OPINION

Just Thinking: Reminiscing about play debacle as youth still a wake-up call

Margo Bartlett
Guest Columnist

When I awake at 3 a.m. to contemplate my life’s most embarrassing moments, I always relive what I’ll call “the Christmas play debacle.” 

Not that this is about Christmas in February. This is about 11-year-old hubris. 

At 11, I was the kind of person who would have an idea early Saturday morning – say, to put on a carnival with the other neighborhood kids! – and by 10 a.m., we’d have made a poster proclaiming “CARNIVAL” in balloon letters and be marching it around the block to advertise the event. 

Margo Bartlett

The play was an idea like this.  

We entertained parents, of course, regularly. My idea was grander: to perform a play for the residents of the closest city’s children’s home. 

The play I picked, “A Christmas Carol,” called for more than 30 characters. No problem, I told the six other actors. We’d all play multiple roles. I laboriously typed the script from a book of plays, using multiple sheets of carbon paper.  

Then I called the children’s home. 

You might think a parent, overhearing a child arranging to take a full-length dramatic production on the road, would rise from her chair in alarm. But not parents in my day, or at least not my parent. I hung up with a date to present Dickens’ tale of redemption to “poor little orphan children,” as I benevolently thought of them. 

Rehearsals began. Of the seven of us, six were girls. Casting was difficult. We had no costumes and no set. Staging was an unknown concept. I don’t believe we ever finished the first scene. I couldn’t swear we got beyond the opening line, “Five o’clock in the city of London on this day before Christmas and all is well!”   

But hey, we had heart. We were rehearsing for a real performance, and that was heady. In my mind, especially, we were working on an empty stage in a theater, under the soaring proscenium arch, instead of in a knotty-pine basement down the street from my house. 

The date to entertain the poor little … let’s just call them PLOCs … loomed while we still were entangled in the first act. We had no idea who was playing some 15 parts. Finally, even I had the sense to panic. It felt a lot like those dreams I would have later, where you’re due at the final and you’ve never been to class. 

That’s when my sister and her friend, another older sibling, stepped in. They would compose a simple play, they said. It would be easy to memorize, easy to stage and the PLOCs would be entertained. 

The play these 14-year-old girls wrote was called “The Something that Saved Christmas.” That wasn’t really the title; I can’t remember what the something was. An elf, maybe? A reindeer? The story was predictable: Something threatens Christmas, and something else saves it. In between was some dialogue. 

This might have been the happy ending to my tale, had my best friend’s mother not chosen that moment to pull my friend and her sister from the play. Any play. Both plays. Our performance date was the next night.  

My mother proposed Plan C: We’d take refreshments and play games with the PLOCs in place of a play. Weak with relief, I called the children’s home to explain the change in plans. That’s when I learned our performance date had been the night before, and we hadn’t shown up. 

“The PLOCs were all waiting for you,” the children’s home woman said accusingly, although she didn’t say PLOCs.  

Talk about life lessons. For the first time as a person, I understood that an agreement must be honored; that follow through is essential, and that important dates should be written down and confirmed. 

I also thought this woman shouldn’t have taken an 11-year-old voice on the telephone so seriously.  

Now, decades later, long after my mother died, just seven years after the play debacle, after my sister’s friend died with her husband in a car crash, after my best friend died far too young, I’m still stalked by the kind of embarrassment that comes back on a person at 3 a.m. I also think this: Those PLOCs actually were pretty lucky kids. They missed our show. I hope their lives went right on improving from there.  

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.