Today was my fourth performance as Mr Van Daan, and there was much to be decided. Would I live up to the high standards I set in my previous three performances? Would I change young minds? Would I remember my lines after six weeks of not doing the show, two weeks of which were spent cramming a foreign language into my head in a tropical paradise?
The crowd waited in eager anticipation as I entered, fifth in a line of five, and began my slow progress toward the front of the stage.** Each actor ahead of me spoke a line--a date in history, followed by a restriction on Jewish freedoms that was enacted that day--then moved away to another part of the stage. "Thursday, August 8th, nineteen-hundred-and-forty. As of today, it is required that all persons of Jewish ancestry must wear and openly display a yellow star at all times." The actor dashed away. I took a step forward.
"Wednesday, January 3rd, nineteen-hundred-and-forty-one. It is forbidden that Jews own, operate or ride any bicycles, cars or other motor driven vehicles." The actor goes; I step forward.
"Monday, March 31st, nineteen-hundred-and-forty-one. Jews will no longer be allowed to ride trams." Again.
"Friday, June 10th, nineteen-hundred-and-forty-one. No Jew may sit, stop or stand outdoors after eight o’clock in the evening." The actor steps away. I'm at the front of the stage. I speak.
"Tuesday, October 15th, nine-hundred-and-forty-one."
Wait. Did I just say "Nine-hundred-and-forty-one?
I listen for giggles. Silence. Maybe not. Maybe I said it correctly. Can I take that again? More silence.
"Jews must go to Jewish schools." No. That's not right. That's the next line.
More silence. The anticipation around my much-anticipated debut is increasing. The tension thickens on the stage and in the house. I know the next line. It's just . . . well, you know how in dreams sometimes you can read a sign, and you know you know what it says, but you can't actually read it? It was like that. The sign was right in front of my face. There were just so many other words there, too.
Como estas? When are my netflix discs coming? How am I going to avoid tripping over those loose planks backstage? I think Anne would have been a Belieber.
I come back to my senses. I hear some words come out of my mouth. "Jews may only shop in stores that bear the sign 'Jewish Store,' and then only between three o'clock and five o'clock in the afternoon." Dramatic pause complete, the play continues. Everything goes perfectly. Perfectly. The crowd is so impressed with us that they can't help but talk amongst themselves about how impressed they are. At the end, we ask for questions. There's only one, put forward by the kid who is clearly the most ostracized student in school.
We say goodbye. We change clothes. The man who plays Mr Frank looks at me and says, "You had a brain fart up there!"
I shake my head. I can't think of anything to say in response. Until now.
* Look hard for him in the book. He's there. You just don't see him. Read it again. No? Try again. No? You must be dumb.
^ That's "On Fronk" in our Dutch-accurate version of the show.
** Downstage. It's called "downstage."