoffrey sighed. "You're going to stage the spit, aren't you?"

"It is in the text," Oliver said, coming around his desk.

"Just do me one favor. Tell me you didn't cast him just so you could, oh, metaphorically jab a red-hot poker up his ass."

Oliver glared up at him. "You do me a gross injustice, Geoffrey."

Geoffrey snorted a laugh. "Please. He's royally pissed you off in every rehearsal we've had yet, and all through the run of The Philadelphia Story. It's entirely within the scope of possibility that you might undertake a little revenge-casting."

Oliver cleared his throat and released a long sigh. "You forget I also have his precious Aunt Rosalind to contend with." He held Geoffrey's gaze for a long moment, and Geoffrey had known Rosalind Foster long enough to sympathize. The woman was larger than life, operatic in her dramas, and ruthless in her ambitions on behalf of her nephew. Oliver nodded, seeing that Geoffrey understood. He said, "Darren Nichols will be Edward II, you will be stunning as Mortimer, and you will cease imagining crass motivations where none exist. Now would be good for that—" He checked his watch. "—as you have a scene workshop upstairs in two minutes."

"Shit," Geoffrey said, and went.

"Yes, yes, fine. Stop a moment." Oliver paced a circle on the stage, eyeing the actors one by one. He stopped at Geoffrey. "Let us discuss Mortimer's motivation."

Geoffrey shrugged. "He's conniving and power-hungry."

Oliver made a face. "That's how Mortimer is always played. It's boring. What if, in Act One, we insert some blocking that establishes a great unrequited love on the part of Mortimer for his king. Tragically for Gaveston, Mortimer can't abide Gaveston's return and goes rather mad with jealousy."

"To the point where he's compelled to revenge himself and destroy the lives of everyone?" Geoffrey mused.

"The text supports the reading," Oliver said, "and we don’t need to change any of the lines, only add in some demonstrative blocking."

"Totally silent?" Geoffrey asked.

"Quite, apart from sound effects."

Geoffrey took a step back, looking from Darren to Chad to Sheel, their Isabel. "So, I'm the spurned would-be lover—"

"Or actual past lover." Oliver waved a hand. "The king could have anyone he wanted, and he takes a new favorite as soon as Gaveston is killed, so why not? Say he had a whole harem of young noble boys around him as he grew up, vying for top status, but no one could compete with Gaveston until Edward's father exiled him."

Geoffrey scratched his head. "And Gaveston's return from exile ruins everything. Fine. So, he rejects me, and I kill his boyfriend, take his wife, steal his son, and finally kill him?" Geoffrey trailed off. "Sorry, I get it when Mortimer's simply an ambitious asshole, but I don't see how he can do this to a man he loves."

Oliver folded his arms, saying, "Jealousy, darling," as if that were an answer. "Insane jealousy."

Geoffrey scowled around the stage, feeling utterly out of his depth, and finally shook his head. "I mean, I know it exists. I see the news, I've read Othello – although I haven't played him, obviously. I just. I've never felt that way about anyone in my life."

Oliver stared at him for a long time, and Geoffrey began to feel smaller and smaller. "I see. Well, we'll work on that. For now, let's go back to Act One, Scene One. Chad, during your second speech, you'll progress from your platform out there, down and across to where you'll conceal yourself from the barons. Meanwhile, Geoffrey, you'll stand apart. Darren, you'll leave the lords behind and gaze out on the city after leaving Parliament. Mortimer will approach and King Edward will, yes, spurn him."

"And Mortimer is hurt and pissed off and lashes out." Geoffrey nodded. "Got it."

"Excellent," Oliver said. "Let's begin."

Darren stared out into the seats, then met Geoffrey's eyes and failed to repress a 'kill me now' look.

"Darren, again," Oliver ordered.

"Kiss not my hand: Embrace me, Gaveston, as I do thee," Darren breathed.

Chad plastered himself to Darren's body, and Darren stepped back. "Okay, that is far too much touching—"

"Yes," Oliver snapped. "Chad, this isn't Amsterdam. You'll get us shut down if you persist in trying to hump his leg like a naughty puppy."

Chad pouted. "But we rented the McKellan version, and, like—"

"Oh God save us," Oliver shouted. "First, do I bear any resemblance to Toby bloody Robertson? I am directing this play and no one else. Second, and more important, AIDS did not exist in 1969, and they didn't have to deal with anything like the present political climate. This, darling, could not be any farther from the Summer of Love."

To Darren's horror, Chad dared to say, "But—"

Oliver wheeled on him. "You, my young pup, were not even out of primary school in 1969. Don't pretend you know what the world was like then. Believe me, AIDS has changed everything," he paused, "including what our illustrious Board will tolerate."

"Sorry," Chad said, and Darren watched Oliver's face return to its normal color.

"Is the kissing still in?" Darren asked.

"Definitely," Oliver said. "The kisses, lots of hand-holding and caresses, fine. You should remain well inside each other's personal space. Just stay clear of each other's cod pieces, please."

A round of laughter went up from the company and Chad smiled brightly. From stage left Geoffrey winked at him, and Darren couldn't hide his blush.

"Right," Oliver said. "Let's go back to where Edward and retinue enter. Gaveston, you're progressing across to your hiding spot. Pick up from 'Here comes my lord.' "

Chad found his mark and Darren moved upstage to make his entrance. "Here comes my lord! The king and the nobles from the parliament. I'll stand aside." There he sat on the box standing in for his future pillar.

"Good. Now, Darren, you'll have some guards ahead of you. Dismiss them and look out at the city here. You're lonely and depressed. Barons, you're upstage until he calls for Lancaster, then come down." Oliver looked around and smiled when his eyes landed on Geoffrey. "Young Mortimer, while Edward pines and the nobles connive, you're also longing. Leave the barons and move down right."

Geoffrey did so, and the look of desperate need on his face twisted something in Darren's stomach. Geoffrey should never look like that at anyone.

"Eyes front, Darren." Oliver's tone was exasperated but didn’t lack understanding. "As Geoffrey approaches, Edward will not see Mortimer. When he finally looks up, he's blind to Mortimer's feelings. Edward's whole world is Gaveston, which is why here we'll have Edward bring out a lock of Gaveston's hair, which, Geoffrey, simply freezes your blood. Edward, look up and – yes, that sneer. Mortimer, you fall back several steps, your hopes dashed and your possessive little heart shattered to pieces. From this moment onward, your mission is vengeance."

Geoffrey nodded, and Darren was looking, Oliver's direction be damned. As if anyone in the room could look anywhere else. Geoffrey's face was contorting, twisting through pain into rage and settling into ice-cold fury.

"Excellent," Oliver said. "Now Darren calls for Lancaster, and Edward's bloody downfall begins."

"Come on, I'll buy you a drink," Oliver said, and his voice was far too fond, far too suggestive, and Geoffrey seemed not to notice that at all.

Geoffrey scrubbed his hands through his hair, making it stand completely on end. He didn't answer Oliver immediately, so Darren stood up and walked toward the stage. "Sorry, I'm afraid we have plans."

Geoffrey and Oliver both jumped, much to Darren's satisfaction.

"When did you get back?" Geoffrey asked, taking Darren's hand when he reached him.

Darren shrugged. "Half an hour? There's definitely a problem conveying a sense of place when the barons are riding all over the country."

"The staging is the curse of this play," Oliver intoned, nearly growling. "That and showing the damnable passage of time."

"Yes," Geoffrey agreed.

"Dear Aunt Rosalind requests our presence this evening. Dinner, then some kind of salon. She is, again, hosting artistic friends from somewhere far more interesting than here."

"God, do we have to?" Geoffrey asked.

"Free gourmet food," Darren returned.

"Oh." Geoffrey looked from Oliver to Darren and back. "Sorry. Um, we're poor? And she is Darren's family."

A wry laugh gusted from Oliver's mouth, and Darren could hardly fail to perceive the disappointment in Oliver's eyes and his awareness of being caught. Darren didn't blink. Neither did Oliver blush but he did eventually have the grace to look away.

"Come, darling," Darren said, "we need to go."

Geoffrey clapped Oliver on the back with a cheery, "We'll see you in the morning," but as they reached the front doors of the house, he said, "Darling?"

Darren sighed. "It doesn't matter."

Geoffrey looked at him sidelong. "Are you sure?"

Darren's lips pursed. He didn't know how to say, "Don't let our boss seduce you." People had been trying to seduce Geoffrey away from Darren since their first kiss. Everyone tried to seduce Geoffrey; just look at him. But if he tried to tell Geoffrey about Oliver clearly sublimating his desire for Geoffrey into the production, well. Geoffrey would only accuse him of being paranoid. At last, he stopped at the side entrance to the parking lot and laid a kiss on Geoffrey's lips.

Thankfully, Geoffrey kissed him back. "It's like that, is it?"

"Well, yes. I suppose it counts as a professional hazard."

Geoffrey frowned in confusion, but followed Darren out to the car. "How so?"

Darren shrugged. "For a director to create a melodrama among his actors to parallel the play? There is a thematic consistency at the very least." Geoffrey was scowling harder as Darren looked over the roof of his car at him. "I'm not wrong," he said.

Geoffrey shook his head, and then got in when Darren popped up the lock button for him. "You're not wrong," Geoffrey said. "I haven't done anything, though."

Darren tried very hard to repress the obvious sigh of relief. He stroked Geoffrey's cheek and kissed him again.

Again, Geoffrey kissed back, harder this time, and the windshield began to steam. Geoffrey fumbled with the defroster on the dashboard while Darren still had his hands buried in Geoffrey's coat and hair. "There's time to go home and change, right?" Geoffrey asked.

What Darren heard was, "There's time to go home and fuck, right?" He answered, "Oh, hell yes," because who cared what Rosalind said happened at seven sharp. She herself had taught him the power of making a dramatic entrance. The fog cleared from the glass, Geoffrey's hand closed around his thigh, and Darren hit the gas.

"So." Darren sat down in Oliver's office and waited for Oliver to finish his phone call. He'd made sure to shut the door when he came in. The call seemed interminable, and so Darren not-subtly let his fingers riffle through the drift of papers and scripts cluttering Oliver's desk. He found copies of Anouilh's version of Antigone and Brecht's Mother Courage.

Darren held them up when Oliver hung up the phone. "Interesting choices," he said.

Oliver made a face. "I wouldn't hold your breath. Casting is never certain until the ink is dry on the contract and the actor's – or actress' – feet are on the stage."

"Aha," Darren said dutifully.

"Why are you in my office?" Oliver said.

Darren sighed. "I am here, Oliver, because I thought we should have a little chat."

"A chat," Oliver repeated.

Darren smiled thinly. "Surely, you're well aware of the absurdity of our situation." He looked down his nose at Oliver.

Oliver sat back, crossed an ankle over a knee, and said, "Do tell."

Darren took a deep breath. "You are clearly smitten with Geoffrey. Don't bother to deny it, it happens to everyone. It happens, in fact, to inanimate objects, as well as dogs, cats, small children, women, and men. Believe me, we sometimes actually trip on the people who thrust themselves upon him."

Oliver cleared his throat but didn't say anything.

"However, he does not, in point of fact, realize that you have more than the obvious attraction to him."

Oliver's feet hit the floor. "I'm sorry, repeat that?"

Darren nodded sadly. "It's pathetic, isn't it? He doesn't notice. Possibly because everyone falls for him, I don't know. Maybe he assumes that's normal human behavior. My point is that you, as our director, are not supposed to be one of the hordes of ordinary people who fall for him. You are the great Oliver Welles, possibly the greatest thing in Geoffrey's eyes since sliced bread."

Oliver looked rather like he'd been punched in the stomach. Darren was pleased, especially when Oliver finally stammered, "I, um, don't know what to say."

"He doesn't believe you arranged this casting specifically to drive a wedge between us. He doesn't think you could ever be such a conniving bastard." Darren glared at him across the desk. "I, however, know better."

Darren watched Oliver open and shut his mouth a few times. Finally he said, "I did underestimate you, Darren. I apologize. You have brought far more to the role of Edward II than I ever envisioned."

Darren snorted. "As delightful as Ian McKellan is to watch, there is far more to the story than weeping and whinging for two hours straight."

"I agree, I agree." Oliver smiled brightly at him. "And thwarted rage really works for you."

With a laugh, Darren sat forward. "Oh, this isn't thwarted, Oliver, and this is far less about rage than alienation. But you know what? I am still my mother's son and my aunt's nephew, and I have it on highest authority that I will have a place at New Burbage for as many years into the future as I could wish." He watched Oliver swallow. "You're going to have to get used to me, Oliver Welles, because I'm going to be a fucking fixture."

Oliver sat back and folded his hands. After several moments, he nodded to himself, and said, "Have you ever directed?"

Darren blinked.

"We could start you on something small, something to be staged in the studio theatre. It's a good venue for experimentation."

Darren swallowed down his excitement, but he was already nodding.

Then Oliver fixed his gaze on him and said, "Don't tell Geoffrey." Darren took a breath, but Oliver put his hand up. "No, don't say it. Just…he isn't like the apprentices. To me, I mean. It's that, to me, he means—"

"Let's agree never to finish that sentence, shall we?" Darren interrupted. "There is a limit to what I can stand to have said to my face about my boyfriend."

"Of course, my apologies." Oliver seemed genuinely contrite, although who knew when a director was acting.

Darren stood up. "I won't tell him. You will never repeat anything resembling this asinine stunt. I mean, throwing Chad at me? Seriously? And hoping Geoffrey somehow would fail to notice?"

"Not my best moment, I'm sorry."

"Never again!" Darren said, glaring.

Oliver nodded. "Agreed, although you must admit it's spawned some fabulous dramatic tension between your characters."

Darren stared in disbelief. Then he shook his head. "You have no idea who we are, do you? Geoffrey and I have been like this together for years – years!"

"All three that you've known him?" Oliver said drily.

"Every moment of them," Darren shot back.

Oliver nodded. "Fine. I'll see you at rehearsal, then. Talk to me next week about finding you something to direct."

For once, Darren walked out of Oliver's office beaming.

Oliver Welles' New Controversy
– Basil Thume, New Burbage Herald

Conservative groups are planning a protest march and demonstration at the opening night of Edward II at the New Burbage Shakespearean Festival this Wednesday evening. NBH arts critic Basil Thume talked with Festival Artistic Director Oliver Welles after yesterday's preview performance to find out what all the fuss is about.

New Burbage Herald: I trust you've heard that several conservative groups are planning to protest Edward II at opening night?

Oliver Welles: (laughing) Isn't it fabulous? Christopher Marlowe must be laughing himself sick, wherever he is. To think, four hundred years down the road, and people are still getting upset about your work. That's the mark of greatness.

NBH: So, tell us about Edward II as a soi-disant "gay" play.

OW: It's hardly a "gay" play if Edward, Gaveston, and Mortimer all have relationships with women, too, and no I won't apologize for seeming to split hairs. Our point is that sexuality is a far more complex thing than the prevailing – and faulty – hetero-normative dichotomous model accounts for.

NBH: In this production, you begin with an absolutely revolutionary reading: that Young Mortimer loves his king. Typically Mortimer is portrayed as moved by base ambition, but you're not doing that. On the other hand, his actions are hardly what one would expect from a man in love, don't you think?

OW: Does Mortimer love Edward? Yes, within his own selfish understanding of the term. Today he might be termed a "gold digger," n'est-ce pas?

NBH: Darren Nichols, only son of beloved late New Burbage star Demetria Foster, plays your King Edward II in a far cry from Ian McKellan's iconic 1969 interpretation. Describe it for us?

OW: McKellan's Edward is rather desperately weepy, isn't he? It's a constant barrage of grief and self-pity. Even his anger at others is immediately undercut by sobs of, "Woe is me!" By contrast, our Darren has a brilliant gift of sarcasm, combined with a stark despair and seething, helpless anger. I find it sheds a startling and extremely satisfying new light on the text.

NBH: You get the feeling that McKellan's Edward was a bit of a feckless twit.

OW: Who failed to grow up. In Act I, all Edwards are feckless twits – that's why the barons are so upset: all the king wants to do is have endless orgies with his boyfriend while the country falls apart around them. In later acts, there are opportunities for Edward to, ah, mature somewhat in his outlook.

NBH: Let's return to Young Mortimer. The text only clearly supports Mortimer's ambition, not his spurned love for his king.

OW: Neither do what we assume are Marlowe's original stage directions dictate that Edward be impaled through the rectum with a red-hot poker, but that is the traditional staging.

NBH: But the line suggests, when Lightborn calls for—

OW: True, and yet the extant text says the weight of the table crushing his chest is what kills him. The rest was censored or lost to time. My point is that the text does support a reading of Mortimer as a bitter rival to Gaveston for the king's love, who then becomes crazed by rejection and determined to make Edward pay for choosing the other boy – never mind that Gaveston was the great love of Edward's life.

NBH: And so to possess him, he destroys Edward's world, and, indeed, Edward.

OW: And is only brought to justice by Edward's young son. Quite a family drama, isn't it?

Tickets for Edward II are available at the New Burbage box office.

Oliver looked down from his office window on a long, long line of traffic. He couldn't see the visitors' parking lot from this side of the building, but the only place all these people could be headed was the theatre. Two large news vans were caught up in the snarl.

"Isn't it magnificent?" Rosalind Foster caught him in the corridor as he was heading out to see what the uproar looked like from the ground. "Come on!" She threaded her arm through his and pushed open a heavy door to the outside. The valet drop-off area was cordoned off by police. The grassy area between the parking lot and the pedestrian walkway was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people holding placards reading "God Hates Faggots" and other clever phrases. Meanwhile, on the other side, a much smaller but vastly more colorful counter-protest was forming, with placards that read "Love Your Gay Kids".

"My God," Oliver said, staring. This was wonderful! But he didn't want the actors to know; it might throw them all off and then the main headline would be that it was a terrible show instead of a triumphant political statement.

"It's fantastic! Someone said that some media bigwigs are driving up from Toronto. We've just sold out tonight, tomorrow, and Friday." Rosalind bounced a little in her voluminous and unseasonable fur coat. "Is Darren here yet?"

Oliver turned on his heel. "I'll check."

"Oh! There he is!" Rosalind pointed at the reporter and camera crew poised on the walk to the side of the main entrance, and then at the crowd beyond. "Look, they're passing out candles for a vigil. Can you believe this?"

Across the way they heard Darren shouting. "A vigil for the gays they've rejected and thrown away? Are you kidding me? Hypocrites!"

The reporter said something and pushed her microphone back into his face.

"Then perhaps they should buy a ticket and come watch. We'll show you characters in need of a vigil. People who were murdered simply because they dared to love the wrong person." Darren gestured out to the anti-gay crowd. "A better subject for their vigil would be the millions of innocent men, women, and children who have been killed by the disease those groups refuse to fund research to cure." He broke off, glanced at Oliver standing at the door, and hurriedly added, "Tickets are on sale at the New Burbage box office. Enjoy the show!"

He dashed through the door Oliver held open for him. "Nicely done. I wasn't aware you had an activist bone in your body."

Darren sneered out the window. "I don't. No, I am merely extremely aware that most of those bozos would thrill to the sight of me spitted on a certain red-hot poker."

"Oh, darling," Rosalind said, hugging his waist.

"Of course it's meant to be ghastly and gratuitous – obviously – but what happens when you add a mob mentality into the mix? We may need a police escort to get out of here tonight!" He gestured wildly. "They're already blocking the stage door. That's why I had to come around!"

"Oh, but riots are a sign of good theatre!" Oliver said soothingly. "Why, I haven't seen a good theatre riot since the Old Vic…was it twenty years ago now? Yes, 1966, it was. Terribly fun, but hard to imagine anything of the kind happening here. Canadians are entirely too well-mannered."

They had reached the entrance to the dressing rooms, beyond which Rosalind was expressly forbidden. "Break a leg, sweetheart." She squeezed Darren's hands. "Your mother would be so proud."

Darren dutifully kissed his aunt's cheek and watched her flit away to the bar to welcome the claque of cronies she had recruited to fill the audience in the event of a flop. Then he glanced at the window, where the sound of chanted slogans was just seeping through. "Oliver," he said uncertainly.

Oliver laid a hand on his back, guided him over the backstage threshold, and let the door fall shut behind them. "Take a breath, my dear. That's it. Remember, all you must do is focus on Edward. You can trust the spectacle to take care of itself."

"Forty minutes, everyone," came the stage manager's voice over the intercom.

Oliver squeezed Darren's shoulder, and Geoffrey flew out of the nearest dressing room, crying, "My God, did you see them?"

"It's insane!" Darren answered, slipping out of Oliver's grasp.

"You're going to be wonderful," Geoffrey said, and kissed Darren's mouth.

"They make me so angry," Darren muttered.

"Use it," Oliver said, laying his hands on both their arms as they embraced. "And do get dressed. Time waits for no man."

Darren gritted his teeth, but nodded. "Use it. I can certainly do that."

Geoffrey nuzzled Darren's cheek and said something Oliver couldn't hear. Then they were gone, safe in their dressing room and probably having a quickie before the show, curse them. Oliver turned the corner, in search of a fortifying drink, and found Art, the stage manager, pouring him one, bless his soul. At Art's side, the house manager was describing the scene outdoors, the extra security, the impatiently milling crowd in the lobby, and throwing back his own drink before rushing out to open the house doors.

"Barefoot in the Park," Darren said in horrified disbelief.

"It's a small cast, a simple set. Perfect for you to, ah, dip a toe in." Oliver nodded at the script on the desk between them.

Darren covered his eyes at Oliver's pun. It was insult upon injury.

"You don't have to say yes," Oliver added, not looking up from whatever he was writing in his notebook. The desk was still as cluttered as ever, but if there were better plays buried in there, Oliver was apparently holding them hostage.

Darren bit his tongue, bit the bullet, bit back a tirade of anti-Neil Simon vitriol. "Fine," he said waspishly. Barefoot in the fucking Park as his professional directorial debut? What an insult! But perhaps there were possibilities. He could set it in Nazi Germany, or in London during the Blitz, or even in – or at least overlooking – the killing fields of Cambodia. The sounds of machine gun fire in the background, artillery...that would shake up the mindless proletarians looking for two hours of Robert Redford and Jane Fonda cavorting about looking cute. Oh yes, indeed.

Darren picked up the script and thumbed the pages, thinking. Perhaps nudity, to mirror the audience's own desperate transparency. The tag line could be, "Why stop at bare feet?"

"Are you sure?" Oliver asked, as if Darren couldn't hear the dare in his tone.

"Yes." Darren nodded and stood up, now confident. "Thank you, Oliver. I think this will work out very well."