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The Midsummer Diaries

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***

July 1, 1994

Dear Diary,

Fuck me blue, they're completely insane at the theatre. Oliver called me into his office this morning for the first time ever. "Maria," he announced, "this is a great moment for you." I hadn't even thought he knew my name. But he went on for a while about what a great Props mistress I've been, and then promoted me to stage manager, at least through the end of the season. He said it's because Timothy left on short notice to pursue other opportunities. Of course, Sasha from Costumes had already told me Timothy was fucking Oliver and they broke up so Oliver fired him, while the guys in Lighting said Timothy and Oliver were never involved, Timothy got fired for being a coke addict. Personally, I believe Cosmo in the scene shop, who says that's all bullshit and everything's a mess because Oliver's an alcoholic. Which would explain why his assistant quit and Timothy left and half the company wants to find other work even though they never will. But anyway, this is the upshot: Oliver's plucked me out of Props and asked me to stage-manage, because apparently I have a reputation for running my department smoothly and avoiding crises.

This is totally what I get for keeping emergency backups of the important props in a locked closet. Because actors are flakes who cannot be trusted. It's like the golden rule of theatre. Only now I have to work with these flakes. I swear, Diary, I think I'm being punished.

At least I only have one big production to oversee. Rehearsals for Midsummer start next week. I've heard the company's already upset about some of the casting choices -- especially the ringer Oliver's bringing in to play Puck. We went out to drink to my promotion with a few of the actors at the end of the day, and Ellen and Geoffrey, the new guy, would not shut up about this. But Oliver said I can ignore the actors, and everything's going to be a breeze.

Frank and Cyril heard this last comment and immediately called to the bartender, to ask for some of whatever Oliver was drinking.

***

July 5, 1994

Dear Diary,

The drama begins. First read-through today. Oliver introduced everything with a pompous speech about how this is his fifth Dream and he wants to shake things up, give people something they're not expecting. Frank or Cyril (I didn't catch which one) muttered, "Try directing while sober." I kind of like those guys, even if they are actors.

Ellen is playing Helena, which I can tell already is going to be a problem. As Desdemona last year she lost her handkerchief in almost every performance; I just don't trust that woman. She came in half an hour late today, holding everyone up, and then just flung a few "Sorry"s around like that would help. I think I might make up special call sheets for her, with all her rehearsal times printed an hour before they actually start.

And speaking of problems, I can see now why people were so pissed off about Puck. "He's perfect," Oliver kept muttering to me; "he's just so puckish!" But unless he's using "puckish" to mean "talentless, preening, and unbelievably irritating," I have no idea what he's talking about. Geoffrey went to university with the guy and says he was even more irritating a couple years ago, but I fail to see how that could be possible.

Meanwhile Geoffrey's also upset about his own part. I heard him whining to Oliver before we got started this morning. "It's a major role," Oliver consoled him. "You just have to make it your own."

"You don't understand," Geoffrey begged. "I can't do comedy! I'm terrible at it! I cannot conceive of why you'd put me in this position."

"My dear boy." Oliver actually sounded avuncular. "You just need to relax and let it happen. I've thought ever since I hired you that you'll make a marvelous Bottom."

Frank and Cyril didn't even need to be there for that one; I had to excuse myself.

But I didn't even make it to the door before Mr. Puckish arrived. Oliver brought him around to meet everyone like he was showing off a new toy. "This is Darren," he told us all, and Darren piped up to say, "Darren Nichols," like we're all supposed to go, "Wow, the Darren Nichols?" I hate him already. I tried again to get out of the room and almost ran right over what must be the meekest, mousiest woman in all of Canada, who was hovering in the doorway. "Yes, um, excuse me," she whispered, and I had to lean closer just to hear her. Please tell me you're not playing Titania, I silently begged, but I gritted my teeth and smiled, and thank god, she's not even an actress. This, it turns out, is Oliver's new assistant, Hannah somebody. I give her two weeks until she runs off in tears, never to return.

***

July 6, 1994

Dear Diary,

What was Oliver thinking, casting Ellen as the girl nobody loves? It's embarrassing, looking around the stage. Harry's playing her father; I'm pretty sure she had a fling with him earlier this year. Sean is playing Oberon; he and Ellen were joined at the hip -- literally -- all last season. And right now I'd bet money she's sleeping with Demetrius. We rehearsed Act One, scene one today, and every time he said he hated her, he looked like he was just about to jump her. Also, I'm pretty sure that when Helena asks Demetrius to "spurn me, strike me," etc., it's not supposed to sound like a kinkfest. I kept expecting Oliver to call them on it, but he doesn't even seem to care. He must have told me three times today how excited he is to get into Act Two tomorrow, when the fairies show up. One time he said this while Ellen was in the middle of a monologue, and she actually stopped to stare at him, looking seriously wounded. Fucking prima donna.

***

July 8, 1994

Dear Diary,

Darren Nichols, Diary. What. The fuck? We rehearsed Act Two, scene one, and I swear to god he's playing Puck like a male prostitute looking for a trick. You never knew the line "How now, spirit, whither wander you?" could sound so much like a dressed-up version of "Hey, baby, you looking for a date?" Anna -- not Hannah, evidently -- had stopped by to give me copies of next week's call sheets, and Darren's delivery of "I am that merry wanderer of the night" completely made her lose her train of thought. By the time he got to "...when I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile, neighing in likeness of a filly foal" (and I can't begin to describe the gestures he was making), she was blushing so fiercely I thought her head might explode.

"Oh," she kind of coughed. "I never realized those lines meant... that."

"Neither did any of the rest of us," I assured her. But Oliver seemed completely entranced. Meanwhile his prim little assistant rushed out of the room like it was on fire. I almost felt sorry for her.

On the plus side, I got a drink with Frank and Cyril after rehearsal and they were hilarious. All "Puck, the rent-boy of the Athenian woods," and "Well, he IS called Robin Goodfellow," and I can't even remember the rest. Those guys crack me up.

***

July 12, 1994

Dear Diary,

Sweet Jesus, am I the only person in New Burbage who doesn't have a hard-on for Ellen Fanshaw? She did at least show up on time today (in fact she was ten minutes early, and upset that Oliver wasn't there yet), so my super-sneaky call sheets are working! But that doesn't mean I'm going to fall down and worship her -- unlike just about everyone else. We ran the lovers' scenes in Act Three today, and Geoffrey sat and watched for a while. During Helena's monologues he was on the edge of his seat, like something miraculous was happening. Honestly, I could puke.

Also, I don't mean to rag on the guy, because he was pretty good as Mercutio last month (even though I think he walked off with one of my best swords), but he wasn't kidding: he really can't do comedy. Yesterday we did the first part of Act Three, scene one, with the mechanicals rehearsing, and Geoffrey's Bottom is nearly as cringe-worthy as Darren's Puck. He's just so damn stiff! Oliver kept coaching him, telling him to relax, try new things, running bits again, and finally I think we had all just had it. "Are you trying to prove something to me, Geoffrey?" Oliver demanded.

"I can't. Do. Comedy," Geoffrey gritted out.

"Nonsense, Geoffrey," Darren chimed in. "I've often found you a most convincing clown."

"Alright, everybody, that's it," Oliver yelled. "Darren, come with me. The rest of you, go home. We'll try this again on Thursday."

I really hoped Oliver was taking Darren away to smack him around, but Anna told me this morning they just had some drinks in Oliver's office and talked about the homoeroticism of the text. Figures.

***

July 14, 1994

Dear Diary,

It just keeps getting more painful. Apparently Darren has convinced Oliver that the fairies are all permanently on ecstasy. Today Oliver had a talk with the cast about nature and fertility and the fairies as elementals, and then we ran all the fairies' scenes. So now not only is Puck draping himself obscenely around Oberon every time they appear together, but all the other fairies are being encouraged to copulate in the background. All the time. Which makes people uncomfortable enough, but the high point of the day had to be when Oliver suggested that Titania should go down on Bottom in Act Three, scene one.

There was dead silence. Anna was in the room, bringing me a phone message; she dropped into a chair, looking like she might pass out.

"I meant mime, darling, obviously," Oliver added, but Geoffrey and Michelle were already backing away from each other in horror. And then there was this squeak from another corner of the stage, and I don't even know what happened but Cindy slapped Darren across the face and stalked off. The acoustics were kind of awesome, actually; we could hear the slap reverberating, as Darren tried to act casual with a big red hand-print forming on his cheek.

"What the hell is going on back there?" Oliver demanded, while Geoffrey's saying "I just don't think we'd be comfortable..." and Michelle's stammering something about how her grandparents will see the show and Darren's insisting "But you told us to!" and it all dissolved into chaos after that.

I called a five-minute break and went out for a smoke. Twenty minutes later, when I'd managed to corral everybody back onto the stage (it's like herding cats, I swear), we took it all again, only nobody wanted to stand near Puck, and Titania looked almost as embarrassed as Bottom while she kind of slithered all over him. It was awful.

"Why are my fairies all so damn inhibited?" Oliver muttered. "If they could only free themselves, this could be truly magical. Joyful, even. I wonder if I could get them all stoned before a performance?"

I hoped he was kidding. He didn't seem to be. I thought longingly of the summer I spent working on a construction crew, where the people were at least civilized.

"I'm pretty sure that would be illegal," I told him.

He just sighed.

***

July 19, 1994

Dear Diary,

I took my lunch break in the Props room today (and dear god, but I miss those nice lifeless props. So easy to keep them in line. I feel like I never appreciated them before.) and so I got to hear Geoffrey finally confront Darren about why the hell he plays Puck like a gay porn star. I think we've all given up on Oliver ever doing something about this. Other than drool, I mean.

"He's a FAIRY, Geoffrey," Darren sneered. "It says so right in the script."

"Alright," Geoffrey said after a pause, "let's just skip right over all the ways in which that statement was offensive, and let me point out that they're ALL fairies. Shakespeare's describing a species, not a sexual orientation."

"Have you never read the sonnets?" Darren asked. "Honestly, I'd expect you to realize that whoever wrote the works of William Shakespeare was not fettered by your bourgeois hetero-normative orthodoxy." He flounced off down the hall.

I could practically hear Geoffrey fuming, like he simply couldn't decide which of all the many things wrong with that sentence was worth addressing first. "Whoever wrote the works of William Shakespeare?" he finally called.

"Also said Nick Bottom was an ass," was Darren's parting shot.

I invited Geoffrey into the Props room and gave him my soup.

***

July 22, 1994

Dear Diary,

Ellen showed up early again today, bless the gods. I was the only one there when she came in, and she cornered me to ask why her rehearsal times are different from everyone else's.

"Are they?" I managed to sound completely innocent. "Oliver must have wanted some extra time with you."

She looked like I'd given her a present. "Then where is he?" she asked.

I shrugged. "You know Oliver."

Diary, would you believe she was actually happy with this explanation?

She didn't stay happy, though. We did Act Three, scene two today, with Lysander and Demetrius fighting each other for Helena's love. It got weirdly violent. Oliver loved the passion they were bringing to the scene, and Geoffrey (who pretty much always shows up when Ellen's rehearsing) seemed riveted, but Ellen looked a little alarmed. Is she shagging both of them now? The ardor and rivalry were very convincing, I have to say, and I've never thought much of John or Stuart as actors.

Anyway, Oliver was completely into it, and Julia's getting pretty good with Hermia's "Puppet? Why so?" speech, and the blocking is really physical, with Demetrius and Lysander jockeying for position and Hermia rushing at Helena and Helena ducking for cover behind the two guys. Of course Ellen objects to being upstaged, and kept asking Oliver for more to do, some way of being as present in the scene as everybody else. Maybe I only fed into it this morning, but good lord, Diary: she's such an attention whore. Every single time Oliver stopped the scene to give notes to somebody else, Ellen came forward to ask for his opinion on whatever she'd been doing. And when Puck and Oberon get involved in the scene, and we actually had to spend an hour doing things that had nothing to do with Helena, Ellen sat in the front row and fidgeted, like it was just killing her to let the focus be on somebody else. Finally Geoffrey went over and talked to her, which seemed to settle her down a bit.

But then I had to witness Darren, with Oliver's approval, playing the end of III.ii. as if Puck intends to fuck both Lysander and Demetrius. Seriously, I get that the text is full of phallic puns, but does every single "drawn and ready!" need to be accompanied by a pelvic thrust? I'm going to have nightmares tonight about Darren leering through the line, "I'll whip thee with a rod."

Oliver was eating it up with a spoon, though, and eventually not even Ellen could distract Geoffrey from the debacle taking place onstage. I could see him sinking lower and lower into his chair. The man takes Shakespeare distressingly seriously. And hey, somebody around here should, since god knows Darren is pissing all over the text and Oliver's letting him. But Geoffrey seems to care a little more than is healthy, if you ask me.

After all of this, Helena came back into the scene for her -- count them -- SIX lines, and Ellen made Oliver go through those with her for thirty-five fucking minutes. I was so bored I actually broke it down: that's a little over forty-four seconds on every. Single. Word.

It was an unbelievably long day.

***

July 26, 1994

Dear Diary,

The Darren/Geoffrey pissing contest continues, and it pains me to report that Darren is winning. We did III.i. and IV.i. today, and Geoffrey is still completely miserable as Bottom. He's made a little progress, but now it comes across as Bottom being miserable in his own skin. I had a weird conversation about this with Anna. (She'd come by to watch for a while; she keeps showing up when we rehearse the Titania/Bottom scenes. Maybe she has a thing for trainwrecks?)

"Of course Bottom is miserable," she said. "He's suddenly got an ass's head, and all his friends have run away. And now he's being sexually assaulted by magical beings. I'd be miserable too."

"It's supposed to be a comedy," I reminded her.

"Maybe to the audience, but not to him," she insisted.

I have to admit, Geoffrey's take on Bottom made a little more sense after that.

But anyway, during a break, he and Darren were sniping at each other again and Geoffrey brought up the bizarrely raunchy end of III.ii., saying he wasn't going to take direction from anyone who seriously reads that scene as a three-way between Puck, Lysander, and Demetrius.

"Act Three, scene two, line 354," Darren proclaimed. "Oberon himself refers to Demetrius and Lysander as 'lovers.' Don't blame me for taking my cues from the text, Geoffrey."

"Why must you be so fucking literal? The text refers to Bottom and Peter Quince and the rest as 'mechanicals.' Do you think that makes us robots?"

"Well, the way you play Bottom..." Darren insinuated.

Geoffrey started hitting his head against the wall.

Anna went over to cheer him up. I don't know what she said; he did at least smile a little. But meanwhile Darren and Oliver were having a little conference, and Oliver looked way too interested in what he was saying. This can't be good.

***

July 27, 1994

Dear Diary,

That's it, I have to find some other line of work. We began our rehearsal of the 'Pyramus and Thisbe' performance in Act Five today with Oliver saying, "I'd like to try something new this morning, everyone. Shakespeare calls these characters 'mechanicals,' yes? So let's try interpreting that literally. Peter Quince, Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Snout, Starveling, and Snug, you are not only manual labourers. You are, yourselves, the products of manual labour. By which I mean you are robots, automatons. You're all made of clockwork. Now, let's take this scene from the top, and see what that brings out in you!"

If Cyril and Frank had not been there, I think I would have lost it. Geoffrey read all his lines in a monotone, looking absolutely defeated. Everyone else seemed completely bewildered. Frank and Cyril totally went with it, though, doing 'the Robot' break-dance moves in the background, and then for a while they were doing C-3P0 and R2-D2. Oliver got pissed, but I could have kissed them both.

Anna stopped by again, but when she saw what was going on she just fled. Welcome to the theatre, kid.

Maybe I should go back to grad school.

***

July 29, 1994

Dear Diary,

Act Three again today, so once again Titania was all over Bottom, and once again Anna just happened to be there to catch the action. I noticed Darren talking to her during the Titania's bower scene (which I confess I'm starting to like now; Geoffrey looks so uncomfortable and so confused, like Bottom thinks he really should be enjoying this but he just doesn't know why it's happening) and the next time I looked she had gone. Which I guess left Darren with no one to bother, because then he came over to chat with me.

"What do you know about Anna?" he asked.

"She's Oliver's assistant," I said.

"Yes, I know that," he replied. "I meant, what do you know about her? What are her opinions? Her tastes? What is her philosophy?"

I couldn't believe I was hearing this. "She's Oliver's assistant," I repeated.

He rolled his eyes. I thought he'd leave me alone after that, but I'm not that lucky. "I've noticed she often seems to show up when I'm rehearsing," he said. "Always contriving some reason or other to be around. I told her she should really stick around to see the end of Act Three, scene two; I'm particularly good in that. But she needed to get back to her desk."

He waited for me to respond. And kept waiting. "Oh," I eventually said.

Darren eyed the door Anna had escaped through, while I wished I could escape myself. "I'm intrigued by her," he said. "She sees so much, yet says so little. It's a beguiling trait."

I considered telling him that she can actually say plenty if she doesn't think you're a freak, but kept it to myself.

"Yes, I perceive hidden depths in that little secretary," he went on, but then Oliver yelled for me. Thank fucking god.

Five more weeks, and then I'll never have to deal with Darren Nichols again for the rest of my life.

***

August 3, 1994

Dear Diary,

The oddest thing happened this morning. We were doing Act Four, and since the lovers don't wake up until late in scene one, the four of them were hanging out in the audience watching the fairies. (And okay, it IS a little mesmerizing, what those fairies get up to.) But Ellen of course needed someone's attention on her, so she picked me. Why am I everybody's favorite target lately? It's not like I don't have a job or anything. Although the blocking is mostly set now and tech isn't until next week, so it's true I don't have that much to do at the moment. (I am WISHING I had the Props job for this play, though. Whole scenes in which nobody needs to carry anything except a few flowers!)

So anyway, Ellen comes up to me, and she wants to know if Oliver's said anything to me about her.

"If he had any notes for you, he'd tell you himself," I said.

"Right, sorry, but I'm actually wondering if he's said anything else. Anything, you know, personal."

I just stared.

"Never mind, it's silly, never mind. Sorry," she said.

"Anything personal?"

"Did he?" She looked so hopeful.

I racked my brain. "Not that I remember."

"Oh." And she, like, deflated. I don't even know how. It must be something they teach actors: how to convey dejection in a split-second.

"Ellen, Oliver's gay." It seemed like a ridiculous thing to have to tell anybody, like "water is wet" or "actors are flaky," but I was really getting the ingénue-with-a-crush vibe.

"No, I know." She looked around a little desperately, like she just had to find something to change the topic to. "God, I can't stand this scene," she said, turning towards the stage. It was the part where Oberon takes the charm off Titania's eyes and shows her she's been sleeping with an ass. "He gets what he wanted, wakes her up, and she just shakes the whole thing off and goes off with him like she doesn't even care that he's just drugged and robbed her."

"Based on this production, I think they might actually do this sort of thing all the time," I pointed out.

"Filthy fairies," she muttered.

Anna had come in and sat a little way away from us by then; she had come for Bottom's waking-up soliloquy, but had gotten there early. "Fairy love isn't like human love," she whispered. "For the fairies, it's only sex. It's passion without meaning. But the human characters, they can show real devotion, and get hurt when it goes away."

Ellen seemed impressed. I was a little impressed myself.

The three of us sat there through Bottom's awakening, and it was like Geoffrey was acting out Anna's insight. "Methought I was, and methought I had..." The way he said it, it wasn't a joke. It was a simple, confused human being saying, 'I thought I was a monster, but there was this beautiful spirit who loved me.'

"He's good," Ellen murmured with surprise.

"Yes, he is," Anna said, sounding proud.

"Geoffrey," Oliver called out, "that wasn't bad, but what happened to my robot?"

"Oh, for god's sake, Oliver!" Ellen yelled, and the two of them shouted at each other until I called a break.

***

August 11, 1994

Dear Diary,

Second rule of the theatre: Tech week is hell. We've been working twelve-hour days. The sets are up, the costumes are almost finished (yet Puck's shorts get shorter day by day -- why, Diary? Why?), the lighting guys are crawling around in the catwalks constantly. Meanwhile the actors are bored out of their minds, Oliver is a wreck who starts drinking at lunchtime, and I am busier than I have ever been. I miss my Props so much. Please, please, let them send me back to Props next season.

I don't know what possessed me after a full day of this to then go to the bar with everybody. Really, I should have bought a bottle of wine and gone home to get blotto in peace. At least then I could have been spared the sight of Ellen leaning drunkenly on Anna's shoulder, moaning about what a torture it is to pine for a man she can't have.

"Because what am I thinking, right?" she asked. "It's hopeless. I know it's hopeless. For god's sake, he doesn't even like women. But he understands them. Oh, you should have been here for Othello last year."

"Actually, I saw it," Anna started to say.

"The way he directed me as Desdemona," Ellen went on, "it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. It was intellectually sexual, if you know what I mean. And we bonded! We formed a true bond, and I don't care if he's gay, he must feel it too!"

"I'm sure he does," Anna tried, while on the other side of the room Oliver was sprawled across Darren's lap.

"But now he hardly even notices me!" Ellen wailed. "You have no idea how depressing it is, to be so in thrall to a man who's so utterly, utterly outside your grasp."

"Um, no," Anna said, glancing at Geoffrey, who was at the bar with Sean. "No, I guess not."

"And it's really not about the sex for me," Ellen insisted. "Honestly, it isn't. Believe me, I've had plenty of sex since this started, and it's nothing! Well, I mean, it's not nothing, it's fine. It's great. But it's a distraction, that's all it is. Pretty boys to distract me from the one I can't get."

"That's nice," Anna said. "I have to go to the ladies' room now."

Ellen turned to me after Anna had left. "What on earth is a buttoned-down girl like that doing in a theatre?"

"I have no idea," I told her. "Maybe it's time for you to go home." I didn't think I could handle hearing any more about Ellen's sex life.

She grudgingly agreed to let me call her a cab. We'd just gone outside to wait for it when Oliver came staggering out, clinging to Darren's arm.

"Look, there now," Darren said. "Ellen and Martha are getting a taxi. Why don't you go along with them?"

"Because I wanna go with you," Oliver slurred.

"Yes, come with us, Oliver," Ellen sang.

"My name is Maria, you twerp," I said.

But Darren ducked back inside, so Oliver and Ellen went off in the cab together -- to her great joy, never mind that he was nearly unconscious. I got in my car and wondered if I could get a job with the Forest Service, or anyplace else where I wouldn't have to deal with people.

Though really, if I could just find work in a place with no actors, that would solve most of my problems right there.

***

August 12, 1994

Dear Diary,

It totally figures: just when I'm too disgusted by actors to spend another minute in their company, they hurl themselves to new depths of melodrama. I'd come home after seeing Ellen and Oliver off, so I missed the excitement, but Frank and Cyril filled me in this morning.

I don't know all the gory details, but evidently Darren -- who is either stupider than I thought, or should never be allowed to drink (I'd vote for both) -- put the moves on Anna last night once he'd gotten rid of Oliver. Nobody knows exactly what he did, but it upset her enough to send her running to Geoffrey for comfort. Which was arguably the second incredibly stupid move of the evening, because Geoffrey, having had a few himself, decided that the only proper response was to grab a sword from his car and then chase Darren around the parking lot with it. (Mind-blowingly stupid move number three! And also, I knew he'd stolen my sword. J'accuse!)

He didn't actually catch him (which makes me really wish I'd been there; I'd have held Darren's punk-ass down so anybody who felt like it could give him a few good stabs), though from what I hear they both made idiots of themselves. But before Geoffrey could avenge her honour or whatever, Anna got between them and made everybody behave. Frank and Cyril said she kept yelling "Go home!" until finally everyone did. Well, somebody needed to say it.

So then there we were this morning for another excruciating day of tech, and Anna was nowhere to be seen. Darren was only slightly subdued, Geoffrey was totally normal, Ellen and Oliver were both hung-over and cranky. The rest of the cast was all buzzing with gossip. I located Anna during lunch, standing at her desk, which seems like a strange place to find her; I'm so used to her shadowing Geoffrey. Instead, she was interrogating Ellen.

"Of course nothing happened," Ellen said. "He was drunk. We were both drunk. He slept on my couch."

"Where did you sleep?" Anna asked, her voice low and determined.

"In my bed, not that it's any of your business," Ellen retorted.

"Good," Anna said, "because he doesn't need anybody else messing him about right now."

Ellen raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just that everybody seems to play around with sexual identity here like it's an aesthetic question," Anna hissed. "But Oliver is a human being, and he's going to be hurt if he ever finds out that certain people have been... trying to do things... with other people." Her face was pretty red by the end of this speech.

Ellen tilted her head to one side. "Are you saying that a certain boy-toy has been messing around with girls?"

"Sshh!" Anna glanced around anxiously. "Oliver is my boss. I don't like seeing him exploited."

Ellen considered, then smiled. "You know what? I don't like seeing a terrific play get slaughtered." She left. Anna looked after her, then sank into her chair and laid her head on the desk, covering it up with her arms.

I chose that moment to clear my throat. She started, looking guilty.

"Are you okay?"

"Remind me never, ever to go out drinking with actors again," she said.

"Never go out drinking with actors," I told her. "They're pigs. They're worse than pigs."

She laid her head back down and muttered something I didn't catch. It may have been, "They're crazy."

I had to get back to the tech rehearsal.

***

August 16, 1994

Dear Diary,

The first dress rehearsal was today. I'd suspected something was up, because Ellen and Oliver have been very tight for the last couple days, but I wasn't prepared for Oliver to assemble the company onstage before we got started.

"This play is a lot of things," he told them. "I think we've seen that by now. It's a fantasia, full of sex and magic. It's a celebration of nature, of what can happen to us when we let ourselves get lost in the woods. It's a romance, with lovers brought together and torn apart, and longing for each other, and fighting, and made whole again. It's a slapstick farce, at times. It's a story about different spheres, the different worlds we live in, be we lowly labourers, or fairies, or the Duke of Athens. It's about strife and resolution and marriage, and miscommunications, and reaching for what we can't be. In short, it's about a rather typical day in the life. Now, we've pushed the envelope in a lot of ways over these last several weeks, but now it's time to bring it all together. In light of which, I'd like to give you all some last-minute notes."

There would be no more robots, he announced. The mechanicals were as human as everybody else. The four lovers, he went on, had been doing fine work, but he wanted to adjust the end of Act Three. "After you're married, you crazy kids can do whatever you like. But for the purposes of this production, let's assume that if you're chasing each other with swords, your intention is a straight-up duel. Sometimes," he added, with a sharp look at Darren, "a sword is just a sword." The only characters onstage who should consider themselves omni-sexual, he concluded, were the fairies. "But it's not the last night at the rave," he counseled them. "You are emblems of fertility and it's the middle of summer, so of course you're all love-drunk. There just doesn't have to be so much urgency about it. You don't need to rush for the orgasms, because this isn't a one-night stand. You live this way all the time. It is, quite literally, your element. So I'd like to see more languidness, a more relaxed approach to the boink-fest, if you will. You've been boffing nonstop for a couple months already, and there's months still to go. Enjoy yourselves a bit."

That seemed like a lot to take in, but the actors all nodded and muttered and went off to their dressing rooms, while I silently thanked god that he hadn't changed any of the lighting cues.

After that the run-through went more or less smoothly, and, hallelujah, the play was definitely improved. Darren is still terrible, though, and Geoffrey -- while he's great in the Bottom/Titania scenes, where she's now very languidly climbing all over him -- he just doesn't know what to do with himself the rest of the time. We'll have all the mechanicals onstage being funny (Frank and Cyril, in particular, are terrific as the Moon and the Wall -- I may have got that backwards, actually -- never mind), and Nick Bottom comes across as a desperately unhappy man who dreads every pratfall he takes. And not in an entertaining way. When Oliver gave notes at the end of the rehearsal, he had Darren and Geoffrey stay after everyone else had gone.

"Darren," he said. "I look through my notes for you and I find the same phrase jotted down in every scene. Would you care to guess what that phrase is?"

"'For a good time, call...?'" Darren smiled sweetly.

"'Tone it down.' Please. Sometimes I've written 'Tone it the fuck down,' but I think we can take that as merely an elaboration, rather than a separate point. Which brings us back to: Tone it down. Got it?"

"Bien sûr." Darren didn't seem all that concerned.

"And Geoffrey," Oliver said. "You're doing lovely work in Titania's bower."

"Thank you," Geoffrey interrupted.

"But Act One and Act Five are causing you real problems," Oliver continued.

"I can't do comedy," Geoffrey said. "I keep saying this. I don't know how to be a clown."

Darren snorted. Oliver shut him up with a glare. "My dear boy," he said to Geoffrey, "Bottom is not a clown. That's what you have to realize. He's just a terrible actor who refuses to see that he isn't a genius. Do you think you could work with that, pull it into your performance tomorrow?"

Geoffrey looked up at him, light dawning in his eyes. "I can do that," he said.

I hope to Christ he can, because with the rest of the production shaping up, his suckage is getting pretty hard to ignore.

***

August 18, 1994

Dear Diary,

Unbelievable! The final dress was today, and Geoffrey was funny! On purpose! He even made me laugh, watching Act Five, so I wound up calling a couple of the sound cues late. Oliver actually gave me notes about one of them. (He didn't notice the other one because he was laughing too.) I'm glad Anna got a chance to see it; she came in and sat through most of the rehearsal, quietly assembling some grant applications in her lap. She looked really happy when she saw how well Geoffrey did, but she didn't stay to talk to him about it.

Afterwards, I heard Geoffrey being congratulated by Frank. (Or it may have been Cyril. Damnit, Diary, it's time for me to admit this: I like them, but after three years with this company I'm still not sure which of them is which. Is it my fault they're always in the same place at the same time? Except for this evening, somehow. This is the sort of thing a girl can only confess to a book with a lock on it.) "There's hope for you yet, duckie!" he said. "What got you past the block?"

"Oliver made the point to me last night that Bottom's just a really, really bad actor," Geoffrey explained. "And I realized that this was something I could visualize -- very specifically, in fact."

Frank (or Cyril) chuckled. "I thought I detected a whiff of Puck about that performance."

"I never said that," Geoffrey began -- but I didn't hear the rest because Oliver needed me.

I wouldn't have thought it a week ago, Diary, but this production might turn out okay after all. Puck still stinks, but a talentless Puck can't do that much damage, right?

***

August 19, 1994

Dear Diary,

I went down to the dressing rooms this evening, to give the actors their twenty-minute warning, and found most of the cast clustered outside the men's changing room. Some of them weren't all the way in costume.

"Guys, we're opening in twenty minutes," I said, and a few people shuffled off. But most of them stayed there. "Guys," I said again, and someone hissed for me to be quiet.

Then I heard what they were all listening to. It was Anna's voice. I didn't get everything, but I definitely heard the words "selfish," "mean," and "totally inappropriate." She gets louder on the adjectives. I'd noticed that before. After the second time I heard "selfish," or maybe it was "self-centered," I whispered to Sean, "Who's in there with her?"

He just smirked. I could guess the rest.

I wanted to stay, but since the play was opening in another eighteen minutes, I kind of had stuff to do.

I hit the rest of the dressing rooms, telling everyone who hadn't been eavesdropping the time until curtain. When I got to Ellen's door, I could hear Oliver inside.

"I'm glad," he was saying. "We need you here. This company needs you. And you know I want you to be happy."

"I'll be fine," she said. "I'm finding inspiration in the Titania's-bower scene."

"Oh?"

"Mmm," she hummed. "It's a good scene. Maybe I should do that."

I knocked and stuck my head in, just as Oliver said, "You know, you'd make a fine Titania. Majestic."

"Fifteen minutes," I said. Oliver slipped out past me.

"That wasn't what I meant," Ellen said, but I don't think he heard her.

I ran into Anna on my way up to the control booth. I gave her a smile and she caught my eye and sighed.

"How'd it go?" I asked.

"It's humiliating. Half the cast was waiting around when I came out."

"Sure, but they were all on your side."

"Oh, I know," she said. "They gave me high fives. Actors." She'd finally hit the proper note of disgust.

"Actors," I agreed, shaking my head.

"They're just brats!" she exclaimed. "It's like they need a nanny, or a governess or something, just all the time." She sighed again and went off.

As I settled down in the control booth, I suddenly realized: she hadn't said "crazy," last week. What she'd said was, "They're babies."

And she's totally right. I'm never going to be able to get that image out of my head now.

All the more reason, really, why I need to find other work. We made it through opening night, and things went okay. Pretty well, even, whenever Puck wasn't onstage. And even he, in his final speech, managed to sound halfway sincere for a second or two. The whole speech is one long apology, and maybe he'd actually found a decent motivation for once. But my god, Diary, it just isn't worth all the drama. I'm getting out of here, no question. I cannot stand another year with these people.

***