This was a variation on a dream I've had before.
The last time I had this dream, I didn't know Jeff, so he was not a central figure as he was in this version. Now I will try to tell the dream in excruciating detail. Click on, dear reader.
We were visiting people in New York (I think) and it was close to time to go home. Jeff told me excitedly that he had met someone who needed an actress to play Gertrude for one night of a performance of Hamlet. He had volunteered me. I protested that I couldn't possibly, but then decided that I had enough time to learn the lines for the first act, and then, between my scenes, commit my other lines to temporary memory. I'd carry it off with great acting! Gertrude! Hamlet!
Then we started doing other things, and I kept thinking I had time to study the script, and suddenly it was almost time to leave for the theater, and I didn't know a single line! I took a shower and didn't even have time to dry my hair. We went to the theater, and had a hard time figuring out which door led to the dressing rooms. Jeff and I parted, and he stayed in the seating area while I went backstage.
The dressing room was a strange, long, dormitory-like space. It reminded me of my cabins at Camp Mystic. There were rows of beds heaped with unmade linens, cosmetics, stuffed animals, etc. The other actresses, all of them younger than me and quite lovely, in various stages of readiness and dress, greeted me warmly. I was relieved--I had been afraid they would be snooty. But I was rushed for time, and I got dressed in my simple costume, and raced out to find the stage manager and ask what to do.
The stage manager was sitting in a tangle of wooden scenery supports and boards, a nice woman with close-cropped grey hair and a clipboard. I discovered that SHE was Gertrude all the other nights, and I asked her wouldn't she like to take over the role she knew so well? She looked pleadingly at me and said this was the only night she would get a chance to be stage manager, and it had always been her dream, so, no, she wanted me to do it. I looked up and saw Jeff in the lighting booth, waving at me encouragingly.
Ok, I said to the stage manager. Do I have marks? She pointed them out. I went out onto stage and, while examining the code of different-colored strips of masking and electrical tape, I realized that there were small, program-sized scripts placed, pages open, at strategic spots on the set! Yes! I could read my lines from them!
I went back to take my place next to the stage manager and await my entrance. She told me I had to sit and rock myself on ths little slanted round piece of wood, rather like a balance board, until my cue to enter. While I lowered myself to this ridiculous little piece of wood on the ground, I noticed HER little script sticking from her bag of gear. I asked her nonchalantly if she could give me a copy of the script to look at between scenes, you know, just to stay sharp. She shook her head and smiled indulgently. The director didn't allow scripts backstage, she explained. He wanted his actors to be disciplined and take enough pride in their work to prepare.
Fine! I would just steal her script when she wasn't looking. I took advantage of her temporary absence to snatch the script from her bag and flip through it. IT WASN'T A SCRIPT. The reason the scripts onstage had all been program-sized was because they were PROGRAMS. For some reason the first few pages of lines had been reproduced in the program, and that was it. God knows why there were programs taped all over the set, but they weren't scripts. I. didn't. know. my. lines. It was too late to get out.
Very well. I was fairly familiar with the role of Gertrude. I knew she was Hamlet's mother, she had conspired with her current husband to murder Hamlet's father, and she had a relationship of some psychological complexity with her son. I'd improvise what I could remember of her lines. In a state of shock, I sat on my strange little slant of wood and dutifully rocked myself back and forth as the other actors, about eight of them, came in making nonsense crowd noise ("rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb? rhubarb! rhubarb") and waited for the stage manager to give me the nod to enter. Which she did. I took one last desperate look at the one page of lines, struggled up off my rocking board, and sailed onto stage. To my puzzlement, I immediately adopted the accent of Jane Hathaway from the Beverly Hillbillies.
Clara! Come, take that baby. (much cooing and gurgling from me about precious tot as young Clara takes him from some other young chick, the baby's mother)
Oh, Martha, blah blah blah blah blah.
[This was not the actual line, but it might as well have been. I had no idea who the fuck "Martha" was. I didn't remember a Martha or, for that matter, a Clara in Hamlet. This improvisation was going to prove a bit harder than I thought.]
(Gertrude moves to front of stage)
Everyone, sit down. It's time for the feast.
[Everyone somewhat resentfully obliges. So far so good, I'm perfectly on line. We all sit at an imaginary roundish table, very like the one that currently sits in my living room. Now the dialogue shifts to other characters, so I pantomime serving myself from the imaginary dishes that are being passed around the imaginary table. I decide it will inject humor into the scenario if I pretend to serve myself huge spoonful after huge spoonful of mashed potatoes. So intent am I upon a very convincing series of motions, including shaking my spoon to get the pretend mashed potatoes to fall onto my pretend plate, that at first I do not notice the awkward silence that has fallen across the pretend table.]
(looking up) Oh.
[This is where I started to depart from the script.]
All right, so now I had no idea what to say. We had moved past the few pitiful pages of lines that I had seen, and it was obviously my turn to speak. I said something conversational about how nice someone was looking and returned to my mashed potatoes. Although I kept my gaze stubbornly on my plate, I was aware of the narrowing of eyes all about me.
Somehow the other actors picked up the thread of dialogue, and I finally relinquished control of the imaginary mashed potatoes. I interjected innocuous remarks now and then which were met with slight pauses and then completely ignored.
Until I again became aware of a tension. The girl to my right was signaling me with her eyes -- cutting them over and over to a spot somewhere behind my left shoulder. Finally I realized that someone I could not see had come into the room, and it was my line that was supposed to acknowledge this. Instead of turning to greet the guest, I sat where I was and called out loudly, "COME IN!"
Well, there'd been no knock or anything. The guy was already clearly in the room, just standing there behind me, waiting for an apparently more significant line. I had hoped that another actor would step into the breach and cover for me, but no such thing happened. My line must have been irreproducible. I sensed rage and scorn beginning to seethe in my thespian compadres. Whatever I was supposed to say was so important that the action obviously could not proceed UNLESS I SAID IT.
I woke up. I'm joking about it now, but I had such a sick feeling, this horribly familiar sense of not just screwing up, but screwing up because I was LAZY and THOUGHTLESS. I had to breathe and tell myself that it hadn't really happened. I'd been in many plays in my yout' and I'd never forgotten my lines. But that's not what the dream was about, of course. It was about not living up to my potential, getting by on what I think is the least I can do until life catches up with me and I realize it isn't enough.
Ok, so now it's time to go to work.
No, actually, now that I think about it, it was pretty funny.
And the really amazing thing about that dream, of which I recounted maybe...one-fourth, is that the whole thing took place between 5:00am, when my alarm went off and I hit snooze, and 5:19am, when I woke up in a sweat!