Next in my Daily Book Excerpt:
More from Christopher Durang’s selection of short plays
The following excerpt is from his funny play The Actor’s Nightmare. The actor’s nightmare happens to all of us: we dream that we are suddenly in the middle of a production of Macbeth, and we are playing Lady Macbeth, and there is a packed house out there, only we have had no rehearsals, we don’t know ANY of our lines, and we have no idea what is going on. I’ve had 5,000 of these dreams.
Christopher Durang wrote a play about it.
A guy named George suddenly finds himself having to go on in a play he has never heard of, and even worse: his co-stars are 3 famous stage actors from history: Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Henry Irving. I’ll post the opening of the play, so you can get the jist of it. It’s very funny.
EXCERPT FROM The Actor’s Nightmare, by Christopher Durang:
Scene: Basically an empty stage, maybe with a few set pieces on it or around it. George Spelvin, a young man, wanders in. He looks baffled and uncertain where he is. Enter Meg, the stage manager. In jeans and sweatshirt, perhaps, pleasant, efficient.
GEORGE. Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know how I got in here.
MEG. Oh, thank goodness you’re here. I’ve been calling you.
MEG. An awful thing has happened. Eddie’s been in a car accident, and you’ll have to go on for him.
GEORGE. Good heavens, how awful. Who’s Eddie?
(He looks blank.)
MEG. Edwin. You have to go on for him.
GEORGE. On for him.
MEG. Well, he can’t go on. He’s been in a car accident.
GEORGE. Yes, I understood that part. But what do you mean “go on for him”?
MEG. You play the part. now I know you haven’t had a chance to rehearse it exactly, but presumably you know your lines, and you’ve certainly seen it enough.
GEORGE. I don’t understand. Do I know you?
MEG. George, we really don’t have time for this kind of joshing. Half-hour. (Exits)
GEORGE. My name isn’t George, it’s … well, I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t George.
(Enter Sarah Siddons, a glamourous actress, perhaps in a sweeping cape)
SARAH. My God, did you hear about Eddie?
GEORGE. Yes I did.
SARAH. It’s just too, too awful. Now good luck tonight, George darling, we’re all counting on you. Of coursre, you’re a little too young for the part, and you are shorter than Edwin so we’ll cut all the lines about bumping your head on the ceiling. And don’t forget when I cough three times, that’s your cue to unzip the back of the dress and then I’ll slap you. We changed it from last night. (She starts to exit)
GEORGE. Wait, please. What play are we doing exactly?
GEORGE. What is the play, please?
SARAH. Coward. (looks at him as if he’s crazy) Coward. Noel Coward. (suddenly relaxing) George, don’t do that. For a second, I thought you were serious. Break a leg, darling. (exits)
GEORGE. Coward. I wonder if it’s Private Lives. At least I’ve seen that one. I don’t remember rehearsing it exactly. And am I an actor? I thought I was an accountant. And why does everyone call me George?
(Enter Dame Ellen Terry, younger than Sarah, a bit less grand)
ELLEN. Hello, Stanley. I heard about Edwin. Good luck tonight. We’re counting on you.
GEORGE. Wait. What play are we doing?
ELLEN. Very funny, Stanley.
GEORGE. No really. I’ve forgotten.
ELLEN. By Samuel Beckett. You know, in the garbage cans. You always play these jokes, Stanley, just don’t do it onstage. Well, good luck tonight. I mean, break a leg. Did you hear? Edwin broke both legs. (Exits)
GEORGE. I’ve never heard of Checkmate.
MEG. George, get into costume. We have fifteen minutes. (Exits)
(Enter Henry Irving, age 28-33, also somewhat grand)
HENRY. Good God, I’m late. Hi, Eddie. Oh you’re not Eddie. Who are you?
GEORGE. You’ve never seen me before?
HENRY. Who the devil are you?
GEORGE. I don’t really know. George, I think. Maybe Stanley, but probably George. I think I’m an accountant.
HENRY. Look, no one’s allowed backstage before a performance. So you’ll have to leave, or I’ll be forced to report you to the stage manager.
GEORGE. Oh she knows I’m here already.
HENRY. Oh. Well, if Meg knows you’re here it must be all right I suppose. It’s not my affair. I’m late enough already. (Exits
MEG. (offstage) Ten minutes, everybody. The call is ten minutes.
GEORGE. I better just go home. (Takes off his pants) Oh dear, I didn’t mean to do that.
MEG. George, stop that. Go into the dressing room to change. Really, you keep this up and we’ll bring you up on charges.
GEORGE. But where is the dressing room?
MEG. George, you’re not amusing. It’s that way. And give me those. (takes his pants) I’ll go soak them for you.
GEORGE. Please don’t soak them.
MEG. Don’t tell me my job. Now go get changed. The call is five minutes. (Pushes him off to dressing room; crosses back the other way, calling out:) Five minutes, everyone. Five minutes. Places.
(A curtain closes on the stage. Darkness. Lights come up on the curtain.)