At the first Appleseed rehearsal, Joshua Clarke showed up carrying a Bible. He’d never worked for Agnes deMille before but had skated in Sonja Henie’s Hollywood Ice Show. At the audition she’d liked his barrel turns, boyish face, mussed black hair, and body more like a hockey player than a figure skater.
By the end of the first week the cast had begun to know each other, but not Clarke. He read his Bible in breaks and took off by himself for lunch. One day he was reading, Science and Health, Key to the Scriptures. The women couldn’t decide if he was straight or gay.
In the opening number, I was paired with Merry Christy. “What’s with Clarke and those books?” she said.
“Shtick. Plain old shtick. Everybody has shtick.”
“Oh yeah? What’s mine?”
“Hard-bitten show gypsy who’s seen and done it all.” Merry had two ex-husbands and at 31 was pushing the limits of the dancing chorus.
“How about yours?”she asked.
“My shtick is not to have shtick.”
When not needed, Clarke would arrange himself and his tome on the first steps of the stairs to the toilets so people had to step over him. In one number he was paired with Ingeborg Svensen, so fair she looked bleached. with a face like a Hallmark cherub. The second week she and Clarke left for lunch together. After lunch, deMille worked on the Hoedown in which Ingeborg and I were partners. “Joshua says life is a river,” she whispered.
“Could be,” I said.
“No, really. He makes it so clear.”
I passed this to Merry and on the next break she grabbed me and approached Joshua on the stairwell. “Hey, Joshua!” He looked up. “Is life a river?”
He peered at Merry, at me, at Merry. “Are you really interested?”
“I’ve got to know,” said Merry.
He closed his book, which turned out to be the Bhagavad Gita. “Buddha taught that all of God is in a single atom. and also that God is more than everything else put together.” He paused.
“Where does the river come in?” asked Merry.
“God is mind is life, which flows like a river and sometimes separates into tiny drops, like water over a waterfall. The drops are you and me.”
“Aha,” said Merry. “So what happens when we hit bottom?”
“We return to the river.”
“Until the next waterfall?”
“Unless you’re evil. The wages of sin is death.”
The break ended. “Mad as a March hare,” Merry muttered.
Next day Ingeborg said, “Joshua knows you and Merry thinks he’s crazy, but it’s okay.”
“Do you think he’s crazy, Ingeborg?”
She looked at me steadily. “No, I don’t.”
“I don’t either.” She rewarded me with a cherub smile.
One day I noticed Clarke had a new tome. Dianetics, but a couple of days later it was the Bible again. I asked about Dianetics. “Junk,” he said.
In Philadelphia, Merry said Ingeborg was slipping into Clarke’s hotel room every night.
“They’re discussing the Bhagavad Gita.” She snorted.
Monday of the third week in Philly, they showed up wearing wedding rings. “We got married yesterday,” said Ingeborg. The cast crowded around.
“Still think he’s gay?” I whispered to Merry.
“Marrying proves nothing! Gay or straight they’re both queer as pink jock straps.”
The women dancers came back from lunch with a cake. DeMille produced a bottle of champagne and Dixie cups. She proposed a toast.
“May Johnny Appleseed run as long as these two in their brave new partnership!”
Everyone raised a Dixie cup, Merry’s arm straight as a Nazi salute.
© Stuart Hodes, 2013