The Fiddle in the Wings

The Great American South, till now, remained a mystery, one that blurredly conjured thickset women in rolled down stockings fanning themselves in the heat on a porch stapled to the earth by wisteria vines and the dripped condensation of a cut glass lemonade pitcher. My Yankee imaginings were romantically rooted in the Technicolor sets of Gone With the Wind, Flannery O’Conner, and the warm recollection of playing Scout in a central Connecticut high school production of To Kill A Mockingbird. Between the destination of a small hick town in North Carolina and my notions of Southern Hospitality, the expectations of travelling to do a revival of a Tennessee Williams classic were sky high and rife with the promise of something surely miraculous.

Smacked in the face by the funk of La Guardia airport, punched by the vulnerability of a sticky, shoeless walk through security, I had been shuttled from the close corners of a starving artist’s studio apartment in Astoria to its neighboring East Elmhurst in surprisingly quick time. Soaring far above the day-to-day constant of shellacked, belly-up roach carcasses and the mournful march of glue pads laid to catch the borough’s hungriest mice, I gamely approached the man at the desk, whose job it was to assign us all our seat numbers. My last long-distance trip had been to Costa Rica years ago, which had included a treacherous puddle jumper followed by a twisted harrow of a ride up a Central American mountain that made the incoming turbulent flight seem like a blissful dream. But this wasn’t Central America, this was AMERICA, America! where one didn’t plunge off cliffs into rainforests teaming with teeth. Here, one went in style.   

“I would love a window seat if possible?” I cheerfully requested.

“No problem, you’re the first one here,” said the congenial airport attendant who smiled at yet another concrete-sore city actor. Say what you will about New Yorkers; don’t do anything to piss them off and they’re truly nicer than big apple pie.

After waiting two hours and witnessing the slow shuffle into the waiting area, now finally full, I was raring to go. Letting us on the plane seemed sweet relief towards the wonder of leaving Queens, which was already beyond sweltering in the early July heat. 

The Blue Ridge Mountains sounds like a mystical air-conditioned oasis; I pictured swirls of cool mist spiraling up the pines, deer bending their elegant necks towards pools of crystalline water, and something about a crane opening its wide wings towards sunsets of mythic color each and every night, right before the curtain came down on an audience, trembling and forever changed by the grandeur of Williams’ lyric genius.

I had a window seat. But it had no window. Though putting my bid in first, hours before take-off, I was seated next to the emergency exit door. In front of me, the woman pulled her shade down to go to sleep. 

“Pardon me,” I demurred, “but before we take off, would you like to switch seats, seeing as you’ll have your eyes closed for the journey, and my own seat has a perfectly dark little cave-like quality to it?”

“Absolutely not.”

When I say cave, I am being generous. The emergency door also put its adjacent row of seats above a wheel hub in the floor. Thus, not only being responsible for pushing a hole in the plane that would save countless lives in potential jeopardy, I was now curled into an extremely uncomfortable ball. “It’s okay,” I reasoned. “I’m petite, and this cramping in my legs will add an authenticity to my character’s pronounced limp.”

So too, when I say cramped, I am being magnanimous. Not only did my legs cramp, but my mind soon followed, as did its requisite mental health. “Fine, fine,” I assuaged my mind, which was threatening to shut down its own engines in a pique of worsening pain and fury. “Laura Wingfield is herself not quite ‘all there’ now is she? And though challenged, she never complains, not much anyway.” Like any good method actor, I imagined the wings of the plane and the wide-open fields we were surely crossing, but for all I knew during this endless flight, there were now giant cockroaches roaming the land between the Tri State Area and the Carolinas like T-Rex, and a violent plague contracted through the ankle bites of radioactive red-eyed mice, putting paid to everyone on the Eastern Seaboard.

By the time we landed, I was literally worse off than any survivor of pleurosis. It was a hobbled, miserable wretch who landed, who could no longer picture the warm glow of the footlights or thunderous applause, nor the unspooling of anything on stage conceivably more tragic than the flight I’d just endured. Worser only was the fact it would all have to be done again seven weeks later, in reverse. 

A small price to pay for getting to lend one’s voice to perhaps the greatest American playwright’s own seminal, staggering work. Slowly, the oxygen returned to my limbs, the audiences, thinner than had old TW decided to set his sorrowful life history to the jaunty jest of a Broadway musical (“I can’t get Tom’s chorus of ‘Blue Roses’ out my head!”):

My sis is meek

My mom’s a freak and

I am gone by the end of the week!

Blue Roses, Blue roses!

This house is a true



Just as no one can guarantee you won’t get mugged in Times Square, you can bet you might find yourself without one drop of Southern Comfort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Plus, there is likely to be a hurricane…or four. But no matter rabid vermin, convulsive hamstrings, backwoods misogyny or a distinct lack of kindly gentleman callers, it’s the actor’s life for me. I will go anywhere. Just put me in the plane’s undercarriage, and I’ll give you the best performance of Cats (now with dogs, too!) you’ve ever seen. I promise. Something surely miraculous.



Sara Barnett is an award-winning actor and multi-published writer and poet. Samples of her work can be seen and heard at IMDb.COM,, and on stages far and wide.

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