Actions

Work Header

Embody the Earth

Work Text:

I sing the body electric.
I glory in the glow of rebirth,
creating my own tomorrow,
when I shall embody the earth.

AUDITIONS
My mother doesn't have a place for me where she lives.

Marsha MacNeil

She loves him. Of course she loves him. She's his mother, and he's her son, her only child, and so of course she loves him. Mothers love their children; it's as simple as that. She may not be the world's best mother but she's far from being a bad mother, and she would know from bad mothers – she's played more than a few on Broadway.

So yes, she loves him, but she doesn't understand him, not really. She never did. She never planned for him. Children were something that she thought about in an abstract, "maybe someday after she won a Tony" kind of way, something she would get around to when she'd accomplished all of the other things on her list. She had plans – big dreams – stage and film, and classic roles, and edgy, breakthrough projects. When she found out she was pregnant during an out-of-town tryout in Chicago, she didn't know quite what to do at first, and when she called Montgomery's father, accusatory and hysterical, he hung up on her. Later, she realized the fight was only the first step in the direction of their breakup – the first real crack in their fragile eggshell of a marriage. But that came later. She thought about an abortion but let passing time make the decision for her, even though Montgomery's father was all in favor.

In fact, she let time make her all decisions for her. She quit the show when it reached New Haven, when she got too big to hide her pregnancy under her costume, and went home to have her baby. Montgomery was born, early, on a hot summer day in July. Labor took thirty-six hours and by the time it was over she was screaming at anyone and everyone to get him out of her, while her husband passed cigars around in the waiting room, playing the part of an expectant father just the way he'd played it two seasons before, in an off-off-off Broadway staging of Joy in the Morning. The play closed after two nights; Montgomery's father managed nine more seasons before he rang down the curtain on their marriage. She didn't really blame him – the reviews hadn't been good for years.

Montgomery, on the other hand, is still going strong after a fourteen year run.

In the beginning Montgomery was a fussy baby. Premature, sickly, thin and pale, he cried at all hours, demanding something, needing something that she could never figure out. He grew into a silent, watchful toddler, so quiet his nannies went from pleasantly surprised at having such a well-behaved charge to slightly concerned that perhaps he was a little "addled," as one of them put it, gently encouraging her to have him seen by a doctor. She said she would consider it, and then changed nannies.

He was an awkward child, full of fancy. His world was her world, and her world was full of adults who like to play. He would wait for her in her dressing room while she was on stage, and she would come back to find him with stars painted on his face, courtesy of make-up, or wearing a crown, or playing with old props like toys. He was always a favorite among the cast, who taught him numbers from the show, dance steps and songs, and bits of staging and dialogue that took on a whole new level of funny when recited so seriously by a five-year old boy. He was everyone's mascot.

He was nine when his father left. The son of a bitch called her to say that he was flying out for an audition in San Francisco but when she got home that evening, she found he'd packed up everything, and taken half of what was in the bank account. She changed the locks and told Montgomery his father wasn't coming back. Montgomery cried for two days, and then stopped talking. For the next six months he communicated only through notes – to her, to the housekeepers, to his teachers. A psychiatrist was suggested, and this time she listened.

Now suddenly he's become a young man that she doesn't really know. Older than his years, at times disturbingly cynical, yet capable of surprising depths of vulnerability. Still thin and pale, with a head of shocking, wild, red hair, he looks so much like his father at times that she gets nostalgic for a marriage that was only ever mediocre at best. He lives in their apartment by himself, in empty rooms that she keeps telling herself she needs to find time to furnish, until she gets another show and gets wrapped up being somebody else again.

She takes good care of him though – sends money regularly for him and his doctor, and postcards from the places where the show is playing. When she comes home – not often, granted, but as often as she can – they spend their days wandering the city, the both of them curious about everything they see and touch and smell. They play in the park, roll in the grass, and he puts his head in her lap and talks to her, tells her everything, before he falls asleep, one arm slung carelessly but firmly across her hips. She combs her fingers through his helter-skelter hair and watches him smile in his sleep.

He's full of dreams, just like she was, like she still is, but he also has a quiet, stubborn streak, determination to match his sense of wonder, and a pragmatic view of life that has carried him through every challenge her life has presented him with. A strength that lets him rise to every challenge.

She'd spend more time with him if she could. Of course she would. She loves him. She's his mother.

 

FIRST YEAR
Never being happy...isn't the same as being unhappy. Is it?

Dr. Golden

Anthony Golden graduated with his medical degree in 1965 from Columbia. He was considering neurology but eventually chose psychiatry, doing a residency at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, which also allowed him to be close to his mother, alone now since his father died in '63. By the time his residency was completed, however, his mother was doing better, settled into a new apartment, so Anthony moved back to New York, to Greenwich Village. There he owns a small apartment with a sunny front room, where he receives his patients. He's built a small but thriving practice and has a tight circle of close friends who like to rib him about his respectable profession – although they don't seem to mind when he picks up the tab at the end of a good evening. He tells himself that he doesn't mind being alone.

He meets Marsha Montgomery at a New Year's Eve party at the Continental Baths. She's in New York for a new staging of Cymbeline, and she's just bought an apartment in Midtown for her and her son, Montgomery. She's concerned about Montgomery she tells him – he seems to be taking his father's desertion harder than she is (and there's evidence of that, if the handsome young man on her arm is any indication). After a brief conversation at the party he tells her to have Montgomery's physician call him, and that he would evaluate the boy. Two or three days later Montgomery's physician calls, and in an unsatisfactory conversation in which it was clear the doctor thought Montgomery was a particularly spoiled child who was just "acting out," he described Montgomery's problem as – with an expected lack of originality – "emotional difficulties." Golden schedules an initial interview and finds the boy bright, curious, and surprisingly articulate after his long silence, grieving the loss of a father who left him without a word and out on his family with only the explanation that their lives were incompatible.

Montgomery becomes one of his favorite patients: talkative, self-deprecating, and uncommonly candid for a young man his age. Over the years they work through a lot of grief and anger, confusion and loss. At ten, Montgomery "falls in love" with his mother's co-star, a kind man who is the usual sort of chiseled jaw hero. The expression of Montgomery's passion – large and enthusiastic and mostly inchoate – is typical for a child his age, even if the object of his crush isn't. Montgomery knows enough to feel awkward, even ashamed, about liking boys instead of girls, but his mother tells him not to worry, that it's just a stage, a passing phase, and that soon enough he will find himself crazy about some little girl, just wait and see. Although Anthony has his doubts, Montgomery is young enough that Anthony sees no immediate reason to contradict her.

At eleven, it's the boy who sits next to Montgomery in math at the private school he attends. At twelve it's the housekeeper's son.

When Montgomery is thirteen he develops a crush on the tutor his mother hired to help him with science. That same year, Anthony meets Jaime, a playwright, at a house party on Fire Island. Jaime is handsome, funny, smart, and single. They stay up talking all night, and Anthony starts seeing him when they get back to the city.

During the next year, Anthony suspects he himself may have become the latest object of Montgomery's sexual attentions, although he doesn't ask and Montgomery doesn't reveal himself. But he does go from being easy and relaxed in Anthony's presence to blushing and jittery, and he asks more questions than ever about what he is feeling, and why, and whether there is something wrong with him. His mother is still firmly entrenched in her belief that Montgomery is just going through a stage, an answer that gives Montgomery less and less comfort. Anthony knows better, and finally tells Montgomery the truth.

When he's fourteen, Montgomery switches from private school to the School for the Performing Acts. He's excited and nervous in the weeks before the audition, going so far as to perform his audition piece for Anthony, who isn't really surprised by his choice. When he gets in, he talks with enthusiasm about his classes and his teachers, although he's slow to make friends. There's just one girl, Doris, although there's a young man that Montgomery talks about more and more. Troubled, from what Anthony can tell, and not particularly nice to Montgomery. Montgomery says this Ralph Garci knows that he's gay, although he doesn't say much more than that. But Anthony recognizes Montgomery's growing attraction and emotional attachment almost from the minute the boy describes him, and when Anthony asks him point blank if he's in love with the Garci boy, Montgomery just nods his head yes.

When Montgomery is fifteen, Anthony asks Jaime to move in with him. Jaime smiles and says yes, and asks him what took him so long.

It's another two years before Anthony finally ends his sessions with Montgomery. His help is more of a crutch these days than a blessing – Montgomery has grown beyond what he can offer right now. But he is proud of the progress that Montgomery has made, and the courage he displays in being who he is, with a minimum of apology. In their seven years of work together, Montgomery has learned that the decisions his parents make don't reflect on how much they love him, that the limits of his mother's love have nothing to do with him, that he will always fall in love with men rather than women, and that there is nothing wrong with that, or him. He hopes, although he cannot be sure, that he has helped Montgomery understand that being gay doesn't have to mean that he cannot be happy.

A lesson he himself has learned from Jaime.

SECOND YEAR
Gay used to mean such a happy kind of a word once.

Zhang "Lee" Li-Hua

Lee hates this exercise. It's her least favorite thing of anything they've done in Mr. Farrell's class, and that includes the time he made her close her eyes and let someone else lead her around the stage. This one is worse though – this one is embarrassing for everyone and what's worse, she doesn't really know what they're supposed to learn from it, so it feels like a stupid waste of time. She thinks if she has to sit through one more day of listening to someone else's painful memories she might actually scream. A big, loud, primal scream. Now that was an exercise she enjoyed.

Of course, maybe she's just frustrated because she knows Mr. Farrell didn't like her story, when he seems to like everyone else's. She thinks he probably thinks that she didn't dig deep enough for something really painful to share. He didn't say that at the time, but he kept asking a lot of questions when she was finished, trying to get her to say more. Not that she did. Mr. Farrell doesn't understand how it is for her, how she is caught between worlds – the one her parents want her to live in, and the one she wants for herself. Mr. Farrell doesn't understand about family obligations, family honor and family shame, which must be avoided at all costs, and a father's pride, which must be preserved with the same kind of care. Mr. Farrell doesn't understand any of these things, and Lee is not going to be the one to explain it to him.

Today is Montgomery's day though, and as much as she hates this whole thing, she is kind of curious about what he's going to say. She doesn't know him very well but she knows his mother is famous, and he's rich, and white, and he went to private schools. She knows everyone has problems, of course, but she can't imagine what kind of sad stories someone like him might tell.

And then he opens his mouth and begins to speak.

Later that day they have a make-up lab. It's just a practice lab and so everyone's just kind of playing around, seeing what they can do with the pancake and grease paint, pencils and lipstick. Ralph Garci starts acting like an idiot, which isn't unusual for Ralph Garci, and he teases Montgomery and Doris, and there's a lot of yelling and screaming and Ralph strutting around dressed up like a drag queen.

In the middle of it all, Lee looks over at Montgomery and catches him looking at the place where Ralph and Doris disappeared behind the costume racks with a weird look on his face, a mix of envy and sadness and resignation. He likes Ralph, she realizes suddenly, likes him like a girl likes a guy, and she's so busy thinking about this that she forgets to look away, and he catches her watching him, and blushes and drops his eyes. She looks away then; she doesn't want to be a witness to his shame.

But she does keep his secret.

 

THIRD YEAR
Is it okay if I call you mine?

Dominique Dupont

Montgomery MacNeil is her best friend. The first real friend she's ever had, the first she's been able to tell everything to, the first one she's been able to share every thought with, even the thoughts that make her feel small and afraid. She doesn't know what she would do without him.

She envies him sometimes though. She knows he misses his mother but she can't imagine anything better than having her own mother someplace else, someplace far away, and having her own apartment to live in. It's not that she doesn't love her mother, you understand. She does. But her mother reminds her of everything she's trying to leave behind – skinny, boring, nondescript Doris Finsecker and her small, predictable life in Brooklyn. She wants to be Dominique, and she wants Broadway and Hollywood, fame and stardom.

Montgomery understands. Although he never seems to worry about whether he's smart or interesting, or what people think of him. Like for example, he never lets Ralph Garci bother him. He never did. Not even first year, when Ralph seemed to live for making fun of the two of them. Montgomery always just shrugged it off, said it wasn't important, said the only thing that mattered was what they thought of themselves, not what Ralph Garci thought of them. And sure enough, he was right, or at least he must have been, because at some point Ralph came around, and decided he liked them, her and Montgomery, just the way they were.

She's in love with Ralph. Someday, after the two of them graduate from SPA and get married, Ralph's going to work comedy clubs and make people laugh, and she's going to act in plays, brilliant plays with brilliant parts, and they're going to be famous and happy and everyone is going to know their names.

She remembers the first time she and Ralph kissed. The memory's a little tarnished, because of what happened to his little sister that night – you just couldn't have something like that happen and not have everything connected with it just a little less wonderful, no matter how special it was. Still – it was wonderful, even with everything that came after. The scene from Marty, the dancing, the way Ralph's arms felt around her and the way the words seemed to say everything they needed to say to each other. Montgomery's dimly lit apartment and the swirling lights.

She has a very dim memory of Montgomery's voice in the background, saying wait, there's a whole speech yet. You're not supposed to kiss yet. Ralph, there's a whole other speech you're supposed to do first. Ralph, you're not supposed to kiss yet.

Ralph, you're not supposed to kiss yet.

That's a dim memory though. Mostly she just remembers the kiss. She remembers that it felt sweet and wonderful and fine.

 

FOURTH YEAR
All anyone ever promised you was seven classes a day and a hot lunch.

Richard

Garci flopped tonight. Not too surprising, as high as the kid was most of the time these days. He'd been sharp and funny in the beginning, but after the first flush of glory he did what a lot of them do – recycle the same material, rely on his charm more than his talent. And the kid had talent. Raw, sure. A bit ragged around the edges. But talent nonetheless. It was a shame to see him failing but if there was one thing he'd learned, it was that they all had to make it or break it on their own. He could open a door for them, get them their first crack at a stage, but they all had to walk through the door alone, and find a way to keep going once they were on the other side.

He heard the argument with the girlfriend. Hell, everyone in the joint heard the argument with the girlfriend, watched her leave in a rage. The friend's still here though, the skinny, queer guy. He's standing in the back, watching Garci tank. Richard respects that – it's one thing to be there when your friends succeed; it's another thing to be willing to stand there and watch them fall flat on their face.

Garci drops the microphone and walks off. Great. Richard picks it up and turns it off, then circulates through the crowd, sending over a free drink here or there where there's the particular stench of ill-will. Most of the audience don't care – or maybe he just doesn't give a damn about the audience. It's a weekday crowd, thin and anemic and middle-class – Richard doesn't think they would have gotten most of the jokes anyway.

Garci has retreated to the dressing room like a bear to its cave but Richard's immune to shattered egos and goes back to check on him – it's late and he wants to lock the place up. He sees that the skinny guy has followed Garci back there. Brave fucker – Garci's got a temper like a switchblade when he's angry: sharp, quick, and lethal, especially when he's hopped up on coke. He can hear the two of them talking, some existential bullshit about talent and success, and he thinks he might have to interrupt because he's a club owner, not a babysitter. Finally the skinny kid gets up though, and they start throwing their shit together to leave. Garci grabs a towel and wipes down his chest and then he turns to the kid and tugs him into an awkward hug. The kid's arms go around him, loose at first, and then tighter, and Garci turns his head, buries his face against the kid's neck as he just hangs on and shudders. The kid strokes his hair, softly at first, like he's afraid Garci's gonna turn on him, then firmer, more like a caress, until suddenly Garci's hands come up and grab the back of the kid's head, and pull him forward into a kiss.

Richard's a little suprised, because he knew the skinny kid was queer but he figured Garci was about a straight as they made them, and yet here he is, going after this kid's mouth like he's starving. The kid's getting into it now, too – there are definitely tongues involved here – and the two of them are moaning as they try to get closer and closer to each other.

He needs to put an end to this before they start fucking. He clears his throat and "accidentally" kicks a chair – smirks as he watches them jump. The queer kid turns red but Garci keeps an arm around him, giving Richard the finger and yelling what the fuck is his problem. You're my problem, Richard tells him. Get your fucking shit together and go home. I gotta lock up.

After all, he's not a fucking babysitter.

 

COMMENCEMENT
I sing the body electric.

Mrs. Herman Seigelman

This is the twenty-third year Seigelman's Cap and Gown has provided gowns for the School of Performing Arts senior graduation. They pretty much have it down to an art by now. Her husband and her son can tell with a glance – most of the time anyway – how big the gown, what size the hat should be. Thirty seconds, give or take, from start to finish – and then it's on to the next one.

Mrs. Seigelman like to size up the students as she makes notes for the billing, decide whether they're an actor or a dancer, or maybe one of the musicians. The young man being measured by Essie is an actor or a musician, Mrs. Seigelman thinks. He's not thin enough to be one of dancers, although – you'll excuse her for saying so – a few more pounds on him couldn't hurt. The hair is making it hard for Essie to get the measuring tape around his head, so that she can get a good fit on the hat. Big hair's not so much a problem these days, but Mrs. Seigelman still remembers the Afros of just a few years ago, and the beehives, before that. Those days you really had to measure.

It's noisy, the way it always is. The boy Essie's working on is smiling shyly, and Essie has to tell him to lift his head again for measuring. When he does, one of the other boys darts past her and kisses the boy she's measuring right on the cheek. Mrs. Seigelman sees the young man flush and duck his chin, but his smile grows just a little bit broader.

She sighs and shakes her head. Just like the Engelmann's boy. Such a waste.

 

GRADUATE SCHOOL (OF LIFE)
He said it was probably a life choice.

Lucy Love

Lucy Love is her real name. She knows most people think she's changed it – and other people think she should – but it's her name and when she gets big, really big, that's the name she wants to see up in lights.

And she wants to see her name in lights – more than anything. She's been dreaming of it ever since she was eight and played the part of an angel in the annual school Christmas pageant. Making her dream happen has been a little harder than she expected – since she graduated from high school she's done a little dinner theatre, a little off-off-Broadway, some improv and some street theatre work, but this show is going to be her big break. She just knows it. She can feel it in her bones. She threw up for three days before the audition, and cried when they called to tell her she got the part.

It's still not Broadway, she knows that, but everyone knows off-Broadway sometimes only means "not-on-Broadway-yet" and this is that kind of show. This show is funny. This show is smart. It's got heart and soul and a killer script, and everyone connected with it is talented and hungry. Everyone is ready to work their asses off for this, and people are going to talk about this show. People – the right people – are going to take notice. And when they do, she's going to be there along with everyone else, riding fame straight to the top.

Montgomery MacNeil's is the director. He wrote the script, too, as a matter of fact. She's heard his name in circles – heard that his stuff was getting noticed by the right people, and that any show he did always made enough money for his investors to get him backing for the next one. He got mentioned in Variety a year ago, as someone to watch. Okay granted – he was just one on a list of fifty, but it was Variety and he did get mentioned by name, which was more than a lot of other people could say.

They're all just getting back from a dinner break – Richie and Sheila and Aaron, and her and Sal. They'll go over notes from this afternoon, and then they'll do Act Two, Scene Three again, which is hers and Aaron's moment to shine. For some reason, though, the two of them can't seem to hit the right note. MacNeil's had them working on it on their own for days. Hopefully he'll like what he sees tonight because she honestly can't think of any other way to play it – scared and full of rage.

MacNeil's sitting at a table on stage when they come in, looking over some set design sketches, and he waves hello and all but jumps on the coffee Sheila brought him, like it was nectar from the gods or something. They all grin – MacNeil's affair with coffee is legendary.

They start settling into their chairs, ready to get started again, when the back door of the theatre crashes open, the door bouncing off the wall as someone comes slamming in. They all jump and turn, and see a guy, excited and grinning and waving around a handful of papers, coming down the aisle.

I got it, the man yells, Montgomery, I got it, I got it, woo-hoo!

MacNeil puts down his coffee and heads down the stairs into the theatre. They meet halfway and MacNeil grins as he gets picked up and spun around.

Meanwhile, the guy's still shouting. I got it, man! I got Caroline's! Motherfucking Caroline's Comedy Club! The Caroline's! Seven shows guaranteed, option for another seven and a spot on the television show, if they love me.

She can't hear MacNeil's answer – his voice is too low – but she sees the guy laugh as he sets MacNeil down and ruffles his hair, and then the guy's smile fades as he cups the side of MacNeil's face, and tilts his head. MacNeil smiles, big and broad, and presses their foreheads together, and Lucy hears him laugh, a laugh that's full and happy and filled with contentment.