Talent

“He has obviously been maltreated in his life, and I suspect, he’s latched on to Sasha to alleviate his pain, that is, if he doesn’t consume her first.” An alluring offering of fiction that tells of the freeloading opportunists that feed off the talent and success of others…

by: Jack Coey

She thought, perhaps, he was the man who delivered oil. For she identified him from somewhere, and glancing down at the lettuce, recalled he was in a play she saw two nights before at the Orpheus Theatre. He knew he was recognized when she knowingly smiled. He was Trevor Howard, a washed up, has-been, one-time leading man who squeezed a living from playing small to medium-sized venues in silly family comedies. Eight years before, he was nationally recognized in a commercial for Thom McCann when he played a man with sore feet. He made money along with the public identity of “sore foot man.”    

“You were so funny with sore feet,” she exclaimed.

He listlessly nodded. 

“Could I get your autograph?” 

She was Noreen Phelan, a forty-five year old housewife. Trevor extended his arms out to show he had nothing with which to autograph. Flustered, Noreen went to the meat counter and asked for paper and a pen. The butcher annoyedly handed her an order form for salami and a magic marker. 

“The name, please?”

She told him. She loved make-believe, and thought actors were magicians who conjured truths that were unknowable. He handed her back the salami order form with ‘Best Wishes to my friend, Noreen Phelan’ written on it. 

“Have you been reviewed yet?” she knew enough to ask. 

“This coming week is what I’ve been told.” 

“Break a leg,” she giggled. She loved saying that.

Wannabes annoyed Trevor. 

“Thank-you, Doreen.” 

Noreen blushed. 

“It’s NOReen!”

“Oh, yes, of course, Noreen! I have some comp tickets if you’d like to see the show again?” 

“Oh! Golly, that would be awesome!” 

“The tickets are in my hotel room if you’d walk with me?” 

“Ah…how about you leave them at the box office, and I’ll pick them up. Leave them for Doreen,” she giggled, “she hasn’t seen the show yet.” 

Trevor was outmaneuvered.

“Nice to meet you, Noreen.” 

As she walked away, she smelt salami.  

The auditions for Right Side Up were held in Boston, and Trevor read with a young girl named Sasha who was dominating. She was quick and funny, and easily won the role of the flighty, ditsy daughter of Reginald, the father who was played by Trevor. Trevor was moved by how working with Sasha aroused the excitement and drama of being young in the theatre. He watched her in awe, and was on the lookout for any advice he could give her. She was from the North End, raised in a working class family, and was brash and charismatic. In the barroom after rehearsals, she out drank most of the men. It was more than once that Trevor got stuck with her bar bill that he irritably paid. One night, a boy showed up with her. His upper lip was in a permanent snarl and he didn’t talk to anybody. He spent the whole night by her side and nobody liked him.

The company rode by bus to Keene, New Hampshire where the play was to open in a week at the Orpheus Theatre on Main Street. The company stayed at the B. F. Ames Hotel two blocks away from the theatre. Regular rehearsals were Monday through Friday with the first half of the show in the morning, and the second half in the afternoon. The show was set to open on Saturday. Except for Sasha, the cast was experienced, and knew how to pace themselves to be prime for Saturday. Omar, the director, was like a conductor in that he paced and modulated the tone of the acting to be peak for Saturday. At the middle of the week, a reporter from The Keene Sentinel showed up and told Omar he would be reviewing the show the second week of their run. Omar told the reporter a good review was necessary for their survival. 

“Oh, believe me, I know,” was the answer.

Omar scratched his head, not sure if that was a threat or sympathy. 

Trevor worked hard to keep up with Sasha. She came up with bits and shtick like a magician pulling rabbits from a hat. He was annoyed when he saw the boy with the snarled lip sitting in the audience. His annoyance grew to anger when Sasha started showboating for him. Omar too saw the change and was angry. During notes, Omar made the stipulation that no one except cast members were allowed in rehearsal. After rehearsal, the actors met at The Drowsy Friar and Sasha and the boy sat in a corner by themselves. Omar nodded to Trevor to go over and see if he could find out anything about him. 

“May I join you?” Two sullen faces looked up at him.

“Yeah,” she said. 

They silently sat. This is going nowhere, Trevor thought.

“Sasha, don’t take Omar wrong. He only wants the best for you as do the rest of us.” 

She smirked.

“Hello, my name is Trevor Howard,” extending his hand to the boy with the curl.

He gave a limp handshake.

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name.” 

“This here is Devlin,” answered Sasha. “He’s from my neighborhood. He drove from the North End to be with me.”  

“Devlin, there’s people who have invested money in this show so Omar has to do everything he can to protect their investment and give them the best product he can. It has nothing to do with you or Sasha.” 

“I gotta pee,” Devlin said before he stood up and walked away. 

Sasha watched him walk away, smiling. 

“People misunderstand Devlin. He’s a genius.”

“He could use some work on his social skills.” 

Sasha loudly laughed. Trevor was beginning to regret talking to the two of them as he realized his affection for Sasha was being tested. 

“What does he do?” 

Sasha looked around the room.

“For now he works at a car wash.” 

“Doesn’t sound like genius to me.” 

Sasha scowled. 

“See? That’s what I mean. I’m going to ask Omar to give Devlin an audition and he’ll show you and the rest of these assholes who can act and who can’t.” 

Trevor thought about what she said.

“Well, good luck,” he said as he stood. “Keep up your good work. You’re going to get good reviews, I’m sure of it.” 

“Yeah. People are going to make money off my work.” 

As Trevor crossed the room to the bar, he didn’t like the sound of that at all. Several minutes later, he stood next to Omar at the bar. 

“She thinks he’s a genius.” 

Omar was confused.

“Oh, the fellow, you mean?” 

“She’s going to ask you to audition him.” 

Omar looked over the rim of his whiskey glass. 

“I’m not casting anything.” 

“She wants to prove to you he’s a genius.” 

Omar laughed. 

“That and fifty cents will get you uptown. Other than the shows I’m working on, I have no influence in the theatre.”

“But if he gives a terrible audition, we could use that to talk her out of him.” 

Omar tiredly smiled.

“Trevor, there are several actresses I’ve known who destroyed their careers over a man. Sex and love are just as powerful as ambition.” 

“I wouldn’t know.” 

They laughed. 

“I’ll give him an audition and we’ll see what happens. Would you like to see it?” 

“Noel will be there, right?” 

“Oh, sure. I always want a second opinion. Noel has seen things I missed a number of times.” 

“I think any more than you and your stage manager would give Sasha paranoia.”

“You’re a veteran Trevor so you know our focus is on Saturday night.”

“Cheers!” said Trevor raising his glass. 

The opening was a celebration. The audience was enthralled and delighted. Sasha lit up the stage, and Trevor was her foil. He fed her the set up lines and she delivered the punch lines. Her timing was impeccable and her energy infectious. By the final curtain, it was her audience and everybody knew it. Trevor was happy and anxious for her. Success was an intoxicant she didn’t need; it fortified her distrust. 

The opening night party was at The Drowsy Friar. The cast and crew were elated. Sasha stood in the middle of the room with a crowd around her. Trevor saw Devlin sitting at a corner table with a scowling face. He didn’t know why but he walked over to him.

“Some show, eh?” 

Devlin looked away.

“Sasha was a star,” he mumbled. 

“No kidding?” 

“She’s mine.” 

“Lucky her.” 

Trevor walked away. 

About twenty minutes later, Trevor and Sasha hugged.

“Congratulations, Sasha, you were wonderful.” 

“Oh! Trevor I couldn’t have done it without you!” Sasha exclaimed.

“That’s kind of you Sasha. You know you’re going to have a busy future.” 

“Devlin and I are so excited.” 

Trevor winced and forced a smile. A small crowd formed waiting for Sasha. 

“Oh? Are you engaged?” 

“Devlin is my manager. He advises me on any professional choices I make.” 

“You might want to rethink that.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“We can’t go into it now, Sasha. Your fans are here.” 

Sasha gave Trevor a sneer before smiling for her fans. 

The following morning was quiet as the cast was battered from carousing. Trevor, from experience, knew to moderate himself and arrived at the coffee shop earlier than the rest. Omar and Noel were in a booth. Noel waved for Trevor to join them. The waitress knew to bring coffee. 

“She was something,” said Noel.

The other two nodded.

“She takes the show to another level,” said Omar. 

“Don’t think she doesn’t know it and that buffoon with her.” 

“He’s giving us an audition on Tuesday afternoon. Sasha drunkenly asked me during the opening night party.” 

“That could help us,” suggested Trevor. 

“I asked her what monologue he’d be doing, and she said an original piece written by him. Bad move. Anything that takes away from an actor showing his talent is a mistake. Sure, I’ve heard “To Be or Not to Be” a thousand times, but if you can act, you bring it to life in your own way.” 

“She told me he’s acting as her manager.”

Omar shook his head. 

“You know,” he said, “I’ve known several actors and actresses who were really talented who have had the worst people around them. It was as if they didn’t know how good they were. Like they couldn’t admit it to themselves.” 

“Oh, you know, there’s all those theories about the suffering artist. Their suffering is what drives them to achieve,” said Trevor.

“Well, right now, I’m a starving artist. Let’s order shall we?” asked Noel. 

It was late Tuesday afternoon and Trevor was at the bar talking about the Red Sox to Eugene the bartender when Omar and Noel came in having an earnest conversation. One man stood on either side of Trevor, Eugene went to get their drinks. Trevor sensed their agitation. 

“It was weird,” said Noel.

Trevor sympathetically smiled.

“Thank you, Eugene,” said Omar as he set his whiskey in front of him. “He gave this satanic curse rant that was so full of anger and hate that we’re talking about notifying someone about his mental health. It’s not uncommon for actors to confuse therapy with art, but my lord, I’ve never seen it quite to this degree. He has obviously been maltreated in his life, and I suspect, he’s latched on to Sasha to alleviate his pain, that is, if he doesn’t consume her first.” 

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” said Trevor. 

“It’s more than that though,” said Noel, “let’s be honest, the show will tank without her.” 

“I don’t agree,” said Omar. “We can survive with an understudy, but I agree, we won’t flourish.” 

“There’s a chance we could get a run in Boston which would be a big deal for most of the cast. It would for me,” said Noel. 

“True,” said Omar.  

“Isn’t the theatre critic for the paper coming to review us?” asked Trevor. 

“This week,” said Noel. 

“I expect she’s going to get excellent reviews,” said Trevor

“Without a doubt,” agreed Omar. 

“For sure,” said Noel.

“I think we have one shot at getting her to see Devlin for what he is.”

“How’s that?” 

“We wait for the good review to come out and use that as evidence that she has more to lose than gain by sticking with the snake.” 

Omar and Noel looked at each other. 

“Won’t hurt to try.” conceded Omar. 

“We owe it to the company,” said Noel. 

“Good Luck,” said Omar. 

It was the way they thought it would be with The Keene Sentinel giving the show enthusiastic praise, and highlighting Sasha’s magnanimous performance. The trinity of Trevor, Omar, and Noel were pleased professionally and personally. Especially Trevor, for now he had proof of Sasha’s skill he could use it to leverage her away from the snake. He asked her in the green room if they could have coffee in the morning, and she looked suspicious, pausing, before saying yes. He was annoyed when he entered the coffee shop in the morning to see Devlin with her even though he made clear he wanted to see her alone. “I thought you agreed to meet me by yourself?” he said, still standing. She gave a dopey smile which graduated his annoyance to anger. Suddenly, Devlin stood up, and for a second Trevor was fearful, and with a scowl walked out of the coffee shop. Trevor froze. 

Now I’m alone.” 

The fear drained out of Trevor. He slowly sat across from her.

“Let me buy you breakfast.” 

The waitress brought Trevor coffee. Sasha ordered a ham omelet and he ordered toast. They sat in silence as they ate. After the waitress poured their second cups of coffee, Trevor started, “Sasha you know, I’m sure, that you are on the brink of events that will change your life.”

“Yeah? Like what?” 

He held up The Keene Sentinel with the headline: “Right Side Up Is All That & More!” He read from the review its description of Sasha. “Sasha Murphy is a consummate and instinctual comedic talent that is exhilarating to watch.” Sasha couldn’t keep herself from smiling. “You are at the beginning of a fulfilling and rewarding career if you don’t screw it up.”

“In Keene, NH.?” 

“There’s a grapevine, Sasha, in the theatre as in many professions.” He held up The Sentinel. “This review will travel, who knows how far? Boston is not that far away. With your looks, you are a natural for television and the movies. But it takes not only talent but discipline too. There’s plenty of talented actors sitting in AA meetings and drug rehab centers who thought they were invincible. Who are trying to figure out where their careers went.”

“I don’t drink in the morning.” 

“I’m not talking about that.” 

She distrustfully scowled at Trevor. 

“Sasha, Devlin is no good for you.”

“Everybody knocks Devlin when no one understands him.” 

“Bullshit, Sasha. He gave a terrible audition. Just ask Omar and Noel.” 

“Those two queers don’t know anything.” 

“That’s not true, Sasha. Don’t you see if you want to be happy and successful, you have to have some understanding of what is real to keep you grounded, to keep you in a healthy relationship with all aspects of life. No one likes Devlin, and I’m sure there’s a reason why he is as hostile as he is, but you can’t afford him. He’s using you for his benefit and will take you down with him.” 

Sasha stared at Trevor across the table, and Trevor, for the first time, felt she heard what he said. Devlin slid into the booth beside Sasha. Trevor put a twenty dollar bill on the table, stood up, and walked out. 

It was at the half-hour call at that night’s performance that Trevor got an uneasy feeling about where Sasha was. He could hear Noel anxiously asking cast members if they’d seen her. At the ten minute call, she burst into the women’s dressing room, and was in the wing about a minute and a half before her cue. She didn’t miss a beat and was excellent. 

Omar, Noel, and Trevor sat in the empty house looking at the set.

“We gotta do something about this guy. My nerves can’t take it,” said Noel. 

“We’re creative people, we ought to be able to think of something.” 

“Maybe we could tempt him with a woman?” suggestedTrevor. 

“Of course! An underage girl seduces him, and when he takes her to a hotel, the minute the door closes, the cops go in before anything bad happens.” 

“Taking an underage girl to a hotel room is not a crime,” said Trevor. 

“Yeah but if we can record him asking her for sex and then taking her to a hotel room — then we’ve got him,” said Noel. 

“Wear a wire?” asked Trevor. 

“Whadda bet, our sound man, Ralph, could fix us up with that?” said Omar. 

The three men laughed together. 

Omar knew an actress named Isabella who had a summer home outside of Keene who had a fourteen-year old actress daughter named Julia. He sent Isabella an email asking her to come to the theatre. They sat in the house and Omar told Isabella of the plot.

Her eyes got wide, and she snapped,

“Not with my Julia, you’re not!” 

“Isabella, I care about you and Julia, and I would never ask you to do anything that was dangerous for either one of you. I promise you the police will be in the room before anything bad can happen. I need Julia to lure this creep into doing something illegal. How about this? Come to the show so you can see for yourself the asset I’m trying to protect. If this young actress doesn’t remind you of you, then, I guess the jig is up.”  

Isabella looked at him for a long time. 

“Come see the show and then decide. This will make more sense if you see it for yourself,” pressed Omar. 

“I was going to see the show anyhow.” 

“Okay?” 

“Tomorrow night.” 

“Thank you Isabella. You won’t be sorry. Come backstage after the show.” 

After the show, as the actors and crew drifted in and out of the green room, Isabella told Omar that Sasha was gifted. 

“We know it, but she doesn’t — that’s the problem.”

“Certainly, I’ve lived that experience and learned the hard way.” 

Omar watched her. Finally she ruefully smiled.  

“Okay, Omar. If anything bad happens to Julia, you will get the full measure of my wrath and hatred. Do you understand?” 

“Isabella, I promise you Julia will be watched the whole time. This means a great deal to me, thank you.” 

“If this doesn’t go well, your career and our friendship are over.”

“I know.” 

Omar felt creepy dressing Julia in tight shorts and a halter top. She giggled as he coached her on her role to play. He told her more than once there would be himself and her mother and police watching what happened to guarantee her safety. 

“I feel funny acting sexy in front of my mother,” she said.

Omar understood. 

“Okay, I’ll talk to her.” 

Isabella did not like the idea at all.

“Come on, Isabella, you know you can’t act well when you’re self-conscious,” said Omar, “besides there’s me and Noel and a detective.”

“This is a sordid, sleazy business I’ve let you talk me into.” 

“Which is being carefully watched over by responsible adults.”

Isabella looked up at the ceiling imploring the gods for help.  

“Oh Men!” she wailed. 

Omar brought Julia to The Drowsy Friar after a show and introduced her to Devlin. Trevor asked Sasha to shoot darts and Julia flirted with Devlin. Devlin had a calculating smile on his face and Omar could see what he was thinking. When Devlin went to the men’s room, Omar spoke to Julia.

“Everything okay?” 

“Don’t ever tell my mother but this is kinda fun.”

“As far as it goes, that is. I’m watching, okay?” 

Omar went back to his table and watched as Devlin went back to Julia. Trevor and Sasha went out to the parking lot so Sasha could smoke a cigarette. Omar could see Devlin was trying to get Julia to do something and Julia kept saying no. Then Omar saw Julia give Devlin her email address. Devlin put his hand on Julia’s head and started to fondle her hair. Julia broke away from Devlin and Sasha and Trevor came back to the table.

“Perfect,” thought Omar. 

When they were in the parking lot, Omar hugged Julia.

“I’m so proud of you Julia. You were perfect.” 

“It was okay until he touched me, then, Yuk!” 

“You were great, Julia. Now we’ll wait for him to email you.”  

The following morning, Julia got an email that read: I’ll pick you up at the corner of Main and Procter Street at one o’clock. Don’t tell anyone. Dev. 

Julia told her mother who told Omar and Noel. At quarter to one, Omar and Noel waited in an alley leading to Main Street where they could see Devlin pick up Julia. Isabella arrived with Julia from Main Street and joined the men in the alley. Omar noticed Isabella was smiling which he thought odd. After several more minutes, they saw Devlin’s dinged up, dirty, Ford Escort stop to pick up Julia. Suddenly, Devlin drove off. The three adults ran to Julia to see that she was all right. Omar saw the red splotches on her face.

“Julia, are you sick?” exclaimed Omar. 

Julia laughed.

“Saul does excellent make-up, wouldn’t you agree?” asked Isabella. 

“Dammit, Issy, now we’ll never get him! swore Omar.

“And he won’t get Julia.”

Trevor thought the episode made a great story, and Omar was angry for the next week. Trevor noticed a subtle change in Sasha as she became less and less energetic. He watched her closely, and her energy level was down. Her scenes worked, but in a perfunctory way and not with the pizzazz and sparkle Sasha was capable of. It was like watching Babe Ruth hit singles. Omar’s skin was crawling with anxiety. Boston area theatre critics wanted to review Right Side Up for the Globe, and the show would not reach its potential without Sasha fully engaged. Trevor had enough. At The Drowsy Friar that night before she had too much to drink he turned to Sasha and coyly uttered “Follow me!”

He took her to the corner of the parking lot on the edge of a circle of light from a street lamp.

“You and I are about to play a scene, one that is the most important scene of your life.”

She opened her mouth to speak.

“Be quiet and listen for a moment. I don’t care what you think. Look at my face! There are two problems talent gives those fortunate enough to be blessed, the first is recognizing the talent and secondly exercising the talent in a responsible way.”

He paused, and they glared at each other.

“There are those who feed off of others — parasitic personalities who will destroy the talented artist out of some subconscious envy only because they can’t help themselves anymore than the artist can help being blessed. Because you have talent, Sasha, it is your responsibility to use it in a way that benefits others, and not in any self-indulgent way that benefits only a few. You have a lot of people whose future depends on you being there for them, and from what I can see, you’re paying attention only to Dev, who will destroy everything in his path. The decision you make right now about this will forecast your future.”

They glared at each further, both of them breathing heavily with the weight of the conversation. 

“I hate you,” she spit.

“I would expect nothing less.”

Trevor turned and walked away from her, returning to The Friar to calm his nerves with a couple of shots. He didn’t feel badly about what he said, and several hours later, when he was at home reading in bed, he heard a tap at his hotel door. When he opened the door, it was a half-clothed Sasha.

“Can I sleep on your couch?” she asked. 

“Of course,” he smiled. 

 

Jack Coey was raised by The Shakers on Mount Lebanon until one day in a library he came across the word “celibate” and thought: ‘Man, that don’t sound so good.’ In that moment he ran off to Manhattan where he obtained a gig in a chorus line until he couldn’t kick high enough. He got fired, but by then knew what “celibate” wasn’t, and began having fun and learned that expressing yourself is what gives life its pizzazz.

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