This sequence complete, Bess was overcome with illness (she suspected food poisoning, the graphic novel presented an… alternate theory involving a doubly-failed poisoning attempt), and her lawyer gathered us to accompany her to the hospital. Doctor Kretzka thought she could stand to brace herself on some strapping gent from the entourage… specifically, me.
Another man might have attempted to banter with Bess on our way through the bar to the backstage nook serving as the hospital room, or offered an arm for further support, but the second her hand touched my shoulder my verbal skills went bye-bye. My entire brain was fixated on one thing… shoving my hands deep into the pockets of my coat (which for some reason I didn’t just leave in the theatre) so that there was no chance they’d brush against Robyn/Bess in any inappropriate fashion.
Not that there was intention on my end. It’s another fun little thing my brain does… calculate the worst possible action I could take in a situation and decide that said action must be fought like a strong current, no matter how little I wanted to do it. It’s why I rarely sit in the front row at the theatre. There’s always this nagging concern of “Do NOT stick your feet out and trip the actors!” and frankly it’s a touch distracting.
Skipping forward… on our way to see a séance by Margery while Mrs. Houdini rested up, we ran into Minky. In a narrow hallway. This one in particular.
I was right behind Minky in this moment. Around where the redheaded guy in the t-shirt… and not a classy bow tie… bow ties are cool… is standing.
Here’s something I hadn’t expected. They were filming the show that night.
This scene, in fact.
Probably wanted to shoot as much of Ms. Anderson as they could before she left on tour.
So in the archival video of this show, there is likely a shot in this hallway of Bess, Minky, Bernard… and me, trying to see exactly how far into the wall I could compress myself to get some distance from Bess, Minky, and the gaze of the camera.
Not a big fan of cameras.
Séance happens, including at least one impressive trick, we go back to the theatre, Houdini falls ill… out in the lobby, Nurse La Chatte (a spiritualist conspirator named for her performer, not a real figure) led in a “doctor” played by an obvious audience volunteer to inject Harry with a serum to fight sepsis, in such a suspicious way that I was tempted to shout “Don’t do it it’s a trap!”
Harry dies, as we knew he must. Bernard leads us back to the lobby. Bess joins us, grief-stricken… and then Doctor Kretzka looks me straight in the eye and says “Sir, would you say a few words?”
And now everyone was looking right at me. Bess included, with a pleading look in her eyes. It was Warner Bros. Stage 16 all over again.
There was really only one thing to do. Don’t think. Just go.
“Harry was an entertainer,” I say. “He brought joy to people around the world.” And something about how that made him great and earned him a proper reward in the next world, maybe? And then the inner voice kicked back in and said: “Good job, you handled that well, you can stop now, you’re not the one getting paid for this.”
Later, over cocktails at the adjoining bar, two women in my group told me that I was eloquent enough that they began to suspect that I was a plant. That was gratifying.
The show wrapped back in the theatre, and then there was nothing to do but hit the bar, have an absinthe cocktail devised by Ernest Hemingway…
…and get my new copy of the graphic novel signed by the creator/artist/ director, the multi-talented Cynthia von Buhler, once she’d dried off from being Margery of Boston’s stunt double for one last dunk in the water torture chamber. (Her replacing Magery avoided puddles on stage during the curtain call, for one thing.)
Being a couple of drinks in by then I was chattier than I meant to be, so Cynthia heard a lot of the backstory of my coming to the show. She suggested I ask Robyn to sign my graphic novel as well, but as this was her last night in the company, they were doing pick-up
That’s okay. That’s fine. My moment was the impromptu eulogy.
I left aglow, eager to crack open the graphic novel, and more eager to return the following night.
Next page: Round two.