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by T.R. Healy

"All the dead voices.
They make a noise like wings."

--Waiting for Godot

Again his voice cracked, abruptly, and again Goldschmidt turned away and began to make gagging sounds to get it back. For a couple of minutes, he barked like a seal, squeezing his bulging eyes shut, while the other inmates at the round table waited, paging through their copies of Waiting for Godot. They were auditioning roles in the play which was to be performed in three months on Thanksgiving weekend at Red Road Correctional Institution.
"Are you ready to continue?" Blumenauer, the director, asked after Goldschmidt took a swallow of tap water.
"I suppose."
"Please do then."
The child molester, who was reading for the part of Estragon, resumed his exchange with the other tramp Vladimir. His part was read by Kulongoski, a swindler with long sideburns and arms as thick as fire logs. His blunt hands fluttered above the table as he delivered each word in a low, emphatic growl that contrasted sharply with Goldschmidt's tentative drawl.
Blumenauer, seated across from them, listened intently, a mentholated cigarette burning in his left hand. He was not one who spoke to actors a lot, at least not during a first reading, but preferred to listen in order to find out what they felt about their characters. Once he understood what they were trying to do, he believed, he could then collaborate with them in shaping their performance. A high school English teacher for seven years, he quit three years ago to work as a substitute so he could devote more time directing plays for a local theater company. This was his second staging of a play at Red Road. As before, the warden at the medium security facility allowed him to meet with interested inmates once a week to discuss the production.
"It makes no sense," Wyden complained soon after he started reading the part of Pozzo. "Why say something if it makes no damn sense?"
"It will," Blumenauer assured the arsonist, who was in the third year of his ten year sentence.
"When you begin to believe in the lines you are reading."
"I believe in them all right. I believe they are a lot of nonsense."
"No one is forcing you to be here," he reminded the contentious inmate. "You can always go back to your cell."
Wyden, agitatedly tapping a thumb against his copy of the play, did not reply.
"Please continue, if you wish to stay."
"All right, but I still don't know what my character is jabbering about."
"You will."
"If you say so."
"It's not what I say. It's what your character says. You'll see. Believe me, you'll see."


Blumenauer, going over a lesson plan, sat at a corner table in the back of the coffee house around the corner from the high school where he was again this morning. The principal told him he would only be needed for a couple of days but the teacher he was substituting for remained under the weather so he was now on his fourth day at the school. He didn't mind because he could always use the money.
"Hello, Jason."
He looked up from the lesson plan and saw Sharon and invited her to join him. She also was a substitute teacher he got to know the past year.
"I understand you're putting on another play at Red Road."
He nodded. "Godot."
"That should be interesting."
"I'd give you a ticket but the audience is restricted to families of the actors and other inmates. The warden said I could also invite up to five members of the media so I've been trying to drum up some interest. I mean, why put the play on, if no one knows about it?"
"The inmates will know about it," she said, surprised by his callous remark.
"Yeah, sure, but no one else. No one who matters. We might as well be doing it in a closet then."
She did not reply and excused herself, aware how self-centered he could be sometimes. Last spring, as a candidate for the school board, he badgered her constantly for her endorsement. Of course, she knew what he really wanted was the support of her husband, who was a previous member of the board, and he hoped she could secure it for him. He was so persistent that he convinced her husband he was "his own worst enemy," and, not surprisingly, lost the election.


"Don't move so fast," Blumenauer instructed Giusto, the embezzler who was playing Lucky. "Remember, you're Pozzo's slave and you've got a rope around your neck."
"You want me to do it again?"
He nodded and walked back to the side of the utility room that would serve as the theater space for the play.
"Slowly now," Blumenauer told him. "Like you're walking through a field of mud."
Giusto trudged to the middle of the room then Wyden appeared, his right arm extended as he pretended to hold a rope.
"That was good," Blumenauer complimented the inmates.
"When we do this before an audience will I get to have a real rope?" Wyden asked, lowering his right arm.
"I don't know. That's up to the warden."
"It'd make a lot more sense to the audience if I had a rope."
"I agree. Maybe we can tie some towels together if we have to."
"I think I should have a real rope around Lucky's neck."


Blumenauer thumbed through his notebook and found the telephone number of the Journal-Telegraph's theater critic. "Mr. Sykes?"
"This is Jason Blumenauer. I don't know if you remember me but I spoke to you the other week about the production of Godot that I'm staging at Red Road."
"I remember."
"I just thought I'd call back and let you know I've left a ticket for you at the gate."
"Thank you."
"You'll be coming, won't you?"
“Well, I might, but I can't promise you I can make it."
"You really should. It'd mean a lot to the inmates."
The critic listened to him for another minute then lied and said he had an appointment and hung up the receiver, arching his eyebrows. Lots of people called to invite him to attend events but he had never met anyone as persistent and annoying as Blumenauer. He reminded him of those poor souls, with absolutely no qualifications, who become advocates for some endangered species but really are only interested in promoting themselves. They were so transparent but somehow they didn't know it or, at least, didn't want to know it.


"Looks like we're going to have pretty near a full house," the warden notified Blumenauer a couple of days before the performance. "That must be very gratifying."
He cradled the telephone against his shoulder. "It is, and with the exposure we get in the media, maybe it can become a regular event."
"Certainly that's something to consider."
"I've got lots of ideas."
"Oh, I'm sure you do, Jason."
"Sometimes I don't think there's enough time in the day I'm so busy."
"You must meet a lot of people in your work."
"I do, and the more I meet, the more I can do for others. That's what I'm all about."


Shortly before the start of the play, Blumenauer met with the actors and handed each one a bowler hat he purchased the previous day at a thrift store. He also hoped to provide them with cheap plastic trenchcoats but was unable to find any at the store so they would have to perform in their work shirts and jeans. Then, after a few words of encouragement, he returned to his seat at the back of the makeshift theater to greet the members of the media. He had reserved five chairs for them and was surprised no one was there yet. He looked at his watch: seven minutes until curtain time. He assumed the reporters he had invited must be stuck in traffic or were still being searched by the guards at the main entrance. He could not believe they would not be coming.
They just had to, he thought, knowing how beneficial the attention would be for his fledgling career as a theater director. With enough notice he was confident he would receive lots of interesting new directing opportunities. Then he wouldn't have to be putting on anymore plays in church basements and prison day rooms.
A minute before the play began, he picked up his chair and took it out to the hallway and placed it beside the door. Any second he was sure the reporters would arrive, and when they did he would usher them into the theater. He sat down then and waited, his eyes fixed on the black steel door at the end of the long hallway.


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