When sixteen-year-old Mel lands a role in a summer production of Chekov's Three Sisters, she is immediately caught up in the exciting world of the theater. Mel forms close bonds with the cast and crew, especially Clare, the costume and set designer. And for a while it seems that Mel is having the most blissful time of her life.
But she soon learns that the drama is not entirely confined to the stage: Clare's boyfriend, the director of the show, is romancing a conniving actress behind Clare's back, and Mel has her own love life to figure out--with Mike, a sweet. kind, and mysterious fellow actor.
Despite setbacks in production and intrigue among the cast members, the show must go on. But after the final curtain call, will there be a happy ending?
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ADELE GERAS is the celebrated author of many stories and novels, including Ithaka, Troy, and the Egerton Hall trilogy: The Tower Room, Watching the Roses, and Pictures of the Night. She lives in Manchester, England.
After I broke my ankle, my mother moved my bed downstairs and the front room of our house became my private island. Visitors, even my mother, look out of place here. I’m used to being with most of them somewhere else, and it’s amazing how the setting in which you’re accustomed to seeing someone becomes a part of them, like an accessory to their dress.
Clare has just left. While she was here she sat on the red chair, looking polite, being much quieter than she normally is. Her hands lay still in her lap, without a pen or a pencil to occupy them, and the fact that she wasn’t carrying anything except a parcel wrapped in pretty paper (which I hoped would turn out to be a present for me) was even more unsettling. My image of Clare is of someone hung about with papers of one kind or another: little pads, huge sheets of sugar paper rolled up and stuck under one arm, graph paper crisscrossed with spider lines of ink, all sorts—you name it.
“It’s really lovely here,” she said. “What a good idea to have the bed up by the window. You can see all the comings and goings.”
“I feel as if I’m marooned,” I answered. “This is my island. This lamp is a beacon, and at night it shines out over dark water. Over there, where the carpet ends, there are waves stretching to the horizon. My mother comes with provisions in a little boat, and I get visitors, of course, also in boats.”
“What’s my boat like, then?” Clare smiled. I liked the fact that she didn’t think I’d lost my reason entirely.
“Yours is a punt. You’re moored outside my door under a willow tree.”
Clare laughed. She has dark hair cut into short spikes and was dressed in wide black trousers and a denim jacket, but still, there is about her a definite air of long dresses in pale colors and wide-brimmed straw hats with roses tucked into the satin headbands.
“You’ve got too much imagination,” she said, “which is a good thing really, considering the present I’ve bought you.”
“Is that for me?” I said, pointing to the parcel.
“You know it is. You’ve known it all along.”
“I hoped . . . I’ve been trying hard not to look at it. What is it?”
She came over to my bed and gave it to me.
“Open it and see. I had to buy it. I couldn’t resist it.”
I opened the parcel. Clare’s present (I should have guessed) was basically stationery. All bound up in stiff covers with a marbled pattern on them like different colors of melted ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and pistachio. Nevertheless what it boiled down to was paper. I said:
“It’s really beautiful, Clare . . . but look, they’ve left out the words. There’s nothing in here. Could the story have fallen out into the paper by accident?” I shook the wrapping around. “Come on out, you slippery little words . . . what’s happened to you?”
Clare laughed. “You’re crazy. It’s up to you to put the words in. Or the pictures. Whichever you like.”
“This is much too grand for me. You’ve never seen the bits and pieces of paper I use. I don’t think I’ve ever written on anything other than the backs of other things, except at school. I’d be shy, writing in a book like this.”
“You’ll get over it. Once you’ve covered the first page. You’ll see. It’s only paper, after all.”
(My sentiments entirely.)
“But what,” I said, “am I supposed to write about? Very little happens here on my island. I just lie about all day under the palm trees and listen to the radio (my one luxury) and read the Bible and Shakespeare and my big encyclopedia and look out there and see the wildlife passing by . . .”
“Exactly,” Clare said. “You’re bored. Invent something. Write a story. Write poems. Write a diary. Keep a nature notebook. It doesn’t matter.”
“Right,” I said, “I will. And thanks, Clare. I know it’s only paper, but it is pretty.”
Clare said: “I’ve got to go now. Mrs. Sandler will wonder what’s become of me.”
She left. Mrs. Sandler is her landlady, but she’s worse than any mother, the way she fusses over Clare. Mrs. Sandler’s house looks like the cottage Hansel and Gretel found in the wood. There are shutters on the windows with little heart-shaped pieces cut out of them and the garden is full of trees: japonica, magnolia, almond, even a gigantic pine and a castor-oil tree. When you sit in the lounge, you could swear the whole place was underwater—full fathom five. The light that penetrates is green and dim and comes to you from far away. Clare has a room right at the top of the house. I went there once or twice during the summer. An ocean of greenery lay under her window then. Now, I expect it will change as autumn comes and some of the leaves begin to fall.
Thinking about Clare and her room reminds me of everything that’s happened in the last couple of months. It’s true that in this room, trapped on my island by a broken ankle, I often have the feeling that everything of any significance is happening somewhere else and to other people. When I get really low, I begin to think that nothing interesting has ever happened to me, but this is nonsense. I don’t even really think it. Maybe what gets me down is this: The things that have happened to me have happened already, and what if nothing remotely like that ever happens to me again? Remotely like what? Like this past summer, that’s what. Like being in Three Sisters.
The day before I broke my ankle was the day the set was struck and I went to look. I leaned against a wall and watched as the men took the flats out of the huge doors at the back of the theater, like so much old rubbish. I thought: They’ll probably stash them away in a warehouse somewhere in case another play comes up that calls for nineteenth-century Russian-type scenery. There they were, those men, bundling up bits and pieces of the Prozorovs’ house and garden (even the avenue of firs, which I had helped to paint) into the back of a truck and tossing in a couple of boxes filled with props: the silver samovar, lamps, rugs, cushions, even the screen from Act III. Everything belonging to the three sisters had gone before you could say “Anton Chekhov.” It was just as if the whole production had never taken place. I found the spectacle so depressing that I might even have cried, except that good old George kept popping out from his den at the stage door to see what was going on, and he nodded and smiled at me from time to time, so I stiffened my upper lip and convinced myself that what I was seeing wasn’t sad in the least, simply a fact of theatrical life. And theatrical life was not in any way to be confused with “real” life.
In the theater, for a little while at least, you could travel. Anywhere. Into this time and that place, into the silken-scented courts of eastern princes, into stinking prisons, ships, schools, courtrooms, houses (grand and humble), into space, into prehistory—anywhere. And not only could you travel, you could also do what a great many people seemed to want to do most dreadfully: You could shed the person you were like a dress (“just hang it up behind the door as you go in, dear”—that was what Ruby used to say about the costumes) and step into someone more comfortable. Or more exciting. Or beautiful. Or wicked. Whatever. People would keep talking about the magic of the theater, and that day, watching the set disintegrate into bits of painted plywood and canvas in the back of a truck, I understood a little of what they meant. It was magic because it was ephemeral. Every single production, from the humblest to the most magnificent, disappears in the end, sliding down into nothing like a house of cards. Even if you managed to film a performance, that was what yo...
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