Merely to vex me, you arrive a half hour late for our first costume fitting. Alison, the fucking hairdresser, has already dropped any pretense of cleaning her instruments and now sits by the window that doesn't open, reading a magazine. I move a little closer and try to read over her shoulder.
And then of course you walk in. You're rumpled, ubiquitously, in one of your mothridden sweaters you think give you that sexy, unfinished air. This one is grey, with unravelling holes around the collar, drab as ever. You're a duckling down here on the workshop stage, but someday you will play the Swan.
"You're late," I snap. "You could have fucking phoned."
You shrug. "You're still here," you say. You are of course correct on that account.
"Sit down and shut up," I say. I clap my hands. "Alison! Sherry -- Cheryl is it?"
Alison scurries over, and Cheryl, the seamstress, comes out with the clutch of designs I've labored over for months.
"Pancake!" I clap, and someone gives me a compact and I start smearing pancake across your wicked, smug face. I need to see you as a costume element. You blink.
"Aren't we going to, I don't know, talk about the play, perhaps?" You ask, with that superior air.
"Context first!" I shout. "Then content, the fucking content exists within the context, the fanfare, the show!" You have clearly learned nothing since we dug out Brecht on Brecht for our thesis production. "Even poetry can be art if you dress it up enough."
You tip your head down and your eyelashes cast long, delicate shadows on the tops of your cheeks. "And you live in a world where pancake makeup counts as context," you say, daring to giggle at me. I tip your chin back up and slap the sponge across your face.
"Sherry, cheri," I say, flinging my scarf over my shoulder. "The patterns, please?"
The lovely girl comes over and hands you the packet of sketches, and I see your eyebrows raise as you begin to thumb through them.
"I gotta admit," you say, almost sincerely, studying the images. "I really thought a one-man Shrew was an absurd undertaking. I mean, really, bat-shit off the wall insane. That and the fact that I hate you so profoundly make me wonder, now, why I took this role at all."
"Then perhaps you've lost perspective," I say, thinking of you back at school: profligately reckless. "Risks must be taken if the theater is to continue to writhe toward enlightenment," I remind you. "We didn't choose this profession for its complacency, you and me."
"I didn't see your Ionesco," you say.
"I didn't invite you," I say. "So, in that case, thank you."
You close your eyes and let me powder your brow. When you blink open there are flecks of pale dust in your lashes.
I lean in close to your ear and whisper, "I'm going to direct the fuck out of you."
Don't forget it was me they brought here, for my own workshop. After experiencing my Rhinoceros at UNB, Oliver Welles, the artistic director of New Burbage, called me on my own fucking personal telephone to tell me he was awed by my bold strokes of genius and dramaturgical daring. And that was just a bunch of students in headgear, saved from mediocrity. By me.
So don't forget that I brought you here for the very first time. I told Oliver, that pretentious poofter, that there was only one actor I'd consider for a one-man Shrew, no matter how much he might beg me to use someone from within the classical company. Your agent must have passed a gall stone when I called. Three years of commercial auditions, Geoffrey? You make me sad.
Enter: the mule. Her name is Hermione and she reeks to high heaven. I adore her. This is why I came to New Burbage, right here, the sheer indulgence of a fucking mule on stage.
I am not a bit surprised when you hate the mule.
"Who's she, now?" you ask, circling her and wincing. "Katerina, I suppose."
I chuckle. "You're still my wild Kate," I say. "Now and so it shall be. Hermione here is to provide counterpoint."
"Of course," you say. "Counterpoint."
But when I get you on stage as the smarmy Hortensio dressed as the tutor, wooing the entirety of the Batista household, and I see the fucking mule in a ruffled shawl -- Bianca, literally crapping all over the stage while you pontificate -- I realize the whole fucking thing is drab. Drab drab drab and here I am, with you, and I have literally pancaked the life from your face.
After rehearsal you shower and we meet in the costume room again.
"I like Kate," you say, startling me. "The rest of this thing might be shit, and I'm fairly certain it is, but I absolutely love her. And I suppose it's true I might never have had the chance to play this part. Outside of, you know, the Globe. So, thank you."
I blink. "Yes, well, be that as it may," I say. I'm not comfortable when you praise me; you always have a vicious motive. "I will take that as a harbinger of good things to come. But first! I see... feathers."
You hang your head, your drab sweater stretched over your fingers. You are a fluke of talent, the kind of actor that comes along once in the lifetime of a director, and if I can't bring you out, someone else will. And I won't stand for it.
"Feathers?" Your eyes widen.
"I'm going to dress you up," I say, and I can see it already, petticoats and fire and a peacock-tail cape, a thousand quick changes under a rainbow of gels. Heels! Neon! I can see the life in your costume, in your flushed cheeks. "It's my fucking Shrew," I say. "You're chorus!"
You sputter. "I've already got four costume changes per scene! The stage manager hates you!"
"And I am going to make you a sensation," I say, because I am. Because if I never do anything else (impossible, and yet the thought that I might turn out to be a hack haunts me daily) -- if I never do anything else, I will have directed Geoffrey Tennant in a legendary interpretation of the Shrew, before any one else was wise enough to snap you up. I will have discovered you.
So I shove you back into the swiveling chair and run my fingers through your still-damp mop of hair, and squint, looking for inspiration. "It has to be something bold," I say.
"A live ocelot on my head, maybe?" You sigh.
I am behind you. You can't see me smile. I vow to return to my sketchbooks and I send you home, back to the crackerbox apartment they put you in up here. You have an apartment in Toronto, too, though I've never seen it. We don't talk much, out in the world. I think maybe we're just a couple of incredible bastards. I stumble to my hotel room, thinking about Katerina's graceful fits, and how to design seventy-five more costumes for Katerina and Petruchio apiece.
Katerina's gown has a high constructed neck, built from satin on a wire frame that arches high over your head. You argue with yourself, framed in a fucking scarlet halo. I am rapt.
Petruchio, in straight-cut military trousers banded with gold, rants about his dainty Kate, mocking and pleading. As Petruchio you say, "Myself am moved to woo thee for my wife!" and lick your teeth.
And then it's Kate, your face, your entire electrified body taking her shape to holler: "Moved? In good time let him that moved you thither remove thee hence! I knew at the first you were a moveable."
I designed the gown's sleeves to showcase your arms, and the linen wraps around your biceps and then flares at the elbow, draping over your fingertips. You shove the sleeves up and stand tall.
"Why, what's a moveable?" you grunt, in Petruchio's voice. You turn and stare back, all of Kate's sharp, beautiful wit across your face. "A join'd-stool!" Katerina spits. I slide down a little lower in my seat and shield my eyes, though the light in here is fine. You shine.
The bodice for Petruchio's garment is some expertly worked tin, painted a dull steel with armored rivets. You puff out your chest. "Though hast hit it!" You smack your thigh. "Come sit on me!" The mule whinnies.
I swallow. "Yes," I say, out loud. I scribble hastily in my notebook so you don't see my face, but Katerina isn't interested in me one bit.
"Asses are meant to bear," she hisses, seductively, at the mule. And then to me, to the fucking firmament, "And so are you!"
Petruchio leans easily on Hermione's back and replies, "Women are meant to bear. And so are you."
Fuck it, I believe him.
"Oh, Bravo!" I shout, coming to my feet.
You scowl. "I look like a fucking idiot," you say. You come downstage and sit, letting your legs dangle, and you tip your head down so you're a weeping figure under the giant collar. But when you look at me, you look scared. "You're very probably going to ruin my career before it starts," you say. "Darren fucking Nichols. I should have known it too, really, and that's my own fault." You shake your head, and me, I die a little inside.
I inhale through my nose, drawing my pinched fingers down my chest, hold the breath, and exhale plosively in your face. "You know nothing of good theater."
I turn away from you, sweeping my scarf behind me to assure you it is nothing but a confident exit, and nearly breaking my nose on the balding skull of Oliver Welles.
He looks at me. "This is your concept?"
"My brainchild, yes," I say. "A Shrew for a new millennium, I like to think."
He brushes past me.
"You're an idiot," Welles says to Geoffrey. I sink into an aisle seat and kick my feet up.
"This, I am fucking wetting myself to hear," I say, and you ignore me.
"This production is ridiculous," Welles goes on. "I mean, honestly? A mule?"
"She provides counterpoint!" I remind them. You hold your miserable head.
But then Welles stops, and sits on the edge of the stage beside you, and looks at me, me, for the fleetest of fleeting moments, and then stares into your angular, gorgeous face. For a moment I swear he's going to cradle your fucking cheek, but he doesn't. My own hand drops to my lap.
"The theater is an empty box," Oliver Welles says. "And it is our task to fill it with fury, and ecstasy. And with revolution."
I like to think he nods at me there. His eyes are entirely fixed on yours.
"I've seen over a dozen stagings of this play," he says, absolutely fucking reverential. "And yet you managed to bring out hidden depths in Petruchio, in Kate. You took chances I've never seen taken before."
"Thank you!" I say. "Finally."
Welles snorts. "Not you, you ongepatchket lunatic."
And you look up, and the lights hit you, your cheekbones and your strong shoulders and your armored dress, and you are transcendent. "Thank you, I guess," you say.
Welles stands up and heads toward one of the upstage exits. And of course he turns to you, one last time, before he leaves. "There is greatness in you," he says.
After he goes, you hop down from the stage, climb a few rows and take the seat across the aisle from me. "So," you say.
"You heard the man," I say. "The show is ridiculous and he insulted me in Yiddish. I am verklempt!"
"Shut up," you say. "And just listen."
You cough. "Thank you," you say. "For this play, I mean."
I clap a hand to my chest. "Well isn't that a fucking blessing," I say.
You get up to go. "Fine."
I follow you, and you take long strides toward your dressing room. "Geoffrey," I say. "Please."
You stop in the corridor. You look at me. "What?"
And I must get you out of that ridiculous headdress at once, so I reach up and start undoing the pins and you squirm under my touch and finally push me away. "I can do it," you say. So naturally I go for the chestpiece, and you can't stop me.
We peel you down, careful with each delicately pinned element, and we hang the entire costume on the rolling rack.
"I meant it," you say. "I could never have done this without you."
How sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful actor's arrogance! "Of course not!" I remind him. "This is my show, my vision."
"Your mule," you say, and I remember I must speak to Nehun.
You actually take my shoulder, you fucking beast, and you smell like greasepaint and manure. "You. Brought something out in me," you say. "Something I'm not sure I would have found without you."
"Oh, fuck you." I toss my scarf over my shoulder.
"Fuck yourself," you say. "I feel something, and I'm not sure what it is, but I think you're part of it, and I shouldn't think you'd have such a hard time with a simple 'thank you!'"
"Fine," I snuffle. "You're quite welcome."
Your face is flushed, and your mouth is frowning thoughtfully and your absurdly clear blue eyes are fixed on mine. "We can do this," you say, slowly.
And you come in closer, and all of a sudden you've got my fucking cheek in your hand and your cock is hard through your fucking boxers, for Christ's sake, and I am utterly fucking speechless.
"No," you say. "I mean this." Your other hand goes wide, and then comes back to rest on my arm. "Fucking New Burbage. Fucking Shakespeare!" You hiss, excited, repeating it over and over -- "fucking Shakespeare, Darren, here" -- until I kiss your fucking wet, pink mouth to shut you up.
"For I am he born to tame you, Kate," I murmur, driving my hands up into your hair, stumbling under your groping hands. "And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate conformable as other household Kates." You tear off my jacket and nearly strangle me untangling the scarf.
"Stop talking," you say, pressing me into the wall, reaching out, grabbing my ass and pulling yourself in even closer.
No one will remember, Geoffrey, that I was the one who discovered you. You'll be Oliver's boy, you'll scroll out a litany of Romeos and Stanley Kowalskis and Willie Lomans, and I'm sure I'll be scrabbling about in some rathole of a theater resurrecting Brecht on Brecht for the thousandth time. But you, you remember, you better fucking remember because it will be all I have to show for myself, that it was I, Darren Nichols, who allowed you to play the Swan.
Deal with that.