The stage echoed.
The director and assistants watched from the front row.
The dark, empty theater waited.
"Well, Cecil?" said the director.
The young actor threw his hat on the floor and stomped defiantly.
"Who wrote this script?" he demanded. "It's ridiculous!"
"Many scripts are," the director assured him.
"Find me one that isn't!" he snapped.
If he hadn't been blessed with unnatural good looks he might not have said that. The fact was that in a town of 1,800 Cecil Drifter was the only man for the job, and Cliff knew it.
"Be reasonable," said Cliff. "No one could do this play as well as you."
"No one would want to," replied his employee.
"Okay, fine," said Clifford in an easy tone. "Let it go. Let the whole town miss the production. Theater and art aren't so important, right?"
"Of course they're important!" thundered Cecil. "My kid sister's in the ballet, my big brother's paintings are on half the walls in town, and my mom teaches sculpting. Art's in my blood whether I like it or not."
"And drama is an art, right?"
"An art. A fine, precise art. A delicate rose."
"And does this not include comedy? That which produces laughter and great happiness?"
Cecil's arms hung loose and limp at his sides in surrender.
"Yes," he sighed.
"Then please read the script. I promise this will be the last rehearsal. Next Friday's for real."
Cecil shifted his feet to a more steady stance, blinked twice, took a deep breath, and resolutely spoke.
"I can just taste that blackberry pie right now!"
Instantaneously a large pie splattered his countenance. The assistant cheered his own good aim, and all broke out in smiles.
"Thank you, Mr. Drifter."
A muffled mouth of berries managed, "You're welcome," and with a great sweeping distinction, he bowed.
Friday night opened with a full house. Cecil's eyes twinkled extra brightly as he took the stage and winked at the assistant director, who winked back.
The curtain rose, the audience clapped, and the play commenced. There were many good punchlines, and Cecil delivered them all with skill. He interacted naturally with the cast, and when the final act arose he stood tall with pride, eyes still twinkling, wearing a handsome grin.
"Well, boys, it's time we headed home. Auntie Jo said she was going to bake today."
Cecil glanced downward. Just as planned, the chairs on either side of their beloved director were empty. He continued.
"Cliff can just taste blackberry pie right now!"
Clifford, now drenched in pie, joined the cast up on the stage. With half the town on Cecil's side there was but one thing to do: play along. He scraped a glob of fruit from above his ear and plastered it against Cecil's forehead. Cecil laughed.
Auntie Jo bounced heavily across the floor boards and set five more pies on the table. Both men's eyes gleamed. As one they rushed for the stack. The curtain slowly lowered on the trembling stage, awash in flying purple pies. The comedy's new ending brought loud cheers and uncontrollable laughter from the crowd, who vowed to return and see it again next season. Seven cast members later headed for the dressing room, warm with laughter and covered in purple splotches.
In time Cecil did get to do more than comedy, and in time bigger companies offered him roles. Cliff stayed with the small town theater until he passed away, and though no one could replace him several kept his shows alive for younger generations to enjoy.
Oh, and one more thing: Cliff wrote that script.