Sunday, June 28, 2009

the full significance of a character

It's the second of two acts: World War II era, South Pacific. "Peggy the pin-up" takes the USO stage in a sequined red dress. The sparkle of scarlet in contrast with her platinum wig and the soft spotlight and the quintessential period microphone set the scene. We are the "soldiers," the audience. This song is dedicated by the Marilyn Monroe look-alike to us, to them. She wraps her delicate fingers around the microphone's base and as the piano cues, her sultry lips part to shape the words that I can almost entirely sing along to.

I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places...

She slowly swings her hips into the lounge-like performance, maintaining her persona of deliberate sensuality. Peggy croons through the second verse, the third, and in the fourth she unexpectedly falls out of character. Her bright lips fight against the stage smile that she so diligently attempts to hold against the weight of reality. Stepping back from her microphone, she turns away from the audience. It takes longer than a moment for her to regain composure, long enough that the accompanist glances up from her music, concerned and confused, long enough for those of us in the audience to realize that this is not scripted. Her grief ripples through the dark theatre--contagious. I see the silhouettes of other women subtly wiping tears from their cheeks, just as I stretch the sleeve of my cardigan over the inside of my wrist. Pressing it to my face, trying to stifle my own sadness, I blot at tears more slowly than they fall dripping down the front of my dress. The actress uncoils a couple of times, fans her face in efforts to reestablish the order of necessary existence, and eventually turns again to face us smiling. She finishes the song breathy and with a wink. She finishes not as the Army wife we catch a glimpse of, but as "Peggy Jones", starlet, pin-up, community theatre actress-in-role.

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