Though some might disagree, I’m an actor. Well, I’ve done some acting on the stage and even in front of the camera. All of it amateur. With the COVID-19 crisis, however, many theaters have cancelled and postponed productions, and that’s the case with my local community theater.
To keep a few of my actor friends (and myself) busy, I wrote a script for a short video. It’s a comedy about a fictional community theater named the Marmosett Little Theatre. Over the summer of 2020 — yes, this summer of quarantine and pandemic and isolation and anxiety — the members of this theater received an email. They were asked to video their recollections about fellow member Patrick Stanick, who had devoted 50 years to the playhouse. The email said the videos would be edited together and uploaded to social media.
Unfortunately, only four members responded. You see, while Patrick Stanick was respected for his half-century of dedication, he was not very well liked — if he was known at all. This, then, puts those four theater members into the situation of figuring out what exactly they should say. On the one hand, one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but on the other, honesty is the best policy. What to do?
Here’s the final result of the project. Below, you’ll find my interpretation of the film. It comes with spoilers aplenty.
In my mind, the core story — told in sequence — is this:
Jake, via the bartender at The Ugly Mug, reveals that Patrick once admitted to accidentally starting a fire at the theater. (Presumably, the fact that the bartender doesn’t keep this confidential is the real reason Pat doesn’t like him.) Summer is the first to explain that, as Patrick himself tells the story, he was the first to announce that the theater was on fire. He also had the idea to end the play out in the parking lot, an experience the audience really enjoyed.
From Peggy, we learn two things. 1) Patrick had a fancy false name ready: Sam LeFane. 2) Patrick inexplicably sold his beloved sailboat for $9000. From Joy, we learn that a generous patron — a man named Sam LeFane — donated $9000 to keep the theater afloat after the fire. This has to have been Patrick, right?
The audience now knows Patrick in a way that not one of the characters does. Summer, Peggy, Jake, and Joy only know bits and pieces of him. Along with this limited knowledge, there’s subjectivity to consider. Summer and Joy both perceive the time Patrick gave Summer acting advice very differently: one sees it as very helpful, and the other as downright insulting. Meanwhile, Peggy sees Patrick’s insistence that dialog be crisp and snappy as one of the rules of acting, but Jake sees it as frustratingly obsolete.
One might start to see the story as being about the difficulty of truly knowing another person. One might also suspect that I’m blatantly plagiarizing Citizen Kane, the revered 1941 film directed by Orson Welles. Oh yes, make no mistake: I’m plagiarizing it right down the use of a jigsaw puzzle as a symbol for piecing together the puzzle of a human being. I steal from the best!
But, hey, what’s the deal with Patrick choosing The Stranger as his favorite Orson Welles movie instead of Citizen Kane? The Stranger is about a fugitive Nazi war criminal masquerading as a teacher in Connecticut. Does Patrick see something of himself in this? A fiend in disguise? Is he that hard on himself for starting the fire? This is one mystery I left hazy.
The other, more obvious mystery I left hazy is why Patrick — again masquerading as Sam LeFane — asked the theater members to video their impressions of him. We know he adores that theater. Besides selling his boat to save it, Joy mentions that he attends rehearsals even when he’s not involved in a show. Moments later, Summer says he was in the greenroom during the Intermission of another show he seems not to have been involved with (unless her guess that he was working in the box office “or something” is correct). Is his identity so woven into that theater that being “social-distanced” from it has triggered a late-life identity crisis? Or does that crisis stem from having played too many parts/worn too many hats? Or is his crisis spurred by the COVID-19 crisis, reminding him of his death? He’s not a young man, after all. His “re-write” of Citizen Kane might be our best evidence: he says he wants Kane’s ghost to come back and make sense of his life. I hope I’ve given a sense that Citizen Stanick wants to do the same.
But maybe even ol’ Pat can’t know himself well enough to sort out this one. To paraphrase Peggy: “Who Patrick Stanick is must forever remain a mystery.”
I hope you liked the video or, at least, chuckled once or twice. If you have an interest in reading the script, I posted it here. I make that script available royalty-free for any community theater looking for something to keep them busy.