Under the headline Refridgerator Refresher Course, there was a helpful household article a couple weeks back on the opening page of MSN.com. Who knew you were required to dust your condenser coils every two months—more if you have pets? I thought you dusted the coils every time your wife painted the kitchen and you had to pull the fridge away from the wall.
This, my friends, is why I’m not known as a handyman.
There were also helpful tips as to the best places in the fridge to store certain food items so as to avoid spoilage. For example, did you know to close the humidity vent on your fruit drawer and open the vent on your vegetable crisper because trapped moisture causes fruit to spoil more quickly but keeps vegetables fresher longer? Finally, a reason to know that tomatoes are a fruit and not a vegetable.
The article also said to “never keep eggs in the door of your fridge”—something I’ve been doing since I was old enough to know what an egg was. Which came first, the chicken or the egg or the salmonella?
All this sage advice prompted me to recall how invaluable are the theatrical services of Jason Weinbarger, one of Richmond’s most loyal theatre artists. Several years ago, Theatre IV was producing Having Our Say by Emily Mann in the historic Empire Theatre. Having Our Say is a lovely family drama about the first hundred years of the real life Delany sisters. Jason was brought in for a very special assignment.
In this wonderful play, the sisters have each passed their 100th birthdays. They had lived prominent and remarkable lives that spanned the entire 20th Century, and in the play they recall over two hours of memories with only minimal time offstage.
The two amazing actors we hired for the show, Marie Goodman Hunter and Kweli Leapart, were certainly nowhere near their centenaries. Nonetheless, they were, as required, actresses of a certain age. For one hundred and twenty-some minutes, the two of them filled the stage with wonder, recounting story after story while simultaneously setting a formal dining table and preparing a sumptuous dinner. Since they were the only two actors in the play, memorizing all those lines while mastering all that activity was in no way an easy assignment.
So we hired Jason to be a prompter, to sit off-stage in a soundproof booth, watch the show on a closed circuit monitor, follow the script, and prompt the ladies, if needed, through a wireless earphone that each of them was wearing. Jason is a remarkably kind and supportive man, and he was the perfect person for the job.
There was one scene in which Marie had to retrieve from the refridgerator all the food that she and Kweli would prepare during the upcoming scene, all the while recounting to the audience priceless memories from the Civil Rights Movement. To make life easier, we loaded the refridgerator before every performance so that the food items could be accessed in the proper order. I won’t pretend to remember the exact sequence, but for the sake of the story, let’s say that the potatoes came first, then the celery, then the carrots, then the cabbage, and finally the turkey. We loaded the refridgerator so that everything came out in that order.
For some reason we’ll never know, from the first day of rehearsal, Marie always wanted to go for the turkey first, which was not an easy thing to do. She had to reshuffle all those vegetables before she could get to the turkey, but on some days, in front of a live audience, that’s what she felt compelled to do. And when she did, it presented a few challenges.
There were specific lines having to do with that turkey, and other earlier lines having to do with the potatoes, celery, carrots and cabbage. If you pulled the food out of the fridge in the wrong order, then the lines also tended to arrive out of order. When that happened, God help us all.
One day I was walking backstage during the show, just checking to see if everything was running smoothly. I walked by Jason’s offstage booth, and through the door I heard a muted but firm voice talking into Marie’s earphone. “Marie,” Jason implored, “don’t go for the turkey. Pick up the potatoes, Marie. Marie, the potatoes! Not the celery, no ... Don't touch the cabbage, Marie! Go back to the potatoes!! (beat) MARIE, STEP AWAY FROM THE TURKEY!!!”
I had visions of poor Marie standing on stage jerking involuntarily in response to the demon voices we were piping into her head. But when I listened to the stage action with my other ear, no, she was just chatting pleasantly with the audience, determined to truss that turkey first and then deal with the potatoes later. I don’t think the audience had a clue that anything was amiss.
Today, as Terrie and I prepare holiday meals, it’s not uncommon for one of us to blurt out to the other, “STEP AWAY FROM THE TURKEY!!!” I’ve also heard it once or twice after I whined too much about an Opening Night that hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped.
It’s an ongoing tribute to Jason and Marie—a Refridgerator Refresher Course that I’ll always remember.