Some of you may have wondered how I’ve stayed sane in the last weeks of the presidential election campaign, assuming, of course, you think I was ever sane, a point of contention in some circles.
I became a thespian. I realize that being a thespian does not sound the most muscular thing for one who styles himself as the Crocodile Dundee of the suburbs, especially as my part calls for me to wear feathers and tights.
But it is true: I took a small part in a community theatrical production in which I sing and dance in company with others at great risk to my natural dignity, such as it is. I believe we should all be doing something similar as an antidote to political poisoning in this season of rhetorical overdose.
The show is a fundraiser for the Child Health Association of Sewickley, Pa., which does many good works and every couple of years or so puts on a musical spoof , always a winner with any crowd. The play will be presented at a ball on Nov. 22, with a public preview on the two nights before.
I have the part of Bird No. 3. It is a role well-suited to my theatrical talents, which, critics agree, are pretty much non-existent.
Although it is one of the smaller parts, I have dedicated myself to being the best bird I can be. While I do not want to upstage Birds No. 1 and No. 2, I want to bring a special poignancy to my interpretation of the role. After all, what is the place of birds in a post-industrial society estranged from the natural rhythms of Nature? Darned if I know, but I am inspired by the poetry of the "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam," wherein it is written: "The Bird of Time has but a little way/To Fly — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."
I want to capture that sense of urgent flight for the Child Health revelers, admittedly a little difficult with my lines, which consist of the singular word "yeah" uttered several times during the play. I practice night and day.
The play is called "True Love’s Kiss." It concerns a beautiful maiden who meets her handsome prince in a fairytale land, only to fall prey to a wicked queen who pushes her into a well that is really a portal to reality. But something goes awry and, as the script says, she does "not quite make it all the way to the real world."
Ah, to have real talent! The fair maiden sings like a lark, much appreciated by us Birds. The wicked Queen cackles magnificently. (In real life, she is married to Bird No. 1, who reports having the bejabbers scared out of him when she practices around the house.) In fact, all the major parts are hysterically performed.
We Birds, as well as the Chipmunk, Skunk and Rabbit, do not begrudge the stars their place in the spotlight; we are proud to do our little bit in rendering the proceedings ridiculous in our own way. Moreover, our young producer, Marguerite Park, does a great job in encouraging us. She endearingly calls us "my animals," which makes us shake our feathers or preen our fur.
I won’t say there isn’t some intra-animal cast rivalry. I myself am jealous that Bird No. 1 and the Chipmunk are patted on the head by the beautiful maiden while I get to stand idly by and chirp.
Also, the Rabbit is very jolly, which can wear on the nerves.
So why am I doing this? Well, to have fun, of course. But I also believe Americans have a duty to embarrass themselves in their enthusiasm for good causes — and the Child Health Association is such a one.
It was organized at a time when women had few outlets in life other than trying to improve their husbands — which, as you know, is a hopeless task in any age. Three women got together in 1923 to provide free milk to undernourished Sewickley schoolchildren.
The association is still going strong 85 years later, only now it supports worthy child-related projects in the area with funds raised through such efforts as cookbooks (the noted Three Rivers Cookbooks series), a biennial house tour and an annual antiques show.
No matter the result of the election, I have learned something from treading the boards that applies to all Americans today: For the nation as for the theater, the show must go on.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)