Bridge 8

September 11th, 2010

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Bridge 8–A DOLL’S HOUSE

“Become a woman and you need four walls”–

Time-honored wisdom of the human race.

To make a house a home, her nature calls

A woman’s spirit to inform a “place.”

Tradition, common law, would have it so:

The man goes out; the woman stays at home;

No matter where she dreams she’d like to go,

She keeps the nest–it’s not for her to roam.

But now some women find this “home” a trap,

The woman treated like the oldest child,

‘Til, one dark night, she’ll hear “tradition” snap,

And seek advice–then let him know she’s filed.

She’ll say, “I just can’t take it any more!”

He’ll stand bewildered as she slams the door.

[Spring, 1957]

“I hardly had time to think about play past, and what playing George to Betty’s Martha might have done by way of defining our marriage, before I was confronted with the problems of play future, the production of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House we were doing at school as our big spring play.

“I had thought of doing a Shakespeare play, and, if I’d stayed at Wellington for another year, might have tried Troilus and Cressida, which, after my own war experience, had become my favorite Shakespeare play.  It should be for colleges what A Midsummer Night’s Dream has become for high schools–a perennial, with good parts for a dozen people, but no stars required.  Yet it’s very seldom done.  And, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find enough men for Shakespeare, or know how to handle them all on stage at once if I did, I had settled for A Doll’s House, a play for which I also had a particular affection–and a girl for the lead.


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“In odd moments, watching Laura take all that abuse as Honey during Virginia Woolf, I’d thought about what kind of Nora she’d be, assuming she must be putting up with that humiliation sustained in part by the knowledge that her turn was coming, that she’d be starring in the final production of the season, that the last word, not to say laugh, would be hers. And I was looking forward to working with her on the play–once I had survived the trauma of Martha’s abuse myself.

“Looking back, I could see that A Doll’s House was a major turning point in my own life.  I used to think that, if not for that play, I might still be at Wellington.  As you remarked, Henry, it’s not a bad life, directing plays at a good little college–in some ways the most independent life I can think of.  But things probably would have turned out much as they did anyway.  Betty would have forced the action somehow.”

“I’m sure she was already working on her basic game plan, Jack . . . if not the details.”

“So I held tryouts the Tuesday and Wednesday evenings after Virginia Woolf closed–with Laura there at my side.  I anticipated a few problems in dealing with her, but felt I had my own feelings well enough under control to look forward to those problems almost as much as to the play.  If I wanted to be a director, I should be able to handle the emotions of an ambitious and talented college girl, I thought, and use the energy generated by her misdirected schoolgirl passions to get a good performance out of her.  Then I’d look at Laura, and think, ‘Well . . . we’ll see.  That’s what makes theatre theatre.’

“She read the first evening, and read quite well, since she’d been working with the script, one way and another, for weeks.  But she read a little nervously, I thought, not with the suggestion that she already knew she had the part–which pleased me.  I did mean to insist on being the director, not let her start taking me for granted again.  Still, I knew she had the

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part, would have been surprised if anyone else showed up who even came close, for we were fishing in a fairly small pool of potential actors, which I thought I knew pretty well by then.  And she should be a good Nora, a pleasure to work with, so long as she behaved herself–which she seemed determined to do.  This was reflected in the way she was helping with all the busywork, getting scripts to people, scheduling these tryouts, and, that evening, taking notes, getting names and telephone numbers for call-backs–though it wasn’t that heavy a job, for only half a dozen boys and, particularly disappointing, only three girls other than Laura were there to read.

“The last half hour we just sat there waiting for someone to come in.  ‘Maybe they’re all waiting for tomorrow night, do you think?’ I said, as I checked my watch again.

“‘Is your wife going to read for the part?’

“I was taken by surprise by Laura’s question.  So that was why she seemed so nervous, not sure she had the part until she knew Betty wasn’t competing for it.  If I had thought of that, I would have told her much earlier that I meant to hold to the policy of currently enrolled students for the school plays–but had just assumed she knew.  Still, in the two years she’d been there I guess she’d been on stage with many townspeople and faculty in those Shakespeare plays.  Marge had been Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, hadn’t she, Henry?”

“She was a good Hippolyta.  And Joe Rupp, who ran a rural mail route, and used to officiate at the basketball games, was Theseus.  Because he had a good deep voice and handled the blank verse very well, he was a regular in the Shakespeare plays, told me he’d been in half a dozen over the years.  And it was not uncommon for some of the parts to be doubled.”

“How else do you find a cast of almost thirty in a community of that size?  So it had been as customary at Wellington as at most small colleges to use faculty members

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and their wives–anybody who was willing to walk on stage and pretend to be someone else–from the bank president to the man who tended the furnace room.  And that was all to the good, for it generated a real community feeling around helping the college ‘bring the bard back to life.’  But I had certainly expected to be able to cast A Doll’s House entirely from students, and had definitely been thinking of Laura as my Nora from the time I chose the play.  I responded to her question with a simple, ‘No, I thought you knew.  Sorry.’

“But we didn’t have a cast yet–and, for some reason, it was the girls who hadn’t shown up.  I suppose it would have been different if we’d been doing South Pacific, or something they’d seen the movie version of, but they were shying away from Ibsen.  I wasn’t teaching the acting class that semester, so had little power to coerce anyone.  I did have a number of girls in the History of the Drama course, where we were reading A Doll’s House–but, as I passed them in review, thought, ‘Just students . . . no actresses.’

“So I raised the question with Betty myself the next day at lunch, not knowing what to expect, or sure of my own motives, for I really did intend to keep Laura in the lead role–for her sake and my own.  Betty didn’t need to work through that one psychologically, was already sufficiently liberated,  and I didn’t need the extra problems at home.  Still, there I was, asking, ‘How would you like to be in A Doll’s House?’

“‘I thought that you already had your “doll,” and, since she was such a perfect little doll in “our” play, I think she deserves a nice plum of a part.  Don’t you?’

“And yes, I did.  She more than deserved it, had worked hard all year in the theatre office–before I had even arrived on campus–was busy now arranging with the community theatre people for costumes, scheduling crews for scenery and make-up, getting tickets ordered, planning publicity.  And she

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was careful never to talk about ‘us’ these days, though she certainly projected an assumption that some kind of special relationship existed . . . which it did.  And, other things being equal, I’ve always believed in honoring  that kind of loyalty.

“But I hadn’t answered Betty, as I sat there passing this through my mind.  Betty was evidently thinking about it, too, as she carried dishes to the sink.  Then she suddenly sort of exploded, ‘Or were you thinking of me for Mrs. Linde?’

“It turned out that was what I was thinking, without quite bringing it into focus–what had made me so apprehensive.  Once Betty had said it, it was with a sense of relief that I picked up the argument.  ‘Well, yes, as a matter of fact.  As you just remarked, Laura has earned a lead role, and A Doll’s House isn’t the play I would have picked for you . . . maybe Hedda Gabler.  I was wondering if you’d be willing to support her, in the old repertory company tradition.  It would be good for the play, I think, and good for Wellington theatre morale generally . . . and give you something to do.’  I paused for a moment, then decided just to be honest.  ‘The truth is, not enough females came to tryouts for me to be happy casting the play with students, so I was wondering if you’d consider doing Mrs. Linde.  It’s a good part.  I could ask Marge, but . . . ‘

“For a few minutes I thought Betty was going to go into convulsions laughing, and started to say, ‘It was only an idea, born of mild desperation . . . ,’ when she stopped as suddenly as she had started and, looking at me quite soberly, said, ‘Sure, Jack.  I’ve never had that kind of role before.  It should be good experience.  And, as you say, another chance to be in a play.’  I thought I still saw a smile around the corners of her mouth as she said that, but that was the last of the humor; from that point on, she took the part quite seriously, had re-read the play from that perspective by the time I came home for dinner that same evening.  Betty liked action.

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“When I told Laura, she didn’t laugh at all.  ‘She will?  But, no . . . cast it the other way.  She’s the star.  I concede that, and, after Virginia Woolf, everyone in town knows it.  And she’s your wife.  How am I going to keep all of that straight and try to play Nora?  Feeling guilty all the time!  About everything!  Knowing that everybody is watching me–especially knowing that she’s watching me.’

“‘Listen!  You’ve been very good in two major roles already this year–both just as demanding as this one.  And you’re my choice.  Of course Betty’s a good actress–we know that, and she knows that–but she also knows she needs to learn to play supporting roles, to extend her range, and, well, because that’s theatre.  And she’s not a Wellington student.  This is a Wellington College play, after all, not community theatre, and there should be certain priorities in a college theatre program.’  Laura just sort of shook her head at that, as if she didn’t want the part on those terms, but I was careful not to let her get in any comment before I was done.

“‘What Betty and I are going to do, where we’ll even be, next year, I don’t know.  But this seems to me to be right for this play.  I’ll talk to Dr. Gordon to see if he’s willing to play Dr. Rank, which would give us a regular repertory company pattern.  Look at it like that.  Then you direct the next play, and I’ll just handle the props.  How about it?’

“She just looked at me, then sighed.  ‘Well, I really do want to do Nora.  But I dread those scenes with her.’

“Then, Henry, you remember I did talk to you, about doing Dr. Rank, and you finally agreed.  You said that if there’d been more students trying out you wouldn’t want to take a choice role away from some theatre major, but . . .”

“But, if no one else wanted it, I’d sacrifice myself.  Your telling me about Betty agreeing to be Mrs. Linde had something to do with it, and, even as I told you not to worry

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about it, Jack, I was worried about it myself, for, by then, I knew something more was going on, and thought that  arrangement might make for trouble.  Given the miscellaneous vibes, I would have preferred to see you cast all students, as you had for The Glass Menagerie . . . but I took the part.”

“Then, to my surprise, it didn’t seem to be any problem at all . . . at first.  From the time rehearsals began, Betty was a model actress, absolutely subordinating herself to the requirements of the play.  I would sometimes see her watching Laura, but she never gave suggestions about how she should act, except in character as Nora’s older and more experienced advisor, Mrs. Linde.  I think she was born a professional.

“And she never commented again on my relationship with ‘my little doll.’  I just constantly had the impression that that was the way she had the relationship defined.  Even that carried no real echo of jealousy, however–which should have been enough to make me suspicious, if I hadn’t been so relieved.  I was secure in my own knowledge that nothing ‘serious’ had occurred between Laura and me, but I did still feel a little guilty about my own motives back when Christine was born . . . and perhaps about some of my more bemused daydreams involving Laura.

“But what made me most apprehensive was that Betty appeared to suspect more than she would ever talk about, in a peculiarly alienating way.  It was as if she had made up her mind about something related to the way she was appraising Laura, but in another sense not related to her at all.  Again, I would look at the two of them and have a hard time believing that Betty was only a few months the older woman.  Sometimes she seemed to be older than I was, and to be brooding over us like the wisdom of the ages, determining our fates.

“So I finally asked you what you thought was going on in Betty’s mind.  Do you remember what you told me?”

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“More or less.  That it was hard to appreciate how complicated Betty was, because we weren’t used to thinking of undergraduate women as intellectually complicated at all.  Since she didn’t flaunt her reading, as we ourselves tended to, or cultivate sophisticated poses, as someone like Marge might, it was hard to realize that the things she’d been reading and thinking about that year were deep and provocative–in both theatre and philosophy.  I considered her ambition to be more intense than that of anyone else I knew, her sensibilities more acute, and her willingness to work as an actress insatiable.  ‘Look at the way she’s working on this play.  In a supporting role, about as heavy as my own, she’s working harder than any of the rest of us.’  And that was the truth.”

“So what I got from you was what I already knew, that you were as much under her spell as the rest of us.  Reflecting on that later, I tried to determine how much you’d been leading me on . . . how much you already knew . . . to what degree you were already advising her to . . .”

“Not at all, Jack.  I knew that Betty needed something to engage her energies . . . acting, of course . . . and that this part seemed to be providing that.  I knew that she had other desires, ambitions, as I told you, but nothing specific. You knew as much yourself.  At that time I don’t believe you had even heard from Jordan Simms yet, beyond a Christmas card from some place in England, so I think her own plans were still undefined.  She certainly hadn’t spoken to me about them . . . and, believe me, she never took my advice.”

“That’s no doubt true.  The letter from Jordan probably was the trigger.  I never really thought you advised her to do what she did.  I knew that was her will at work.  Still . . . well, I’ve blamed you far too much over the years.  At the time, I was trying to adjust my own attitudes toward Betty to all that had been happening.  If the experiences of that year had been

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difficult for me, I could see they might have been twice as stressful for her.  It wasn’t just our marriage, or taking on the responsibilities of managing a household, nor just becoming a mother, or the complications leading to the hysterectomy–though I did think something in the profounder dimensions of change in Betty were related to a kind of sublimation of that experience.  No, something more mysterious was required to account for the fact that, as I watched them together, Betty  seemed almost old enough to be Laura’s mother–to be Mrs. Linde’s age–until I brought the picture into sharper focus, and thought, ‘Well, yes, of course . . . she’s acting.’

“But I knew that there had been changes in me, too.  If I saw Betty as a different woman from the one I had known when we were both students at the University of Kansas, it was in part because I was no longer that student, either.  If giving birth to Christine had changed her–that image of her in the hospital bed continued to stick in my mind–it had been quite a change for me, too.  And if the soul-searching exercise we had been through in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? had been designed by her, I had certainly been a full participant.  Yet, through it all, she seemed, if anything, more beautiful, and, if more mature–the flower in full bloom, not just the blossom–more sexually attractive.  The curves that had come down that aisle were still there, after all–just a little more fully developed.  But, in spite of that, I seldom thought of Betty with the same passion I had before we were married–and just assumed that was the natural result of being married.

“So far as her own passion was concerned, it had always seemed tangential, relative to me, and now, as part of this new maturity, seemed to be seeking deeper levels of satisfaction–still in the process of being discovered–that had almost nothing at all to do with me.  That metaphor of dying and being reborn took on new meaning for me.  Her ‘passion,’ if

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that was the word for it, was no longer a function of a girl’s spirit pursuing, or being pursued by, instinctive biological appetite under the scaffold.  The subconscious search for a lost fertility may have been an element, but did not seem to be at the center of what was going on either.  That she had come to know the sorrow of suffering loss was important, but, to put it in Hawthorne’s terms, it was almost as if she had come to a kind of discovery of evil.  Or not that, either . . . perhaps more a loss of faith . . . perhaps in passion itself.

“What bothered me most was that I read it as a pervasive loss of faith in me.  No doubt it was loss of faith in everyone and everything–in me just because I was there.  There was the related feeling that, to her, the rest of us seemed like children–perhaps to the degree that we still had faith.  She became more and more condescending to me–if not as aggressively as she had as Martha–in appraising my performance in little things, both at home and around the theatre . . . even seeming to pity me at times . . . which was all very frustrating.

“At any rate, as I thought about the state of Betty’s spirit, and began to confront the state of my own, I felt the justice in Laura’s implied complaint, though it hadn’t been put in those terms, that an ‘innocent college girl’ shouldn’t be required to compete with a married woman like Betty, that they were in different leagues, like amateurs and professionals.  But Laura’s relative lack of maturity gave her certain competitive advantages, for she did still have faith, behind that calculating innocence, a faith in the significance of winning–and an apparent faith in me–that had not yet been disillusioned.”

“That’s nice, Jack–innocence, and faith–in you.  I’d never thought of it that way.  And the irony was that these qualities, in both women, contributed to a relationship between them that seemed to be working out quite well for A Doll’s House, whatever they might have been doing to your home life.”

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“Yes, they did.  Laura brought the necessary naivete to the character of Nora, the doll-wife, even in the timbre of her voice, and Betty was the voice of experience as Mrs. Linde.  I remember that we had a nice pompous education major playing Torvald, who felt right at home dominating Laura–which worked very nicely in those early scenes.  But, on the other hand, she was obviously enough more intelligent to make the confrontations at the end quite believable.

“And, while I had more or less twisted your arm to get you to play Dr. Rank, I was surprised at how good you were.  I remember you telling me that all of Ibsen’s doctors appealed to you, and that you planned to work your way up, from Rank to Relling, in The Wild Duck, to the big one–to star in your own right as Stockmann in The Enemy of the People–that just playing Ibsen’s doctors might give you a whole new career.  You would have made an admirable Dr. Stockmann, I thought.  But you never got the chance, did you, Henry?”

“No.  Betty’s career took precedence . . . for me as well.”

“I’d still like to direct you in the role . . . if we could find a theatre interested in Ibsen.”

“Do you think a blind man could do it?”

“Can a blind man chop wood?  Play Samson in Samson Agonistes?  We might at least read through the play again.  But you were a beautifully pessimistic Dr. Rank.”

“Thanks to your direction, I’m sure.”

I turned to Shoko, who sat smiling blandly through this exchange of compliments.  “At least the others were all students.”  Then, as I thought about that, I laughed.  “Oh, no, there were the three children, the children of two different faculty members, and more trouble logistically than the rest of the cast combined.  Ask Laura about that.  I’ve always hated working with children on stage.  But the blocking went smoothly, and we had a young fellow working on the sets with

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Henry who really was a master builder–I guess he had learned how to handle tools on one of those tidy Nebraska farms, and had the imagination to construct a realistic set that was taking shape nicely.  That’s one of the beauties of an Ibsen play–that proscenium arch picture setting that lets you know exactly where you are.  Everything seemed to be going well, in fact.  Then Laura dropped her bombshell.

“We were half-way through rehearsal one evening when Laura simply stopped saying her lines as she and Betty were rehearsing the scene where Kristine, Mrs. Linde, is telling Nora that she must tell her husband everything.  Betty had just said that, if Nora wouldn’t, ‘Then the letter will,’ when, after sitting there silently, just looking at Betty so long that I almost gave the cue line, Laura said, ‘I want to change roles.’

“You could see Betty jump a little, for Laura had caught her as much by surprise as she had me.  But Betty understood what she was suggesting immediately . . . while for me it took a minute or two to sink in.  Then I didn’t believe it.

“‘What do you mean?’ I said.  ‘You’re doing just fine.’

“‘No.  I have my reasons . . . good reasons.’

“Betty started to say something, then decided just to leave it to us.  At first I resisted the idea very strongly.

“Finally Laura said, ‘I understand that time is running out, that it’d mean a lot of changes, and that, since Mrs. Curtis can play the older woman better than I can,  these roles seem more appropriate.’  She did finally get a reaction from Betty on that one.  ‘But I can’t say these lines to her and mean them.  I’m not right for the part.’  There was another pause.  ‘And at the end . . . I don’t think I can leave . . . and make it convincing.’

“‘This is a play, Laura!  Remember what you said about Virginia Woolf?  Of course you can make it convincing . . . you already are . . . and we have plenty of time to work on it.  I think everything is great just as it is. Don’t you, Betty?’

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“‘Laura is doing very nicely.  But I’m just an innocent bystander.  You’re the director.  I’ll do whatever you decide.’

“‘Henry!  Help!  I’ve got a revolt on my hands.’  Henry had been sitting there listening, and responded calmly, as if he’d already known about it, with something like, ‘Laura may be right . . . particularly if she feels that way so strongly . . . though I’d like to see it to be sure.'”

Henry added, “Laura had talked to me about it that day in the office, briefly, but I hadn’t thought she was serious . . . not about giving up the lead role.  So she surprised me, too.”

“Well, I couldn’t believe it.  I told the cast, ‘Let’s break for tonight and sleep on it.  Then the three of us–Laura, Betty, and I–can meet tomorrow afternoon and decide what to do.’

“We met, and I still tried to talk Laura out of it, but she remained adamant–and Betty just sat there smiling, refused to give an opinion, as she had at home.  So the change was made.  At rehearsal that evening it was already obvious that it would work, that Betty would be a strong Nora, and that Laura was temperamentally closer to the friend and advisor.  Betty already knew most of Nora’s lines, and, as it happened, that was the night that Kent Brigot was killed in that ridiculous  accident, so, by the time we were back rehearsing after the funeral, Laura had her lines as well.  It was Laura’s attitude that puzzled me most, so I watched her very carefully–without getting a clue as to what was motivating her.

“And now there was a new problem on the domestic front.  Since Betty and I were both involved with the play, we’d made baby-sitting arrangements for Christine, from the time the rehearsals began, with Peg Brigot.  That was understandable–you do have to give up things that would otherwise require your time and attention for theatre–but what bothered me about it was that it didn’t seem to bother Betty at all.  It was as if she had completely lost interest in the baby.

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“I no longer had any inclination to speculate on whether Christine was my child or not.  What did it matter?  I loved her so much as a baby that I didn’t care.  I remembered Plato’s theory on how children should be raised from the Republic–that all parents of a given age should consider all those a generation younger to be their children.  It made sense to me.  At least I thought it did . . . every time I picked Christine up.

“But Betty shouldn’t have had that problem.  Yet she was the one who acted as if she suspected this child wasn’t really hers, or as if she’d been cheated somehow.  It couldn’t be described as rejection exactly, more as withdrawal.  She let Peg and Mrs. Brigot take more and more of the responsibility of caring for the baby, even when she was available to do so.  I would come home for dinner to find Betty reading and Christine still over at the Brigots’, and Betty would say, ‘Well, all of her things are over there already . . . and we’ll be going back for rehearsal in an hour or so.  Emma and Peg don’t really mind.  In fact, once Peg is home from school, she’d be over here, just to be with the baby, and I’m willing to pay the extra just to have an hour or so to read in peace.’

“We did pay Peg for child care, but Emma watched Christine a lot, too, just as a grandmother might, when Peg was at school, during the day, or when she went back for school activities in the evening–and I was concerned about the imposition.  But mostly I just wanted Christine to be there when I was home.  So I would go over and get her.

“This was just reflective of an increased independence in Betty in general, a strain of brooding that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? definitely had not exorcised, a kind of deep psychological withdrawal into herself, her own reading, her own thoughts, her own desires.  More often than not she would pull away from me in bed, and, when she didn’t, would give herself in a kind of frenetic abandon that reinforced the

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idea that that was when she was furthest from me.  It’s funny how that memory has stuck with me.  I used to speculate then, and, in a variety of moods, have wondered since, just what the nature of her imaginative experience, her fantasies, must have been at those times.  And more and more she would turn the care of Christine over to me at home, then, on occasion, watch us from across the room–as if we were strangers.

“Then we got that letter from Jordan, saying that he’d be back in the United States in late May.  He gave the address of a friend in New York, saying he’d write again once he got settled, and wondering what we had in mind for the summer.  He said he was working on something good, but wasn’t sure yet, so was still open to suggestions–anything except doing the Othello tour across the South again, which reminded him too much of The Royal Nonesuch in Huckleberry Finn.  That gave Betty a good laugh, and she was high for a day, low for two or three days, and then high again, in a set of mood shifts that baffled me, except that I knew she was thinking about Jordan . . . and about New York.  And you were a total disappointment as a marriage counselor through all of this.”

“I was probably more puzzled than you were, Jack, since I didn’t even know Jordan then.  I knew that Betty had power over others, but not how much power he had over her.”

“I had turned down the opportunity to teach two courses in the summer program at school, but Marge was talking to me about doing something, with Betty, for the Wellington Community Theatre, perhaps Our Town outdoors in the city park.  I had also had Laura make inquiries to a number of summer theatre programs, and had written a letter making a tentative commitment to the Shakespeare festival at the University of Colorado–they’d have taken both of us, largely on the basis of our KU experience.  Betty had shown some interest when I’d first suggested it, but hadn’t mentioned it, as

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I might have expected, after Jordan’s letter.  So, while I told her to raise that possibility as she was writing to him, she remained noncommittal.  Why wouldn’t Jordan be interested, I thought, if he had no better offers?  They were doing Julius Caesar, and he might well wind up as Brutus or Antony, once they saw him on stage, and heard him read Shakespeare.  And his mother lived close enough that he could almost commute.

“We were doing A Doll’s House just the one weekend–Thursday, Friday, Saturday, with the Wednesday night dress rehearsal for friends and family–instead of the two weekends we’d scheduled for The Glass Menagerie.  The women had changed roles two weeks earlier, which gave us time to digest that.  Kent Brigot’s death had been hard for all of us, and it was about then you became so moody and withdrawn, too–which I attributed in part to that, in part to the gloomy role you were playing as Dr. Rank.  But it meant I was surrounded by a group of people with more psychological problems than Freud had found in his whole retinue of female patients.

“And I noticed that you and Betty were spending more time together.  As I’d be working on problems in which neither of you were involved, you’d be sitting together watching and whispering from the back of the theatre, or disappear, saying you’d be working on lines in the green room.  It troubled me some that you seemed to be gaining rapport with Betty as I was losing it, but I was busy with the play, and felt I could straighten things out with her when it was over–that I’d have to!  Summer would be upon us, and Jordan was right–we should be firming up plans, doing something that would help us determine where we were–and where we were going.

“After Kent’s funeral I told Emma that we could certainly make other arrangements for Christine, and we did take her to the theatre for evening rehearsals a few times, but, as opening night approached, Emma said that they wanted to take the

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baby back until the play was over, that she’d be in the way for us and they felt quite comfortable with her, considered her part of the family, and that it might actually help Peg deal with her grief over her father’s death to have the baby there.  ‘We’ll want to see your play, of course,’ she said, ‘but perhaps Peg and I can come on that dress rehearsal night–and bring the baby.’  Which is what they did.  Emma was a strong woman, and, in spite of  my concern, I never heard either Emma or Peg criticize Betty–they were devoted to her.

“But it was one of the nights we had Christine at the theatre, that, in a gratuitous passing provocation, Laura, as she stood watching me play with the baby in the office before rehearsal, and smiling that smile she reserved for special ‘I’ve got a secret’ occasions, asked, ‘And how are you getting along with Nora . . . with your wife?’

“I said, ‘Fine, as long as I leave you college girls alone.’

“She responded, ‘That’s what you think.  Us mere maids see a lot of things back there in the kitchen that the master of the house may be missing,’ and her eyes sharpened.

“I asked what she was talking about, and took hold of her arm as she backed away, having taken the baby.  Just then Betty came in.  Laura looked at her and laughed.  Then Betty, after standing there sober-eyed for a moment, looking from one to the other of the three of us as if she were about to say something, laughed too.  I made some stupid comment, and tried to cover my embarrassment by asking Betty whether the costume made for Laura to dance the tarantella in was going to work for her–though I knew she’d already seen to that.

“I remember her answer very well.  She said she liked that dress, that it caught the frantic mood of that part of the play so nicely.  Then, after a pause, and looking directly at Laura’s bosom, she added, ‘It had to be let out some right through here,’ placing her hands on her own obviously more ample

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bosom, ‘and Mrs. Brigot helped me with that earlier today.’  Then she laughed again, saying, ‘I suppose it’s safe to leave the baby with you two,’ and left.  When we got to that scene that evening I noticed that the dress had, in fact, been let out there.  Betty must indeed have liked it, because she took it with her when she left.  But I made a point of paying the college for it.”

“She wore that dress for auditions,” Henry said, “using that scene . . . and once later on stage . . . in what . . . ?”

“Laura was careful for the rest of the evening to avoid contact, as if she’d gone too far, just smiling from a distance when she wasn’t too occupied with her own problems in the play.  I decided she’d just been teasing me.  It was obvious that something was wrong between Betty and me, and I thought that perhaps Betty might have said something to you in Laura’s hearing that had provoked her comment.”

“I think she was just guessing, Jack, but, by then I was a co-conspirator . . . part of Betty’s plan, though she had only gotten that kind of commitment from me a day or two before.  So, if Laura knew, she was observant–which she always was.”

“And I preferred ‘no more complications until the show goes on, please!’  And it did.  It was a good solid production.  I was even pleased that Laura had insisted upon the change in roles, for I could really believe Betty in the part of Nora, thought as I watched her, ‘God, she is that woman!’  And when she went out the door at the end, it was with a determination that was absolutely convincing.

“Betty was especially withdrawn and brooding between performances, but I humored this, not wanting to interfere with her concentration.  We did manage to have Christine at home during the day–though I looked after her almost all day that Saturday, as Betty went shopping.  Then it was the last performance, Saturday night, and I thought, ‘Well, it’s over.  Now to see what I can do about setting things right with my

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wife, and planning our summer.  Jordan may be back now.  I’ll see if I can call him about that Shakespeare Festival in Colorado.  He’d be good for Betty–at least she’d think so.’

“As I stood watching the performance, I was already unwinding, and thought maybe I could help her unwind after the show.  Mix a drink, put our feet up, and watch a little television.  I got a spark of hope, in fact, from the look she gave me during that last set of speeches.  She was obviously looking across Torvald to where I was standing off stage as she delivered those closing lines.  Then she went out.

“I got tied up talking to Marge and others who’d seen the play that last night, but finally began to wonder why I didn’t see Betty, what was taking her so long with her make-up, and went to check.  She wasn’t there, wasn’t in the theatre, but then neither was anyone else in the cast.  Then I remembered that the cast party was at our house, and assumed that Betty had no doubt gone on ahead to help get things ready.  Our car was still in the lot, but yours wasn’t, so I thought, ‘Henry must have taken her . . . that was good of him.’

“When I got to the house most of the cast was there, all right, three or four cars parked in front.  But I didn’t see your car, which set up a troubling echo, a ‘Well, then where . . .?’

“Laura met me at the door with a big smile, and a drink in her hand.  I frowned, as the thought of contributing to the delinquency of a minor flickered through my mind, but she handed the drink to me, saying, ‘Here, you may need this.’

“I went looking for Betty.  She wasn’t there.  But in on the dresser there were two neatly folded notes–one from her and one from you–explaining how you had decided to go to New York together.  Betty’s note said she was sure that I’d understand that she was an actress, not a wife, or a mother, and that now that Jordan was coming back fate had seemed to endorse that.  She planned to hold him to his promise to help

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her get established in New York.  ‘Now is the time, Jack . . .  for me.’  I remember that you apologized for the deception, said that you had tried to reason with Betty about timing, and about talking to me first, but that she’d convinced you that a sharp break, like Nora’s in the play, would be best.  I didn’t accept that at all, of course–and distrusted your motives.  ‘Given a chance, who wouldn’t run off with Betty,’ I thought.”

Henry said, “I knew you’d feel that way, Jack . . . and Betty said we’d just have to accept that.”

Now I was only talking to Shoko.  “I knew that they’d run off without talking to me because they were sure I’d insist on going too–which I would have–and had convinced them- selves that some day I’d see that they were doing me a favor.”

“And have you, Jack?”  Henry asked.

“I’ve never forgiven either of you–but I’ve long since accepted it.  I accepted it then.  I’d really known from the beginning that I couldn’t hold Betty, and that had been reinforced in a hundred ways.  Adding insult to injury, Betty had written that I was the best one to take care of Christine, had more of the ‘mother’s instinct,’ and that, since her own future would be so uncertain, while mine should be so stable–with a good steady job, and Mrs. Brigot’s help–she knew leaving her with me was best.

“I just stood there in a state of shock, mumbling Christine’s name, though I knew before I went to check that she would still be over at the Brigots’, safe and sound–and, though the thought was blasphemous, it crossed my mind that Betty was now as lost to me as Kent was to Emma.  By trying to keep her to myself I had no doubt lost her forever.

“When I turned around, there was Laura standing in the doorway holding another drink, as if it were part of her costume. This time she took a sip herself, smiled and said, ‘But you still have me . . . loyal little Laura.’  And so I did.

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Assignment for Bridge 9:

It is less relevant in this case (more a myth in the background already well enough known), but, if you have time, why not  read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or at least see the famous Henry Fonda film version again?

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