When Joe Stole the Show at Portland Junior Civic Theatre

Auditions were tough, but Joe got the part,
the woodsman in Little Red Riding Hood
who whacks the wolf with his ax. Little good
the tool did him at the end—but let's start
with the scene where the wolf, in Grandma's gown,
convinces Red to shed her fear of eyes,
ears, nose and teeth, to expect a surprise
soon, and to put her picnic basket down.
That's how the script read, but Joe wrote a brand
new version. He ran on, pranced to center
stage, and realized, oops, the wolf had four
more lines. Beneath the floor, flashlight in hand,
the prompter stage-whispered, "You don't enter
yet!" Joe said "Oh!" and ran back out the door.

Maybe it was just a case of first-night
jitters. Maybe somebody backstage blew
in his ear, and he viewed it as a cue.
Whatever the cause, he saw the green light
wink on, threw his transmission into first
gear, and gave it the gas. The rafters flung
laughter back. A flashing neon sign hung
over my bowed head—Joe's brother! The worst
awaited; right then, writhing in mortal
shame, like Lillian Gish in a blizzard,
I struck rock bottom. Still, the great guffaw
reminded me of Frank Morgan's chortle
as Professor Marvel in The Wizard
of Oz, accepting of a minor flaw,

so I straightened up, determined to see
Joe through his big scene, and lead the acclaim
when the wolf bit the dust. I overcame
the flaming arrows of catastrophe—
what more could happen? When Joe reappeared,
this time accompanied by his merry band
of wood-choppers, cardboard axes in hand,
a strange smile split his face. Just as I feared,
he gazed across the apron, past the pit,
into the hearts of his adoring fans.
The wolf, upstaged twice now, rushed to bite
Joe, just as Joe hefted his broad-ax. It
decked the poor wolf, whose fellow thespians,
including Red, carried him off, stage right,

while Joe took his bows and showered kisses
on the balcony, and the frazzled stage
manager dropped the curtain. (Let's engage
in a fantasy. The curtain misses
Joe by inches, and he's left standing, proud
as punch, out in front before the footlights,
where rosebuds meant for Red fly at his tights
and tunic. Outside the stage door, a crowd
of worshipers waits....) The first curtain call
produced a bedlam better than The Three
Stooges, with the wolf, still woozy, reeling
like Larry and Curly Joe, off the wall,
right after Moe knocks their noggins, the key
player, Red, distraught at the scene-stealing,

pouring mock tears out by the bucket load,
and the woodsmen, showing their tender side,
flitting between the two like elves astride
broomstick horses, knock-kneed and pigeon-toed,
steadying the wolf, and drying Red's eyes.
Joe did stand proud—the King of Siam
slouched, next to him. He was a happy clam,
gathering rosebuds, kissing butterflies,
just as I'd imagined (except the part
about the rosebuds, with a nod to Let's
). And butterflies notwithstanding,
he kissed every star in the sky. His heart
lifted off, his moon cheeks blazed like comets—
nothing could eclipse his happy landing!