This Pill, Broken For You

I'm reading The New Yorker today and in a theatre review see the name of an actor I once knew. This happens here and there for those of us in the business: You're at the movies, a face appears onscreen, and either you yell out the actor's name right then in your surprise, or else a vague feeling of intimacy sweeps over you, ultimately giving way to the memory of communicating this guy's five-minute pre-show call in the shower. Stage managers spend a lot of time with undressed actors.

Throughout the 1990s, I worked in Pittsburgh theaters. For one particular festival, performers were brought in, sometimes with their own stage managers, and this was the case with the actor whose name came up today. With the other shows I'd usually call cues from the booth, but D's stage manager insisted that he sit up there, and that I wasn't really needed.

Then he ran up and down the aisles swinging a thurible of incense while chanting. I opted to sit offstage and keep quiet but available.

D had arrived in town wearing a neck brace and requiring extra care after a minor car accident, but he was performing well. He was funny. He filled his one man show with characters he could play with comic soul and depth, and I sat absorbed off left until the moment when he walked toward me--not entirely odd--and kept walking.

I froze. This was one of the main professional theaters in town, not some little back alley joint, and an actor doesn't leave the stage of his one person show. I'm not to be needed. The incense was intended to prevent moments like these.


I may have asked some clarifying questions in my horror. GREEN?


Then he calmly walked into the lights.

I dashed backstage, ran through the green room, burst into the dressing room. The green pill was there, as promised, but it was small. Cut it in half? How? I tried. It was crumbling.

If a little green pill is worth walking offtstage for, every bit of powder counts, I figured. I can't keep sawing.

So I used my teeth.

I stretched my lips out of the way and bit down. Then I stood offstage with the moist remains cupped in my hand.

D finished a character and headed toward me again. I raised my hands to him with all the solemnity of a Catholic priest. He took the pill, this shadowed figure backlit by the stage, his face in my hands. And then the show did go on, as it always finds a way to do.

Later that night, I would learn that D's neck pain hit him midshow, and he was grateful for my efforts. His stage manager thanked me for going against his wishes.

Eighteen years later, I think to myself that there's no way half a homeopathic pill kicked in before the end of the show, and that the effects were purely psychological. Also, that someone who would walk offtstage for half a pill midshow, and who was convinced it saved him, would have been horrified had he known that someone's saliva was involved.

But what he didn't know couldn't hurt him. Helped him, in fact.

I give full credit to the incense.


  1. ahah, great moment, vividly told, thanks.

  2. It sure was vivid at the time...oh, how I miss the drama of working with actors!


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