Excerpt: The Playhouse

I tried to stop myself, but it just popped out: “But we always do five shows at the Playhouse. Since I was three years old!”

“Since before you were born, honey,” Mitzi Abercrombie said. She sat there waving a Chinese paper fan in front of her melting face like some kind of faux Southern belle. Not for the first time in my life, I wanted to shake her and say, You live in Appalachia, not Savannah!

Luckily, her sister, Lettie, slightly less melty in the face but miles more sensible, elbowed her. “Lily knows that, Mitzi. She just means she can remember it since she was three. I remember too, sweetie. Your daddy playing King Arthur. Had to sit up in that papier-mâché tree for an hour while the audience filtered in, poor thing.”

And we still hadn’t managed to get a curtain, seventeen years later. Not sure how I held my temper to keep from saying that, but it was probably a good thing I did.

“Why doesn’t Reggie come to the shows anymore?” Daniel Wesley, aka Wes, asked. His slicked-back hair and polyester suit made him look even sweatier than the Abercrombie sisters. Like a long, tall, waxy monument to that guy you expect to see driving a large van with tinted windows around the neighborhood. Oh, but he’d lived in New York City once; he had culture. Bow the fuck down.

Ooookay, enjoy your stay here at Greendale Community College, Britta.

“He’s in California,” I said sharply.

Mitzi made a fake sad face. “Of course, after your mama died—”

“Can we talk about this schedule? Four is not enough. And one of them is the kids’ play.” I fucking hated the kids’ play. A bunch of prima-donna twelve-year-olds and their stage mothers. Not my idea of a good time. Not even when I was one of the twelve-year-olds myself.

“It makes the most money,” pointed out Shae—the only other person in the room under forty, the theater professor at Trinity College, and the artistic director at the Brookesville Playhouse for the last three years.

She’ll be canonized someday, I swear.

“I’m not directing it, and I don’t care what we do.” I leaned back in my seat. It was a sulk, but whatever.

“Denise can do it,” Mitzi volunteered.

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. She can pick the show, then.”

“It’s not your choice to make,” Wes, said, beady eyes glistening. “This isn’t a hereditary position, Lily; you don’t get to just pick up where your father left off in the arts council.”

Yes, the big bad Brookesville Arts Council. Curators of the tiny museum down by the river, heads of the cultural festival “downtown” every fall, and dictators to the Playhouse about how it got to distribute its meager funds each summer production season.

I wanted to flip the table in his face.

But I needed this to work. I needed the Playhouse to do more than just survive, to thrive. So I gritted my teeth and said, “I can bring in the patrons if you let me help set up the schedule. I know what people like. I’m not asking you to pay me any more than last summer; I’m just asking for a chance to try it my way.”

“Four shows,” Wes said.

I looked at Jake Altmann, once upon a time the Will Parker to my dad’s Curley McLain, the Nathan Detroit to his Sky Masterson.

He smiled slightly, then turned his attention to the rest of the solemn arts council. “Four—I’d rather do four right than five badly. But we should let Lily have input. None of us knows how to draw in the young people. I think she’s right about Sweeney Todd for the opener.”

Mitzi snorted. “They don’t know how to appreciate the theater anyhow.”

I bit down on my tongue—hard. It was gonna be a long, long summer.

*~*~*

“I thought your Aunt Mitzi was going to collapse when I suggested Pippin,” I said with a laugh.

Denise giggled. “I’m glad you won that battle, at least. I used to watch the seventies movie of it all the time. I didn’t realize how bad it was.”

“Almost made them grateful for Sweeney Todd.” I sipped on my Honeyed Fox and turned my face up to the sun. I’d elected not to start the day’s chores until the new crop of summer recruits arrived. Denise was technically too young to work for the Playhouse, but since she was related to the Abercrombie sisters, she was allowed to hang out. Which would’ve annoyed me if she weren’t so damn helpful—not to mention talented. It wasn’t often a Broadway voice came through West Virginia’s northern panhandle, but she just might’ve been one.

We didn’t need to use power tools for anything today, so whatever. A beer wouldn’t kill me.

“I think Mitzi must not even know what it’s about, or you never would’ve gotten that past her.” Denise paused. “Do I even want to know how we’re gonna build that barber chair?”

“If you figure it out, tell me. Working on a few ideas, but nothing solid.” Just as I said that, a car appeared at the end of the gravel road. To get to the Playhouse, visitors have to drive through a few miles of gorgeous rolling park, complete with golf courses, public pool, and duck pond bobbing with paddle boats. And there it is: a gigantic two-story barn, slightly in need of re-siding, but otherwise in great shape.

It served as the local summer-stock theater. Obviously. Currently with me lounging on the ramp to the upstairs—read, the theater stage and house proper—in cutoffs and a tank top, and Denise on the stairs across from me in a bikini top and track pants.

“Whose car is that?” Denise sat up straighter to peek through the railing. “Is Cy coming back?”

“Yeah. I thought you knew,” I said. “Is that his car?”

“Uh, yeah. Hottie pants.” She was clearly enraptured by the sight of the raggedy old Toyota.

“He’s your Anthony,” I said. She’d landed the part of the yellow-haired milksop Johanna and couldn’t be more pleased. Except, of course, that Cy was playing her starry-eyed beau.

“Well, he was in stuff last year. He didn’t live here,” she said.

“Lucky us,” I mumbled under my breath.

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