Shellie Zacharia: Now Playing
(from Issue Three)
FIRST, LET ME say this: I do not hate Jonathan Green anymore. Not in the least bit. Really. I’m over him and I’m over hating. I mean, he can’t help it that he was, and maybe still is, a weirdo collector of wine bottles and women. Or that he’s crazy. These things probably help his performances, which he says are biographically fictitious.
So I’m not holding the past against him when I write the review of Green Chronicles: Disco Time at the Electric Quilt Factory, his new play. Avant-garde theater experience, performance art, whatever he bills it as. That would be petty. Even though the last time I saw him was when we went to Thanksgiving dinner at his parents’ house, then he dumped me in an unceremonious phone call a few days later. I should have noticed something was up, but I was overwhelmed by the Green family. Odd people. Oh, his parents tried to be nice—“Hello, so you’re Jonathan’s new sweetheart?”—but I noticed that word new and I saw the looks they gave me, eyebrows raised, the way his mother said “vay-gan” like it was some disease. And there was the tossing-of-the-cranberry-sauce-at-the-wall incident when his mother just heaved the dish. Splat. Crack. It was cool, but a bit dramatic. I see where Jonathan gets his artistic temperament.
Seriously. There was no need for that at all. A little friendly banter about tough turkey and the task of carving, and the father went and got the drill from the garage. That was pretty funny. But then there was the cranberry sauce, like a Rorschach test on the wall, and Jonathan’s sister Roxanne calling out, “Spaceship, monkeyhead, space monkey, iris in bloom,” and Jonathan just sat there and drank another glass of wine and fiddled with the pilgrim maiden salt shaker. It was all nuts, if you ask me. I’m vee-gan, so I don’t know what the turkey was like. Maybe it was tough.
Not that I can mention any of this in my review of Disco Time at the Electric Quilt Factory, because my journalistic integrity would be questioned. Usually I review movies for the Chicago High Note, a free local entertainment weekly distributed to all the hipster bars and coffee shops. I don’t review new films. I do a column about good movies to rent, and I try to look back at the old fun stuff, because I feel like people are just so damn creepy and sad and weird lately. Like recently, I reviewed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a classic feel-good movie with Ben Stein as the teacher calling attendance and repeating “Bueller, Bueller” in a monotone, and Matthew Broderick so young and cute. I smile every time. But the guy who usually reviews plays—or, in this case, “the theater of the absurdly real”—he sort of went nuts and moved to Alaska, because he wanted to learn about sled dogs and do the Iditarod. When he announced it, I said, “Holy shit!” and someone else said, “Hot dog!” and someone else said, “Cold dogs, if you ask me!” and everyone laughed, because we were drinking beers.
At the next staff meeting, when they asked who’d take over theater reviews, I said I would, because I’m looking to diversify. I don’t plan to write for the High Note forever, although it’s a decent job and not much hassle. Not much money either, but that’s fine because I live simply. Which may also be why Jonathan dumped me. He couldn’t get over the fact that I just didn’t care about owning things like a car and a cell phone. I said to him once, after he got upset when I showed up for a lunch date with my skirt slightly ripped by my bicycle chain, “You used to find me charming.” And get this, he said, “True,” and that was that. Another time, he said he liked me because I didn’t have an artistic temperament. It sounded like an insult, especially when I remembered how we had bumped into his old girlfriend, who was wearing thigh-high black boots and a black beret, and after we made small talk and kept walking, he said, “She was very moody. Artistic temperament,” but the way he said it, I know he meant, “I’d like to fuck her again.”
After I volunteered to do theater reviews, David, the editor-in-chief, said to me, “Hey, let’s do Jonathan Green’s new performance. Folks like his stuff.” I could have then said, “Well, he dumped me after an intense relationship, and I’m still slightly scarred.” But I didn’t. Partly because I like to think I’m past it. I’ve been taking this tai-chi class through community education, and it makes me feel peaceful and fluid and I think it’s generally improving the quality of my life. Chloe, who writes a do-it-yourself crafts column that teaches you things like how to make napkin holders out of old cereal boxes, says if I really want to improve the quality of my life, I should take the kundalini yoga class, because it gets you in touch with your sexual energy. I’m thinking I may try it, though from Chloe’s description of the people in the class, I’m not totally sure I want my sexual energy pouring out. Or theirs pouring in.
I guess I also didn’t say “conflict of interest” to David because he’s this great guy and I have a small crush on him, even though he’s married to a girl I’d like to hate, but I can’t. I still have high hopes anyway. Maybe one day, she’ll look at David and say, “Honey, I love you, but I’ve got to go do the Iditarod and won’t be back for like 10 years, so I think it best we split up.” Seems ridiculous, but not really, given that nobody ever thought Walt, the guy who did theater reviews, would move to Alaska, and he’s there now, crying out mush and gee and hah and yukking it up with the Inuits. Things like that happen.
And really, I’ll admit this, I was curious to see Jonathan.
While I’m admitting things, I should say I wasn’t there for the beginning of the Jonathan Green performance, and maybe this hindered my understanding of just what the hell was going on. I have a reason: I was ready to leave my house with plenty of time to spare. I wanted a good seat close to the front, so I could let Jonathan see me seeing him, and I planned to be really pleasant and extra-smiley, so he’d know I’ve gotten over him, because I hate the idea that he thinks I’m lonely or miserable. Which I’m not. Most of the time.
But right before I was about to walk out the door, my neighbor Trudee came over. She wanted to complain about her husband, and right in the middle of a sentence about Asshole Javier (her name for him), she stopped and said, “We need to trim your bangs. They’re way too long. It makes you look old.” Old? Well, of course I had to let her trim my bangs. Trudee’s in cosmetology school. She snipped and snipped and finally she said, “Looks good. Go get ’em, Tiger,” because Trudee talks like that. Then she was gone. Leaving me with crooked little bangs, like a tiger had chewed my hair. There was no way I was going to the performance looking like a mauled freak. I had to use my kitchen scissors, and I cut and I cut again, and by the time I got them pretty straight, I hardly had any bangs left. I was younger-looking, for sure. Like about five years old. I have to say, I cursed a bit. OK, a lot.
I know I could have gone across the hall and asked Trudee to help before I hacked away. But I have this issue where I want people to like me, which may be why it bugs me so much that Jonathan’s mother seemed to not like me and probably said so to Jonathan and maybe influenced his decision to break up with me. I mean, I wasn’t the one who said the turkey was tough, and I wasn’t the one who was drunk enough to laugh when the cranberry sauce hit the wall, and I wasn’t the one who did this litany of weirdness about just what the sauce looked like. I was just a guest, and when all that happened, I sat there quietly and sort of smiled and poked around at the mashed potatoes, because there was no way I was going to explain to his mother that the butter and milk weren’t good for me.
So by the time I got to the Blue Shoe Theater, I was 15 minutes late. I have a feeling I missed the whole setup for why a woman was cutting up fabric and tossing the pieces all over the stage, and why a girl in mismatched clothing and knee-high socks was doing some line dance while a strobe light flashed and a ghostlike voice said, “This ain’t your momma’s disco,” over and over again. I kept wondering if it would all be explained in the playbill. But I hadn’t picked one up at the door because I was late, and because the ticket taker kept doing this weird chicken clucking thing with his tongue, and I took it as a reprimand and hightailed it past him without grabbing a playbill. I had to stop in the bathroom first, and no, my bangs had not grown on the way there. A woman was crying into the mirror, like she was watching herself cry, and I thought maybe she was an actress, because she was just standing there staring at the tears on her face. So I got out of the bathroom pretty fast, and by the time I snuck into my seat in the last row, I felt pretty whirlwind.
I mean, “This ain’t your momma’s disco?” Hell no, it wasn’t, and I knew Jonathan’s performances were out there, but I couldn’t help thinking that this might be beyond that. Close to bad. Maybe Jonathan had been struggling since our breakup, and maybe, just maybe, this play was proof of that. But I wanted to be impartial, not stoop to pettiness and write a bad review, and I wanted David to think I was quite fabulous, just in case his wife really did decide to do the Iditarod, or even just take off for her parents’ home in Sweden, so I tried to have an open mind about what was going on at the front of the theater.
About 30 minutes into the performance, some disembodied voice announced that everyone should put on their 3-D glasses. Jonathan was on the stage, snipping scissors into the air and reciting from the “Lotus Eaters” section of The Odyssey and looking very handsome. I was really upset because I didn’t get a pair of 3-D glasses or a playbill and I wanted to go out and yell at the chicken clucking guy, because I felt like I was missing the point of everything. Everyone was giggling and adjusting their glasses and staring at the blobs of color on the screen that were interspersed with real photographs—which I realized, after a few minutes, were pictures of Jonathan and his family. I kept thinking that there might be a picture of me, but there wasn’t. While everyone was making noises like they were amused and awed, an older man in a business suit stood up in the third row and shouted, “This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my entire life!” Then he pushed his way past the people in his row and walked out. Everyone got quiet, and even Jonathan paused in his recitation, just a beat before he continued. I swear he said my name—Sarah—but then someone behind me laughed and said, “Que sera, sera.” The man next to me, who had his 3-D glasses pushed up on top of his head, leaned in and said, “Was that part of the performance?” and that got me thinking that maybe it was. And maybe it wasn’t. It made about as much sense as everything else that was happening, so I smiled and pulled at my bangs and asked if I could look at his playbill.
On page two, I found information that might have cleared some things up: My mother was knocked down by lightning when she was 25. It didn’t hit her, just near her. She was putting laundry on a clothesline. The shock made her hair stand on end. After that, she had an urge to quilt. She hasn’t stopped since.
Except that didn’t clear much up at all.
Nor did the folks wrapped in quilts who stood like mummies at the side of the stage.
Or Jonathan reading.
So much of it didn’t make sense that I started focusing on the woman sitting in front of me. She had the most beautiful hair, long blond curls that corkscrewed perfectly and fell far down the back of the seat. She had this nervous habit of pushing her fingers into it, scrunching it, fluffing, and the handsome guy next to her seemed to really like her because he kept leaning over and whispering into her hair. Anyway, her hair was fascinating to me, more fascinating then anything going on in the performance. Two girls came out on stage and did a Greek choral thing—something about artistic vision, which also involved more 3-D viewing of pictures of people painting and reading. And again I thought maybe I’d be in there, one of those Saturday-afternoon moments when I was flipping through a magazine while Jonathan stared at me and called me fabulous, but no, I wasn’t part of the montage.
I don’t know what got into me. I could say it was the wine, but I hadn’t had any, and I don’t know, but at one point I reached out to just touch the woman’s hair, one of the curls that hung longer than the others, and who would have thought she would have felt it, but she did. She turned around and glared at me through her 3-D glasses. Then she lowered them on her nose and damn it to hell, it was Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend, the one he still wanted to fuck, the one who writes and directs movies and has an artistic temperament. I said, “Sorry, I dropped my 3-D glasses,” then made this big pretense of looking for them. I hoped the guy sitting next to me hadn’t noticed any of this. But of course he did. After Artistic Temperament turned back around, he leaned in and handed me his glasses and whispered into my hair, “She is beautiful, isn’t she?” and after that I just got up and walked out and headed to Murphy’s for a few drafts.
So I have no idea how Jonathan Green’s Disco Inferno at the Quilting Bee started, and I have no idea how it ended. Really, I have no idea what happened in between. I suppose I should say I can’t write the review, but most likely I will. I’ve got a job to keep. I’ll use witty metaphors about the fabric of our days and piecing together memories. I’ll use words like electrifying and outrageous, and I may even mention that it made people crazed with emotion. That they leapt from their seats. I wouldn’t be lying, and right now that’s good enough for me.
Shellie Zacharia published the short story collection Now Playing. She teaches in Gainesville, Florida, and her stories have appeared in Hobart, Opium Magazine, Inkwell, Georgetown Review, and elsewhere.