A New ‘Phantom’?
I could sense the overpowering stink of the creature enveloping the entire audience and, as I looked out from the stage, I could see him glowering at me just itching to consume me as his next afternoon snack.
My performance as the lead in our community theater company’s production of Our Town would cause my raw first-time performer’s nerves to race out of control under normal circumstances. However, having this ugly creature tailing me had increased the tension 10-fold.
It all started in my high school drama class when I beat out presumed Tony Award star Joe Carpenter for the lead in the Goodman’s Corners High School production of The Sound of Music. Throughout the summer of our senior year Joe and I found ourselves in the top and also-ran competitions for starring roles in every one of the Summer Stock productions of the best-known musicals in the theater universe–or at least our little corner of it.
During the extremely hotly-contested tryouts for every part, one time it would look like I had every lead wrapped up only to have Joe swoop in and take the part from under me. The next time, Joe would look like a shoo-in then the director would see something “a little extra” in my performance and award the top spotlight to me.
As the summer season drew to a close, however, there seemed to be a little more in the air than a closely-fought-for thespian rivalry.
More than a few of my fellow performers had warned me, “Don’t push Joe too far. There’s something more bizarre to his personality than simple anger because of losing starring roles. Rumor has it that he’s been touched by the occult and can summon forth dark forces to seek revenge on those who stand in his way.”
I had noticed a touch of anger seething in Joe every time I beat him out for a part that didn’t seem like a normal human reaction. His entire demeanor and appearance seemed to transform into something like Frankenstein’s Monster every time he came in second to me.
In fact, he even had warned me after one performance, “You have no idea of the lengths I will go to and the forces I can marshal to my side to win me a role for which only I am uniquely qualified. You really don’t want to awaken these forces.”
A number of our fellow Summer Stock actors also told of “unexplained accidents” that had happened to those in our town who deprived Joe of his chance in the limelight in the past.
The latest, Harry Sampson, had been driving his new car home after winning the lead Joe had wanted in the local production of The Music Man. As Harry applied the brakes while rounding a curve near Thompson’s Mountain his car skidded out of control and slid into a ravine. At the bottom of the ravine the car burst into flames, burning Harry alive.
Several of the other actors had followed Harry as he left the theater, but none of them could figure out what had caused the crash. Except, Skip Johnson, the actor who, like Joe, had been in the running for the lead. At the crash site he saw what looked like an ugly ogre like the ones that attacked children in many juvenile stories. Noone but Skip had seen the strange creature.
Mysterious fatal “accidents” of every description seemed to happen to Joe’s competitors for lead roles, not only in our town but in every locality on the East Coast where Joe had been in the running for top roles.
Also, Joe had moved into our town alone with no sign of family, siblings and companions. Directors looking into his background only could determine that he had come in second for a number of roles. More specific information either couldn’t be found or those who had worked with Joe in his past refused to comment on his history.
I determined that no amount of rumors and mysterious “accidents” would prevent me from starring in the community theater production of Our Town that finally could propel me onto the Broadway stage.
Besides, two months had passed since I snatched the lead out of the grasp of Joe Carpenter and I still remained in perfect health–at least up until this opening night.
As I looked out from behind the curtain the strange creature still glowered at me from the third row, center of the audience. Yet none of the other audience members reacted to the almost unbearable odor of the creature that I smelled, and none of them behaved like it sat next to them.
Although my fellow actors had heard the stories of the monster materializing after every one of the past “accident scenes,” the creature I saw sitting in the theater this evening had appeared to none of them.
Despite my “first night jitters” and continuing fears of the ogre in the audience, I went on with the show and gave what most of my fellow actors and the director called “the greatest local performance of the musical our town has ever seen.”
Rave reviews appeared in both local and regional newspapers, and my performance even landed a mention in some of the New York area theater columns.
Strangely enough, although Joe Carpenter had shown up backstage on the opening nights of each of the productions where he had lost out of starring roles, he had not appeared anywhere near this production–at least as far as anyone knew.
After the curtain came down I rushed over to the opening night cast celebration and collared my director, “I thought you expected a Broadway producer to come to my performance. Was he here in cognito or did I miss him?”
“He sat in the third row center during the entire show, but had to rush back to New York to rest up for a late evening production meeting. He said he definitely will call you as soon as that meeting ends. He hinted a contract may be in the offing.”