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Germany was good for Darren. The theater community was innovative, invigorating, alive -- he was reminded of why he'd been drawn to the stage in the first place. Amazing. Yet all it took was Anna's voice on the phone, wondering about his availability in the wake of another New Burbage Festival directorial emergency, and he'd hopped the earliest transoceanic flight he could manage.

Geoffrey didn't quite apologize -- possibly he was pathologically incapable of apologizing -- but the begrudging official welcome was satisfying nonetheless. As a bonus, he'd managed to make Geoffrey twitch with the suggestion that he'd embraced increasingly avant garde theater since Hamlet. Stuttgart puppet commune, indeed. With a spring in his step, he went looking for Anna. Sweet, capable, condescending Anna. Though nothing had been directly said, he knew there was an understanding between them, built over coffee breaks and the occasional communal lunch during first his Titus and then more recently (and briefly) Hamlet. She was utterly charming, accidentally cutting in her honesty -- and she understood him better than most.

And there she stood, surrounded by a gaggle of gangly teenagers, a regal swan among geese. "Anna," he greeted warmly, arms spread wide, wondering if he could claim a 'Continental' kiss or if it'd seem too forward.

"How did you--? Never mind, don't answer that." Darren blinked, but before he could scrape together a response, two of the teenagers shrugged, one then the other. "Go, sit, touch nothing," she ordered, and they shuffled off. Anna sighed, massaged her temple, and then seemed to notice him for the first time. "Darren. Sorry, I've got--" She waved vaguely at the remaining teens.

He let his arms drop and raised an eyebrow. "High school tour?"

Everyone, including Anna, scowled at him. "College interns."

"Ah," he said.

"Sorry," she repeated, clearly insincerely, and took off, goslings in tow. Darren stared after her. What a fool he'd been. He had, after all, been gone the better part of a year. No matter what footing he'd left on, he could hardly... well. No matter. He had the play.

He had Romeo and fucking Juliet.

Fuck his life.

***

Darren bullshit his way through the initial rehearsal in much the same way he'd bullshit his way through several classes at university, letting his mouth deliver meaningless mash-ups of theories of semiotics and gender paradigms in the Renaissance on autopilot while he mentally scrapped his original plans for the staging and direction of Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet was not, after all, a love story. It was a vehicle through which one could critique the idea of the tragic love story. This troupe would not engage in the glorification of young love, all too common when undertaking this particular play even though the lovers were more foolish than tragic. How much better to make the audience think and question rather than uncritically sympathize. It would be difficult, given that Romeo and Juliet was one of the better known plays, so each performance would be a constant struggle against audience expectation. Perhaps he could whip up something with bars, wire, cages -- a visual metaphor to keep the audience at a critical distance. Was there a way to tie the cages into the tyranny of the supposed gender binary? Possibly.

By the time the actors had been released, he was off and running.

***

In retrospect, he may have been a bit hard on his Juliet after he realized that Anna was dating that twit Lionel Train.

***

The photograph was a clear attempt at manipulation. It was beneath Geoffrey. The crying jag had been impressively unsettling, though.

But, obvious though the manipulation was, the photo did remind him of when theater had been more fun. He remembered Godspell, yes, but also the excited energy he'd felt when stepped off the plane mere weeks ago. He looked at the flat, grey scene before him and the actors who continued to fight him every step of the way, trying to infuse life into this dead play despite his every direction and -- fuck it. Forget critical statements, forget the layered messages, forget the hours of deliberately flat rehearsals, and most of all, forget his wounded heart (or perhaps pride).

Let the kids have fun.

***

Anna slammed a stack of files down on her desk neatly but emphatically enough to cause a rubber band to snap and fly off. She watched as it struck Darren in the chest, forming an "oh" with her mouth.

Darren held his hands up, attempting to forestall unnecessary apologies. "I surrender."

"Sorry," she said anyway. "It's... well, it's been a long day."

He nodded, caught sight of a new ink stain on the counter, that might as well read 'the interns were here.' But the interns were not behind this particular long day. Train had left New Burbage this morning after accepting an offer for an off Broadway run of his workshop script. And Darren knew enough of both Anna's personal history (as her friend, apparently) and Train's so-called process to guess that it most likely wasn't the departure itself that bothered her.

He rubbed at the mark and in his best off-hand voice offered, "The proverbial 'they' say that living well is the best revenge." He paused and leaned closer over the counter as though imparting a confidence. "But I've found that watching someone deserving fail utterly has its charms, too. You do know he's going to fail, don't you?"

Anna looked uncertain but willing to be convinced.

"The man's a hack. The only character with any real interest is Annette, and he doesn't even realize it. He'll rewrite her and rewrite her, wiping out every interesting quirk and edge in trying to universalize her, until the role is as hollow as he is." He pushed away from the counter.

"Darren?" He turned back. "Thank you."

Darren smiled and headed towards the stage. Romeo and Juliet would soon be closing, and he'd be looking for his next production. Too bad. He'd have liked to stick around and see if a more direct approach might yield better results -- if only Geoffrey weren't so impossible to work with.