“Can you come down here,” Mrs. PastorInTraining asked, her tone chipper and upbeat, like she’d just bested Mrs. Preacher. “We need some help and you were the first person I thought about.”
I should have just hung up the phone and moved to Brazil. I hear Brazil is quite nice, and very festive certain times of the year. It’s warm there, with many interesting types of birds who do not make their homes in Georgia. But most of all, it would have gotten me out of this particular mess.
“Just come to the sanctuary,” she said. “It’ll be super fun.”
In this case, “super fun” meant “those two words no longer have meaning”.
“What’s up?” I asked, taking in the scene, such as it was. The scene didn’t seem to include very many adults.
“We need some help with the Christmas play the kids are doing,” Mrs. PastorInTraining said. “You’ll be perfect for it.”
“I just remembered I left–”
“Get your hand off that doorknob and come get this script,” she commanded imperiously. She’s a small woman. I had no idea she could summon forth a voice like that. This was not good.
Miss Mary was dispatched to intercede.
“It’ll be fun!” she promised. (Narrator: It would not be fun.) “You’ll be on stage to help the kids out, and this way you can spend every Sunday afternoon and most Wednesday nights with me and Mrs. PastorInTraining and Mr. JustTransferredFromIndiana! Won’t that be fun!”
“We could just start a book club and accomplish the same thing,” I pointed out. “And I haven’t agreed to do this yet.”
But I was there and resistance was futile. Mr. JustTransferedFromIndiana was working on the sound system, his two children having already been cast in the roles of curious children. His wife decided that Sunday afternoons and most Wednesday evenings would be a perfect time to start her own book club, or have the house to herself for a couple of hours. Prior to calling me, Mrs. Pastorintraining had consulted with her on whether I might be a good fit for the role of an inept reporter.
“She’s perfect,” Mrs. Indiana agreed. “I’m leaving before you tell her.”
Defeated, I sighed.
“It’s a small part, right?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Pastorintraining confirmed. “Hardly any lines at all.”
You know, lying like that in the sanctuary should really disqualify her from the clergy. I leafed through the script, taking note of ALL THE HIGHLIGHTS that she had thoughtfully put in for me, despairing for my uninterrupted Sunday afternoons for the foreseeable future.
“We took out your solo and gave it to the kid with too much hair,” she said, gesturing at a boy who would surely give himself a concussion flinging his head around like that. “So you won’t have to sing.”
The play was a happy little Christmas thing called “A King Is Coming To Our Town”, and it followed the hilarious hijinks of a baffled mayor and a clueless television reporter trying to figure out what king would be arriving just at the end of December, aided by two children and a town full of people who frankly should not be left unsupervised. (I don’t know who writes these things, but it’s clear they are aliens who have never interacted with a single human in their entire existence.) They thought I would be perfect for the reporter. This is Robin, comin’ atcha live from Imma Kill You All When This Is Done! Film at 11!
I called my mother, hoping to get grounded. She was almost no help: an aspiring actress herself, she couldn’t stop laughing at the idea that I had caller ID and fell for these shenanigans.
“Prepare to get upstaged,” she warned me. “You better hope there isn’t an animal in it.”
There might be before this is all over. Bruce the dog might make an appearance as the dog who eats part of the scenery. 426 might show up as the dog who herds everyone into the room with cake.
“Kids, you’re going to have to sing louder,” Mr. JustTransferedFromIndiana repeated. “Or at all. I can’t turn the microphones up any higher, and Miss Robin already said that hell–that she isn’t going to sing to back you up. I can’t hear you and I’m five feet away. They’ll never hear you in the back.”
“Pretend you’re performing for Mr. Bob and he’s in the back row,” Mary suggested. “You know he wouldn’t hear it if the roof fell on him.”
“Why can’t he move up to the front?” the kid with too much hair asked, flinging his hair back dramatically. (Look, I know it sounds like I’m bagging on a kid here, but he was like 14 and this hair flinging bit got to be such a thing that even Indiana started calling him down for it.) “It’s not like anyone ever sits there.”
“Yeah, Mary,” I agreed. “It’s not like there’s anyone there.”
“Stop acting like a 9 year old,” she said. To me. “And stop doing an imitation of a bad reporter, too.”
“Have you ever watched the local news?” I grumbled. Indiana choked on his coffee.
“And you,” she said to the kid with too much hair, “stop flinging your hair or I’m going to cut it off. And sing louder. That goes for the rest of you too.”
It was almost two months before we got far enough in rehearsals to get to the song in the second act. This one featured a museum curator who…did you know kids under 16 or so years old struggle with the concept of Egyptology? And I live in a rural area, where the average fourth grader reads at a first grade level. (Seriously. The test scores in our county are awful.) So they struggle with saying the word “Egyptology” too. I spent a lot of time sitting on the stage rewriting the dialog into something the kids could actually repeat, because otherwise the play sounded like a mangled, ungrammatical mess. Very often, I would look up at Mrs. Pastorintraining, who would pretend not to see me, as I penned out lines and wrote in something the kids could understand.
“This has to be the absolute worst song I’ve ever heard in a children’s musical,” I said to Indiana.
“I would agree, except you can’t hear it any better than I can. Kids! Can we try that again? Louder this time? Pretend you’re outside or something, and they need to hear you on top of the mountain.”
“Why can’t they just come down?” Little Miss M asked. “All the parking spaces are empty. And this song is lame.”
“This song is lame,” I agreed, earning a reproachful look from Miss Mary and Mrs. Pastorintraining, and a high five from Indiana.
“I’m open to suggestion,” Mrs. Pastorintraining said as she unwittingly stumbled right into my perfect trap.
“Instead of letting the kids sing this drag of a number and do this ridiculous dance,” I offered, “Indiana and I are just going to get up and do Steve Martin’s ‘King Tut’ number from Saturday Night Live.”
We were dismissed with prejudice that evening, but Indiana agreed that King Tut would be a better, more appropriate number, and that the audience would proably appreciate the break for a couple of minutes. Plus, the dance would be way better than the awkward, too-slow choreography that had been included with the play.
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Preacher said with a finality that bespoke an old testament prophet. His was not the still small voice in the wilderness; it was the booming, powerful voice of an 80-year-old man who was not about to interrupt his third coffee break of the day with this nonsense. “I’ve suffered through too many kids plays to let something entertaining get through now. I’m too old, and the parents need to learn to stop suggesting these ridiculous ideas.”
“What about my spiritual needs?” I whined.
“Your spirit needs to check the caller ID before you answer the telephone,” he snapped. “But everyone says your TV reporter impression is dead on. You may have missed your calling.”
I spluttered out parts of nine sentences before he ambled away, hands in his pockets, whistling “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”
Crafty old badger.
Three people stopped me after church the morning of the play.
“This is a misprint, right?” Mrs. C said. “You’re not really in the play. Surely.”
“I surely am,” I answered with what could be called a smile when viewed from certain angles. “Come out and see us!”
“Why does that sound so much like a threat?” She worked in HR. She knows from threats. “But you better believe we’ll be here. We’re going to bring Mr. B’s parents too. They’ve been asking about you.” (They transferred from Retirement Acres UMC to a different church that you’ll probably hear about when you least expect it.)
“Because you won’t be able to hear anything, that’s for sure,” Indiana muttered. Mrs. Indiana slapped him on the arm. She, too, had vetoed the King Tut idea. White male engineers are not known for their dancing skills, she reminded me. Embarassing would not be the word.
“YouTube,” I offered.
“You cut it out,” she explained.
I’d like to say that the play went off without a hitch. But we all know this is not the universe in which we live, and it is certainly not a universe where plays performed by children go flawlessly. People in the back had to stand to hear the musical numbers. Mr. Bob asked “WHAT?” so many times that Mrs. Bob kicked him. The whole congregation could hear that just fine. Little Miss M and the kid with too much hair got in a fight when he flung his hair back into her face during what had been a particularly undramatic moment. Enough people knew about the whole Steve Martin thing that they were disappointed when it didn’t appear. (Note: write-in campaigns are not a great way to change anything in a church.)(But they are a fantastic way to get people to look forward to something that is never, ever going to happen.) Overall, however, it was a good effort and, everyone claimed, a worthwhile way to spend ninety minutes on a Sunday evening when the Grinch wasn’t on anyway. My turn as a reporter, which I thought was tasteful and understated, resulted in one offer for an audition at a local station, and a number of comments on how I really should have pursued a career path other than the one I am doggedly following.
There should be a moral at the end of this little tale. Sadly, the only one I can come up with is that irony is well and truly dead, and Steve Martin is underrated as an evangelical tool.
Merry Christmas, readers; no good deed goes unpunished.