“Fifteen minutes to curtain!”
Anne looked at herself in the mirror. What she saw was a thin, white (ghoulish is the word for it, she thought) face decorated with silvery lines and wisps that looked like leftover Halloween decorations (which is what they are, she observed). Her hair stood out in blue spikes around her (terminally ill looking, she added) face. A long-legged spider was poised on the tuft overhanging her black-rimmed left eye, spots of red and white in the corner nearest her nose.
Her dresser was draping long swathes of spider-filled webs over her wings.
She would never do this again.
Why had she let Megan talk her into auditioning? She was a computer science major, for god’s sake. A geek. Happiest glued to a chair peering into the brightly artificial colors of a screen. Virtual was her life; and although she was willing to admit that theater had its virtual side, it was still too real. (Or maybe it was too unreal, she backtracked, with its painted flats and the intricate lashings of ropes that kept them in place; the heavy black curtains; rows of glaring blue, red and green lights, and the crowded, close backstage: dress rehearsals had been a shock.)
Megan, though, had been indefatigable: “You’re perfect!” she had intoned, “you’re so … so petite.” The directors had thought so too. They had passed over the beautiful, robustly tall, drama major Megan and chosen the pale, scrawny Anne with the bad haircut to be one of Queen Titania’s entourage.
Worse, they had given her a speaking role.
Megan had been over the moon about that. “It’s only five words,” Anne pointed out. “Even so…,” said Megan, sparkling. (How does she do that? thought Anne, and Why didn’t they give her this role? The answer, she had to admit when looking in the mirror, was self-evident. She just didn’t look … human.)
An ethereal flute began to play over the dressing room speaker, and after a few bars was joined by harp and celesta. The overture. It had begun. Anne’s stomach lurched. She was going to be ill.
“Stand up!” hissed the dresser, whose name was Dolly. Why, wondered Anne, out of all the really nice, motherly dressers had she drawn the lone martinet? “Turn around. Slowly.” Dolly pulled on one side of Anne’s raggy shift, which was embarrassingly sheer, and readjusted the iridescent wings that drooped from her shoulder blades. Then she had moved on to TJ, the plump little African girl who sat next to Anne at the bank of dressing tables.
Like a voice from the grave, Hippolyta’s voice came over the speaker:
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven …
Anne had thought it would be simple. She was in only one scene, and five words was nothing; except for her name, Cobweb, all she had to do was repeat what Mike had said instants before. But, somehow, Titania’s four attendants had attracted the director’s attention. Every time Titania appeared, they appeared. More scenes were added that had nothing to do with any of them. She had read the script, and nowhere did it say that she was to stand near the upstage right tree observing Lysander and Hermia quarrel. Or that she crouch at the edge of the stage watching the mechanicals’ comic play. Weren’t there rules against messing with Shakespeare?
And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie …
“Come on,” said Dolly, pushing Anne, Jenny, Mike and Marie into a line where she could better inspect them.
On the street the four of them looked like the everyday oddities of humanity, but here under the glare of the dressing room lights, amid the clutter of makeup, costumes and tote bags, they were shockingly strange. The other members of the fairy entourage were dancers, uniform in height, weight, beauty, and costume, but tall, emaciated Mike was chloritic, swathed in diaphanous green and orange trousers, and diminutive, red-headed Marie was in a saffron shift, amber beads framing her yellow face. Jenny’s large trailing wings with plate-sized moth eyes shimmered over her fawn-colored shift. Twee, thought Anne. We’re twee.
In a gesture of theatrical overkill, Dolly sprinkled silver glitter over Anne’s head and shoulders. Then, green for Mike, gold for Jenny, red for Marie.
Titania’s entourage trouped from the room.
And Phibbus’ car
Shall shine from far
And make and mar
The foolish Fates.
Then one evening the director asked her if she could sing. “Sing?” she had gasped. Yes, he wanted them to sing their “Hails” and “I dos” in harmony, like a doowop quartet building a chord. It didn’t matter, he said, if they were not perfectly in tune. And so she had learned to sing those five words, rehearsing the notes over and over. Each night as she went to sleep, Anne listened Mike’s tape of four notes, chiming in on hers.
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I’ll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
“Here we go,” muttered Marie, in the cramped black hole of backstage, and they each grabbed onto a trailing corner of the gauzy confection that was Titania’s costume.
As she emerged onto the stage, Cobweb felt the rough wood of the floor change beneath her bare feet: green cushioning moss stretched out before her, spreading thickly across the landscape and merging into grasses that seemed to roll out for miles toward a lavender haze of hills and horizon. Here, at forest’s edge, the smell of dark oaks and fir drifted on zephyrs, ferns grew like sentries, an animal scurried into darkness. The sky was slowly changing into night, the last of the sun like a distant orange smear. And in the mauve grayness the midsummer moon hung like an ancient blind eye, turned luminous and uncomprehending on the small figures below as they made their decorous and delicate way into the depths of the forest.