The Actress by David W. Landrum

The curtain rises on the scene With someone shouting to be free. The play unfolds before my eyes.
There stands the actor who is . . . me.

---from “ The Actor" by the Moody Blues


Sossity Chandler blinked as cameras flashed at the door to the restaurant. In all her years of celebrity she had never gotten used to this. She found a table and ordered a double scotch. Aaron Reynolds, a friend of hers from the theater world, waved and came over to her table.

“I just saw Hamlet over at the Parks Theater and decided to drop in for a night-cap."

“I saw that last week. Did you like it??

She went into an analysis of it. She had liked the major roles but thought several of the supporting characters--Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Osric -- were poorly done. Aaron agreed with her.

“Hamlet is here tonight," he said. “So is Ophelia. Would you like to meet them?"

“I’ve wanted to meet them all my life," she smiled. When they came to her table, she invited them to sit down.

Hamlet was young and sharp, handsome in a rugged way; the girl who played Ophelia was one of the most exquisitely beautiful women Sossity had ever seen. She had a slender, perfectly formed body. The blue dress she wore hung on her like a natural ornament, complimenting her graceful posture. Her white-blond hair, blue eyes, long lashes and well-shaped mouth demanded a person look at her.

Both players were excited to meet Sossity. Both had been to her concerts and owned her recordings.

“I compliment the two of you on your performance tonight," she said. Then she added, “I love that play. I was in Hamlet in college."

Derrick (Hamlet) asked if she were Ophelia.

“No, I was Gertrude." Then she reached over and lightly touched Derrick’s hand as she put on the voice and intonation from years ago at Purdue University’s Little Theatre: “Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off, / And let thine eye look like a friend on Denmark. / Do not for ever with thy vailed lids / Seek for thy noble father in the dust: / Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die, / Passing through nature to eternity."

Derrick took the cue: “Ay, madam, it is common," he said. “If it be, / Why seems it so particular with thee?"

She listened with delight as he recited her favorite speech in the play: “Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.' / 'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother, / Nor customary suits of solemn black, / Nor windy suspiration of forced breath, / No, nor the fruitful river in the eye, / Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage, / Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief, / That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,/ For they are actions that a man might play: / But I have that within which passeth show; / These but the trappings and the suits of woe."

She laughed and clapped her hands, hoping she was not acting too silly. “God, I love that speech."

“I loved yours," he said. “ That was great, Sossity."

“I remember it like it was yesterday. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that made me happier than doing that role. The night the play ended, after the cast party, I went back to my dorm room and cried myself to sleep because it was over." She looked at Leah. “Gertrude and Ophelia don’t have much interaction, unfortunately," Sossity remarked.

“Not much. Too bad."

“Well, I’ve acted enough. What will you guys have?"

Derrick a rum and coke, Leah a black martini. They drank and talked about music and acting. Derrick had done an internship in London over the summer and had been on stage with Anthony Hopkins. Leah was doing Hamlet but also acting in Scotland Road.

You’re acting in two plays?"

“ Three, actually. I’m doing a matinee of a sixties play called The Man Who Turned Into a Stick, by Kobo Abe, a Japanese playwright. It’s very abstract -- magic realism --but very cool."

“ Three plays in one week?"

“It’s tiring -- but last summer I was in the cast at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. I did three plays a week there, every day, twice on Saturday, and over the season I was in five different plays with some pretty big parts. That definitely builds up your stamina. Doing these seems like a picnic compared to that."

She asked about Scotland Road. Leah explained the plot. “I’ll have to go see it," she said They drank and talked until one.

"I want you to give me the performance times for Scotland Road" Sossity said to Leah as she left.

“I’d love to attend. And how about lunch tomorrow?"

“That would be wonderful."

“I’ll call you at eleven."

Sossity returned to her empty hotel room, took a shower, and went to bed. At eleven the next day she called Leah.

“I was thinking of the Yamishiro. Ever been there?"

“I can’t afford places like that," she laughed, “but I’ve heard of it."

“Give me your address. I’ll pick you up at noon."

That morning one of her employees had delivered a vintage white 1971 Avanti II she had seen on tour a few months back, took a fancy to, and purchased now that she had her license back and could drive again. She drove it to the address Leah had given her. She was waiting on the sidewalk in front of a beige stucco apartment house. She wore a white top, a tiny pink skirt, white tights, pink boots, and a beret. She carried a pink purse.

“ Thanks so much for this, Sossity," she said as the car pulled away and headed for the restaurant. “Glad to. I love your outfit."

“I thought I ought to dress up a little for you. I love your car!"

Sossity told her about how she had acquired it as she made her way through the LA traffic. They arrived at the restaurant. A group of photographers stood at the door.

“How the hell these people know where I’m going to be is beyond me," Sossity grumbled. “ They must have a full-time psychic who can scope out my schedule. I hope you don’t mind being in a photo with me."

“Why would I mind that?"

They let a valet take the car and approached the photographers. Cameras flashed. They made their way inside.

“Wow, that was weird," Leah said once they sat down.

“Welcome to my world. I get tracked as closely as the Space Shuttle. Let’s order." They ordered drinks, a sushi appetizer and miso. Sossity asked Leah about her career.

Their food arrived. They ordered more drinks. When they finished eating, Leah gave Sossity tickets to her plays.

“Can you work these into your schedule?"

“I think so. I don’t have any gigs scheduled till next week." Sossity paid. They went out to the parking lot. Just as few steps from the door they heard someone shout. “Leah!"

Both women turned in the direction of the male voice. Leah’s eyes grew round with fear. The young man coming toward them was tall and handsome, with dark skin and curly black hair. He looked Dominican or Italian. He walked toward them, expression belligerent, and seized Leah’s arm.

“Goddamn it," he growled, “I told you to call me."

He shook her violently. The paparazzi were there in a moment with their cameras. Sossity interposed herself between the young man and Leah.

“Leave her alone, you bastard. “Who the fuck are you?"

“Someone with enough money to hire a lawyer who’ll get your ass locked up for the next twenty years," she shot back.

“Either let go of her or I’ll call the police." She moved in closer, wedging herself more firmly between Leah and her assailant. “Let go of her arm," she said, her jaw tight. He sneered. He looked like he might hit her. “Don’t even think about it," she said.

Recognition lit his eyes.

“I know who you are," he said, his lip curling up in contempt.

“Let go of her arm. I swear to God, I’ll have you arrested."

By now people had noticed the altercation. The young man abruptly let go and walked backward, pointing. “I’ll be back," he said to Leah, pointing at her. He hurried to his car.

“Don’t think this is over. I told you to call me and you’d goddamned better do it."

Leah wept and trembled as a crowd gathered. The young man hurried to his car and climbed in. Sossity heard the tires squeal as he left the parking lot and headed on to the freeway. She put her arms around Leah. The paparazzi continued to snap photos. She put out her hand. “Look, guys, we don’t need pictures of this."

Usually the paparazzi heeded her objections and agreed to desist, willing to exchange posed shots (which they could sell to magazines and internet sites for a high price) for candids; but this scene was too sensational for them to trade off.

Cameras flashed and whirled as Leah trembled and wept and Sossity tried to comfort her. She cursed herself for not bringing Jason along.

“Let’s go to the car," she told Leah.

They pushed through the cordon of photographers the car. Leah wept as they headed down the highway. Sossity decided just to drive around until she had settled down a bit. She reached over and took her hand.

“I’m sorry, baby," she said.

Leah tried to speak but could not get control. “Why don’t we go for a drink?" Sossity offered.

“Okay," she said, rallying. “But I’ve got to get to a rehearsal in two hours."

“No problem. I’ll get you there."

“Sossity, I’m so ashamed. I don’t know what to say."

“Who was that?"

“A boyfriend I I split with."

“Has he been stalking you?"

She did not speak for a long moment then said, “Sometimes"

“You need to call the police. I get can get my lawyer to get a restraining order -- but, really, we wouldn’t even need that. There is a law against stalking."

“I don’t want to talk about it now. Give me some time to calm down and I’ll tell you about him."

Sossity called a bar where she had an arrangement with the owner. When they got there he ushered them to a private room. Leah ordered a lime daiquiri. Sossity ordered a neat double shot of Forty Creek Barrel Select. She was getting drunk and knew she should not be driving. Leah had sipped her daiquiri.

“Lazaro and I dated all last year," she said. “Things went well then he got to doing coke a lot. He started getting violent. I told him to leave and he did. Everything was fine. But the last month he’s been pulling stunts like this. I’m afraid."

“You should be. If he is that out of control, he could hurt you. You don’t have to put up with that kind of thing at all, Leah, and you know you don’t have to."

“I know."

Sossity got out her phone. “Here. Call the cops now. It will put you in a better disposition when you go to rehearse."
Leah called. The police said she needed to come in to headquarters and file a complaint. After she gave back the phone, it rang. Sossity answered.

“Sossity, what the hell is going on?"

It was David, her ex-husband. She felt her anger pique.

“Hello, David. Nice to hear from you," she said. “You have such good phone manners."
“Cheryl needs to talk to you."
A moment’s silence then her daughter’s voice came on. “Mother, are you okay?" He voiced quavered.

“Yes, honey, I’m fine. What’s wrong?"

“I saw you on TV. Was that man trying to hurt you?" The video clips. They had frightened her daughter.

“No, honey. He was not trying to hurt me. He was in an argument with his girlfriend and I told him to leave her alone that’s all."

“I saw it on the internet. It scared me."

“Sweetie-pie, I’m so sorry. There’s no need to be scared. It was just a little incident and it’s over now. I’ve got Jason with me. He won’t let anybody hurt me. Are you okay?"

“Yes, Mother. I miss you."

“I miss you, honey. How’s school?"

“Good. I like my teacher."

“What’s her" David took the phone back.

“Whatever happened, it scared Cheryl," he said.

“Yes, she was telling me that before you grabbed the phone. I got between a friend of mine and her boyfriend," she began. He interrupted her.

“Look, I don’t care what’s going on in your so-called life. Just remember you have a son and a daughter and what you do in public affects them."

“I had a son and daughter till you took them away from me half the year, you worthless bastard."

She clicked off. Leah raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“My ex. He can be obnoxious too. You know what happened with my kids?"

“I read it in the papers."

“He has them for the next three months and will hardly let me speak to them."

“I guess we’re both getting it from our ex’s."

Sossity wanted to change the subject. She asked Leah about the plays. Leah talked about roles. “Ophelia is not a very big part in Hamlet," she said, “though you have to play her intensely when she comes on stage. It’s hard to play insanity and make it convincing--especially hers, because it’s . . .
well, articulate insanity. The character of 'The Woman’ in Scotland Road is much more intriguing. I said I’m playing two crazy women, but you’re not really sure if the Woman in Scotland Road is crazy or not. She may be telling the truth -- that’s the thing that makes it so spooky and postmodern. But I don’t want to ruin it for you."

“What about the play you’re doing Saturday?"

She grinned. “I’m The Woman from Hell in that play. Nice roles, aren’t they? The director made the character of Death and me mimes --black clothes, faces painted white with our eyes highlighted. It’s a pretty cool play, though."

“I’ll look forward to seeing it."

“I’d better go. It’s a long way down to the studio. I can catch a taxi if you need to be somewhere, Sossity. I feel like I’ve imposed on you enough already."

“You haven’t imposed at all. I do have one request, though. I’m a little drunk and I wonder if you could drive. I’m afraid I’ll get another DUI or smash up the Avanti."

“Drive that really cool car of yours? You bet I will."

Leah’s burst of enthusiasm and the talk about theater got Sossity’s mind off Cheryl. Leah took the wheel of the Avanti and piloted it expertly through the tangled traffic of Los Angeles. They exited, came to a quiet side street in a canyon, parked and went into a Bauhaus-style building surrounded by eucalyptus trees and oleander bushes. Inside, the cast and crew of the play, who had seen the television clip, rushed to Leah and expressed their concern. After she had assured them she was fine, she introduced Sossity to them. They reacted to her as people often reacted to her celebrity status. She asked if she could stay until Leah finished rehearsal and if they had any coffee.

They found an office not in use that day. She took off her shoes and relaxed in the air conditioning. Someone brought her a cup of coffee and logged her in to the computer so she could catch up on e- mail. She checked the internet. The celebrity blogs were full of news about her divorce and the custody situation with her children. And of her confrontation with Lazaro. She would have to call Cheryl and reassure her; she might even talk to their social worker about allowing an early meeting with her daughter.

She wandered into the auditorium. Five people were on the stage. They played two scenes and then exchanged notes and comments. After they were finished conferring, Leah came down. She seemed recovered from the trauma of her encounter with Lazaro.

“How did rehearsal go?" Sossity asked.

“Great. Here’s another ticket to the play if you want to bring someone."

“My manger’s coming to stay a few days with me. Maybe I’ll bring her. I would bring a boyfriend but I don’t happen to have one at the moment."

Sossity took Leah back to her apartment. She walked to the door with her to make certain Lazaro was not lurking somewhere. Sossity admonished her to call to the police if he harassed her in any way. And she reminded Leah that she needed to go to the police and file a complaint.

“Don’t be a facilitator," she warned.
Sossity drove back to her hotel. She was thoroughly drunk when Tonya arrived.

Tonya Aldair had been her manager from her struggling days. She was short, thin, with red hair, pale skin and watery eyes. She at once saw Sossity’s drunken state and began to admonish her, as Sossity had known she would.
“Your liver is going to be a brick by the time you’re forty."
“Lay off, Tonya, I don’t feel like hearing it."

“You need to hear it and you need to get sobered up. I’ll send down for some coffee."

“Make sure it’s Starbucks."

Tonya ordered the coffee.

“What was that little episode on television and the internet all about?" she asked. “I rescued someone."

“Not a good idea."
“No? I guess if you’re a celebrity you can’t keep someone from getting slapped around by her boyfriend, hmmm?"

“It was good, in a way. People are saying you’re courageous and caring. But you need to watch out.

Why wasn’t Jason with you?"

“I can’t have him tagging along all the time."

“You might be wise to have him tag along."

Silence fell. Tonya seemed to feel a twinge of conscience at being overly negative.

“Looks like Labyrinth is going platinum," she said.

“Good. I need a little success right now."

“Written any new songs?"

“Hell no. I’m too drunk to do that."

“We need to have something in the next couple of months."

“I thought our remake of Travelling Band was doing well."

“It’s number three in CD sales and number one in iTunes."

“ Then why in the goddamned hell do I need to worry about my next album? Sounds like my stuff is doing fine. I’ll be ready to start working on something new in a few months."

“It takes longer than that to do an album, Sos. People forget quickly. You’ve got to keep coming out with new material." She paused. “Remember you’re going on tour next week."

“I remember."

“Are you up to it?"

“I’m up to it. Even if I’m not, it’s too late to cancel now. I’ll get through the tour."

The room got quiet again.

“Anything I can do to help?" Tonya asked after a moment. “Get my kids back for me," she said grimly.

She thought of the pain she had experienced these last weeks. She was glad she still had a few days off before she started her concert tour.

She showered and slept until late afternoon. She and Tonya had dinner and headed for the theater.

Jason, Sossity’s bodyguard, met them there.
They went backstage at Leah’s invitation and met the cast then settled into their seats for the performance of Scotland Road.

The play was a bit slow starting out, but as the enigmatic plot unfolded Sossity sat riveted. Leah, dressed in a hospital gown, looked beautiful, and uncovered her character with sudden velocity, so that by the last third of the play she had dominated the stage. The last scene, when fog began to roll in with the sound of waves and Leah’s character described her vision of the Titanic and the character John says, “Yes--I think I see it!" she sat there stunned as the lights went out to signal the end of the play. The audience began to applaud. Sossity joined in the standing ovation they got and whooped her approval.

“That was cool," Tonya said. “Your friend is a great actress."

They lingered. Leah invited them backstage. Sossity talked with the cast. As often happened, someone brought in a guitar and she sang two of her hit songs. When people began to drift off toward home, she asked Leah if she had a ride.

“I’m catching a ride with one of the other cast members."

“Why don’t you let me take you home? I have my bodyguard here. Your friend Lzaro might be stalking you. Better to be safe than sorry."

She agreed. Sossity, Leah, and Tonya took the Avanti back to Leah’s place. Jason followed them. They said good-byes and Leah went into her place, accompanied by Jason.

“Let’s wait until we see the lights come on," Sossity said.

The light did come on, but then came screams and the sound of scuffling and glass breaking. Sossity and Tonya bounded from the car and ran up the flight of stairs to Leah’s apartment.

By the time they got there Jason had subdued Lazaro. Leah was on the sofa, sobbing. She had walked into her room; Lazaro had assaulted her, punching her several times in the face and ribs. Jason, who was outside the door, rushed in and overpowered him, handcuffing him (he was a licensed private detective authorized to make citizen’s arrests and carry a gun). Tonya called the police and Sossity saw to the sobbing, trembling Leah.

The police arrived quickly. Jason told his story and Leah calmed down enough to give a statement. They arrested Lazaro for assault and battery and unlawful entry (he had a key to her apartment from their days together). By the time they took him to jail it was almost 2 a.m.

“You’re coming with me," Sossity said. “You can stay with me and Tonya at the hotel."

Leah did not argue. Her left cheek showed a burgundy bruise; Lazaro had blacked her right eye. Two EMTs examined her and said the bruises were not serious and would heal up in a few days. Leah packed a small suitcase, Sossity dismissed Jason, and they drove over to the hotel. They managed to slip in unseen -- though Sossity knew this latest incident would make the news as well. Exhausted from performing and from trauma, Leah went to bed and fell asleep. Sossity got another room for Tonya, showered, and slipped on a nightgown.

Before going to her room, she looked in on Leah. Seeing her in the dark, her blonde hair spilling over the pillow, in deep sleep, reminded Sossity of her daughter. She poured herself a drink, hesitated, and then called Dustin, her lawyer.

“Sorry to get you up at three in the morning, Dustin, but this is important."

He was used to this sort of thing and took the intrusion on his sleep graciously. “I want to see Cheryl, she said. “I need to talk to her."

The next day Leah had a huge shiner. Tonya gasped when she joined them for breakfast. She took Leah’s hand. “You okay, girl?"

“It hurts a little, but I’ll be fine."

“What time do you go on stage?" Sossity asked. “ The play is at two."

“Will you be able to act looking like you do?"

Leah smiled weakly. “Remember I’m a mime in this play. My face will be painted white and my eyes will be painted black with tear-lines running down from them."

“If you don’t feel up to it you need to take a pass," Sossity commented.

“I don’t feel great, but I’m going to play the part." She smiled. “ The show must go on. And I’m not going to let Lazaro wreck my life. Sossity, you said you would lend me your lawyer. I can’t afford one myself, but I realize I’ve let him get away with this for too long. Could you help me out with the legal costs?"

“I’ll put my lawyer at your disposal and you won’t have to pay me anything. Dustin is in league with the Devil when it comes to law; he’ll help you out. And don’t worry about the medical bills-- I’ve got it covered."

They ate and talked about their favorite plays. Tonya, to Sossity’s surprise, knew a lot about theater and most of the conversation was between her and Leah.

“How do you know that much about plays and musicals?" she asked her after Leah had left for make- up call.

“I acted all through high school and college."

“You never told me that."

“You never asked."

Sossity spent the next two hours on the phone taking care of details for her upcoming concert tour. At noon she and Tonya dined with two other staff members from her organization and drove over to see Leah’s play.

The performance was in a converted warehouse. The stage was bare. Leah came out shortly after the beginning of the play. She and her partner were dressed like traditional French mimes: painted faces and slouch hats, though he wore black trousers, she a leotard and black tights. The Man From Hell was cold, cut-and-dried, business-like about his death; the Woman From Hell was in training and thus more compassionate and ambivalent about the Man Who Turned Into A Stick. At the end she did not want to throw him in the gutter; when forced to, she did so but displayed compassion for him. Being thrown in the gutter represented his death.

The play was short. Sossity thought it providential that the director of the film had decided to cast the characters as mimes.

The paint covered Leah’s black eye and bruises. She would be performing again soon, though. She supposed the bruise would go down a little and could be covered with make-up in the other productions.

When the receiving line had broken up, she and Tonya talked to Leah in backstage. “You need a place to stay tonight?" Sossity asked.

“I’m going to spend tonight with my old boyfriend, Caleb. I used to date him until Lazaro muscled his way in."

“He was the male lead for the play?"


“Very good looking guy," Tonya commented.

“You bet he is. I met Lazaro at a party when I was dating Caleb. He came on so strong I dumped Caleb for him. I didn’t like the way he treated me but I put up with it. The more he abused me, the more I accommodated him. Caleb caught wind of it and wanted to confront him but I wouldn’t let him. I was afraid Lazaro might come after him--though I’m sure Caleb could have taken care of him."
She smiled. “I guess I was thinking too much Ophelia and too little Woman from Hell."

“I know what you mean," Sossity said.

They lingered, talking and drinking, until late. Finally they said good-byes. Sossity and Tonya climbed in the Avanti and headed back to the hotel.

Sossity thought of the roles she had played in high school and college: Emily Webb in Our Town, Gertrude in Hamlet, Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. On the music stage, too, she assumed a character; music performance was a variety of acting. The mirror to nature, she remembered, was a line from Hamlet, though she could not remember who said the line. Acting, showed human passion. She reflected on how we see the passions of other people but not our own. Driving through the crowded freeways of LA, she determined that she would start contacting friends in the movie industry in order to help Leah’s career.

Sossity also resolved that she would start writing her own script--writing it and acting it out.

She asked Tonya to tell her about the times she had been on stage as the two of them drove on.

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