The theatre is plush, high-ranking and named after the Queen. I don’t know the name of the play but C does. C brings me to the theatre when I go. I undergo a pleasant transformation when I go to the theatre. I wear a tie, black shoes and a sports coat. At first it was difficult, “not my style.” I felt uneasy, unsteady, unrefined. Now I’m an old hand. The bright lights of the lobby no longer intimidate but instill a warmth, a confidence. The hushed voices around me of other theatregoers are soothing and not, I have since realized, talking about me. C gets a rum and coke for herself, a coke for me—another transformation—I, standing under the bright lights of the theatre lobby, sober, clear-eyed and speaking in hushed tones.
I make eye contact with other theatregoers, pleasantly. The line-ups for the bar no longer offend me. C squeezes my hand. “Dong, dong,” goes something overhead, pleasantly. Called to our seats. The flow of bodies over the thick carpet to the doors is wonderfully cooperative. No jostling. No panic. All the seats are numbered. We sit near the front, C has scored some good seats.
“Hmmm,” says C.
C sizes up the set. I see an old beat-up live-in trailer. The play takes place somewhere in the barrens of South Africa, I believe, two men and a woman plunked together by fate in the African outback. It looks like a hell of a place to live.
C looks over. Radiant. I flush with pride.
She looks beyond me, a sign of recognition. A group of her peers, actors and theatre people, take the seats in front of ours. There are greetings, seats being folded down, the sound of cloth crinkling. One of the group does not sit down but leans over his seat toward C. I notice the muscles around C’s eyes. They tense. She is about to tolerate something.
“Hmmm,” I think.
I’m introduced, the fellow’s name wafts past my ear and continues unimpeded up to the rafters. C continues to exude radiance, she gives him her full attention. He is excited, theatrical. There is someone of importance in the audience tonight. His eyes shine when he relays this. I am suddenly no longer warm and confident.
I settle deeper in my chair, glad I’m not drunk. I’ve fucked up before at the theatre and C does not forgive easily.
The lights go down.
Sounds of rear ends settling, last-minute hummed whisper, of how-do’s and plans to meet at intermission.
The lights go up again. A woman walks out on stage.
“I’d like you all to stand for the Governor General.”
Now this is difficult. What happens at this point? Well, everyone stands of course. Even me. We’re a society, a form of civilization. The woman on the stage owns the theatre. I must be thinking this. She’s the boss. But I’m falling apart. I feel anger, yes, with rage just around the bend. I feel offended, belittled. I’m paying homage to someone I don’t even know. What has this person even done? And done for me?
The woman on stage begins clapping and the audience joins in. This I proudly do not do. Also, I flush again with pride noticing that C doesn’t either. I know the Governor General’s a man because C says, “He’s over there,” in answer to my question, “Where is the asshole?” The national anthem begins over the tape system. The audience, myself included, remain standing until it’s over. I’m not angry any more, but fearfully confused. The playing of the national anthem only ever means one thing to me, and I’m waiting for the game to start.
We sit back down.
The theatrical acquaintance in front of us has clapped like a maniac—probably trying to be noticed.
I’m in a bad state. I twist my program into a tight cylinder. I’ve come to see art, or something. I’m dressed up, transformed, respectful of my fellow art-seeking citizens.
The play begins, delivers all of what I predicted. It’s good but tarnished by the thing that went before. A rumour flies through the lobby at intermission over the hastily downed highballs and muted wine. At the finish no one will be permitted to leave before the Governor General. C, who commands more of my respect than any member of parliament ever could, says, “We’ll beeline the nearest door. I’m not going to wait for some pot-bellied fop of a politician.”
Outside on the street after a successful beeline, C takes my arm. Stars are visible in spite of the lights from the city. The night is cold and clear. We walk along, C smelling faintly of rum.
“It is time to thank God,” I say, “that the play was good.”
“Hmmm,” says C.
“We name the building after the Queen,” I continue, “which is irritating enough . . .”
The rant begins.
C hugs my arm. The lights of the city compete with the stars to light the world.
“. . . the best to hope for,” I finish, “is that at least the play was good.”
C hums, smelling faintly of rum.