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The final curtain falls

I can't put my finger on it. Something's different.... What is it? Ah! I know! Time on my hands! Specifically, an evening at home. I'd forgotten....

A month ago, when "The Odd Couple (Female Version)" at The Players was six-sevenths through its performances (with me in the wings, prompting), I asked the two main characters if they were sad or glad it was almost finished. One said sad. The other, glad. "I can't wait," she said, "to get back to a normal existence. Do all the things that have had to hang fire."

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Dramatics rather take your life over. They eat up vast chunks of time. I have probably done more waiting around during rehearsals, and backstage during performances, over the past six months than most people in Glasgow have done at bus stops during the same period. Yet - like film extras - the small-parters have to be there for almost as much time as the main-parters.

And I was not the only one in "Not About Nightingales" with a small part. Sailor Jack's mother and Sailor Jack himself, for instance. And Ollie. He commits suicide and then has the rest of the evening pretty much to himself. So we have spent a whole week acting our hearts out for a few minutes and then sitting around for hours. And this induces its own minor kind of solidarity.

Toward the end of the week, Sailor Jack's mother and I were being joined by Bruce, a stagehand, in Scrabble matches. This was the first time I'd had much contact with Bruce - or even learned his name. We opted for Scrabble, not so much out of boredom, I suspect, but more as a matter of quiet sociability. If we were bored, it was rather a positive sort of boredom.

It was almost a luxury, lounging around. How often is one actually organized into practicing the purposeful art of doing nothing?

And in ways that are not really possible during rehearsals, we started to get to know one another backstage during the performance week. A sort of sub-community was starting to develop. And to me it was more interesting than the deliberately contrived "bonding" sessions required by our esteemed director, those group word-and-body exercises meant to develop a sense of "team."

I am not by nature a "bonder." And it turned out that several other members of the cast aren't, either. Shapiro said he preferred to be very quiet by himself before going on stage.

Am I sad or glad that it's over? A bit of both. It was like being on a cruise.

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Having been thrown together almost arbitrarily, we travel together for a while, and then we return to port and part company. Relationships that seem almost familial prove to have been temporary after all. "Keep in touch!" we cry. "See you around!"

But what has started to feel like brothers and sisters may well turn out to be more like ships passing in the night. What can it be like for compatible professionals after a year-long run?

Who knows? We may all meet again in another play....

In the meantime, this one had, for me, an unexpected and gratifying footnote. A rounding-off.

Ian, the teacher of my acting class (who has directed Sheep's Head plays himself), came to see the final performance. Ian is known for being supercritical. And he can be laconic. When I met him before the performance, he seemed almost curt.

But afterward he was loquacious. It was the best play he'd seen in a very long time. Excellent. And he was openly, generously pleased with his pupil. He went out of his way to find me and tell me so.

I purred silently. Who wouldn't?

*Last in a weekly series. The first article ran March 22.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society