35: The Play

35: The Play

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

The Play

Follow your dreams and pursue them with courage.


According to Shakespeare, “the play’s the thing,” or something like that. For me, plays were definitely “the thing.” Well, that—and Anthony Donelli.

I sat center stage, two rows from the front of the class between Sally McBride on my left, who was telling a story about her new dog, and Al Cooper on my right, who was tapping the eraser end of his pencil.

Sally’s puppy story and Al’s drum solo melted into background noise as I stared straight ahead at the back of Anthony Donelli’s rugby-shirted frame. Anthony—Tony to his friends—was dark-haired and blue-eyed gorgeous. If he smiled at me or borrowed one of my pencils, even a bad math test couldn’t darken my day.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Tobias began, interrupting my study of Tony’s perfect ears. “As you know, each class produces a play once a year for presentation to the PTA and student body.... It’s show time, folks!”

Groans and hums of excitement rippled the air around me as my heart pounded against my ribcage.

“I’ve chosen an old favorite,” Mr. Tobias said.

I felt myself leaning forward trying to hear, my nose only an inch from Tony’s coal-black locks.

“We will be performing The Reluctant Princess, a story of high adventure and challenge in days of yore.” Yore? The man enjoyed making us expand our vocabulary.

“In this adaptation, there are fourteen speaking parts. Remember, there are no small parts. For those who don’t want to be a member of the cast, there are make-up and stage crew positions.” Mr. Tobias sat on the edge of his desk getting comfortable while we sweated about our futures.

“I’ll call out the part and those interested in a particular role please raise your hand.”

Pick me! I wanted to scream

“We’ll read through the play later this afternoon, but for now let’s get started.”

Yes! My hand was ready to go.

“Princess Lucy,” he said.

Hands shot into the air like rockets, mine among them. I prayed and strained, willing Mr. Tobias to look my way. Me! Pick me!

And then he said, “Janice Grice.”

What was the man thinking? No, no, no! Not snaky Janice. Janice, the girl who decided halfway through my pajama party to call her mother and leave, along with three of my former best friends because she didn’t like the pizza we ordered. She had said our house smelled. Janice, the girl who invited almost every girl to her own pajama party three weeks later but didn’t invite me. Janice, who could have had any boy at school groveling with the twitch of her pinky, but set her sights on my Tony. That Janice. I was still in shock when the next role was announced, but I raised my hand anyway.

“Queen Gladys.” Mr. Tobias’s eyes again landed far from my outstretched hand, and did the same until he got to the Lady-in-Waiting. “How about you, Rose?”

Grateful to finally hear my name, I nodded. There are no small parts. A heartbeat later, Tony got the part of Prince Albert. There was probably a last kiss in the final scene, and Janice would plant it on Tony. I wanted to cry.

We went into rehearsals that week and the next, with our moms supplying costumes made from long, wide pieces of cloth and painted cardboard with glued-on glitter.

Janice looked the part of the princess during our costume fitting, in a long white dress and red robe, her blond hair waving over her shoulders. A glittering rhinestone crown sat on her head. Tony was fit with a plastic sword, boots, turtleneck sweater, and shorts. He was covered in gold fabric and wore a wide belt. I wore my mother’s old blue dress with a silver belt and a pointy cardboard cone-hat.

Two weeks later, we were ready for the PTA performance. I moved Janice’s cape around the stage and said my line, “The king awaits your presence in the great hall, my lady.”

The rest of the play, whether on stage or off, I mouthed each part. I may not have engaged my brain in long division, but I could store a lot of things if I wanted. In this case, I had memorized the entire play.

I wanted to shove Janice when Tony delivered the fateful kiss at the end, but I settled for a view of the smiling face of my father in the audience. Show number one was over. Two more shows to go.

That was Friday night. Monday and Tuesday we were doing shows at two different assemblies. I came into school on Monday morning, ready to do my job and give the role of Lady-in-Waiting a loud delivery and a deep bow.

Monday morning started with the usual rummaging around in our desks, laughing, and scratching of chairs across the wooden floor. I looked around, wondering when Janice would head Tony’s way, but I couldn’t spot her anywhere. I got up for a better look. Still—no Janice. No Janice!

Leaning over a long table to touch up a piece of scratched cardboard scenery, Mr. Tobias hadn’t noticed anything.

“Janice isn’t here today, Mr. Tobias, can I have her part?” I machine-gunned out the words hoping to say them before he picked someone else for the job.

He raised his head slowly. He had a crease between his graying eyebrows and sagging lines around his mouth. “What? Janice isn’t here?” With a look of doubt and a lot of dread, he scanned the room for the absent Janice.

“She’s not here?”

“Nope. Can I have the part?” I restrained myself from adding, “please, please, please!”

“I better check with the office and see if her parents have called in.” He wasn’t listening to me!

“Can I have her part!?” If I said it any louder, he’d tell me to pipe down. “I know her lines. I know everybody’s lines.”

He finally looked at me; really looked. An hour later I was trying on Janice’s dress, robe and crown. They fit.

When Tony planted the final kiss that afternoon on my puckered lips, I was ready. The kiss was a little disappointing, but I liked being able to hold his hand. Janice was laid up for two weeks with chicken pox and missed having her picture taken for the Trenton Times. As for me, I still have that picture from the newspaper and the smile on my face says it all: Learn your lines and follow your heart.

~R. P. Houghton

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