Halloween Interlude – Winning Smiles

red lips isolated in whiteJulie had a smile that could melt lead. Really, it was quite fetching. The way her cheeks pushed up against her eyes and her brows came together in the middle. It was something to behold. Not one of those practiced, toothy, supermodel smiles, either. Just this perfect, captivating, one-of-a-kind smile. It was gorgeous.

Samantha decided she had to have it.

Samantha was sick of her own smile: toothy, lopsided, insincere. It was the only smile in the world that seemed to be laughing at its owner. She hated it. Julie’s smile, though. That would work. That would fit. That would tell the world “Hey! Look at this smile! Dig it!” Really, that’s all she wanted; she wanted Julie’s smile.

After work, Samantha dug through her uncle’s books. Uncle Zeb had been something of a magic user back in his day. Samantha didn’t know if he’d been any good at it, but he had a lot of books. One of them had to have something about stealing parts of someone else’s body and putting them on your own. Right? I mean, that was a thing, right? It had to be.

Most of Uncle Zeb’s books were tape-bound photocopies that he’d begged off other magic users over the years. The pages were yellowed and stained, the bindings were loose and the spines were blank. Only the covers indicated what was inside, usually in Zeb’s nearly unreadable scrawl. Des Vermis Mysteriis and De Occulta Philosophia and Sefer Raziel HaMalakh all stared up at her. But, these were books that she could find online. None of them had anything practical in them. Zeb was a magic user and when he’d disappeared and she’d inherited this house and all it contained, Zeb had left a note saying that “all the books in the library” were hers but to be careful of “the more potent ones” because they “contained untold powers” and could “end” the “world” as we “know it.” Or, something like that. She’d lost the note.

Finally, after knocking over stack upon stack of useless paper, Samantha hit what she believed to be the jackpot. At the bottom of a pile of manuscripts that had been printed on an old dot matrix printer, was a small chapbook bound in faded leather. On the cover was stamped the words Mae’r Llyfr A fydd Dinistrio eich Corff Ac Popeth Chi Caru. But, Samantha didn’t speak weirdo, so she opened it up.

The book was only a few pages long and contained diagrams of the human body complete with lots of arrows and pictures. Near the end, was a crude drawing of a man speaking words at another man while making a complex series of gestures. The words “cythraul o’r arallfyd / grant fy nghais druenus / newid y wraig hon yn ___ gyda fy hun” came from his mouth and it looked like the other man’s eyes were floating through the air toward the speaker.

“Got it!” Amanda said to no one.

The next day at work, she crouched behind the wall of her cube, waiting for Julie to settle in at her desk. Her hands were slick with excitement. This was it. She was going to get what she wanted!

Julie entered and sat down.

Samantha, still hiding on the floor behind the cubicle wall, pulled out the piece of paper on which she had written the words of the spell. She assumed the blank line indicated the place where she should speak the part of Julie’s body that she wanted.

Making the approximate gestures from the drawing, she read, “Cythraul o’r arallfyd,” and looked around.

“Grant fy nghais druenus,” she continued.

“Newid y wraig hon yn . . . smile . . . gyda fy hu!” she finished.

Samantha waited. She felt her mouth. Nothing seemed to be happening.

“Newid y wraig hon yn smile gyda fy hu!”she repeated.

Again, nothing.

She peeked over the wall. Julie was clacking away at her keyboard.

“Dammit,” she whispered. “Dammit.”

Well, why feel surprised? she thought. Nothing ever worked for her anyway. Why should this be any different? She put her hand on her chair and that’s when someone took it.

Samantha suppressed a squeal and looked up.

An abortion was sitting in her desk chair. Not a literal abortion, but certainly something that was frighteningly unwanted in this or any world. It was a mistake made by a mad god, and it held her hand and looked at her with no face through no eyes and spoke with an organ that should not ever have been allowed to make sound.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” it asked, “I mean, usually I just do my thing and go, but you seem like a nice lady so I thought I’d give you a chance to rethink this. Are you sure you want to go through with it?”

Samantha’s head wanted to vomit out its eyes and her tongue was begging her teeth to bite it off so it could escape, but she managed to say, “Yes. Please. Do it.”

“Well, alright,” the wrongness on the chair said with its voice that proved evil would forever triumph over good, “Your choice.” And it vanished.

Samantha was so shaken by the experience, she didn’t notice the Julie had stopped typing.

Later, on her long walk home – Samantha usually took the bus but it would probably be a while before public transit was back up and running – she thought about Uncle Zeb and how he’d never been a successful man and had died raving in a hospital. He’d always liked her, and she him, but now that she really thought about it . . . maybe he wasn’t a magic user. Maybe, he was a bad magic user.

When she opened the door of Uncle Zeb’s house, she was instantly buried under a bloody avalanche of human lips. That afternoon, everyone’s mouths had disappeared. Everyone’s. In the world. People had been going about their days and suddenly WOOP! all the mouths had been ripped away and deposited . . . here, it looked like.

Samantha lay under that pile of smiles for three days before she was discovered and arrested. Later, in jail, she would try to reverse the spell by rearranging the words or swapping out body parts or fudging the magic gestures but that only resulted in her reducing everyone to shaking piles of meat and her growing weird webs between her toes. The world stank of rotting flesh and the streets ran with blood and excrement. Buildings crumbled. She wandered the wastes, alone and half mad.

The thing from her office stopped by after she’d been at it for a while and just glared at her.

“Could you fix this?” she’d asked.

The thing gave her some sort of look and shook its body. Then it rose into the air and flew away.

Samantha looked down; in her hands was a scrap of paper with a short sentence written on it.

She read the words. She felt a tingle. She dropped the paper.

Running to the blown out remains of a store, Samantha looked in the shattered glass of a mirror. On her face, was Julie’s beautiful smile.

“I did it!” she said.

Categories: Halloween Interlude, Halloween!, Horror, Just a stupid thing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Interlude – Potty Mouth

TeethpileEllen noticed the teeth in the toilet before she’d really gotten a chance to wake up.

There they were: 1, 2, 3, 4 teeth floating in the dingy water. Molars from the look of it. Strange. She thought it was strange. Still, stuff came up from down below – in life and out of it – so why not teeth? Why not the unexpected? That’s what life handed you, right? The unexpected? So she’d learned and so she was still learning.

Breakfast was toast. Clothing was dull. Face washing was uneventful. The cat was nowhere to be seen. And still there were those teeth.

They went down with the rest of it and she went to work.

All day, the thought of those four teeth – whose they were, where they came from, why only four – flitted in and out of her head. They gnawed at her (ha ha) and when she missed lunch, she thought it was alright. She had no desire to put much in her mouth and chew. Her own teeth felt gritty. She’d neglected to brush. That’s fine. One day wasn’t going to kill her.

Ellen considered mentioning the teeth to her coworker Marie, but stopped short as she approached Marie’s cube. It wasn’t so much the nastiness of the ownerless teeth as the nastiness of calling attention to her toilet. Marie was the closest thing she had to a friend, but she didn’t want Marie thinking about her toilet.

On the bus ride home, Ellen thought about the teeth. So singular and alone. Four little teeth with no gums to hold them. She played around with that thought for a while and made up a little song around it. She chuckled to herself until she was convinced people were staring at her. They weren’t. No one stared at her.

When she got home that evening, the cat greeted her at the door with maiows and rubs. Good. Part of her had been afraid the cat was gone. She didn’t know why she thought that. The cat never tried to run out the front door. The cat was happy to be in a safe and warm place. It had something to do with the four teeth in the toilet. But, how? Exactly. How.

She’d been home for an hour before a dull ache in her gut told her she had to go to the bathroom. That’s when she realized she’d been avoiding it. Not consciously, obviously, but she usually went first thing and this was unusual.

The bathroom had a slightly menacing air. She flipped on the light and stood in the fluorescent hum for a second staring at her face in the mirror. Her eyes sat on soft little bags, comfortable enough that they seemed to have permanently attached the bags to her face. Well, let them have their comfort. Her nose was slightly red from the sniffles that lasted from some time in fall to some time in summer. Her hair had come out of its bun – the only hairstyle she was confident with – and little wisps tickled her cheeks. She looked sad. And tired. She looked sad and tired enough to say it out loud.

“I look sad and tired,” she said to the room.

She opened the toilet lid and looked in.

The toilet was filled with teeth. Hundreds. Thousands, maybe. They had displaced the water and were just filling the bowl. An ivory pile. For the first time, she noticed they all had intact roots. As if they’d been pulled from a mouth. A few were tinged with red, but there was no blood.

The cat wandered in and maiowed at her. She picked it up and held it so it could see the teeth. It did not respond. Instead, it leaped down and padded to the kitchen, waiting to be fed.

Ellen knelt at the bowl. The teeth were still. She reached out with her right hand and brushed the top of the pile. A few of the top teeth were moved aside, but overall the teeth were tightly packed together. They were molars and canines and . . . she didn’t know what the other ones were called. Cupids? Cuspids? Something.

Did they go all the way down? Was there a reservoir of teeth running under her building? Did other tenants have teeth in their toilets? She could knock on a door and find out, she supposed. But, Ellen didn’t know her neighbors that well. If there was a problem with the building, she’d hear about it.

Later, after she’d visited the ladies’ room at the shop around the corner – and purchased a frozen pizza that she didn’t want or need – Ellen sat in her living room, watching a movie on her laptop and cozying her cat. She heard a sound in the bathroom. A light tic, tic, tic.

That’s the teeth, she thought. That’s the teeth. They’re starting to spill over the edge of the bowl. She got up, crossed to the bathroom and saw a few teeth lying on the floor. In the bowl, the tooth pile had risen. She shut the lid. She went to bed.

The next morning, the few teeth that had fallen were gone. Had she cleaned them up? She couldn’t remember.

Ellen opened the toilet lid and looked at the new thing waiting for her.

The teeth had organized during the night. No longer a jumbled pile, they now lined the inside of the bowl in rows and rows. Like seed art with teeth. The water was back. It was oily. Without knowing why, she kicked the bowl. Lightly. Just a tap.

The oily water rippled a bit more than she thought was appropriate.

She gave the bowl a stronger kick.

The oily water chugged and undulated. The teeth . . . shifted. With a quiet click, clack, click. One circular row moved 1, 2, 3 teeth over.

Ellen stared at the teeth. She pulled a length of paper off the roll, crumpled it in to a loose ball and dropped it in the toilet.

Nothing happened.

She shut the lid.

A churning sound. Quick rattling clicks, like cards in the spokes of a bicycle. More churning.

The opened the lid.

The paper was gone.

Ellen tried the experiment with more paper. Then an entire roll. Then a magazine. Then her leftover pizza. Then a frozen game hen she’d been saving for a special night.

After a while, she closed the lid and sat down on it. She thought. She saw a future stretching out in front of her. A future of feedings. Her cat was old and not long for this world. Did teeth get old?

She called in sick and stayed in with the teeth. Eventually, she went to the grocery store and bought more then usual. When she came home, the bowl was different. Between the teeth, gums had grown. In the bottom of the bowl, the porcelain gave way to a fleshy throat. Ridges of muscle. A stump that looked like the beginning of a tongue.

That night, she fed the teeth a ham, a box of crackers – complete with box – a bunch of carrots and a cake.

“This is for your birthday,” she said, tipping the cake in.

That night, she dreamed of teeth. She was in a tight tooth-lined coffin. It was hot and cozy. The teeth began to shift and grind against her skin. It was not unpleasurable. She woke up in a daze. The early morning light revealed a long growth reaching from the bowl and hovering over her bed. It was pink and raw. Fleshy. It stood over her as a snake hangs above its prey. She reached up. The thing pulled back. She stood up. The thing retreated to the bathroom.

Ellen noticed the refrigerator door standing open. It had been mostly emptied. She looked around for the cat. She found it hiding in its covered litter box.

“You’re smarter than you look,” she said to the cat.

The pink, fleshy thing had pulled back into the toilet. It wasn’t a tongue after all. But, it might as well be a tongue. She stared down into the bowl.

“This is what I am,” Ellen said to the teeth, to the tongue. “This is what I am. This is what I am.”

The teeth shifted slightly. Did they understand? Could they hear? The tongue twitched.

“This is what I am,” she said. And all through the night and into the next day and into the next night she repeated those words. And the teeth listened. And the tongue listened. And the days. Grew. Shorter.

“This is what I am.”

This is what I am.

This is what I am.

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The ‘N’ word through the ages: The madness of HP Lovecraft

Just . . . I love this piece.

Media Diversified

By Phenderson Djeli Clark

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Tåh’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

–H.P. Lovecraft, On the Creation of Niggers (1912)

H.P. LovecraftH.P. Lovecraft

I had come to believe that by now the racism of H.P. Lovecraft, the celebrated author of horror and fantasy, was a settled matter–like declaring Wrath of Khan the best film in the Star Trek franchise. Arguing against such a thing should be absurd. I certainly thought so after the matter was thrust into the spotlight in December 2011, when author Nnedi Okorafor won the esteemedWorld Fantasy Award–whose statuette…

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How to Tell a Friend Who has Experienced a Death in the Family that You Are Sorry for Their Loss – A Step By Step Guide

1. Write “I am sorry for your loss.”

2. Check your spelling

3. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for your lose?”

4. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for you loss?”

5. Did you accidentally write “I am sorry for you lose?”

6. Are you sure?

7. Check again.

8. It’s only six words.

9. Once all six words are spelled correctly, you may hit SEND. If they are not, correct the misspelling.

Keep a copy of this guide in your trouser pocket or handbag or fanny pack for handy reference.

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Mitzi’s Rose

Dead_rose_with_fresh_sproutWe have a bouquet of flowers in a vase that is rapidly approaching “done” status, with some flowers reaching “done” sooner than others. The other day, Mitzi received the gift of a rose that had gone a little brown and crispy, but still had the shape and overall appearance of a beautiful long-stemmed rose. She was very happy with it.

After work on Tuesday, I asked Mitzi to take a walk with me to the library. It’s a little shy of a mile, but it’s a walk she has made many times before; no sweat for an energetic three-year-old. Mitzi wanted to bring her new rose and I couldn’t think of any reason not to. If she got tired of carrying it, I could just put it in my library bag. Easy job.

As we walked, Mitzi waved her rose around, running along walls, touching it to other flowers, watching it bob with the wind. We came to a large puddle and as she crossed it, she dipped her rose in the water, probably to see what, if anything, would happen to the petals.

As it happened, they got wet.

“Daddy,” she called to me, “could you dry my petals off?”

“Sorry, little girl,” I said, “It’s wet. You’re going to have to wait for them to dry off by themselves.”

Mitzi seemed a little perturbed by this and experimented with squeezing the rose a bit, wiping it, shking it out. As she shook it, one petal disconnected and drifted to the ground.

“A petal fell off,” she said.

“Yep,” I said. “That’s what happens if you shake an old rose.”

I walked on a bit up the block and, after a few seconds, I heard her little footfalls running up behind me. She took my hand.

“Daddy!” she said, a tinge of excitement in her voice, “I squashed my rose!”

I looked back and indeed the sidewalk was littered with the remains of the rose. The long stem lay amidst the scattered petals.

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“I didn’t want it anymore,” she replied.

“Well, alright then,” I said, “I guess it was your rose.”

We walked on to the library, read a few books and headed back towards the house.

A block or so from the library, Mitzi said, “I wonder if we’re going to see my rose!”

“We may,” I said, “I don’t remember which block it was on, but we’ll probably pass it.”

We walked on.

“Do you think we’ll see my rose?” Mitzi asked again, her voice betraying a slight hint of anxiety.

“We’ll find out when we get there,” I said.

We walked some more.

“I don’t think my rose is there anymore,” Mitzi said, “I think a bird took it.”

“Well,” I said, “It was in a lot of pieces. And, again, I don’t remember exactly which block it was on. If it’s still there, we’ll see it.”

“I don’t think it’s there,” she said. And, I couldn’t tell if she thought that was a good thing or a bad thing.

After walking a bit more, I glanced up ahead and announced, “Mitz! Look! I think I see your rose!”

Mitzi followed my gaze across the street. Up ahead, the sidewalk was covered with bright red petals.

“My rose!” she cried out. And, taking my hand, she and I hurried across the road.

When she got to the scene of destruction, she stooped down and picked something up.

“Here’s the stem!” she cried, waving it about.

“There’s the stem!” I agreed.

“Here’s the petals!” she said, gesturing at the petals.

“There they are!” I said, “Okay, we’d better get home; it’s getting late.”

I walked on a bit and turned to glance back. Mitzi hadn’t moved. She was standing, holding the stem and looking about at the petals. She had a look on her face I’d never seen before. She looked confused and hesitant. But, there was something else under it all. A new feeling. I could tell she was having trouble with it.

“Daddy?” she said.

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish you could put the petals back on the stem.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I can’t. Once the petals come off the stem, they can’t go back on.”

“Oh,” she said. “Daddy?”

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish you could glue the petals back on. I wish you could do that.”

“I see. Well, I can’t. Petals don’t work that way.”

“Oh,” she said. “Daddy?”

“Yes, little girl?”

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose,” she said. And she dropped the stem. And she walked to me. And her face collapsed. And she sobbed. Hard. Big, sad, scared, confused sobs. I scooped her up and she draped herself on my shoulder as tears flowed onto my shirt.

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose!” she repeated. And I realized what the strange new feeling was that she was struggling with.

“Mitzi?” I said, “I think what you’re feeling is regret. It’s called regret. Do you wish you hadn’t squashed your rose?”

“Yes,” she sobbed.

“Do you feel bad about squashing the rose?”

“Yes!” she sobbed.

“What do you wish you could do?”

“I wish I could not squash the rose!” she said.

“Do you feel bad that you hurt the rose?”

“Yes!” she cried.

“Oh, little girl. You’re feeling ‘regret’ and it’s a big important feeling that you’ve never experienced before. Regret means that you did something and you wish you hadn’t done it but it’s too late. And now you have to live with what you’ve done. It’s a big big feeling and I’m so happy I could be here with you because it’s hard for little kids to feel regret. But, it also means that you’re a good person who cares about what they’ve done.”

“I wish I didn’t squash the rose!” she said.

“I know,” I said, “But, you did. And you regret doing it.”

I carried her the rest of the way home, her tears soaking my shoulder.

Mitzi cried all through dinner, barely touching the food on her plate. She kept saying she wished she hadn’t done what she’d done.

“What would you do if you had another rose?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t squash it!” she said.

“Would you take care of it?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “Do you think Momma will let me have another rose?”

“Well, that’s up to Momma,” I said.

Eventually, the tears tapered off and Mitzi got to bed. But, she kept reminding me that she wished she hadn’t squashed the rose.

As it turned out, the next day there was a new “done” rose available and Mitzi received it with a reminder about what had happened the day before.

Now, Mitzi has a new rose. But, here’s the thing, she still says, “I wish I didn’t squash that rose.” And, she takes care of the new one. She is very gentle with it. She knows now what can happen to a rose and how that makes her feel. She still regrets her actions and she has modified her behavior because of that regret. And, she is a little bit older and little bit wiser for that.

Mitzi has been a bit of a terror recently. A lot of that has to do with these big new feelings that she has no words and no context for. They’re just “big” and confusing. But, she’s learning.

A rose is a beautiful but delicate thing. It can be damaged quite accidentally even by someone who cares for it very much. We’ve all done this. We all do stupid, selfish things that hurt other people. People we love very much. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have regrets. But, having regrets is meaningless if we don’t learn from them. If we don’t accept responsibility for what we did, and vow to never do it again. And that vow is meaningless if we don’t demonstrate that we can do something different this time.

Mitzi can’t undo what she did – that rose is squashed and a rose, once squashed, is always a rose that has been squashed – but she can treat her next rose with gentleness, never forgetting what she did, not dwelling on her mistakes, but learning from them.

I’m very proud of my little girl.

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The Amazing Story of This Five Dollar Bill


This is it. This is the five dollar bill.

The other day, I was getting in my car and this five dollar bill was frozen in the ice by the passenger-side door, so I chipped it out with my boot and now I have five more dollars.

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Thoughts On A Dying Man

Fred_Phelps_10-29-2002Fred Phelps is dying and I don’t really feel anything about it. For years, this man – a man who terrorized his family, violently abused his children and formed a small but very vocal organization based on hate and demonization – has captured the world’s attention by publicly flaunting his brand of hatred at funerals, concerts and other gatherings for the purpose of media attention.

His church – comprised primarily of family members, many of whom are lawyers or have studied law – sustains itself by suing anyone who attempts to silence them. It’s a scam, a plea for attention based on a whacked out theology and – lo and behold – an insanely successful strategy. They’ve been around for so long now, and are so ubiquitous at the funerals of service members, celebrities and children, that they’ve become a part of the American backdrop. They’re horrible people – but, very well educated people – who’ll do what they do and they are actually free to do it.

And, Phelp’s death won’t end it. There’s too much momentum behind it and his followers are too inured to his way of thinking. You can’t argue with them – they know how to not listen. You can only ignore them, and they make that very difficult. Phelps is a horribly flawed man, a warped individual, a destructive force. But, I take no joy in his impending death. It will help no one. Protest his funeral if you will, it’ll just help create Buzzfeed articles.

I do have one hope, though.

For reasons unknown to the general public, Phelps was excommunicated from his own church in August. That had to be incredibly difficult for him. He may have had to hold on to the notion of receiving peace, finally, in paradise. I hope that as Fred Phelps dies – as he slips away into that vast nothingness, that blank, that void – I hope he realizes that nothing awaits him.

That there is no other side.

That there is no reward for his work and no punishment for those he hated.

I hope he realizes, in that brief final second, that everything he has done in the service of his god and his values has been for nothing.

I hope he realizes that he has only made the world a harder place to live.

I hope he attains that brief moment of clarity and that the last thing he feels before he feels nothing at all forever, is sadness and disappointment in himself and grief for the pain he caused so many people on this small and tightly packed planet.

I take no pleasure in his death and I hope he doesn’t either.

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Some Scattered Thoughts After Playing Sweeney Todd in “Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Sweeney-Todd-web“Where did you find the self-loathing and the hatred you brought up there?” “Well, I dug down deep, dredged it up, poured it out on the stage and stuffed what was left deep deep down inside until I needed it again.” “Ha ha ha ha!” “Yeah . . . “

I have literally dreamed of playing Sweeney Todd for over twenty years. By “literally” I mean I have had dreams about being Sweeney Todd on stage in front of people. These were never bad dreams or “actor’s nightmares.” I never felt incompetent or unprepared in those dreams because, if I knew anything, I knew Sweeney Todd.

My first exposure to “Sweeney Todd” the show was a hardback copy of the libretto we had in our high school theater library. I was obsessed with musicals and was already familiar with Sondheim through “Into the Woods” and “Company” so I took the script home and read it all the way through. I was astounded at the complexity of the tale. But, I was also confused about the main character. I couldn’t get a grasp on what he was like, what type of a person he was. His lines were so reactionary and al over the place. So, I got the soundtrack. Len Cariou’s portrayal of Todd was a revelation. On page, he read – to my high school mind – as a monster. Cariou brought grounded warmth to the character. Sweeney Todd stopped being a nightmare creature and started seeming like what I eventually came to see him as – a damaged man. A terribly sad, damaged man.

I couldn’t get a grasp on Sweeney Todd until I admitted that what makes him a living character are qualities I have in myself. It’s hard to look in the mirror every day and not like the person looking back at you. It makes for long mornings and seriously impedes your ability to do your hair. I have the ability, the capacity, to hurt people close to me. So does Sweeney! We’re halfway there!

Sweeney is traditionally portrayed by an older actor who is physically imposing. Someone who commands a room simply by entering it. I am not that actor. I had to command the room by sucking all the energy into me. I had to pull inward with so much force that everyone just got pulled along. It made me very tense. Very tense.

There are two basic approaches to playing a character who has spent 15 years in a hellish prison environment – they either come out toughened or come out beaten. Sweeney was beaten. Prison destroyed him. It sapped him of his personality, his self-esteem and his ability to command his life. Sweeney reacts to the world as if he is about to be hit. So, I played every scene in the first act like I was on the verge of getting punished.

I had three different physicalities for Sweeney. When he first appears, he carries himself like a whipped animal – surrounded by threats, ready to lash out, trying to make himself as small as possible. This is a natural reaction to his imprisonment. His second physicality is The Full Man. After he gets his razors back, Sweeney is able to carry himself with confidence. It’s a facade, but he uses it to function in public. Finally, there is The Cunning Animal. Sweeney adopts this pose when he smells danger to himself or his plans. In the second Pirelli scene, Sweeney vacillated between The Full Man and The Cunning Animal on almost every other line.

A lesser physicality was his attack pose: he used it when he charged Mrs. Lovette in their first scene together and it’s how he carried himself in front of the audience during the ballads. Arms back, chest forward. It’s a prison yard stance, when Sweeney was pushed to his limits.

“I didn’t even recognize you up there!” These are the greatest words an actor can hear. Or, the greatest words I can hear as a character actor.

Sweeney Todd is the story of people who are unable to see what is right in front of them.

Sweeney Todd’s central character is not Sweeney. It is Johanna. The three main characters each sing a song titled “Johanna.” The Judge wants Johanna incestuously and contrives to marry her in order to keep her. Anthony wants Johanna in order to “save” her and plots to steal her in order to have her. Sweeney wants Johanna as a perfect memory and plots to destroy everyone in her life in order to possess this perfect memory. None of these men have Johanna’s best interests in mind. The Judge imprisons her to keep her away from others. Anthony brings her to the most dangerous place in London so blind is he to the danger of Sweeney Todd. Sweeney does not even recognize her when she is in his shop and nearly kills her with his own hand. Johanna only escapes on her own recognizance. Her future at the end of the show is uncertain – certainly the police will want to discuss the murder of a certain Dr. Fogg.

I was terrified of losing my voice. I’ve never not lost my voice in the run of a musical. I’ve also never sung such difficult music in a show or had such a large role. The day I got cast I ordered the full score. The next day I contacted McPhail and signed up for weekly voice lessons. I told my teacher, “I need to learn how to sing a role like Sweeney Todd without losing my voice. I need to learn stamina.” He then proceeded to strip down my voice and build it back from the ground up. I sing completely differently now. It feels better and I don’t hurt my voice!

I had to be completely relaxed with my music before I could begin building a character. Because Sweeney is so tense, I had to be able to hold myself in a locked position without locking my throat. The only way to do this was to have zero worries about my singing. Again, I’ve never done this before.

Oh, and I was so tense that – despite not going to the gym for a month – I actually built muscle mass playing the role. Just through tension.

I had to make myself not listen to “The Beggar Woman’s Lullaby” each night or I’d start crying before my entrance.

I fell off the stage TWICE! In the run of the show. Both times it was my fault; both times I got hurt. My right leg still hurts where I scraped it up. BUT, it was secretly exhilarating!

Sweeney was the first role my twelve-year-old daughter has seen me play in a full-length show. I was proud to have her see it.

I was so freaked out by the role that I don’t think I spoke to any of my fellow cast members for the first month of rehearsal.

I think the length of the run was just right. Maybe in ten years I’ll have something new to bring to the role, but at this age, I’ve done about all I can with it.

I loved seeing the audience for the first time in Epiphany. No one expected me to swing down the stairs and address them directly. Watching them pull back and tense up was a joy each and every night.

I think I did a good job. I rarely say that about anything I do. But I think I did.

Categories: Just a stupid thing, Sweeney Todd, Theater, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Awesomeness Of Martha Jones


“Thank you for all of your help, Martha Jones,” said the man in the blue suit standing on the stage holding all of the awesome medals, “It was a big help and saved the world. So, you win all the Awesome Awards and we present you with all these awesome medals for being awesome.”

Martha Jones did not care about awesome medals, but she knew that if she did not show up to accept them – all of them – the public would be disappointed because they cared so much. So very much.

“I accept all of the awesome medals,” she said to the man while looking him directly in his eyes as was her way because she was every man’s equal, “I accept them all. The Awesome Awards.”

The man in the blue suit put all of the medals around the neck of Martha Jones and, though they were heavy, she held her head high so she could look every person in the eyes as equals because that is what they were. And, they were all into it because they cared so much.

“I hope you have a safe drive home,” said the man in the blue suit, “Be careful. The roads are slippery and the whole country – nay, the whole world – would weep if you were injured.”

“I will be careful,” said Martha Jones, “because I value safety and I value your feelings, although I would never put them before my own.”

Martha Jones got in her car and drove away and everybody was impressed and they all cared so much because they all thought she was so awesome.

Categories: Just a stupid thing | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Sad(?) Tale of Willy Marks

Try not to get all turned on.

Try not to get all turned on

Let me tell you about a thing . . .

When my across the street neighbor – Willy Marks was his name – when Willy Marks disappeared down that abandoned mine shaft that the school board had converted into a Ball Pit, we sure did learn to appreciate the benefits of good lighting. Little Willy – he was 28 but we called him “Little Willy” because he was bad and it made him feel bad – Little Willy was trapped in the mine shaft for a month(!) and he only managed to stay alive thanks to all the food and water and reading materials we threw down to him. Over and over we’d chuck McDonald’s and Burger King and Arby’s and Hardee’s and Jack In The Box and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Popeye’s Chicken and Hart’s Crispy Fried Chicken and Hal’s Chicken (a local chain) and Cap’n D’s and Long John Silvers down to him and he’d eat everything but the Jack in the Box and throw the garbage back up to us and we’d say “Little Willy! You want anything to read?!” and he’d yell back “A bible and a light to read her by!” So we’d throw down a bible and a flashlight and then one day we wondered why we kept having the throw down a fresh bible every time he wanted to read one and why he didn’t just ask for new batteries instead of a whole new flashlight. Well, our questions were answered at the end of the month with a giant rumbling from below! The ground shook, it shaked, it shimmied and out of the mine shaft came Little Willy his own self, rocketing into the clouds on a flying raft made of bibles and powered by flashlight parts and his faith in the Lord! Well, many a hand went over several a heart that day and as we watched Willy sail away above the clouds, we understood that the real light that lit his way didn’t come from any flashlight; it came from the spirit that burned deep within his soul.

He crashed that flying bible-raft an hour later and was pretty much spread across seven counties. Scientists speculate he had to have been going three hundred miles an hour in order to make the crater he did. Scientists from “other towns” insist it was a meteor that crashed and that Willy had died weeks ago down in that mine and that the whole operation was a scam perpetrated by our town’s colossal Flashlight and Bible manufactory. But, we’d have none of it. We got rid of those scientists the same way we got rid of everyone. Down the mine shaft – I mean, down the ball pit.

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