Mistake in Identity

Posted Dec 27 2008, 12:50 am

It’s hard to recognize people out of their normal context. The grocery clerk who checks you out every week looks unfamiliar at the library. The nurse from your allergist’s office is unrecognizable at the gym.

So it’s understandable how I came to assault a former co-worker at the theater.

As most of you know, my former company has had some tough times recently. Declining sales and escalating costs have forced them to lay off a lot of good people. It’s become a ritual, as each quarter ends, to see people carrying their boxes to the door. So when a friend invited me to come see him play Alfred P. Doolittle in My Fair Lady at the Theater Guild, it sounded like a welcome break.

I’ve come to expect certain things from community theater. I expect some mishap on stage – a missed cue, a forgotten line, a misplaced prop. I expect cookies and punch at intermission. And I expect to run into Mr. Scott.

Chuck Scott taught in the Dayton school system his entire career, and he gave many Wilbur Wright students, including me, their first chance to see live theater. Almost every time I go to the Theater Guild or the Dayton Playhouse, I run into him.

So it was no surprise to glimpse him across the “U” that forms the Guild’s stage. He looked different somehow. Thinner, maybe, or a different haircut. At the intermission, he was still sitting there, which was odd, because he’s usually in the lobby, hobnobbing with former students.

I decided to ignore these important clues. “I’m going to go say ‘hi’ to Mr. Scott,” I told my husband. “Be right back.”

I scampered across the empty stage. When he saw me coming he got to his feet, smiling a little. I threw my arms around him and gave him a big hug. He didn’t hug back. Then I looked at the woman beside him. She wasn’t Mrs. Scott.

And she wasn’t happy.

John, my former co-worker, introduced me, looking bemused.

Now the smart thing to do at this point would have been to admit my mistake and march my flaming face back to my seat, but that’s not what I did. Instead, I stood there, babbling. And babbling. And babbling. Finally, John cleared his throat, and I realized that the lights had flashed three times, signaling the audience to return to their seats. And everyone had, except me.

I scuttled across the stage, with the whole place glaring at me, and plopped myself down beside my husband. I whispered what I’d done.

Fortunately, the play was a comedy.

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