OFF BROADWAY

by André M. Zucker

Insomnia led him to the theater around three in the morning. Locking the door behind him, he walked through the lobby with a full cup of burned, weak coffee. The completed sets were illuminated only by a dim ghost light with props strategically scattered around the stage. In the dressing room costumes lay in disarray. Empty whiskey, beer and nail polish bottles polluted every corner of the theater. Every step he took was a struggle not to smash the glass under his shoes. A clinking sound between his feet and the bottles echoed through the isolated space.

Daniel stood there sipping his coffee in a sea of bottles, knowing that by the end of the day all of this would be gone. “Damn,” he said to himself.

Daniel’s Off Broadway debut had not made it to opening night. The producers fell short on money, and later in the morning the strike crew would come to dismantle the sets, props, and Daniel’s psyche. The marquee had been set, posters decorated downtown New York City and a website had been launched, all announcing previews, opening night and an open-ended run. The bills being unpaid meant the death of the show.

Marion, the producer, had shown up unexpectedly at Tuesday afternoon’s rehearsal and interrupted with the news—“Guys, we’ve been snipped.” The cast and crew sitting in the first few rows looked up in confusion. “Some idiot, somewhere, lost some money and somehow we ain’t got no show. We can’t pay the rent on the theater and we are being evicted.”

“Ain’t that a—” the sound mixer blurted out.

“So . . . preparing for this . . . I have brought the three wise men. Jim Beam, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels. Beer too. We’re all unemployed so let’s do what the unemployed do best—get drunk in the middle of the day and then paint our toenails.”

“I want fuchsia toenails!” a voice yelled from behind Daniel.

Women, he thought. The cast was all actresses, the stage manager, producer and even the lighting and sound crew were women. “Um . . . what’s with all the women?” he said to nobody. He looked up and down and was confused that he didn’t realize this sooner.

“Now? You’re noticing this now?” Marion poured drinks and handed out nail polish. Shoes were piling up while the cast and crew grabbed at different colors. “You spent weeks in a theater surrounded by women and you didn’t realize it?”

“What happens to the theater when we leave?”

“Nothing.” She downed a cup of whiskey.

“It’s just empty? They’d rather have empty space than not be paid?”

“Of course. This is America. There’s a precedent to be set.”

Anxiety and losing his production led to Daniel’s insomnia and his need to find himself in the theater hours before the eviction. Bottles of empty liquor, beer and nail polish rolled around his feet while he sat staring at the stage. He moved his foot and broke two bottles. He couldn’t see much; the lights were off and only the ghost light illuminated the entire theater. Nail polish spots speckled the floor. He went to get a broom.

In the lobby Daniel looked at a large poster advertising the play, looked at all the names and at the end saw the words, Directed by Daniel Vogel.

“Who the hell is that?” he said out loud.

He started organizing the empty bottles and sweeping up broken glass. The women and his stress all raced through his mind while he asked himself, “Who the hell is Daniel Vogel?” He repeated the question three times in his head as he worked. He reached into his wallet and pulled out his ID showing a picture of himself with the name Daniel Vogel. He started to ask himself rudimentary questions. “What’s my hometown?” “Did I have a dog?” He stepped on a bottle, smashing it. “What’s the capital of New Jersey?” “I’m Daniel Vogel?”

One question after another, he couldn’t answer. What he could think of was the play, back stories and production details. Every line of the script, blocking and lighting cues were perfectly ordered in his head, but he was blank about himself.

“Whatever happened to ‘The show must go on’?”

“Who am—” He stopped mid-self-pity. He had a plan. Dropping the broom he knew how to keep the show running without any hallowed cash. He took his phone from his pocket and wrote an email to the entire cast and crew: “Everything is fine. Rehearsal starts at 11 a.m. Crew, please arrive at 9 a.m. but not for strike.” He pressed send. Marion was excluded from the email. The crew was already scheduled for 9 a.m. to strike the set so he knew they’d be there. He was worried the actresses would be too hungover to read their email before 11. He started to prep the theater for an audience since no house manager or ushers were coming.

Daniel tried to push the main entrance open and a New York City gust of wind pushed him back until he finally overpowered it and exploded onto the street. Wind whipped up and down the street while he made his way to the nearest supermarket. The sun had still not risen and only the all-night hotdog shops and crazies were on the streets.

He grabbed bread, lunch meat, mayonnaise and mustard off the store shelves. Fumbling sandwich supplies, he spilled them in front of the graveyard shift cashier.

“Food . . . we’re gonna need food! Do you sell toenail polish?”

“Toenail polish?”

“Like for women . . . girls . . . women . . . actresses and for some reason a lighting and sound crew.”

“Drug store,” she dismissed.

At the drugstore Daniel could barely juggle all of the different toenail polish colors and bags of sandwich supplies. When he dumped the toenail polish in front of the cashier she gave him the stink-eye.

“Are these all the colors you have?” he asked. “Do you sell heavy duty chains and padlocks?”

Making his way back to the theater, the before-sunrise commute had begun and an endless stream of people bumped him as he walked. He pulled the door open with the help of the wind and closed it behind him to keep away the outside world. He set up a sandwich bar, and next to it, a toenail polish buffet on a table just off the exit, then hid them with a piece of fabric he thought was a tablecloth.

He found piles of clothing and fabric around the lobby and started to fold and organize them. Once complete he picked up the broom and continued to clean the sea of glass from the previous day. Daniel hadn’t stayed to party with the girls; after Marion’s announcement he just wanted to be alone.

The door flew open, flooding the theater mercilessly with daylight. Daniel dove behind the concessions stand to escape the piercing brightness. The stage manager arrived first for rehearsal. Time had brushed by Daniel; it was already 9 a.m. and the crew was arriving to prep the theater.

“I don’t know what you did to save the show and I don’t care,” said one.

“I have work to do.”

“It smells like Schlitz in here,” said another.

Daniel grabbed the broom and got back to sweeping up the bottles and glass. He tried to jog his memory. “What’s the capital of New Jersey?”

“Trenton,” someone yelled from the other side of the theater.

“Trenton?”

“Aren’t you from New Jersey?”

“I am? Trenton, that sounds so wrong.”

“Eleventh hour miracle?” The lighting board operator’s voice asked from behind.

Before Daniel knew what was happening the entire cast and crew were in front of him ready to rehearse. They did a full dress rehearsal that to his pleasure went incredibly smoothly. He watched the time as the hours went by; he knew what was coming and hoped his plan would work.

After some notes and a second run through Daniel assembled the cast in the front of the house. All the women looked at him thinking he would explain how he found the money to save the show.

“Ladies . . . ah . . . um . . . I don’t have a lot of money or some rich uncle somewhere. To be honest I really didn’t save the show. Um . . . this is slightly awkward. I’ve chained and padlocked the front door and taken you all hostage until we can open the show, which we’ll do tonight. I really hope everyone is cool with this.”

No one reacted. Daniel thought, hmmm…that wasn’t so bad. Then a makeup compact hit him in the head.

“You can’t do that!” A voice said.

“Are you crazy?” another interjected. Within seconds a cacophony of angry female voices was directed at him.

“Wait a sec . . . ” he squeaked.

More voices yelled at him and an open lipstick tube hit him in the forehead. Finally the stage manager stood up.

“Daniel, you can’t take us hostage. First, we’ll overpower you and you’ll have a full blown Amazon insurrection on your hands. Second, we have lives and commitments and other junk so we just can’t be hostages. I’m going to my knitting club.”

“A knitting club?” an actress asked. “Like for knitting?”

“Yeah, but, you know, this is about Daniel.”

The women returned to chastising Daniel. “Who’s the equity rep on this show?” came from the left.

“I thought it was you,” another replied. Daniel couldn’t keep track of who was saying what, all the voices bled together in his ears.

“Listen to me!” he yelled, silencing all the voices around him. “This will work! We’re opening the show— tonight.”

“Tonight? As in . . . tonight?”

“I know it’s early, but . . . you know . . . we worked hard. Why should we give up? Besides, I can’t keep hostages longer than a few hours. I only bought so many sandwich supplies.” There was a silence of consideration. Everyone in that room, including Daniel, always believed money would dictate what was to be done, but suddenly, through hostage-taking, a new option presented itself.

“Tonight?”

“Does Marion know you’re doing this?”

Daniel continued. “We’re being evicted from this theater. It’s either now or never. The show must go on . . . right?”

Daniel’s phone started vibrating in his pocket. “Seriously, who just texted Marion?” As he looked at his caller ID the sound board operator raised her hand to admit she placed the text.

“There are sandwiches and nail polish in the lobby. We’ll be out of here before midnight. Have something to eat, call your friends and family and invite them to the show tonight . . . and then paint your toenails.”

“You can’t buy our freedom with nail polish. Well, what colors did you buy?”

Daniel answered the phone to the belligerent screaming of Marion. After about five minutes of screaming threats, obscenities and even a biblical verse she said, ”You’re really doing this aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“What if the women won’t do the show?”

“Something was said about an Amazon insurrection.”

Silence.

“You’ll go to jail for this. Once the owner of the theater comes and realizes you’ve barricaded the doors there’s no turning back.” Her voice was deadly serious. “Jail, Daniel. Jail. Directors can’t go to jail; no one will listen them there.”

“I need to do this! I need to have my Off Broadway play. I need to direct a play that the entire city will remember they forgot to see.”

Another silence. He could hear Marion’s breathing over the phone. She finally broke the silence. “Okay, I’ll promote it.”

As Daniel placed the phone back in his pocket he saw the women making sandwiches and talking about nail polish. One of the crew tugged at the chain. She nodded, approving of the lock’s strength. Harriet, the lead actress, grabbed Daniel and kissed him. “I’m totally having Stockholm syndrome right now!” She then ran away from him and even the stage manager smiled at him. “You’re so dangerous!”

Daniel fell into one of the front row seats. Everyone seemed to accept the hostage situation and for the second time since he had woken he felt a sense of peace. He immediately returned to reconstructing his memory. He knew he was from New Jersey and his last name was Vogel, but other than that he was clueless. An hour passed, the women’s toenails changed color and he couldn’t remember a thing.

Red and blue lights started to flash in the theater. Daniel looked out one of the small lobby windows and saw police cars and Marion standing outside with a euphoric smile. Flash bulbs went off around her as photojournalists competed for the right shot.

Marion texted: “Had to promote this somehow so i called the police and media on u. Itll be great press” He looked back up and saw she was giving him a thumbs up. Behind her was an army of reporters.

An amplified feminine voice came from the streets into the theater, “What are your demands?”

His phone vibrated again and he immediately picked it up. “Marion?”

“Hold one second for Susan, the hostage negotiator.”

“Susan? Really? Susan?”

“This is Susan, with whom am I speaking?” Her voice was unbelievably calm and controlled.

“Um . . . Daniel Vogel . . . My name’s on the Marquee.”

“Are the women in there safe?”

“They’re painting their toenails.”

The hostage negotiator looked at Marion, “Is this guy some kind of pervert?” Marion shrugged.

“Do you have any demands?”

“A premiere . . . the show tonight at eight and when it’s over I’ll turn myself in.”

Marion started giving a sales pitch for the show to the hostage negotiator in hopes she and her friends would buy tickets. Then she stopped and realized there were no tickets for sale. She smiled and said, “I’d give in to his demands. You never know.”

Daniel turned, put his back to the window and slid down to the floor. He put the phone to his ear. “Marion . . . will we have the premiere?”

“I don’t know. It’s up to the police.”

“Did I screw up? Am I going to jail for nothing?”

“I married you because you were the most passionate man I’d ever met. I divorced you because passion doesn’t make for a good husband. But I know now that you believe in what you do, so I guess it’s for something and for what it’s worth your ex believes in it too.”

“We were married?”

“Daniel?”

“This is a weird moment to say this but I think I lost my memory.”

“Like . . . remembering things?”

“I think . . . Well I only know my name because I saw it on a poster . . . . This isn’t good is it?”

Marion dropped the phone onto the sidewalk, and the hostage negotiator just looked at her and then to a large crowd pushing against police barricades. Almost the entire community of theater critics had arrived on the scene.

The negotiator said to Marion, “Those people are really pushy.”

“They’re theater critics. You give them free tickets to a show, and they still say it sucks. Vultures.” Daniel heard this all over the open phone line and laughed at her analysis.

“Lock and load!” the stage manager yelled. “We are at one hour till curtain!” People started to move around, going back stage, the lighting booth or wherever they were supposed to be.

“Is this going to happen?” Marion picked her phone up off the street. “Marion? Is this going—”

“It better. The vultures . . . er . . . critics, are circling. You remember nothing?”

“I only remember things about the play, not me or our apparent marriage and subsequent divorce.”

“There’s not much to remember there.”

Both Marion and Daniel heard the hostage negotiator addressing the crowd through a bull horn. “You can only enter the theater at your own risk. We have no knowledge of what weapons or explosives Mr. Vogel may have and if he is prepared to use them.”

“Whatever, we’ve been comped!” a critic immodestly replied to the cheers of her cohorts.

“What?” Daniel said.

“Please tell me you have no explosives.”

“Explosives?”

Marion exhaled with relief. The negotiator approached her. “Hostage situations are easier than that. How are we getting them in?”

“Daniel, open the side entrance at half an hour to curtain time!” she yelled into the phone.

Marion hung up on him as he walked to the side entrance. Outside she directed the critics as well as useful journalists to the side entrance for seating.

Daniel cautiously opened the side door to get the critics, family members and other comped well-wishers seated. There were no playbills, tickets or seating assignments. Utter pandemonium broke out as people fought for the best seats in the house. Journalists lined the aisle, in direct violation of the fire code, taking notes on the ambiance. Daniel rubbed his hands through his hair wondering if the police were coming to arrest him. He hid backstage to avoid Marion, the NYPD and perhaps bill collectors. He walked into the dressing room to give the actresses a pep talk.

“Ladies.”

“You should knock!” one said, putting her shirt on.

“I think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to be able to do the show, so I have some final thoughts before you take the stage.”

Daniel had some prepared words of encouragement and pride but before he could get any of them out of his mouth, Harriet grabbed him and kissed him again. “Stockholm syndrome!”

“Like . . . Sweden? Don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“You get a pass with Stockholm syndrome.”

“Daniel’s Swedish?”

He gave up on his notes, exhaled and said, “Break a leg.”

He walked out into the stretch of corridor between the dressing room and the stage. Marion charged directly at him from the other end. He realized he couldn’t avoid her, and she subsequently slapped him across the face. “You’re insane.” She slapped him again. “We need to hide you until the bow. Your arrest will be our big finish. It’ll be great for the morning papers.” She dragged him by his collar and placed him in a trap door under the stage.

“But I’ll miss the show.”

“You should have thought of that before you took hostages.”

Daniel was completely alone in the dark. When the house lights went down and the play started he could hear every line of dialog. The play was raw and sloppy but completely fresh and urgent. He sat alone in his crawl space and just laughed at himself.

Marion dragged him out and straightened his clothes as the last few lines of the play were spoken. The lights dropped into complete darkness and Marion kissed him unromantically on the cheek. “We’re the crazies,” she said. The actresses were taking their bows and Marion threw him on the stage. The crowd of journalists, critics and others erupted with cheers for Daniel. People stood on their chairs cheering the director who couldn’t afford to put on the show.

In the noise and chaos in the overcrowded theater with the flashbulbs going off and bright lights above, Daniel’s memory rushed back. All of who Daniel was Returned and he remembered his favorite song, where he was from, where he went to college, his mother’s first name and so much more. He threw his arms in the air and screamed in a fit of ego, celebration, megalomania and a bunch of other undefined emotions, “I am Daniel Vogel Off Broadway!”

Immediately an NYPD officer tackled him and put his knee on his throat while he slapped handcuffs on him.

At central booking Daniel was granted one phone call while a group of lawyers vied for his case pro bono. He called Marion from an old fashioned pay phone.

“It’s Daniel.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Our premiere is the top story on every station and I’ve been called by all the papers for comment. It’s the biggest story of the night—a crazy director takes his cast and crew hostage cause the production runs out of money, makes it to premiere and it’s a hit!”

“A hit?”

“The reviews are already out and it’s epic! The money’s coming; we’re going to have an open ended run. Maybe I divorced you too soon.”

“Am I going to jail?”

“I don’t . . . you don’t get it. You’re a legend in this town, Daniel. They’ll remember your name.”

The time limit on the call expired and the receiver went silent. He looked at the gray walls of the holding cell as an officer approached to take him to an unknown destination. Daniel placed the phone on the receiver and was happy just for a moment to know who he was.

______________________________

André M. Zucker was born in The Bronx and attended SUNY Purchase. His work has appeared in Danse Macabre, Blaze Vox, And/Or, This Great Society and many other journals. His first novel, Generation, is seeking publication. He lives in Antwerp, Belgium.