The Wrong Side of the River
She doth teach the torches to burn bright

I ran through the house like a madman, collecting things for the play—an old perfume bottle for the poison, Dad’s letter opener for the dagger, several envelopes for letters, fireplace tools for swords, and a whole bunch of other things I thought might be useful.
I ran up to my room, hoping to find my hat that looked vaguely Shakespearean, but then I remembered I’d given it to Goodwill last year. I pulled Solo’s favorite tennis ball out of my top drawer and knelt down in front of him. “You can do this right?”
He wagged his tail.
“Mom,” I yelled, flying down the stairs. “Start the car, we’ve got to go!”
We arrived just in time. The auditorium was filled nearly to the brim with parents from both sides of the river. Why would the Northsiders be here if none of their kids were coming? Maybe the cast had shown up after all?
The only people backstage were Romy, Mrs. Kempf, Brian Nichols, who played Benvolio, Finn Blackwater, who played Paris, and Mitchell Farnsworth and Adam Manning, who did with lighting and would have helped with scene changes if we’d actually had sets or props. I breathed in deeply. Not much to work with.
They all looked at me, expectantly.
I dumped my thrown together props on the card table. “It’s going to be okay,” I said. “We can do this.”
“But what about all the roles we’re missing?” Adam asked.
I whistled and Solo came running up the stairs.
I’d never been on stage at the beginning of Act One, Scene One before. Romeo didn’t usually come in until the second half of the scene.
I stared out at the audience. There wasn’t an empty seat. A few people were even standing in the back.
I stepped to the center of the stage.
“Two households, both alike in dignity,” I began.
Several audience members giggled.
“In fair Verona where we lay our scene,”
Someone in the back yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Hey Julie! Why don’t you just give up already?”
More laughter filled the room.
And that’s when I realized. The auditorium wasn’t full because people wanted to see the play. It was full because people wanted to see us fail.
Anger bubbled up inside me as I finished the prologue. I had to do this. I had to get through and show them we wouldn’t be intimidated.
I took a deep breath whistled for Solo, who trotted onto the stage like he owned it. Romy had found a little felt hat, which she’d placed over his ears to make him look like a proper servant. I pointed my fireplace tool at the audience.
“Gregory,” I said, more boldly now, really getting into the feeling Sampson and Gregory must have had at being pushed aside and not allowed to fight because they were just servants. “O’ my word we’ll not carry coals.”
Solo looked out at the audience, and Romy voiced Solo’s line from stage right, trying to make her voice low enough to pass for a disgruntled servant. The overall effect was brilliant. The audience grew quiet as Solo shined.
The next twenty minutes were the trickiest, because the first act of Romeo and Juliet has about twenty different characters in it, so all of us had to play multiple parts. There were a few snickers when Finn missed his entrance for Mercutio and a few more when Mitchell had to slip on a dress to play Lady Montague, but when Brian came out and “fought” Solo as Tybalt, there was all out clapping. I stood at the side of the stage and gave him commands as he danced around Brian and barked in appropriate times. It didn’t really seem to matter that the rest of us weren’t perfect because Solo was different from anything they’d ever seen. Solo was fun.
Romy finally took the stage as Juliet at the end of Act One and even though Solo was brilliant as the nurse and I was silly in my dress and wig as Lady Capulet, Romy was the one who captivated the audience. They hung on every word she spoke and so did I.
The kissing scene went perfectly. The audience sighed and clapped and cheered at I kissed Romy’s hand and she passed it across her lips.
Romy beamed when the curtain went down.
“This is amazing, Julian! I’ve never done a play with the audience so involved. You are brilliant. You know that right?”
I smiled and shrugged, trying to keep the compliment from turning my face as red as my hair. “So are you.”
It was a little sad to do the balcony scene without the balcony, especially since we’d worked on it for three weeks and we’d stayed late on Wednesday night stapling ivy to the front so it would look authentic. Romy had to stand on a chair and give her lines, which of course she did brilliantly, but I wondered if whoever had taken the sets and props felt a little guilty watching an actress like Romy forced to stand on a chair because she didn’t have a proper set.
We had a bit of a scare in the big fight scene when Brian tripped over Solo. Brian only stepped on the end of his tail, but that sent Solo howling, which actually worked out okay since he was playing Tybalt who was supposed to be mortally wounded.
Solo played the perfect apothecary, thanks to our new fetch and carry trick. Romy handed him a perfume bottle backstage and he carried it to me while she recited his lines.
During the death scene I could hear sniffles from the audience, and by the time I gave the prince’s final speech I couldn’t see a dry eye in the room—of course I could only really see the eyes of the people in the front row, but still.
When the curtain came down the applause erupted like nothing I’d ever heard before. Romy threw her arms around my neck.
“I didn’t think it was possible!” She shouted over the roar of applause. “It was like magic! I’ve never done a play like that before in my whole life. Julian you are a genius.”
I smiled. “It was pretty perfect, wasn’t it?”
Mrs. Kempf, dressed in a medieval outfit with a giant feathered hat, bounded onto the stage. “Open the curtain! Open the curtain! They’re still clapping, you must take another bow.”
The curtain opened, revealing the audience on its feet.
Mom and Dad stood in the third row, both beaming. I saw Ben and Marshall and their parents and Brian’s family, including his little brother, who was attempting to launch a paper airplane over the heads of the couple in front of them.
Then I saw Mrs. Madison. She was clapping with the rest of the group, but didn’t seem totally happy about the whole thing. Romy must have seen her too, because her smile faded just a bit.
But then she took my hand and we bowed together one last time.

Keep Reading

Chapter 30

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished Romy

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