In fifth grade, I performed in a Thanksgiving Play. This grade was really a banner year for me artistically, as I performed in many dramas. The high point was my rousing portrayal of Romeo in the class performance of Romeo and Juliet. I would later go on to date the girl who played Juliet simply because it made sense socially. Before any of that happened, before my flash-in-a-pan stardom as Romeo, I was Pilgrim #2 on the Mayflower as it steamed toward the New World. In a review, The Westinghouse Elementary Trumpeteer proclaimed that “Room 311 Thanksgiving Play was at least twice as entertaining as Ridley Scott’s 1492:Conquest of Paradise.”
I don’t remember much about this play, come to think about it, but I know I delivered a riveting performance as bible-thumping Pilgrim #2. Pilgrims 1 and 3 were both females (#3 being a particularly rigid puritan, if I remember correctly) which at the time made me question how succeeding generations were conceived; or rather, how am I bout to get my swerve on with all these Indians hanging around? The Indians were mentioned briefly, at the end, when we got good and hungry and broke. They came to the rescue with hot dogs and Faygo cola. And whiskey. And casinos.
Afterwards, the Indians and my church harem went for joyrides around the Rock in our boat, which was really just painted on some poster paper. The Indians later purchased this piece of paper with real estate that is now Connecticut. Whitey wins!
In another display of the untapped thesbian within me, I signed on for an outdoor performance about the founding of Kent, Ohio, called Dawn Falls. Written by one of my co-workers at the time, the work dramatized the early settlement of the Western Reserve. The writer/director Mr. St. Clair wooed me by saying that I would portray the legendary Captain Brady – explorer, Indian hunter, river-jumper. At a pivotal moment in the production, I came cascading down a tree-lined hill and dove behind a rock to hide from the angry natives in hot pursuit. Then, in a display of cunning, willpower, and the American strive to survive(!), I took a running start and leapt over the Cuyahoga River.
Captain Brady supposedly leapt over the river 200 years ago. This is mostly legend and probably not true. I, however, leapt over the river in present day with hundreds of witnesses and landed safely on the other side. Then I hopped a train to Albuquerque.
There was a pivotal scene in which I made like I was jumping over the river while getting shot at by natives. Really, I jumped behind a scrim (which, during rehearsals I kept mistakenly calling a ‘shiv’) and then descended a rickety ladder into the river where a man in a canoe met me. I’m not sure if the canoe guy was actually part of the production or if he just liked to hang out in the river awaiting pioneers to jump into his boat. Either way, he ferried me to safety. This was all executed with the audience above completely oblivious as the action on our grassy outdoor stage had just moved on.
Then came my second scene, this one as injured native Nickshaw, son of Chief Bigson. This role, though no speaking was involved, took a little more effort. In terms of costume design, the crew strove for authenticity, so I wore a leather vest, loincloth and ass-less chaps. The ass-less chaps were actually the selling point for me on the play.
‘Did you say I get to wear ass-less chaps?’ I asked at tryouts. ‘I’m in!’
During rehearsals, the community theater production crew informed me that I was too pale to accurately portray an Indian. They told me to go tanning. I, uh, didn’t do that. So they resorted to Plan B: painting my body.
One of my favorite memories of the production: during the costume change, from Cpt. Brady to Nickshaw, the makeup lady feverishly applying tan body paint to my ass. I felt like a star.
I was on stage during the natives’ big scene, when we showed how wronged we had been by Cpt. Brady (read: Whitey). When Nickshaw (me) was just a baby, Brady threw me into a fire, which left me deformed and very quiet (no speaking lines, remember). This explanation was a pivotal moment in the play. However, the microphones malfunctioned and most of the dialogue from my pretend Indian father Chief Bigson went unheard. More than likely, the audience assumed he was whiskey drunk and rambling about how he wanted to put a casino on top of the Kent Dam.
Afterwards, I met up with friends and family who were all quite disgusted at my ass. Someone took a picture of it. As for the play, I believe the rights were sold to a group of Native American investors in compensation for hundreds of years of genocide and oppression.