Backstage on the closing night of “110 In the Shade.” About to mosey out for the last time onto the circular wooden platform and play my opening harmonica licks. The platform will be washed in warm light. The platform is the sun. We play the whole show on the hot sun.

Here’s what I will miss:

I will miss bits of life that breathe without invitation or discussion. In the song “Raunchy,” my daughter Lizzie, played first by Audra McDonald and subsequently by the masterful Natalie Wheeler (“mistressful”?), makes fun of the Vamping Temptress kind of gal. In one of the first performances, Audra snatched off my hat, stuck it on her head, and began the funky V.T. rhythm by moving (on purpose) awkwardly offbeat as she sang. My character abandoned his guitar for several bars and snapped his fingers to the proper rhythm to help her get in the groove. It was funny. We left it in and did it that way for the rest of the run. Natalie and I did it, too. We never talked about it, never decided, never evaluated. It just came alive and stayed. A long and pretty funny “staring-daggers-at-one-another-during-Pop’s-exit” schtick happened the same way, Audra first and then Natalie. Lots of other moments, too. Precisely when one takes the other’s hand and lets it go, precisely when one glances away, embarrassed at the rawness of the other’s feelings. Lots of timing things.

I will, of course, miss my company, one by one. That’s mostly between me and them.

Here’s what I will maybe not miss so much:

Maybe not the show from St. George (J. Golden Kimball said that he would prefer Hell to St. George, so I’m using St. George as a euphemism, here), the night when

a) Natalie nearly cracked up when she was supposed to be way angry,
b) a lady from the audience joined in a scene,
c) Lena Latu, playing Woman #3, got slugged,
d) and a kid on the front row didn’t quite make it out of the theatre before regurgitating.

The details, respectively:

a) Natalie’s brush with unwelcome mirth came during the “staring daggers” beat, because at my command that she “Stay put!” I rather overdid it and the plosives disarranged her eyebrows.

b) Lizzie’s brother Noah, who loves her with all his heart, risks the wrath of the whole Curry family by begging her to realize that she’ll probably remain single the rest of her days. He says, with tears of regret rasping his voice,
“Please, listen to me… I’m sorry, but you’re gonna be an old maid…”
(general audience gasp, a few titters from people who don’t know what else to do with such painful starkness, and a few more titters from people who find the expression “old maid” funny ((I think audiences around here desperately want theatre to be funny. “110” is funny as all get-out, but not every moment of it. A few years ago my wife and I attended “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City (((professionals around the country call this Tony-award-winning venue “Utah Shakes”))). The play opens with the tragically alcoholic Blanche DuBois desperately searching for hidden liquor in her younger sister’s kitchen. The audience laughed their heads off—drunk is funny. I think that particular actress may have left here calling Utah Shakes by some less friendly name.)) )

Here’s how it went in the show from St. George.

Noah: I’m sorry (choke) but you’re gonna be an old maid, and the sooner you accept it…
Audience Lady Within Spitting Distance Of The Tortured Actor (Tim Threlfall) Playing Noah:
(loudly, and with conviction)
That’s awful.
Noah: …and the sooner you accept it…
ALWSDOTTA (T. F.) PN: That’s so mean!
Noah: …and the sooner you accept it…
ALWSDOTTA (T. F.) PN: Noah!
Noah: …and the sooner you accept it…
ALWSDOTTA (T. F.) PN: What a (expletive deleted)!
Noah: …and the sooner you accept it…
(Is she done? Will she pick up her cue? Guess not.) …the sooner you’ll stop breakin’ your heart.
(Noah exits.)
H. C. Curry (who is “Pop,” yours truly, grabbing Lizzie’s hands): Lizzie, you just forget that…
ALWSDOTTA (T. F.) PN: Good job, Pop!
H. C.: …you just forget everything he said!
(And H. C. might appropriately have added “and everything she said, too.” Bizarre-o-rama.)

c) In “The Rain Song” the con man Starbuck, played with passion by Darick Pead, whips the citizenry into a frenzy of hope, which ends with everyone thrusting their hands skyward.


It’s during this skyward thrust that Gentle Lena gets inadvertently slugged by Man #__ (Um, maybe his number should remain unspecified). It isn’t until my next moment offstage that I hear what happened and ask about Lena’s condition. “How bad was it? Is Lena okay?”

“Well, the bathroom looks like somebody exploded in there.” (Unlike the regurgitator, Lena made it out of the playing area before erupting. Her nose is broken and her eyes are still blackened.)
My mind shot back to the hallowed cowboy refrain,

“There was blood on the saddle,
Blood all around,
And a great,
Big,
Puddle
Of blood on the ground.”

I imagined a campfire on the Chisholm Trail, stars like sugar across an endless sky, the mournful lowing of cattle on the breeze, and little night critters skittering through blue shadows under the chuckwagon. A cowboy softly strums a beat-up old (Martin OM-28) guitar, another caresses a worn harmonica, yet another softly plonks the strings of the bass fiddle he’s been toting in his special deluxe economy-sized saddlebag. A clear voice rises easy like smoke in the night, sweetness itself, innocence clad in denim and leather. Nobody beats a cowboy for “sincere.”

“As I walked out in the streets of Laredo,
As I walked out in Laredo one day,
I spied a young cowboy all dressed in white linen,
Dressed in white linen and cold as the clay.

‘I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.’
‘I can see by your outfit that you’re a cowboy, too.’
‘You can see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.
Get yourself an outfit and be a cowboy, too!’”

(A lot of people romanticize cowboys. It ain’t easy being a cowboy—H. C. Curry knows. Cowboy hazards include:

• Disappearing sweat. You’re the first player on stage, setting the tone for the whole show, so you spritz off your collar and armpits and neck until you look totally hot (I have to insert that there are, among the fair sex in the company, many who look plenty hot without spritzing), and by the time Cody Swenson, speaking for the managing directors, has gotten through all the warnings about cell phones and exits and restroom whereabouts and what to do if your child regurgitates and exhortations that if the audience wants to participate in scenes they need to stick with the subject and the inspiring story of how we got Audra and Cody’s brother Will to be in this show and that they’re donating their performance and that, in fact, none of the actors on stage tonight are being paid, which is news to me, and how this is probably the only true and living production of “110 In the Shade,” the nice air conditioning that keeps the theatre at 72 in the shade has evaporated all the sweat away and you have to rely on acting, instead.

• Cowboy Boots. No explanation required.

• Forgetting how to talk. I had lines like “Wha‘e saylizzie?”

• Swearing at home. Not long into the run, I picked up off of the kitchen counter some perfectly inconsequential item, some resoundingly inoffensive small object, and said “What th’ helzis?” The ease with which I had spoken startled me.
(In the parking lot after the show one night, I found myself apologizing to the General Relief Society President about all the swearing. She seemed to be okay with it once I insisted that it was J. Golden Kimball who taught me how to do it well.)

d) The first problematical element in the regurgitation episode was the regurgitation itself, which took place just shy of the exit, pretty much exactly where my remaining entrances were to occur. The second problematical element was the argument between the regurgitator’s parents as to whom should attend to the issue, the resolution being that it should be brought to the attention of the management by the child’s uncle. Bear in mind that the play is very much in progress, if that’s the appropriate word, during all these proceedings.

Enough, already, about the show from St. George.

Okay, there’s a long scene every night between Lizzie and Starbuck, during which I usually totter up the stairs to the women’s dressing room and hang out there for a bit. Tonight I asked the fair occupants what I should write about this show.


I only had time for one response before I had to get myself downstairs and onto the stage to threaten Noah with a horsewhip.

“Write that you danced with a girl named Bailee, who, in the wig they have given me, looks like Gaston in ‘Beauty and the Beast.’” (Bailee thinks there’s probably no accent mark in “Gaston,” even though it’s a Frénch náme—I think it means “waiter” or “uses antlers in all of his decorating.”) This very dressing room is decorated with, aptly enough, antlers. Wicker antlers on a nearly-life-sized wicker cow that mysteriously appeared in here a couple of nights ago. (The best theatres are haunted, you know.) She looks rather fetching in a hat festooned with pink roses and a pink-flowered apron (this would be the cow, not Bailee, and not the ghost).

Later in the men’s dressing room I am given this three-pronged stab of insights by my brethren.

1.    “The show is not about weather.”
2.    “It’s about people, and how they discover their need for one another.”
3.    “And people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

Now they’re bragging about the multitudes of women they’ve kissed on stage. I find this petty and smart-alecky, so I think I’m going back to the women’s dressing room—but not without revealing that I kissed Audra McDonald six times in this show, until I got a hoarse throat and we cut out the kissing for the sake of her health. (She had to sound good for President Obama in about a week after that.) Actually, she kissed me, but I’m counting it.

(Didn’t make it back upstairs to the women’s dressing room—didn’t have time after writing this down.)

In the fifteen minutes before leaving for the theatre this afternoon, I laid down a bare guitar-and-voice recording of a song and emailed it to everybody in the company in lieu of the traditional closing night card. It’s a song I wrote twenty-four years ago at the closing of another show. (It’s also a song I may have included in a Backstage Graffiti column about ten years ago—but I understand that the literary tastes of certain extra-terrestrial segments of Meridian Readership lean toward redundancy.)

Maybe we’ll say these lines again on some other Saturday stage.
Maybe we’ll play these lives again, or maybe we’ll turn the page
And find that the names have all been changed,
We’re supposed to love somebody new.
If so, the words will be less pretend because I once said them to you.

Maybe we’ll try to break their hearts on some other Saturday night.
Maybe some guy will take my part, and maybe he’ll do alright.
The spotlighted stair, the song we share,
Do we have to admit that it’s through?
If so, it’s a song I can sing in the dark because I once sang it with you.

Why do we act, open this sack of dreams?
Haven’t we slipped, living our lives in scripted scenes?
What is there left for ourselves after the curtain falls?
Whatever it is we feel, we made it almost real.

Maybe we’ll say these lines again on some other Saturday stage.
Maybe we’ll play these lives again, or maybe we’ll turn the page
And find that the names have all been changed,
We’re supposed to love somebody new.
If so, the words will be less pretend because I once said them to you.
If so, the words are less pretend because I once said them to you.

I can’t get everything to my car in one trip. I drove it up to the stage door, and I’m loading it with my hat, which has barely survived the enthusiasm of both Audra and Natalie, my boots, which actually have become comfortable, my guitar, the transformation of which has been addressed previously, my cool “110 In the Shade” canvas bag that was a gift from the theatre to each of us, my vase of roses, brought to me this afternoon between shows by my family, little Adwen carrying it carefully behind her big sister’s extended skirts so it would be a surprise (these roses were bought just up the street at Macy’s, because that’s where I bought the single roses that I often clipped under the windshield wiper on my girlfriend’s car while she was being Maria in “The Sound of Music” inside this same theatre before she became my wife and gave me Adwen and the aforementioned big sister (and brother), and the poster that everybody so kindly signed.


So the top is down and I’m under the Utah stars again, and not the Texas stars. And back inside the theatre, our excellent crew is dismantling the sun.