“Ms. D–, may I make an entrance?”
May I make an entrance? Of all my advanced students performing monologues, Morgan is the only one who asked if he could make an entrance. Of course he’s the one who asked; he’s my brilliant one. He reads at a post-grad level, writes like a published author, and asks questions which stump me on a daily basis. His wit is sharp, a finely-honed weapon, designed to confuse, dazzle and enrage any so unlucky to cross verbal swords with him. He has class, style, an honest laugh, an easy smile, and a manner which puts all his peers at ease; blessed and brimming with charisma. He could be president one day, or the man to finally discover a cure for cancer, or a renowned journalist, or a science fiction writer with a social consciousness. Or, after what I saw today, a gifted Shakespearean actor.
You see, even though teachers try desperately to treat each child as an individual, we can’t help but categorize and stereotype. We’re human beings (despite what the parents and administration seem to think), and human beings love to label.
That’s not to say I was unaware he possessed a flair for the dramatic, but he is so reserved in his chosen performances that I simply assumed his monologue recitation would be much the same. Well-spoken, quiet, with the vaguest hint of underlying, subtle emotion.
And what a fool I was.
“May I make an entrance?”
“Of course you may.” I smile.
He grins ear to ear. The rest of the class shifts in their seats. Every other student had simply walked to the front of the room and recited memorized words like a computer program. Robotic, devoid of emotion, without movement or even facial expression. I found the stream of monotone voices disappointing. The whole purpose of the assignment was to give life to the words and language we had just finished studying. I thought for certain a group of 25 extremely gifted students would adore the opportunity to vent their hormonal angst through the words of the Bard. And, as sometimes happens to teachers, I was very wrong.
When assigning monologues, this boy had selected Romeo’s death speech from the end of Romeo and Juliet. It’s a wonderful piece, full of loss and extreme desperation. He was the only one who chose this piece. It didn’t surprise me, as the difficulty and length of the monologue was off-putting to most of his peers. Morgan never chooses the easiest path.
He leaves the room and enters a different boy. His walk is slow, burdened, and sorrowful, as though the weight of the world hangs upon his shoulders. He bows his head and drags his feet, reluctant to reach the front of the room, where an imaginary death awaits.
I can hear some of the girls in the class start to whisper. With a slight build, sandy blond hair and intense blue eyes, he catches their attention easily, but either fails to notice or is simply uninterested in pursuing these flighty, teenage things who are-quite frankly-far beneath his own intellectual level.
Just as he reaches the front of the room, he turns to look back at the door, and lets out a sigh that nearly breaks my heart. The class is now silent, all their attention sharply focused on the performance before them.
As he reaches the big empty “stage” at the front of the classroom, I can see tears in his eyes. He reaches the center of the playing space and, like a marionette suddenly released from its strings, he crumbles to his knees.
“How oft when men are at the point of death have they been merry…”
As he speaks, I can hear the truth of his feigned sorrow.
“O my love! My wife!” He calls as does a child who has lost his mother, desperate and frightened. His voice breaks and a choking sob escapes his throat. Then another. He wipes his now-wet cheeks, swallows hard, and continues on.
As he nears the end of the speech, I can see a handful of his classmates fighting back tears. I, myself, am working hard to control the rising lump in my throat. One girl is weeping openly.
“And lips, oh you the doors a breath, seal with a righteous kiss…” He places two fingers on his lips and then lays them gently to the lips of the imaginary Juliet before him. He gazes at her, with the peaceful smile of a cherub. Absolutely content. Certain of his choice.
In an almost inaudible whisper, he lifts an empty up to the heavens. A toast. “Here’s to my love!”
After drinking the imaginary poison, he remains for several moments, gazing contentedly upon the visage of his only true love. The tears cease and a small smile crosses his lips.
Then he coughs. His shoulders and neck tense. His breathing becomes ragged, with periods of choking in between frantic gasps for air. Fear and pain and doubt twist his cherubic gaze into something almost grotesque. He doubles over, as though he’d been punched in the gut and suddenly his whole body is convulsing. He cries out in pain.
“Oh true apothecary!” Its a curse, rather than an observation.
With what seems like a most tremendous effort, he stills his dying body to deliver the final line of the monologue – ‘Thus, with a kiss, I die.’
It seems as though he can barely manage to speak the words. Just as before, he kisses two fingers and then places them upon the imaginary woman before him. Then he cries out again, and falls to one side. The classroom is deadly silent. I can feel tears begin to burn my cheeks as he spasms and little whimpers of pain echo in my eardrums. Then his back arches sharply, he holds his breath…
And with a long exhale, he relaxes. No one moves. No one breaths. Every so slowly, Morgan stretches his back and stands.
He is himself again. A radiant smile begins to spread across his face, and he swells with pride as he looks at his profoundly moved classmates. And teacher.
The applause he receives is thunderous. I’m surprised the classroom next door isn’t forced to stop due to the noise. I applaud along with them, of course. This is, without a doubt, the single best performance of Romeo I have ever seen. This is what Shakespeare should be. This is what acting should be.
No one was brave enough to follow him, so instead of forcing the issue, we talked about Morgan’s performance. About how profoundly moving Shakespeare can be. And because of this wonderful boy, they finally, after weeks of study, finally understood why Shakespeare is so important.
And all it took was an entrance.