Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

Shakespeare was wrong: the part ‘not the play’ is the important thing

December 9, 2001


When he was in country school, my husband Ray was in a Christmas play.

What grade was he in? Somewhere between third and eighth. What part did he play? He doesn't know. He sang a song with a classmate named Glenn. What song? He can't remember. Men!

I once read that the difference between men and women is that women remember the name of every teacher their children had in elementary school.

I can understand that men might not think that information important to recall, but how I ask you can they be so vague about their own childhood thespian activities?

I remember mine.

Year after year, when the school Christmas pageant was cast, I was a Mary wannabe. Never chosen for that starring role, I would gladly have settled for the part of the angel who announced "tidings of great joy." Unfortunately, my teachers considered me neither Madonna-like nor angelic so I was always relegated to the chorus that provided background music for the play. I still remember singing "'round yon virgin" at the top of my lungs while jealously watching my friend Delores, clad in sky blue robe and veil, kneel in front of the manger holding a doll representing the baby Jesus.

Who could forget a memory like that? Well, Ray apparently can. I'll never know if he had aspirations much less if they were dashed to portray Joseph or a even a shepherd in his school's Christmas play. I'll never know because he can't remember.

I blame my debut acting experience as a first-grader for setting me on a course of nonstardom. The play was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Can you guess which role I wanted? Hint: It wasn't Dopey.

I still have the program from that play, which lists Marsha Lou Henry as a lily. Not THE lily, mind you, but one of several. My friend Margie, who lived in the apartment downstairs, was a rose. If I had to be a flower, I desperately wanted to be a rose because the rose costume was made of yards of ruffled pink crepe paper. My lily costume was crafted of white crepe paper stretched around an uncomfortable frame of bent wire clothes hangers.

What I don't remember about that play but wish I did is that, according to my mother, a young teacher dressed as a fairy came out and waved her magic wand to raise the stage curtain. The curtain, which was caught under a leg of the piano bench on which sat a large lady accompanist, flipped the bench and the lady thereby exposing a broad expanse of satin-covered derriere. After the lady was righted and the audience's laughter had diminished to occasional titters, the fairy entered stage right and evoked further uproar when she ad-libbed, "And now we shall raise the curtain like we did before."

My acting career ended with a speaking role in eighth grade when my drama class presented a play for several other classes. The play was supposed to be a scary drama about a slumber party, not the campy comedy we created. God knows that Mrs. Six, our teacher, tried to keep us on script as we cavorted across the stage in our pajamas (mine were light blue flannel patterned with hard candy pieces). The audience roared with laughter when we brought out the shaving cream. I have no idea what we did with that prop, but I do remember making a hasty trip to a nearby grocery store to purchase it.

My mother missed witnessing my debacle, but I was in attendance for son Greg's equally embarrassing junior high performance as a soldier in a play about the Civil War. Greg's nonspeaking part called for him to be shot in battle and quickly die, but he turned his bit-part into a starring role by refusing to go quietly. It initially surprised me, and the rest of the audience, when his supposed corpse struggled to its feet and staggered around the stage before falling and appearing to once again expire. But, no. He flopped around on the stage, painfully gained his feet, stumbled, fell to his knees and crawled forward, raised his hand in a pitiful plea for succor and died finally in a manner that should have won him an Oscar.

To Shakespeare's observation that "all the world's a stage," I have but one comment: Yeah, right, but not if I'm on it.

Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence. Her e-mail address is

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