Monday, April 5, 2010

The Cadillac Fridge

My high school drama club experience was, I believe, not your ordinary high school drama club experience. I've already outlined the Diary of Anne Frank snowstorm defiance which led to me being embedded in a Catholic school girl production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat aping Elvis in gold lame debacle/triumph. Another highlight was an adaptation of the Hitchcock film 'Rope' in which my buddy Tom DeVincke was murdered in the first scene and then spent an hour and forty minutes stuffed into a trunk, but that's a story for another day.

Another full production that somehow made its way past the censors of public school education was 'A Hatful Of Rain', the famous Michael Gazzo play that dealt with the trials of a morphine addict struggling to readjust to society after WWII. I played the morphine addict.

This play, for those unfamiliar with it, is still shocking TODAY. If you saw it you wouldn't be snickering at the 1950's version of addiction. It is BRUTAL. The main character is in love with his brother's wife. He is a junkie. He is in trouble with loan sharks. And none of this has the Damon Runyan sheen and pep that colors most portrayals of the underworld from that era. The edges are blurry, the cigarettes stink, the scabs are real.

In our high school there were two kinds of production. There were the mainstage drama club productions and then the productions that came out of the actual Drama Class. 'A Hatful Of Rain' was directed by Tom Hull who is now something of an origami genius. I think, as amazing as his origami structures are, that he may have missed his calling, because he was a hell of a theater director.

Class time was taken up with rehearsal. I can't quite recall the difference between a Drama Club production and a Drama Class production because they seem equally well prepared in my memory. But this show was extra ready because Tom knew exactly what he wanted. He had blocking ideas, staging and lighting ideas, ideas that not only served the play but also clarified it, honed it to a sharper edge, removed whatever anachronistic tendency that might still linger around the edges.

Which is why he needed a refrigerator.

Much of the play took place in the squalid kitchen of a cramped New York apartment. At one point I got a big laugh merely by closing the door at an appropriate moment. So Tom wasn't joking. We needed the fridge.

Through behind the scenes machinations we found someone who could loan us an old broken down 1950's fridge, the kind that you could stand on end, put wheels on and get 9 miles to the gallon with. We had to go over to a warehouse behind the old mill to pick it up.

Someone had a pickup truck so after school we drove the half mile or so from SK High School to the warehouse. The fridge was on a loading dock waiting for us and man was it a mother of a fridge. It towered over us. There were five or six students in the truck because we'd been warned that the thing was big. Even so we were shocked.

We started the awkward process of trying to lower it into the bed of the pick up. We had no equipment, just five or six teenage brains. Clearly it was not enough gray matter, because somehow I wound up on the bed of the truck as the giant monolith creaked down on top of me. I was the only one aware of my presence in the bed of the truck. It backed me down like an aggressive jock pinning a cheerleader to a couch. I began to yell but there was a moment when my two hands took the whole weight of it as it bounced down on top of me.

They talk about women being able to lift cars off of their babies. Well, I don't know about that. But I do know that for one second I bench pressed in the vicinity of what I can only guess to be at least 400 pounds.

I was immediately sore all over. Of course we'd waited to get the fridge until the very night of the play so I had to go onstage that night aching from head to foot.

Much later when I was forced to get chest X-rays due to a bout with pleurisy or pneumonia or bronchitis, the doctor said I had a crushed vertebra in the center of my spine. This was fairly common. I could have had it since birth. Or it could have happened later. Had I been in any kind of an accident?

I told the doctor, no, I'd never had any kind of a car accident. Sitting there I somehow failed to recollect the Cadillac refrigerator slowly enveloping me in its loving embrace.

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