Between the Lines Ch. 01

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November 1, 2009

From: Douglas Monroe

To: Lawrence A. Ryan

Subject: Ronald Gordon’s plays

Dear Dr. Ryan,

I hope you can forgive the intrusion of this request coming out of the blue. My name is Douglas Monroe. I am a composer and a friend of Scott Jenkins. It was thanks to Scott that I had the good fortune to attend the premiere of Ronald Gordon’s trilogy of plays last month. I have to confess, I have not been able to get those plays out of my head since. Might I inquire whether you would ever consider authorizing a musical setting of them? (With appropriate compensation, of course!) If you ever happen to be back in this area, I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and share some of the work that they have inspired.

Respectfully yours,

Douglas Monroe

* * *

* Doug *

Opera was never quite my cup of tea, even though I make my living as a composer, mostly. The oversized gestures, the melodramatic plots, the way the drama routinely grinds to a halt to allow some diva to show off her, or sometimes his, vocal prowess… it always seemed to me too overly artificial and pretentious to be enjoyable. There are a few pieces in the repertoire I like, most of them chamber operas, but for the most part, I like my theater straight… unlike my men, to stand an old punch line on its ear.

Which was why I never would have dreamed of finding myself asking a man’s permission to turn his dead lover’s play into an opera.

But I’m beginning in the middle. The whole story starts a few weeks earlier.

I’m balls-deep in the exquisite depths of my boyfriend-slash-fuck buddy-slash-whatever Alex’s rear end, when my cell phone rings. Yeah, not gonna happen, whoever’s calling. I let it go through its standard four-ring cycle and switch to voicemail without missing a stroke. I’ve spent the last thirty-seven minutes getting Alex warmed up to this point, where he’s relaxed and compliant and blissfully grateful for everything I can give him—which is plenty, not to sound too boastful—and I’m not letting that time and effort go to waste. Never let it be said I’m an inattentive lover.

Slash-fuck buddy. Slash-whatever.

The phone rings again. I falter mid-thrust. Alex opens hazy eyes to look at me questioningly. Emergency? Unusually persistent telemarketer? Without altering position I reach over and check the phone display.

Scott Jenkins.

Now ordinarily I’d take that call in a heartbeat. Scott’s a good friend, one of my closest, truth be told. We’ve even messed around a few times, though I’m pretty sure his tastes run mostly toward women. He’s good people. But he’ll have to take a number this time around. Over to voicemail he goes. Back on the bedside table goes the phone. Now, where were we?

Only now I’ve lost my groove. Alex and I are shifting around awkwardly, trying to find our way back into that sweet, effortless, trance-like rhythm, when the phone rings a third time.

Alex rolls his eyes. “You gonna get that?” he huffs.

Clearly the mood is broken. I ease out of him, condom dangling off my unsatisfied prick, and grab the phone.

“What?” I growl.

“Did I interrupt something?” Scott inquires sweetly, his voice dripping with innocent concern. I’m not taken in. Scott knows my habits as well as anyone—better than most, in fact, since he’s been a featured guest in my Sunday afternoon playtime on a couple of memorable occasions. I consider giving him an explicit description of exactly what he’s interrupting, then decide against it. He doesn’t deserve the satisfaction.

“Nothing that’s any of your business,” I retort. “What’s so urgent you couldn’t just leave a voicemail like a normal human being?”

“You’re coming to my show, right?”

Unbelievable. “You called me away from the finest ass in New England…” On the bed, Alex smirks in flattered gratification. “…to ask me that?”

“Oh, so I was interrupting,” Scott observes. If he were here in person, I’d hit him. “Sorry.”

That almost sounded sincere. Almost.

“But seriously,” he continues, “you’re coming to the show, right? I sent you an email with all the details. Hell, I might’ve sent you three or four. I kinda lost track of who got sent what. But this is big, Doug. Biggest project of my career. You gotta be there. We’re making history, dude!”

He’ll probably keep going on in this vein the rest of the afternoon if I don’t say yes. Scott’s like a puppy when he gets in this mood, all endearing, unthinking, irresistible enthusiasm. I cut him off.

“Fine. What day is it and when?”

“Days, buddy. Three days.”

“What?!” My voice cracks. Embarrassing.

“It’s a trilogy, man. Three plays, back to back. Friday night, Saturday night, and…” A hint of sadistic pleasure creeps into his voice. “…Sunday afternoon.”

I sink down on the bed with a strangled moan.

“C’mon, man, you can tear yourself away from your latest boy toy for one weekend for me. Even if he does have the best ass on the Eastern seaboard. Hell, bring canlı bahis şirketleri him along if you want. I promise it’ll be worth it. Seriously, Doug, this is huge.”

“You said that already.”

“So you’ll come?”

I’ve lost. I already know it. Why pretend to fight?

“Where is it?”

“Lexington Theater. I’ll have tickets put at will call for you.”

“You owe me, man.”

“Trust me, Doug, you’ll thank me afterward.”

“See you there.”

I hang up the phone, feeling like I’ve just run a marathon. Alex looks at me expectantly.

Oh, what the hell. “So, wanna go to the theater with me Friday night?” I ask.

Alex shrugs. He’s not enthused, but he doesn’t appear to dislike the idea either. “Sure. I guess.”

He tosses me a fresh condom and rolls over on his stomach, presenting his perfectly rounded ass cheeks and pink, fuck-swollen pucker for my perusal. The blood starts rushing merrily back to my dick.

“Now,” he asks, “you gonna finish what you started?”

* * *

Despite my smoldering resentment toward Scott for disrupting my routine, there’s an undercurrent of curiosity in my attitude as I ease into my seat Friday night. I’ve been doing some research about these plays since his call on Sunday. Turns out they were written back in the Seventies by an actor and playwright who died young, in almost complete obscurity. They’d been languishing in some college professor’s filing cabinet all these years since, until out of the blue he decided to share them with one of his protégés, the movie and TV actor Jeffrey Williams, who showed them to Scott, who loved them so much he spent nearly two years pitching them to theaters around the country until he found one willing to take a chance on presenting their much-belated premiere.

However, I’ve heard too much hype about the next “next big thing” during a lifetime in the arts to ever take that kind of buzz too seriously. I’m still half resolved to ditch the whole thing at intermission and tell Scott he owes me an outing to a Bruckner symphony. I don’t even particularly care for Bruckner. But it would be worth it just to watch hyperactive Scott suffer through the performance.

Speaking of suffering through a performance, Alex is squirming around nervously. He obviously doesn’t get out to arts events very often. I should have remedied that sooner. He’s uncomfortable being dressed up, unsure how to behave himself. If I hadn’t confiscated his cell phone before we arrived, he’d be buried in it, looking for a digital distraction to help him avoid the awkwardness of interacting with real live flesh-and-blood people. Maybe bringing him was a bad idea. Still, I needed a plus-one, and he’s the closest thing I have right at the moment. A little dose of culture will do him good, I tell myself. Who knows, he might even wind up enjoying it.

Alex delayed too long deciding what to wear (I’m faintly surprised he even owns a sport coat, though to his credit, he does clean up very nicely indeed), so we’ve missed the pre-concert lecture, arriving just ten minutes before the play is due to start. While we wait, I leaf through the program book. Jeffrey Williams is playing one of the leads, no surprise there. I’ve never heard of Tom Buchanan, the actor who plays the other lead, but I have seen Angela Freeman and Joseph Hamilton perform here in town before. They’re a couple of Scott’s favorite actors. This is definitely a labor of love on his part.

The note about the trilogy was written by one Lawrence Ryan, and with a start, I realize that he’s the guy who held these plays in trust all those years. They’re refreshingly personal and candid, not dry and academic at all. My eyebrows rise when I read that the plays contain some autobiographical elements about his relationship with the playwright, though he’s coy about which details those are. If the play turns out to be bad, I figure, I can at least entertain myself by trying to guess.

“Hey, Doug,” Alex hisses in my ear. “You think we could get it on in the bathroom during the break?”

Incredible. I’ve created a monster. I shush the little horndog (“It’s called an intermission. And no, not unless I’m really desperate for an excuse to get myself kicked out of the theater by that point.”) and settle back in my seat as the house lights dim, prepared to be bored.

As it turns out, I’m glued to that seat right through intermission to the final curtain.

Not only are the actors playing the two lovers completely believable and heartbreaking, but the language has me spellbound. Whatever Ronald Gordon’s acting talents may have been, the world has clearly been missing out on a major playwright all these years. His lines find that rare and magical balance between natural speech and poetry.

Scott has taken Gordon’s theme of two people finding one another against all odds and staged it as a series of spirals or concentric circles, with the lovers Thomas and Henry drawing ever closer to one another until the final moment, when they meet center stage and kiss canlı kaçak iddaa for the first time as the curtain falls.

Alex seems less impressed than I with the whole experience, but on questioning admits he liked it. “That Jeff Williams is smokin’ hot,” is his reasoned opinion. “I wouldn’t mind being his Henry a bit.”

He’s more than happy to settle for me instead, though. We end our evening with his legs slung over my shoulders as I pump out what feels like a pint of spunk inside his begging ass. Maybe the charms of the admittedly godlike Mr. Williams and his fresh-faced young castmate have made an impression on me as well.

* * *

I’m back in my seat with time to spare the next evening for the second play, Likeness of a Sigh.

This time I carefully read through the program, lingering over the note by Lawrence Ryan, the academic who guarded this treasure as jealously as any dragon for thirty years. Watching the story of the two ardent lovers unfold onstage, I find myself wondering what Ryan is like today. Is he anything like the passionate, charismatic figure Williams is portraying?

Alex is restless again beside me. Two nights in a row was probably too much for him. Tonight’s play is a showcase for Ms. Freeman in her role as the spurned fiancé, and she’s giving a performance to tear your heart out, but Alex only has eyes for the two men. He pouts when he realizes their all-too-brief shirtless scene together that opens the play is the only skin he’s going to get tonight.

I’m not entirely surprised when he begs off joining me for the final installment.

“C’mon, Doug,” he reasons, “You’ve seen this kind of story before. It’ll all go to hell and have a total downer ending. And they won’t even take their shirts off this time around.”

I yield to his reasoning, secretly a bit relieved. I’m too wrapped up in the unfolding plot to babysit him as attentively as I did the first night. Besides, by way of apologizing for bailing on me, he concludes the evening with one of the best blowjobs of my life, so it’s hard to be too upset with him.

He’s wrong about the shirts, though. In fact, Thomas Reeves and Henry Weber start out the play naked in bed together. I make a mental note to gloat to Alex about his skipping the performance and missing out on that. I also note that Jeffrey Williams, who can’t be that much younger than I am, puts me to shame in the physical fitness department.

But I don’t think about those things for very long, because, just as Alex predicts, it all goes to hell for the two lovers. And it’s glorious. By now I’m well aware that the playwright wrote this knowing his own death was near, pouring out his heart to a world that would so very soon demonstrate it didn’t give a shit about some faggot losing the love of his life to a terrible disease. The speeches by both men, by their sympathetic but ineffectual doctor, by the wounded fiancée caught between her hurt and her empathy for young Henry, all burn their way into my mind until they are all I can think about.

When the final curtain falls, the theater is filled with the sound of blowing noses and even a few quiet sobs. Followed by a roaring ovation. From the stage, taking his bow, Scott catches my eye and tips me a salute. I salute back, but I’m in no mood to stick around and make small talk.

Instead I walk to the train station in a dream, miss my connection, and have to pay a small extortionate fortune in taxi fare to get home.

The following weekend, I beg and wheedle a bootleg copy of the script out of Scott and sit at home poring over it for hours. That final speech, when the heartbroken Thomas Reeves pours out his love and rage and despair after losing his beloved Henry, keeps ringing in my ears, as read by Jeffrey Williams’ fine strong baritone voice. I absently wonder whether the actor can sing.

A familiar sensation envelopes me. The rhythms of Gordon’s written text and the remembered cadence of Williams’ delivery begin to suggest a melodic contour, which in turn hints at an underlying harmonic structure, an accompaniment pattern that churns steadily beneath the voice’s broken phrases…

An hour later, I’m hunched over the piano, lost in the trance-state of composition, half my psyche tapped into the mysterious vein of inspiration, the other half observing dispassionately, analyzing, offering corrections and technical advice. It’s three in the morning before I resurface, giddy and spent.

Most of the time it’s just as much a grind as any other job, but every once in a while, composing is even better than sex.

—————

November 5, 2009

From: Lawrence A. Ryan

To: Douglas Monroe

Subject: Re: Ronald Gordon’s plays

Dear Mr. Monroe,

I’m touched and pleased to learn that Ron’s work is already providing inspiration to other artists. At the moment, with the premiere barely behind us, and several more productions in the works, I’m afraid I lack the time or emotional resources to consider any adaptations in the immediate future.

However, canlı kaçak bahis do please keep me apprised if you are ever out my way, and I will do likewise if my own travels bring me back within shouting distance of you. I have listened to some of the work samples on your website, and should welcome the opportunity to hear what kind of music Ron’s words evoke in you.

Yours most sincerely,

Larry Ryan

* * *

* Larry *

“You’ve hooked him,” Scott tells me.

“Beg pardon?” I blankly inquire.

“Doug Monroe,” Scott explains. “Hook, line, and sinker. He’s a goner for those plays. I practically had to blackmail him into attending, but he was all but begging for copies of the scripts once he’d seen them.”

Light dawns. Douglas Monroe. I received an email from him earlier this week, asking if I was interested in having Ron’s plays set to music or something like that. I’d sent that one into the “respond later if you have absolutely nothing better to do” file and not given it a second thought since.

“You gave him the scripts…” I begin, not sure whether to be outraged or impressed. In the last two years I’ve had to considerably revise my assessment of Scott Jenkins. On first meeting, he impressed me as energetic, with a contagious enthusiasm that poignantly reminded me of Ron, but flighty and undisciplined. It took all Jeff’s persuasive power and assurances to get me to entrust Ron’s work to Scott’s care.

That leap of faith paid off. I could not have asked for a more passionate and dedicated advocate for those plays. Nor could I have anticipated Scott’s uncanny networking skill. He has connections everywhere, and a preternatural instinct for bringing the right combinations of talent and resources together, almost without any visible effort.

If Douglas—Doug—was at those performances at Scott’s instigation, then there’s almost certainly more potential there than I could have expected. I mentally retrieve his email from the “almost certainly ignore” file and reassign it to the “merits closer consideration” category.

Scott being Scott, he is not going to let the subject just drop. “He contacted you, didn’t he?” he gloats, bouncing in his seat and grinning from ear to ear. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. Did you answer him? Please tell me you didn’t blow him off!”

Still, I’m not sure I am up to a collaboration. Seeing Ron’s work take form on stage after all these years has been much more difficult than I expected. At the first full run-through I had to excuse myself and find an empty dressing room to cry in—huge wracking sobs I have not experienced in all the years since his passing. I deliberately stepped back and took a fairly hands-off role as “artistic advisor” on the production, but I had a team of people I trusted to do it justice: the unstoppable trio of Jeff, Scott, and Daniel—charisma, drive, and heart. I can’t afford to relinquish that much control to Doug Monroe, however much potential Scott sees in him.

“I’ll ask him to let me know if he plans to be anywhere near Madison, and I’ll do the same if I have reason to be in Lexington again, and we’ll see about making a connection,” I tell Scott.

Scott gives me one of those smart-alecky I-can-see-right-through you grins. “You’re in Lexington now,” he points out.

“I’m leaving tomorrow, and I have to pack tonight,” I answer with dignity.

Later that evening, after several false starts, I finally come up with a pleasantly noncommittal response that leaves the door open for future conversations without making any promises for the time being. Hitting “send” and closing my laptop, I stretch out and mentally wash my hands of the matter. If Mr. Monroe is serious about collaborating, he knows how to contact me.

* * *

That night in my hotel room, I’m disturbed from my sleep by the feel of a warm body sliding into bed next to me. A wiry pair of arms wraps around me and a stubbly face nuzzles the back of my neck. A familiar masculine scent—Aramis, redolent of a long-gone era—teases my nostrils.

I groan and press back against this midnight lover, keeping my eyes firmly shut, because I can’t bear to open them and see what I already know to be true. I’m dreaming. I know I’m dreaming. Not that I’ve exactly been celibate all these years since losing Ron, but I’ve shared my bed with few enough bodies to know when one ought to be there, and this is certainly not one of those occasions.

“You’re restless, lover,” he whispers.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” I whisper back.

“But you need me,” he answers. “Do you not want me?”

I shake my head no, firmly. “Of course I want you. You know that.”

One hand slides up and down my side, comes to rest lightly against my pelvis. I’m naked, I realize. I wasn’t when I went to bed. Aside from the rare liaison, I haven’t gone to bed naked in thirty years. One more confirmation this isn’t real. This can’t be happening.

Don’t let it stop.

His erection is nudging up against the crack of my ass, matching my own arousal, tempting me. He always did get playful in the darkest hours of the night. Sometimes I would rebuff him, even pretending to be asleep in order to avoid his advances. Now I wonder how I ever could have let a single opportunity slip past me.

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