My Mom was nearly forty when I was born, with me being the last born of four children—Michael, Susan, Marilyn, and Charles.
However, this story’s all about Mom; I was around her a lot. Dad was the owner of a business; Michael was working for Dad—my sisters went off together by themselves.
Mom, aka Elizabeth, sometimes Liz—took care of the house and the kids. She was the one who took us to the things we needed to be at—the sports events, the performance events, and other stuff.
I got into the theatre as a young boy, not just at school—also with our local community theater in Longmont, Colorado ... aptly called the Longmont Theatre Company.
Mom took me to auditions, rehearsals, and performances, sometimes manhandling Dad and my older siblings to come and see me perform.
One of the plays I auditioned for was an oldie, but goodie called LIFE WITH FATHER, a nice little story with eighteen characters. Mom sat with me as I filled out the audition form, helping me as needed.
“I remember this show, honey—a very long time ago; I did theatre ... must be where you got the talent, certainly not from your father!” she said with a slight laugh.
Looking around I said, “Mom, there aren’t any ‘Vinnie’s’ around here that I can see. Try out—you could be my mom onstage as well as off,” I chuckled.
“Oh, that’s supposed to motivate me? I did love the stage!” she said sounding wistful.
“Try out—you get in, or you don’t get in, what’s the harm in that?” I reasoned.
She got up and walked to the counter; the lady there said, “Oh ... you’ve decided to try out after all?”
“Well, my son Charles, who’s been acting since he could walk, talked me into it. When do rehearsals start?”
They talked for a while. Mom seemed to enjoy the moment. She came over and sat back down. “Well, Charles—I guess I’m trying out after all.”
“Great Mom, we can audition together,” I said excited about this. She’d never talked about herself from back when she was a young girl, even though she’s been taking me to these tryouts for a while.
They called my name, “Charles Sladek?”
I got up. “Break a leg, honey,” Mom said.
“Aren’t you coming to read with me?” I said, turning to her.
“Oh, yes—sorry,” she said grabbing her purse.
We walked into a room with three people behind a desk, each with a yellow pad. One looked up and said, “You’re not Charles.”
“My son asked me to try out with him. I used to do theater a very long time ago,” she said blushing a bit.
“No harm in that, what’s your name?”
“Elizabeth,” she said handing them her completed audition form.
“Wow, Elizabeth—you’ve done a few plays it appears,” he said looking it over quickly.
“They were all back in Mitchell, South Dakota,” mom replied.
“Have you looked over a script?” she was asked.
“No, but I was always a pretty good cold reader,” she said sounding more confident as the conversation continued.
“Charles, you read Clarence ... Mom—you read Vinnie, the mother, please?”
“Yes,” she said quietly.
“We’ll need to hear your ‘outside voice’ today Elizabeth—is that all right?”
That broke everyone up, including Mom, who took a big breath and waited.
“Start with Vinnie’s speech to the maid, whenever you’re ready...”
“If Mr. Day speaks to you, just say; ‘Yes Sir, ‘ don’t be nervous—you’ll get used to him.”
“Good morning Mother.”
I give her a kiss on her cheek per the stage directions.
“Good morning Clarence.”
“Did you sleep well, mother?”
“Yes, thank you dear (to the maid) we always start with fruit—except the two young boys, who have porridge.”
“Jiminy! Another wreck on the New Haven. That always disturbs the market—Father won’t like that!”
“I do wish that New Haven would stop having wrecks.”
The casting committee all chuckled.
“If they knew how it upset your father—My soul and body—what’s happened to your coat?”
“Thank you both very much—a new face, and a talented young man ... expect a call.”
Mom and I put our scripts down, the guy, who’d done most of the talking, stopped and handed Mom back a script. “Put that in your purse, please, Elizabeth—I want you as Vinnie! Put one in for your son as well, maybe not Clarence, but John would work out too. See you at read-through—say nothing as you leave please,” he said as we tried to hold in our exuberance.
The counter lady said good-bye as we left. We got in the car. I saw Mom’s hands visibly shaking. “You were wonderful, Mom—your life experience should help,” I said chucking her shoulder a little.
And she was great—she helped me learn my lines. She learned hers really so quickly. She knew all about upstage, downstage and everything else. What do they call that—a diamond in the rough?
With me being the only one of us kids still at home, I was fourteen at the time—we spent a long time working together. I ended up getting the role of Clarence after all, something about chemistry? After our initial blocking, Mom and I made it our goal to be off script the following week.
The gentleman playing Clarence Senior, or ‘Father’, seemed taken by my mother, who told him in front of me, that ‘she was just playing a part’ and no more.
We had four weeks of rehearsal, doing vignettes all out of order to accommodate personal schedules, although Mom and I were at every rehearsal. She loved watching the members of the cast get better and grow in confidence.
With two weeks before we opened, we began complete run-throughs, and mom dazzled—gosh, was she a natural. I knew I’d be playing sons and friends for a while, but she was destined ... for greatness.
We had three weekends of performances, nine in all. On opening Thursday night, after it was over ... our director brought flowers up on stage for Elizabeth. She Ok’d my calling her that. Dad was there, along with both my sisters. They both kissed me on the cheek telling me how unexpectedly good I was.
I got a firm handshake from Dad, and many people backstage were lauding my mother.
On the following Sunday, Elizabeth tried out for CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF—I did too. I got one of the ‘Children, ‘ while Mom auditioned for Maggie—the lead female. Her audition was bitchin’- she did the monologue in the first scene,