My friends would not let go of me. “Don’t be a spoil-sport. We can have a lot of fun doing this together.”
They enticed me even further by saying that I could have my pick of a role. I could take a look at the script, choose what I like and then they would all tell the drama coach that they didn’t want to do that role. It would fall quickly into my lap.
I read the script and knew immediately what I wanted. An all-powerful king struts about the stage, ordering his generals, harassing his ministers, pestering the hapless courtiers and, in general, being mean to his poor subjects. If I took the role I would not only wear a fabulous crown and resplendent robe, I could ask for a moustache and a beard and a pair of jewel-encrusted shoes. I would have a whale of a time ordering around my classmates and whoever else comes my way.
The best part of the role was its brevity. After doing his spiteful bit in the first scene, the king gets the news from a courier that his soldiers have been decimated by the advancing army of the neighboring king and he had no option but to surrender to his mortal enemy. So, stupid that he is, the king takes out his sword, spouts some eloquent words and kills himself. Thus ends the first scene.
I told my friends I would do the play, and they in turn shortly confirmed to me that the king’s role was mine.
The mathematics teacher was the drama coach and, like most mathematics teachers (or so I fancied), was a nasty piece of work. An unflinching martinet, he drove us crazy with his demands. Memorization had to be faultless and delivery pitch perfect. I was glad when my hours of jumping through the hoops was over and came the day of the play.
The annual play was a big event. All the students and their parents came. The principal came with school board members and some bigwigs. The hall was packed, I could peek from behind the screen and was taken aback.
The make-up man was working feverishly on the characters to appear in the first scene. Came my turn. It felt icky with the tons of paint splashed on my face. When I softly asked, “Do I need any more paint?” the guy gruffly answered, “Do you want to look good or not?” Anyway he gladly added a massive beard and a matching moustache. When the clothes came, I was truly impressed. Glorious red and gold shiny stuff, duds appropriate for royalty.
Though there were no jewels, the shoes were pretty spectacular, with an uptilted nose and some kind of a stone on top.
I marched in as the screen parted for the first scene and began my starting harangue. Pindrop silence. The spectators were lapping it up. Nervous as I was, I felt inspired by a royal spirit. Imperiously I hollered at and hectored everybody in sight and my friends on the stage, in various docile roles, almost shrank visibly. I was getting a quick and early lesson in how a bully grows and how others help him grow.
I stopped my speech peremptorily. I had to. Then I half-turned and ad libbed, “Am I to believe that the morons who serve me have forgotten even to give me my beloved sword?” I said it with great feeling. That is exactly what I felt. I had been so excited about my regal accoutrements that I had quite overlooked the missing saber.
The little fellow from the junior class, who couldn’t be given a role and had been comforted with the job of the stage manager, was cowering in the wings with the sword in hand, fearing a tongue lashing for his oversight from the principal the following day. I went to the wings, retrieved the sword and returned to the center of the stage again.
“Ah, my best friend, my sword,” I ad libbed again.
Then I returned to the script, gave my dismal farewell speech and committed suicide. I fell with an audible thud. The screen closed.
Nobody noticed the mistake. Everybody thought I had done a good job. The next day the principal congratulated me and especially mentioned the thud I made when I fell. I didn’t explain that the coach had thought I didn’t have the appropriate regal girth and had inserted a piece of plywood under my royal robe, and, when I fell, I landed awkwardly on the plywood with an unseemly clatter.