From the Pit

A young man sitting in the corner of the waiting room tapped his left foot three times, his right foot twice, sighed, and started over again. Seated across from him was a girl with short, light brown hair who wore a green sweater. Every so often she raised her head from a tightly held copy of Hamlet to stare at the cracked ceiling.

From behind the closed door boomed the director's voice, and occasionally the uncertain voice of a young actor could be heard reciting Hamlet's lines--"Oh all ye host of heaven! Oh earth! What else?"

And so they waited last week, fifteen each day, five days a week, for a part in Hamlet. They waited and tried to look relaxed, practiced their lines and tried to appear confident.

"Next!" called the director as he opened the door to let a young man with a tan sweater, a crew cut, and a moist forehead leave. The girl in green, still clutching the script, entered the casting room. The large room was scattered with broken furniture, the floors were bare, the walls empty. The director's welcome echoed against the dirty windows while the producer smiled reassuringly from behind an ancient desk. They chatted for a few moments about the play and the weather--the director, the producer, and the young actress.

"All right. Page fifty-nine, at the top. I want to hear the quality and clarity of your voice, how it projects, and the fulness of the vowels." The director sat beside the producer and both began to take notes.

At the far end of the room stood the actress, alone, balanced on her right foot. At the end of her lines she looked dejectedly at her shoes.

"Do you like the part? The character?" asked the director.

"Yes," she said, then twisted the script with her fingers. "Well no, I guess I don't like her. She's blond and beautiful and, I suppose, I'm jealous."

The director smiled, thanked her. The producer shook her hand and opened the door. In the waiting room a girl with long, dark, hair, who wore a black skirt and sweater chatted with the boy next to her. In the background the radios from the wireless club whined and sputtered. She placed a cigarette in the side of her mouth, struck the match three times until it lit, inhaled deeply, then turned her eyes slowly toward the doorway.

"Next!" called the director. She dropped the lighted cigarette and walked quickly into the casting room. She smiled at the director, talked about last year's productions. The producer asked her how she liked summer stock. Then, "All right, end of Act four, line 167."

One hand pressed flat and white against the black skirt, the other holding the script before her, she read the Queen's description of Ophelia's drowning in a soft, haunting voice. "There is a willow grows aslant a brook..."

The director looked up from his notes and stared at her, closed his eyes and listened, and then turned to the director and smiled. At the end of her speech the director said "Thank you." He rose from his seat, "Now read the same speech as if it were all beautiful, as if it were the ideal way to die." Next he had her read the passage with a sole concern for the horror of the narrative. Finally, "Make believe you're on the witness stand, being questioned about the drowning of Ophelia. Behave as though you killed her and are telling a false story."

When she finished the director spoke to the walls, "Beauty, horror, and an almost subconscious guilt. Thank you again." She stared questioningly into his face. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "The cast will be posted Monday night," and smiled.

He opened the door and called, "Next!"