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On with the show

Now that all Pikes Peak is reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I'm reminded of my daughter's senior play at Palmer High School. A devoted actress, she snagged the lead role of Elizabeth in the school's 1994 stage rendition of Frankenstein. She would have a death scene, she told us, and we couldn't wait to see her die.

The night we went, the audience was abuzz over the elaborate two-story set. A Victorian parlor in the foreground was overlooked by a platform designed to look like a mad scientist's laboratory. Dry-ice smoke arose from test tubes. Fluorescent light tubes fizzed and blinked along the laboratory control panels. A gurney with thick leather straps to hold the monster in place stood center stage on the platform.

My three sons and I watched in wonder as the play unfolded. One of my daughter's lifelong friends played the old, blind hermit in a neatly crafted shack that rolled onstage and off. The monster broke our hearts, trying to learn from humans how to be human, but constantly rebuffed and rejected.

My daughter was beautiful with her upswept hair and her flowing gowns. Her Elizabeth was all porcelain skin and light. We winced and blushed over her stage kisses with young Victor. We braced ourselves for the death scene.

The spotlight closed in on the center of the Victorian living room, and Elizabeth swooned, falling back into her true love's arms. All ears strained toward her last words.

Just then, a trickle of light, fluid and alive, slithered its way up the wall of the doctor's laboratory. The actors embraced as Elizabeth took her last breath, but the audience's eyes were drawn to the small fire igniting over their heads. A quiet buzz began to fill the auditorium. A man behind us got up quietly and began pointing at the burning flat.

"Fire!" yelled one of my sons. "The stage is on fire!"

The flame was little more than a narrow torch, but unattended it was growing. The actors stared in disbelief at the audience, then at each other, and then miraculously, Elizabeth came back to life, got to her feet and gestured at the stage manager to get upstairs and take care of the fire.

A boy with headphones on, dressed in jeans, rushed up the stairs with one of the school fire extinguishers. The house lights were up and the audience watched intently as he put out the fire. Polite applause arose. Other members of the stage crew gathered upstairs to assess the situation. A short in the circuitry? A faulty bulb? Could the show go on?

When the smoke cleared, the house lights went back down and the spotlight returned to center stage. Unshaken, my daughter launched back into her death scene. The audience's attention, now riveted on the stage, fed the drama. Her swoon this time was even more graceful, Victor's sorrow greater, her face whiter and more porcelain. She took her last breath and fell backward. The audience whistled, hooted and clapped their approval.

Frankenstein was just the beginning for this intrepid girl. Since then she has played Dionysus, has acted with inmates, has danced and played on stages at Brown University, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, in New York City. Her latest role is rock star with her own band, touring Europe, touring the United States, boldly being herself wherever she goes. I talked with her by phone last weekend about her group's new CD, a yearlong undertaking, due to be released next week. She downplayed the songs her brothers and I think are brilliant, saying the band already has all new material and that those songs are mere "sophomore" efforts. Ever growing, she's in no hurry for instant success.

After all, any girl who can die twice in the senior play must have an extra measure of confidence. Frankenstein marked her first moment of public grace. The stage on fire was just the beginning of her eclectic, illustrious, brave career. Her biggest fans are still watching, waiting always for her big scene.

  • On with the show

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