Mary had no idea on what she wanted to see this week, so here’s a story from my days at St. Ignatius School, now the Chicago Waldorf Academy.
If you’ve ever been in school, you’ve probably been in at least one play in your life, and if you’re like I was, you couldn’t wait until it was over.
It was a tradition at St. Ignatius School that the even-numbered grades did the religious-themed Christmas play, and the odd-numbered grades did the Spring operetta. Sister Anna Marie, the director of most of the music-related activities at St. Ignatius, would direct the Christmas play and the music for the Spring operetta. The dancing part was handled by a Mrs. Wolff, who had been around from the time that my aunts were in school at St. Ignatius, and probably before that. The year I was in eighth grade, however, Mr. K, a theater major at Loyola, had to direct a play for a class he was taking, and the Sisters agreed to let him direct the Christmas play. He was somewhat theatrical, to put it mildly, which caused no end of snickering among all of us manly men of St. Ignatius, but he was fully intent on putting on a good show, and he inspired us well enough to get that kind of a performance from us.
I landed the role of Balthazar in the play, and had one whole line to say: “And well ended, too! Hail Mary, full of grace!” It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, either, but that was my line, and I learned it in about thirty seconds. V, who was originally from Ecuador and who spoke English well (albeit with a heavy accent), grabbed the lion’s share of Magi lines as Gaspar, while M, who traveled to the North Side from the South Side every day for school, played Melchior. He got no lines (he had a monumental case of stage fright), but looked the best in the turban and flowing robes of a Magus, and it gave our Three Kings the distinction of being the most diverse group of Magi ever in the history of the school. J (he of the penny incident) played St. Joseph, while C, who was head-over-heels in unrequited love with J, played Mary, the Mother of God. Several other friends landed parts as merchants, innkeepers and shepherds, while the Christ Child was played by a plastic doll.
Rehearsals went unusually well, given that none of us were professionals and that we were thirteen and fourteen years old. Mr. K got us to really ACT the parts instead of just going through the motions, so when it came time for knocking on the door, there was a liberal amount of pounding; when we were told to laugh, we did so with gusto; and when J was told to look lovingly upon his wife and the Christ Child, C just gobbled it up.
The Christmas play was always done twice: once as a dress rehearsal in front of the school on the last Friday before Christmas break, and for the parents and families on the following Sunday. We were fitted for costumes on the Thursday before, and, they looked pretty silly and were very uncomfortable.
The dress rehearsal progressed fairly well until the end. In the last scene of the play, the merchants and innkeeper were supposed to enter laughing, then become awestruck upon seeing the Christ Child. The guys playing the parts really threw themselves into the “enter laughing” part, to the point that they couldn’t stop, and soon had the entire school rolling in the aisles. Mother Marcella, the diminutive principal of the school, put an immediate stop to that, and from then on, they walked in respectfully and without the chuckles. Then, we Magi made our appearance. We did all right, considering the act we were following. V stumbled through his lines while M stared nervously at the audience and I prepared for my one line in the play.
“Our journey was well begun,” V said, placing the gold at the feet of the Child. This was my cue.
“And well ended too hail Mary full of grace.” I placed the frankincense at the feet of the Christ Child and backed off. M came next, dropped the myrrh bottle and stood there, frozen with fear until V and I led him away.
After the dress rehearsal, Mr. K came to me and said, “you know, John,” (it helps if you can imagine a short, slender man with a well trimmed beard and slight lisp, speaking with much ostinato and hand flourish) “I have never liked that line. Why don’t we try it without the ‘Hail Mary’ bit at the end?”
“‘And well ended, too,'” I said, trying to put as much life into it as I could, inwardly cursing him for cutting my lines.
“‘And well ENded, Toooo,'” he coached me.
“‘And well ENded, Toooo,'” I said, mocking him.
“No, no. A little less up and down. ‘And well ENded, Tooo.'”
“‘And well ENded, Tooo.'”
“That’s it! just like that!” He patted my shoulder; I was tempted to brush it off. “See you Sunday.”
Sunday arrived, and I just wanted to get the damn play over with. I always hated the school plays, because it meant you had to go to school on a day when you didn’t usually have to, and it was a lot of “hurry up and wait.” You were to be at the school an hour before the play started and in costume immediately upon arrival, and you weren’t allowed to talk or play cards or anything. You just had to sit there and wait for someone to come and get you. We Three Kings sat and waited for what seemed to be an eternity before following yonder star to the theater to do our bit.
“Our journey was well begun,” V said.
“And well ENded Toooo.” I put the frankincense at the foot of the crib and turned around, right into M, who figured that there was more to the line than that. V was looking at me with that, “hey, stupid, say the rest of the line, would you?” look on his face. I nearly lapsed into four-letter vernacular, but managed to hold my tongue, and directed traffic back to where we were supposed to end up.
After the play, M and V demanded to know what happened to the rest of my line. “It was cut,” I said, more than a little aggravated at Mr. K and relieved that was the last time I would have to trod the boards at St. Ignatius.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Didn’t Mr. K tell you the line was cut?”
It didn’t matter. The play was over, the parents were entertained, the Sisters were pleased, and J was happy he didn’t have to stare lovingly into C’s eyes again. Mr. K was ecstatic, telling us we were “Fabulous!” What did he expect?