By Matt Brooks
“Five minutes, please. Five minutes, gentlemen.” The assistant director’s voice was pitched high with tension. Jeremy Niven barely glanced away from the mirror as he finished lining his left eyelid. “You’d better get back to your own dressing room and do something about that costume, Petruchio,” he drawled, capping the pencil and dropping it into the makeup tray. “I’d hate to have the joint closed just because you couldn’t keep your cod tied in place.”
“Don’t you worry about my cod, darling,” Mark Scrivener snarled. “Just focus on not stepping on my lines tonight, okay? It’s not a comedy if nobody laughs.”
“It’s not a comedy if you can’t deliver a line,” Jeremy replied smoothly, reaching for the wig.
“I’ve been delivering long enough to get my timing down, honey. But it doesn’t do any good if you jump on the laugh. We all know you’re the prettiest drag queen in Cincinnati, but try to remember we’re doing serious work this time around. You can step on lines all you like in your club act, but I swear if you wreck this show I’ll make sure you never play anywhere but the Club Rendezvous again.”
“Ha. Says you.” Jeremy’s voice rose. “The next time I play the Rendezvous it’ll be under a banner that says ‘Direct from his smash New York engagement’.” He settled the heavy auburn wig firmly on his head, then stabbed a bobby pin into the wigcap and reached for the spray lacquer.
“That’ll be the day. ‘Direct from his smashed New York engagement’ is more like it. I know you’ve been at the vodka again and let me tell you, Katherine’s last name is not Martini.”
“Listen, missy, I’ve been in this business a long time . . . ”
“Oh, we all know that.”
“ . . . and I hope I’m professional enough to go out on the stage straight.”
“You couldn’t go out on the stage straight if J. Edgar himself put a poker in your corset. Even my mother knows you’re as gay as a June picnic.”
“Sweet cheeks, your mother’s been gaga since 1978. She thinks Christmas breakfast is a June picnic. Try another.” He reached up and delicately adjusted the strand of pearls arranged on his hairpiece, then turned.
“Bitch. Leave my mother out of it. You couldn’t go out on the stage straight if you’d just come back from Jesus camp.”
“Baby, if I’d just come back from Jesus camp, I’d be lead tenor in the choir. And you’re the one who brought your mother into it. Really, darling, you’re slipping.”
“And you’re sipping.” Mark’s voice dropped to a ferocious growl. “I tell you, I mean it. You screw this production up and so help me I’ll make sure you spend the rest of your life hustling cocktails for tips in your Joan Crawford slingbacks.”
“And I tell you, if this production gets screwed up it’ll be because you’re about as funny as rags on a beggar. Now, get the hell out of my dressing room before I throw something.” Jeremy’s eyes narrowed as his voice rose. He stepped a pace closer to his co-star. “You can play it for double-takes all you like but that don’t make it a laugh riot. My timing’s as good as yours any damn day.”
“Your timing stinks, baby doll. It’s ‘Evening in Paris’ to my ‘Arpège’.”
“It’s gonna be Judy sings Sistah Sledge if you don’t get the hell out of my dressing room. I’m an artiste. I need time to compose myself.”
“You need time to sneak another tipple.” Mark spun on one foot and reached for the door handle. “Larry!” he bellowed, yanking the door open and stepping into the corridor. “Larry! Get your ass down here!”
“You leave Larry out of it.”
“Not till I see the bottle in his hand. I know he knows where you keep it. Larry!”
“Bull!” Jeremy’s voice rose again. “There’s no bottle in here, and Larry knows it.” His voice dropped to a silky purr. “How late do you want the curtain to be, lover? Ten minutes? Twenty? Long enough for the marks to rush the box office?”
“Oh, they’ll be rushing the box office, all right. Just as soon as the first act curtain comes down,” Mark growled.
“Only if you overplay the way you’ve been doing all through rehearsals.” Jeremy whirled to confront the pier glass, tugged the cumbersome skirts to set more comfortably on his hips and reached for the dusting powder. A theatrical dab on his artfully made-up bosom seemed to satisfy him. He smirked at the mirror, composed his face into a semblance of a winning smile, and turned back. “Now, be a dear, won’t you, and GET THE HELL OUT OF MY DRESSING ROOM.” He lifted one bejewelled hand in his best imitation of the Bernhardt gesture and pointed at Mark’s crotch. “OUT! And tie the bow on your damn codpiece!” he shrieked, shoving his Petruchio out the door and slamming it in his face.
The assistant director appeared, breathing heavily, his young forehead corrugated. “Everything okay, Mr. Scrivener? I thought I heard a scream?”
“Everything’s okay, Larry,” Mark said, patting him on the back as they turned away. “I was just getting Miss Bella de Ball in the mood, so to speak. Can’t have a tame Katherine at the beginning of the piece, now can we?”
“Shall I call places, then?”
“Any time, Larry. Just give me a minute to tie this damn codpiece.”