the garage-in-the-alley theatre

the name, i think, says it all. there is a garage, just down the alley, and twice a summer–once for the matinee, once for the twilight performance–it takes on the makings of a theater.

curtains are strung, the old theatre sign is hoisted. the sound system, such as it is, is rigged. the battery-operated keyboard is slid back where the bikes and the so-called antiques–broken chairs, a whole herd, a dresser, a table whose wing does not flap anymore–are stashed in a corner.

ah, then come the players. the children of house after house, the houses that flank the street that is ours. a wholly egalitarian troupe. all inclusive. for each child, a part.

the ones who might otherwise stammer. the ones just beginning to read. the ones who not long ago cowered off in the wings. and then the occasional one who, given a mike and a hat and a song with mighty fine lyrics, belts it out like, well, there’s no tomorrow.

this year there was a tomorrow, a loud one. an off-key one, depending who was doing the singing. this year the big show was annie, complete with the neighborhood lassie-look-alike playing–remarkably well, by the way, not a bark out of line, not a whimper–the part of sandy the dog.

for a while there, a flood plan was mapped. we all prayed the trees that went flying would not crush the garage, or land with a thud on the cardboard-box sets that had been painted and stacked center stage.

ah, but the theatre gods must have been listening. must listen to prayers of thespian children. the rains stopped, all right. or at least they slowed to a manageable drizzle.

the river that had been the alley receded. and even if it hadn’t, the show, of course, would have gone on. we would have rowed in the players.

there’d been a moment, during a dress rehearsal earlier in the week, a rehearsal under a threatening simmering sky, a sky the color of soot, that made for unscripted irony–and underlined the unblinking optimism of this little company–as the troupe belted out, “the sun’ll come out….” and the thunder rolled in the offing.

the builders at my garage, just down the alley, put down their hammers and laughed.

that’s how it is with the alley theatre. what’s unscripted is what you’ll never forget.

this year it was the tap shoe that flew off a foot–and i mean think high-arching field goal–and into the crowd.

and the young agent I–he of the three-player ensemble, agents F, B and I–who seemed to be playing charades, or doing some sort of sign language, with his grandma clear back in row three, and would not exit stage left, not for a very long minute or two. not till some serious whispering and finally a yank got him to do as directed.

in the past, there’ve been pirates who got lost in a sword fight clear under the tree swing on the far end of the yard, and never did hear their cue, never did make their scene, which rolled by wholly without them.

it’s what happens in old-fashioned neighborhood dramas. although, ’round here it’s always a musical.

the girl who’s in charge, the one who spends months planning and plotting, scouring second-hand stores, using her own piggy-bank money (often earned peddling lemonade out on the sidewalk), is keen for the song and the dance.
so she does what she must: she teaches and coaches, gives up enough high school doings that her mother gets worried. but she is a directress tied to her company. and they, to her–yes, indeed. she is, frankly, adored.

i happened to catch her as night fell the bedtime before showtime, tiptoeing around the lakes in the alley, carrying a little pink basket of curlers. she was off to the house of each of the orphans, off to set little girls into dreams with heads in neat rows of pink spongey curlers.

she is a director who makes house calls. she tends to every last detail. she is at once director, producer, lyricist, choreographer, costume designer, set builder. and i’m sure i’m forgetting something.

this year, as always, she and her troupe had spent months stuck down in a basement. this year they learned how to tap. even a 6-year-old slugger, a boy who is fluent in tackles and touchdowns, he spent plenty of afternoons strolling the sidewalk in hand-me-d0wn tap shoes tied with orange polka-dot ribbons.

oh my.

that boy was not mine, by the way. mine draws a line, yes he does, and he does not do what he does not do. and tapping, he seems to not do.

mine did, though, succumb to the goo in his hair. did appear on the stage looking slicked down and parted, a little lord fontleroy. though, of course, he squirmed when they gooped him. and, trust me, once he’d taken his bow, he dashed down the alley into the house, up to the sink where he proceeded to splash quite a pond, there on the powder room floor, as he raced to return to the boy with the curly-haired top.

it is, all of it, the no. 1 luxury that came with buying this house. you can have your media rooms. your bathrooms that look as if built for zeus and apollo.

give me a garage and an alley, a warm summer’s night. give me the moon rising over the roof, over the tapping of 28 hoofs. give me the crickets drowning out lines. give me the mamas and papas wiping their eyes. and strangers, too; it’s that sweet, that irresistible.

give me the garage-in-the-alley theatre. any old time. make me feel more alive while i take in that show than should be allowed, should be possible, for a chest with a heart that thumps right through the walls.

to the girl with the dream, and the heart to go with it. the girl who is oxygen in a world that’s gone stale and polluted. you are, i am certain, as close to an angel as a human can be. you are heaven among us. and you should be draped with all of the stars and the very full moon. you are blessed, sweet claire. you are beloved.

this one’s a reminder that if we but look, we can find swatches of heaven on earth. we don’t petition for them. they just land in our laps. one of us is not more deserving than another. we just get blessed, without warrant or reason. have you had a taste of heaven this summer? if so how, or who? do tell. the curtain on summer is closing. and we’d not want to miss a really fine show.
to all the faraway family and friends of g-i-t-a players, it really was something. i was not alone, not hardly, in having my breath sucked right away.
this was the third year of alley theatre, and it’s not over yet. not till sweet claire is whisked off to college. and even then there’s a chance, if our blessing extends, it won’t end.