Friday, September 24, 2021

The Soapbox: Accustomed to Her Face

Brandi Chambless

Damn, damn, damn, DAMN!
–Professor Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady

I was sitting in my living room as a thirty-five year old stay-at-home Mom when the landline rang one ordinary day.

My husband was calling to let me know that Theatre Memphis was holding auditions for the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady and now was my time.

Though, years before, we had met and fell in love backstage at the Monroe Little Theatre, at some point we decidedly left behind the intoxicating draw of stage life and traded men’s applause for the more noble task of leaving it all behind to attend seminary and raise a family.

But there was always the bucket list show I left on the table and my husband knew it–the famously known adaptation of the 1913 stage play Pygmalion (George Bernard Shaw). Audiences come to love Professor Henry Higgins for accepting the challenge of refining a common flower girl into a one who is passed off as a duchess at the embassy ball, all by means of changing her wardrobe, teaching her manners, and modifying her dialect with his self-proclaimed ingenious methodology of imparting proper diction.  His subject, one Eliza Doolittle, a phonetic atrocity in his high British world, would become the woman without whom he could no longer bear to live.

So, after five years of never leaving my living room and coffee pot, I found some spandex and headed to the theatre. After two long nights of auditions, I had hopes of securing the role, but it wasn’t meant to be.  I wasn’t going to be Eliza among the young cast of Henry and Freddy. I was too…old.

Fast forward to 2017 and I spotted the audition notice at none other than my home theatre in Monroe, LA. I HAD to do it.

This time, spandex was no stranger to me. I gathered myself together and dusted off my old script.

When the first girl auditioned, the casting committee asked for her name and age.

She was 15. Followed by a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old. All amazing talents.

So when my audition number was called, I stepped onto the familiar stage and simply told the audience that I was no stranger to this stage—that I had done a lot of shows here in the 1990s, that I had fallen in love with my husband on this very stage, and that our rehearsal dinner had been in the lobby of this very theatre.

I recanted the story of auditioning back in Memphis and just before singing I Could Have Danced All Night I said, “So that was ten years ago. This is probably it for me, so here’s to all the mature Freddys and Henrys of this world!”

When the time came to read the script with the other actors, I was called to the stage and asked to read for Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. That’s when I knew that the years had likely robbed me of my chance to play Eliza.

After a couple of days of auditions, including finally being called to read for Eliza, there was a waiting period and then the call came.

“I’m sorry, you didn’t get the part.”

It was right then that I wished I had never let this woman in my life. Again. Eliza had eluded me not once, but twice now. Though I have studied for over twenty years the intricacies of everything Eliza from her Cockney accent to her high British, her guttural yells, squeals, glides, grace, and best of all, the timing of her delivery–it wasn’t meant to be. I shall never tango with my Henry, nor waltz the Ascot Gavotte.

The reality of likely never playing her will not be the last shattered dream of my life, and certainly not the most painful one by any means. Undoubtedly, there will be something else to come along, but I’ll never forget Eliza. Damn my own folly for having ravished my hard-earned knowledge and the treasure of my regard and intimacy on a heartless guttersnipe.

But… I’ve grown accustomed to the tune that she whistles night and noon. Her smiles, her frowns, her ups, her downs, are second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in… I was serenely independent and content before we met! Surely I could always be that way again… And yet… I’ve grown accustomed to her looks, accustomed to her voice, accustomed… to her… face.

Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette.

Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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