A Poem to Die For

Trip Start Aug 21, 2010
Trip End Dec 31, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Friday, October 29, 2010

YFC Week, Thursday.

We were waiting outside the auditorium as we kept an eye on the show through the little windows in the back door. I walked across the street to a convenience store to pick up some soda, and Kelsey held down the fort.
When I came back, she was in conversation with an older gentleman. I kind of integrated myself in the conversation to learn that the man, Dante, was a substitute teacher in the area. He retired from his full-time 35-year teaching career to pursue his first love of acting. He enjoyed a pretty impressive career in the New York circuit, but he didn't love the city. He realized that he could do theatre elsewhere that was of just as high, if not higher, quality. That's how he ended up in northeastern Pennsylvania. Dante was, in fact, in a play that was opening that night at 8:00. We said that we might be able to attend, so after some more revitalizing conversation about theatre, we bid our farewells and see-you-laters.

Well, we couldn't attend the play that evening. Maj had arranged for us to go out to dinner with a couple on his staff, Jason and Katie. We had a great dinner and conversation. It helped that we had met them before. Jason we knew from last year. Would you believe, though, that last year, he didn't even know Katie? Now they're married. When you know, you know--you know? And Katie we mad met earlier that week. Come to find out, she's a Cedarville grad. So it was neat to talk with her about some common experiences. In fact, she was an usher at a play when Kelsey was the house manager and I was an actor. Small world.

Anyway, Thursday passed, and Friday presented another day of work.

That morning at school, we were setting up when Kelsey really needed to use the restroom. We rarely leave our set-up mid-progress, but here was a case where we took a break. I give those details only to set the stage for the coincidence to follow.
Kelsey went up to the main office to ask for directions to the bathroom, but was stopped in the hallway by who else but Dante!

Without missing a beat, Dante confronted Kelsey, "Where were you last night?"
"Uh--what are you doing here?"
"I'm substitute teaching here today. Where were you last night?"
Kelsey, still a little stunned by seeing the stranger so unexpectedly, explained our dinner arrangement last night. "But you're still on tonight, right? Same time?"
"Yep, 8:00."
"Well then we'll be there."
"You better be! I told my castmates that I have friends who flew in from L.A. to see me! When you didn't show last night, they started to doubt me."
"Well then we won't let you down. See you tonight!"

Dante, of course, knew we weren't in the audience last night,because the audience for opening night was a crowd of about three. Can't hide from that.

So when Kelsey re-entered the auditorium, I was still setting up. "Mike, we need to go to the play tonight."
"Uh... okay. Why the sudden passion?"
And she told me about her encounter. "For whatever reason, God wants us to go to that play."

So it was a date.

That evening, we dressed up a bit (hey, we're important people who flew in from LA, remember?) and attended the play. The venue was Studio 51, I believe, and it was a small theatre downtown that was owned and operated by an older couple. He directs the plays, and she runs the ticket sales. The seating could hold no more than, say, twenty-five people. And the stage was a simple, small blackbox.
The play was entitled "A Poem to Die For." It was written by a friend of the director, and this weekend was the first performance of it anywhere. The play was on trial run for consideration to be performed in New York, so it was still very much in "beta version" so-to-speak. The writer and director were still collaborating on how to make it better--what to cut, what to add, etc.

The play was very enjoyable! It was actually the first dramatic play Kelsey and I had seen since being married. Quite the theatre-famine for two lovers of theatre. Dante was fantastic. We could have predicted his skill by they way he carries himself and communicates in person. Others in the cast varied in skill. For one actor, it was the very first time on stage.

Dante played an old poet who is confronted by a writer and his fiancee who want to write a biography about him. The poet wants nothing to do with people prying into his past, but he is very interested in the fiancee. He persuades her to live with him and be his muse to conquer his writer's block. He is inspired to write some of the best material of his life, but things come crashing in when the now-jealous autobiographer uncovers truth about the poet's estranged son who in turn falls in love with his father's new muse.
It's a big dramatic tangled mess, yes. But it was pretty good! Thought-provoking, entertaining.

After the play, Dante came into the audience and thanked us for coming. We then offered to treat him to dinner or coffee somewhere. "Well how about across the street?"

We ate at a little pizzeria where apparently the cast made it a habit to visit after rehearsals. We and Dante sat at a table, and shortly the rest of the cast came in. The director and his wife joined us at our table, and the rest of the cast sat at another table. So there, we engaged in conversation with the director and the lead actor about this new play. Kelsey especially thrived in the conversation. We would have critiqued the play on the ride home anyway, but it was so much more fulfilling and invigorating to discuss it with the people involved. Not only involved, but also in a position of being able to make actual changes! I don't know if it was true or not, but it felt like they were asking us our opinions as if they actually mattered and being taken into consideration.

We sat for a long while there and was the perfect cap to the day. Dante, the gracious grandfather-figure he was, turned the tab around and paid for the meal himself. Before we parted, he gave us his card and invited us to stay with him and his wife next time we're in the area.

So that was that! Kelsey and I left with a reinvigorated passion for theatre, and the joy that comes with making a new friend. Dante, thanks for a wonderful evening.
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