Sunday, August 1, 2010

Part 34: Murder In The Cathedral

"So the darkness shall be the light,
and the stillness the dancing.

Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth
As, in a theatre, the lights are extinguished,
for the scene to be changed

With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,

And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama and the bold imposing facade
are all being rolled away"

~ T.S. Eliot

"There is Holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it though armies trample over it,
though sightseers come with guide-books
looking over it"
~ T.S. Eliot

We began pre-production work on Murder in the Cathedral the week after the last performance of After the Fall. While the principals of that play were mainly Juniors and Seniors, the cast of Murder were mostly Sophomores and Freshmen. As with the previous production, Rug went into great detail in giving us the history and background for this play. We learned about the struggle for control of the Church in England between King Henry II and Thomas Beckett. He talked about the similarities for the purpose of the chorus in this play and those used by the ancient Greek playwrights. One of the first things we did was to decorate St. Nicholas Chapel: the maintenance shop made wooden shields and we painted them with Church symbols which were then hung around the sanctuary. Rug ordered iron candle holders, swords, helmets and shields from the metal shops of some of the local mining companies. He designed costumes which were made by Mrs Tabafunda, the school seamstress. The actors who were portraying the acolytes, priests and archbishop took classes on how to respect and wear the real vestments (donated by the Catholic Church) we would be using for the play. Because we would be using the school's chapel as the "stage" for our play, Rug impressed upon us the importance of respecting the sanctuary. This was very difficult with Gordon Strachan who would be portraying the Archbishop of Canterbury; he loved to cuss everytime he forgot a line.

There were a lot of lines to learn, pages of dialogue for us priests and the Christmas sermon was especially long and caused Gordon and Rug much grief.

While all this was going on I still had tons of homework in his English class. We read
Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace. I didn't care for the former, I thought Holden was a whiny idiot. I did like the later and found many similarities between myself and Gene. It was about this time that I had my first fight with Jaime. It was during P.E. class and we were on opposite sides of a volleyball team. The ball kept getting knocked out the open doors of the gym and someone would have to run outside to fetch it back. This delayed the game repeatedly and Jaime was getting frustrated. Then during his serve, the ball bounced off my hands and out the door. As I was coming back into the gym with the ball, Jaime met me at the door.
What did you do that for?
I automatically replied with some off the cuff sarcastic remark never dreaming that it would lead to the following event: time stopped and I saw his fist suspended in front of my eye. I could see the hairs on the back of his hand and the pores of his skin with microscopic clarity. Even as I comprehended what was about to happen, I couldn't help but marvel at this amazing spectacle.
Jaime walked off and I went and sat on the bleachers, hand over my blackened eye. A member of the other team came over, Bill Amedee. He was a big, tall senior.
Are you OK?
At his words, my shoulders began to shake, shamed and embarrassed as I was I couldn't stop the tears from running down my cheeks. It didn't really hurt, but I was shocked and stunned, the betrayal shook me to my core. I couldn't say anything but nod my head. He came over and put his hand on my shoulder.
I'm sorry.
I wondered then and still wonder to this day why he apologized, he didn't hit me. But it did make me feel better.

That night I sat with Peg Hamil and the Duncan sisters at their table instead of my table with Jaime. After supper, Peg said to me
Do you want to spend the night?
I must have got a funny look on my face because for the second time that day I got hit in the head.
Don't you have a boyfriend? I asked and jumped out of the way of what would have been my third punch of the day.
Just because a girl asks you to spend the night doesn't mean sex!

And so began the many lessons I learned about women from Peg Hamil. I snuck out of the dorm that night and was met at the back door of Hamilton Hall by Renee Case who lead me up the stairs to Peg's room. There Kathy and her sister Beth had already gathered, clad in pajamas, bearing chips, popcorn and soft drinks. We played cards till the wee hours of the night, then arranging the mattresses on the floor we snuggled up together and went to sleep, Peg's comforting arm across my shoulders. It was then I realized that all I ever wanted was someone to love me.

Jaime didn't stay mad at me too long, which was good because I saw him everyday at rehearsals. The number of rehearsals continued to increase weekly as we approached opening night, and it wasn't just the students; Rug and Mr. Pettitt were practicing the Gregorian chants they would be doing during the play. We only had one rehearsal with the horses and they were skittish and Gordon was cussing up a storm:
You're stepping on my F___ING Robe!; Rug looked worried.

The play began at dusk Friday evening, the audience gathered outside the chapel behind ropes as the Chapel bells announced the beginning of the play. The Chorus came down the steps from Ogilby Hall, telling the back story of the dispute between King Henry and Thomas Beckett. Then the three priests came out and filled in the gaps. A messenger arrives announcing the arrival of the Archbishop and then up the hill from Richardson Hall comes Gordon on horseback. We all held our breath, but other than a muttered
"Stupid Horse" he stuck to the script. He made it off the horse with out incident and we entered the chapel. The Chorus escorted the audience into the chapel, the acolytes lit the candles and the sun set. The rest of play was performed by candle light. The Christmas sermon stands out vividly in my mind, the billows of spicy sweet incense as we went up and down the aisles. Then the tempters/knights arrive and the Archbishop is murdered. The second night went even smoother, as it should have, it was my birthday; I was 15.

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