The Leading Man’s Lament – a study in terza rima by William Kotzwinkle

“Don’t be offended,
“but not your best work, such a pity…
“still I’ll recommend it…”

One must be witty
while dying underneath
if I could just escape the city…

Instead a dazzling show of teeth.
“Thanks for coming, see you later.”
Thank God she’s gone, that’s some relief.

Did she have to demonstrate her
dramaturgy on this bomb?
But face them, be the gladiator.

When thumbs are pointing down, be calm.
I knew the plot line might be clearer
but all through rehearsal not a qualm.

Dear God, is that my face in the mirror?
Time for plastic surgery.
Here’s the playwright coming nearer.

I wish she wouldn’t speak to me.
But she’s far gone in delirium,
her opening night epiphany.

“I can’t find the word, it just won’t come.
“Let’s simply say we have a hit.”
My dear, accept your martyrdom.

The word you’re looking for is shit.
“Act I, the gun, I think it’s trouble.
“I see no need for it.”

But she doesn’t see the rubble,
has conveniently forgotten
the pinprick in our bubble,

that her little play is rotten,
her Rubicon been crossed.
“Yes, we mustn’t leave that shot in…”

How to tell her all is lost,
that we died up there tonight
like flowers in the frost.

“The shots and then the fistfight,
that didn’t play at all.”
Sorry dear, it’s slow and dull and trite.

Our back’s against the wall.
It’s a little bit absurd
to try to overhaul

your masterpiece — this turd
must be allowed to sink.
They hated every word.

You’d better have a drink
followed by another.
Perhaps consult your shrink

And then go home to mother.
But there’s no point in rewriting,
I really wouldn’t bother.

I find it somewhat frightening
when an audience expires.
I was up there madly fighting,

dangling on wires
in the land of the living dead.
I know you have admirers.

Talk to them instead.
As for me I’m going home
I’d rather be in bed

or in a quiet catacomb
with a tranquilizing pill.
You didn’t find the honeycomb,

perhaps someday you will.
Our director now, with his big scene.
I bear no ill will, but still…

“My thanks, so grateful,” that routine.
The tears are in his eyes
as he flits around like the Fairy Queen

after which he’ll sodomize
the boy who understudies me.
“I’ve got some notes to energize

Act I, to give a little gravity
to scenes that went too fast.”
It really is a tragedy

that Botox doesn’t last.
I simply can’t ignore,
there’s no way I can pass

for thirty anymore.
Our leading lady has appeared,
stands wildly in the door.

The next few moments will be weird.
“You and I are intertwined…”
Now she’s started, as I feared.

“There is no yours or mine,
we are the embodiment of trust…”
A sentiment I’m not inclined

to share, given her tumultuous
mugging all night long.
I find it somewhat tedious

to sing her little song
when she used me as a prop.
But was she really wrong?

She knew we had a flop
fifteen minutes in.
So she played it over the top,

the magnificent heroine
bringing in the cavalry,
then showing a bit more skin

as she opened up an artery
as only leading ladies can.
All quite satisfactory

unless you happen to be the man
playing opposite this flood
doing everything he can

but the stage is filled with blood
and it’s not what we rehearsed.
But sensing it’s a dud

she skillfully inserts
crowd-pleasing bits of crap
– in this she is well-versed –

She gets them in her lap.
They know the play’s a stinker
but she can make them clap.

She can make them drink her
Kool-Aid with a smile.
They’ll certainly never think her

what she is, a crocodile
who ate the leading man.
All they see is style.

All I see is ham
half-baked from Actors Studio.
“You’ve made me what I am…”

Now she gives the final blow,
whispering my name.
“My love, my rose, my Romeo…

“Tonight you were a flame
burning low, gently splendid.
You seem to be in pain.

“Is it something I did?”
She chose a play that was doomed,
finished before it ended.

“I feel totally consumed
by this, it has devoured me.
I feel I’ve been entombed.”

She gestures lifelessly,
the star that time forgot.
I should cheer her manfully,

But really I’d rather not.
My head is starting to throb
my sympathy is shot.

Now she’s starting to sob,
now she’s fighting for breath.
I’m really not up to the job

of calming Lady Macbeth.
I’ve seen it so often before,
her dying a beautiful death,

then dying a little bit more.
Now comes her renewal,
the part I truly deplore.

“I’m a little fool, will you
just ignore my tears?
You’re an absolute jewel,

“you dissolve my fears.
I’m quite myself again.
A little crying always clears

“my mind, I remember when
we met in summer stock.
Of all the leading men

“you could always unlock
the workings of my heart.
I know you had a shock

“when I overdid the part
tonight, I was fighting for my life.
I couldn’t match your heart.

“All I had was strife.
I played it broad
while you were like a knife,

“clear, clean, a quiet god.
Can you forgive me,
I’m such a fraud,

“the way I chewed the scenery.”
She gives me a warm embrace.
It’s her usual strategy,

and now the repentant face.
She’s mercurial, dangerous, and sly,
a monster, in any case.

From arrogance to humble-pie
and everything in-between,
she goes from worm to butterfly

depending on the scene.
One might ask the question,
Is anyone behind the screen?

A human being, a person?
Or just propensity
to be whatever version

of him or her or me
is in triumph or disgrace,
another opportunity

to be another face?
“Well,” she smiles, picking up the script,
“we’ve had a little taste

“of living in the crypt.
“Cheer up, ducky, we’ll outlive
this ghastly partnership.”

Her smile is like the sedative
I’d planned on taking.
Why be negative,

indulge in belly-aching?
The play’s the thing
and love is in the making

with nothing to forgive.