Heady Days, Vigorous Nights

an actor's memoir

by by Aaron Cutler

The minute I saw that I'd been cast as a talking vagina, I knew that things were going well. The show was the student-written The Karaoke Kid, and I accepted the part because I'd been on a cold streak. Once the cream of freshman thespians, I had curdled over four bad auditions, culminating with a failed bid to get into Cannibal! The Musical.

Actors are desperate. They tell themselves anything to turn a situation their way. I told myself I had a responsibility. I'd be the best talking pussy that Brown had ever seen.

There's no business
Poplar Duvet, The Karaoke Kid's main character, is a small-town girl with big dreams. She wants to be a karaoke star and has all the hopes of anyone who appears on the burgeoning Fox reality series that the playwright liberally borrowed from. She is also sexually frustrated, and in a dream sequence the curly-haired V-Face appears before her. I would wear pink, hold a pink hand puppet, smoke a cigarette, talk like Michael Jackson and enter to the tune of "Got to Be Starting Something." I had my work cut out for me.

Like any good actor, I began with research. I'm Jewish, so the curly hair was no problem. I didn't smoke cigarettes, but I could learn how to hold one. I bought a made-for-VH1 movie called Man in the Mirror and repeated the Michael Jackson character's lines until I freaked out my roommate.

V-Face's body was a different matter. How to move like him, act like him, be him, I simply didn't know. I looked for works of art to draw upon. There was Me and Him, a movie about a talking penis, but no equivalent for the female anatomy. My writer-director, Caitlin, a big-hearted matron who every once in a while threatened to blackball me from Brown theater, recommended I go to the Sarah Doyle Women's Center.

I walked into the Center on a Tuesday afternoon, taking extra care to ensure that nobody saw me. The receptionist was only a year or two older than me, I think, but I'm not sure because I tried not to look at her. "Excuse me, do you have any pictures of vaginas that I could look at?" I asked, with my head down.

She stared at me.
"It's for a play."
She went into the back while I glanced at abstract student paintings. She returned with a black-and-white drawing with each part clearly labeled. V-Face was more complicated than I had thought.
I said, "I've never seen one of these in person before."
"It's a picture."
I nodded slowly and thought about how to phrase my next question. I finally came out with it.
"Do you mind if I take this with me?"

Must go on
I worked extra-hard during the next two weeks. I danced to Michael Jackson songs while smoking imaginary cigarettes. My roommate looked on, confused. Each night I got into bed and stared at the picture, thinking, I am V-Face.

Four days before opening I came to rehearsal in tight jeans and a tucked-in T-shirt. For some reason I thought this was an awfully good idea. I still didn't have my puppet, but I approached Caitlin enthusiastically to ask if we could run my dance number. I had moves to show her. She told me to wait.

Once the cast had walked in she made us all go upstairs. We sat in a circle. There were changes to the script, she said. "Does everyone have their pencils?"
We nodded.
"Okay... Pages 28 to 33, crossed out!"
My big break was gone. She smiled happily at me. I died inside.

Later on she said that she had cut the pages for the show, but if you asked me I'd tell you that the puppet-makers were buffoons (our whole crew was iffy--Caitlin fired our prop master, who had been working for free). I contented myself with a less flashy role as Poplar's doctor, who spoke like a Terms of Endearment reject ("Na-ow, Miss Duvet..."). Our posters didn't go up until the next-to-last day of performances, which was just as well, since it meant that all the friends to whom I'd bragged about my part would miss the show.

I've acted in other shows at Brown since then, but my lost opportunity haunts me still. Looking back on Karaoke Kid, I don't know which was sadder: that I was cast as a vagina, or that I never got to play it.