The Bachelor and the Baby Fox


So my sister had a baby – or, judging from the damage, a grenade. “There was more blood than Carrie,” she said over the phone just hours after the birth. “Why are you calling me?” I asked. “You just pushed an entire bowling alley through your vagina.” She laughed, more in agreement than amusement. “I wanted to call you,” she said, “because he has red hair like you.” “Are you sure?” I said. “Maybe that’s blood.”


“Are you looking forward to holding him?” My cousin asked. “I’m not going to hold him,” I replied. “Oh come on, of course you will,” she persisted. “You’re projecting a lot of humanity onto me right now,” I said. “This is not some cynical exoskeleton protecting a bleeding heart. That thing did some serious shit on the way out. It’s a Small Assassin. I am concerned for my sister.”


“I got the TDAP or CPAP or pap smear or whatever,” I said to a friend. “I was like, ‘but I’m not going to hold the baby,’ and they’re like, ‘but you still have to get the shot.’ So I got it. And a book: Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How To Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. That is as involved in their parenting as I’m ever going to be.”


“I wanted to tell you,” I started to tell my sister as my mother started to tell me about the baby room. “Come see it. You have to see it.” I smiled with a few too many teeth. “I was about to embark on a topic beyond the baby,” I raised an eyebrow, “which is a little scary, I know.” The joke sounded angrier than I’d intended.  Fleeing the scene I’d just created, I said, “let’s see it.” It was a four-walled forest with painted trees and little foxes, getting into trouble and looking cute doing it – a strategy which, I felt compelled to explain to them, will only work so long. My sister asked what I was going to tell her before. “Oh, just that I’m reading A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I said, “which really should be retitled A Series of Stupid Adults. They are so stupid. They keep doing the same stupid things.”


The iPhone illuminated my face like the light from an open refrigerator. “A Wisconsinite in Missouri: the sign says Deer Run. I thought it said Beer Run,” I texted to him, since he is from here. “How long will you be there,” he texted back. Our here and there would be the same place for a few days. We set a time to meet. Just for a drink, I thought, and it seemed to echo in my head, a mockingbird in a small cage. I strolled down the middle of the road, guided by Christmas lights. The front of one house was flooded with undulating rainbow flecks of light, broken candy floating in water. I stared into the houses and watched people live. It seemed like voyeurism but felt like intimacy; as a girl cares for her dolls and dollhouse, I cared for them. Instead of ear muffs I wore Bose noise canceling headphones and listened to Book of Love: “I want to be where the boys are / But I’m not allowed / I’m not a boy / I’m not a boy.”


Tossing the baby to our parents, we went Into The Woods. The lyrics and music carried us even as they made us walk. “Mother cannot guide you / Now you’re on your own / Only me beside you / Still you’re not alone / No one is alone, truly / No one is alone / Sometimes people leave you / Halfway through the wood / Others may deceive you / You decide what’s good / You decide alone / But no one is alone” On the ride home, my brother-in-law said, “this musical means a lot more now.”


“The baby looks like you,” a mutual friend of my sister and I said. “Hopefully the resemblance is only physical,” I said. It was New Year’s Eve at Missy B’s, a place just as trashy as it sounds. The friend bound her breasts like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and shaved her head like Sinead O’Connor in everything and people thought we were a couple and we did not correct them. An adorable doofus found me on the dance floor around midnight and tried to kiss me. Our beards brushed as I shouted in his ear, “I’m not that kind of boy.” I should have added “anymore.”


“Apologies, but I must cancel. A good friend of the family has died so we are leaving early,” I texted the boy from here. Not a good friend of the family, really, only of my father, but it sounded better, and I felt better, like an animal caught in a trap and released into the wild again. I was even ready for the Anne Geddes photo shoot. The baby was naked and someone was aiming a hair dryer at his ass. It was a whole situation. My family had held steady for a week in their requests for me to hold him, so I did. Long enough to snap a few pictures, then I passed him back to the professionals. The red shirt I had been given for the occasion – World’s Greatest Uncle – could be taken off. I left it on.


On Thursday, a two-character play opens. I am one of those two. I am half of the play. The worse half. It is Oleanna, a comedy of language and a tragedy of power, written by Pulitzer prize-winning David Mamet. College student Carol visits professor John in his office to discuss her failing grade. By the conclusion of this first meeting, it would seem an understanding has been reached. But when next we see them, Carol has joined a “group” and every word, every nuance of their interaction has been twisted into something else. Or has it?

I’m playing the aforementioned college student, Carol. If that isn’t sufficiently intriguing, I will also be juggling chain saws. That’s not true. Why wouldn’t it be sufficiently intriguing that I’m playing Carol? And since we’re taking questions, what’s with the title of the play? Well, it’s ironically derived from a folk song which contains the lyrics,

In Oleanna land is free
The wheat and corn just plant themselves
Then grow a good four feet a day
While on your bed you rest yourself

In Oleanna the land is free, but in Oleanna, the land is not your land, or my land, it’s badland. The lay of the land is sharp, barren, rugged, divided by drop-offs, shrouded in fog, obscured by trees. Still, it’s like Sondheim says, sometimes you have to go into the woods. The woods are just trees and the trees are just wood. But it’s dim and it’s unnerving and it reminds you of the Blair Witch Project and there could be weeping and gnashing of teeth and running noses.

Yet you have to go, to get something that makes it worth the journeying. And hope it’s worth it for everyone else. A lesson learned. A prejudice confronted. An injustice witnessed. So,

Into the woods
Into the woods
Into the woods
Then out of the woods
And home before dark


Oleanna by David Mamet. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM from June 19th – July 12th at the Alchemist Theatre in Bay View. Directed by Erin Eggers. Starring David Sapiro and Ben Parman. Lighting and Sound Design by Aaron Kopec. Stage Management by Sydonia Lucchesi.



Lights rise on a set that merges reality and illusion with a lucid mystery that can only be seen, and believed, in the theatre. Surely this is some patriotic carnival of souls; a purgatory where discarded popcorn bags and American flags, dismembered baby dolls and discolored painted horses, try to see their sin through a dusting of rusty blood.  A wooden combination factory-merry-go-round-prison looms at the rear of the stage, drunk driving around the actors and scenery. Huge portraits – the 6 American presidents on whom assassinations were attempted – stack into a checkered tower, topped by the signs Hit and Fail, which light and buzz and ding like a slot machine.

It is the pay-what-you-can* performance of Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s** production of Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins. At 82, Sondheim is still a boy wonder. His old shows open like new shows, because they’re usually better than anything new. Yes, they are musicals, but even though the music is hosting the party, Sondheim refuses to let it dominate the conversation. There are characters, and ideas, and critique, all of whom must be heard, sometimes simultaneously.

“Come on and shoot a president!” Barks the barker in his red and white striped coat, slithering from a booth in the corner. As if entering a musical Twilight Zone,*** the assassins dispense with time, space and other meddling realities, coexisting and co-creating each other’s destinies. From a window facing the grassy knoll, they gather around Lee Harvey Oswald as a cloud of witnesses; prophets of the false god of self, shedding blood so that their culture will endure.

John Wilkes Booth casts Brutus as a role model, whom Oswald immediately remembers. “[He] assassinated Caesar what, 2,000 years ago?” Booth marvels, “and here’s a high school dropout with a dollar twenty-five an hour job from Dallas, Texas who knows who he was. And they say fame – is fleeting?”

With the assassinations finished, the procession begins. “Everybody’s got the right to be happy…” they chant musically to one another, to the audience, coaxing a collective hypnosis. Guns drawn, they aim at us. Eyes open, we look back at them. “…everybody’s got the right to their dreams.” The stage lights go off. The house lights come on.

Backstage, the actors congratulate one another for getting a standing ovation at the first dress rehearsal. In the back of the house, the director presses next to a light board operator, proving his power. As we walk out of the theater, my friend and I discuss the musical we’re writing, sculpting our visions out of the night air.


*I paid in lint and used chap stick. No, I paid the suggested donation, a phrase which is almost Nietzschean in its manipulation. “We suggest this donation for the common man, because he needs structure. But you’re above all that, aren’t you? You’re super. You can give more than the suggested donation. Come on, Superman.” But I was not a mark for this philosophical con. I paid the suggested donation, no more, no less. Unless that was the con. Dammit, this is worse than David Mamet.

**Prior to the performance, Artistic Director and Briton Mark Clements strolled onstage with an authority unique to Milwaukee, where the British are still believed to be more cultured than Americans. After nodding with approval at the awed applause, he dismissed it with a gesture and we were silent. He then provided this introductory speech:

“Right. So, since I came here, we’re constantly trying to push the limits, uh, push the envelope, and this is the most technically complicated show we’ve ever done in the history of this theatre. We had 3 weeks of rehearsal with the actors, a week of tech, and, uh, this is our first dress rehearsal. Actually, um, we’ve never gotten through the whole show before. So we might have stop at some point. If we do, you’ll know. I mean, we’ll turn on the house lights and you can talk amongst yourselves. But when the house lights go off, I’d ask that you stop talking and we’ll start again. But our people have been putting 80 hour weeks in on this, so. Right. Enjoy. Cheers.”

***The Twilight Zone episode “Back There” is about a man who time-travels to the day Abraham Lincoln was shot and meets John Wilkes Booth. It’s worth seeing for the performance of John Lasell, who distills Booth’s political and theatrical ambition into something mesmerizingly convincing.