The Good Witch
    Victor Lana

When the hurlyburly’s done,
When the battle’s lost and won.

—Second Witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Convinced I’d be a famous actor, as a child I acted for absent cameras, phantom audiences. I gazed into mirrors, loved my image, experimented with expressions, dialogue; liked to pose firing a toy pistol, the fastest gun in western Queens, New York.

An eighth grade performance in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was my best. I knew my lines but not why fellow students applauded when Brutus stabbed me. The director, our English teacher Mr. Carney, said they were happy to see a big ham tenderized.

In high school I got good reviews for my favorite role: Tennessee Williams’s Jim in The Glass Menagerie. I fell in love with the girl who played Laura, but after graduation she went out west. I majored in English at Brooklyn College while continuing to study acting. In dream scenarios I starred in plays I'd written and won Tony Awards for best script and best actor.


After graduating from college, I auditioned for the 75th Street Acting Lab and found a seemingly nurturing teacher in Eileen Bannon. Eileen believed in the Method which motivated me to read everything I found about and by Stanislavsky, especially Building a Character. These things filled my head Saturday mornings, when after a week of working nights at Macy’s and auditioning during the day, I ran through lines for workshop roles on the subway.

After several months, I lucked into snagging the part of Edmund in a musical version of King Lear written by Eileen.

My girlfriend Linda, a pretty red-haired dancer whom I’d met at a casting call, wanted to be a Radio City Music Hall Rockette and had the figure and height for it. We spent free nights practicing in our small Brooklyn apartment; Linda going through movements in one corner while I walked in and out of the bedroom bellowing, "Why bastard; wherefore base?" At least Linda came out of character, but I was always Edmund. "I am Edmund, the bastard Edmund, I am . . .”

"Yeah, right, and I’m Nancy Reagan," she said. "Come on, John, get the hell out of character. I can’t stand it anymore. You’re trying too hard. You’re not even enjoying it."

I knew then that I should drop the Method and act like I never heard of Stanislavsky. The next morning I was out of character. I didn’t think about my lines as I took the subway to class. When I arrived, Eileen was watching students rehearse. As she believed in no props or scenery, this was an interesting exercise. She sat at her desk with her legs crossed, her long blonde-gray hair about her shoulders. I thought she’d been a flower child; she had that aura. "Eileen, may I ask you something?" I whispered.

"Yes," she said, without looking at me.

"How much must I live the character? I mean, am I to do it all the time or not? I think I’m getting into it too much."

"Too much?" Eileen asked as if I were guilty of sacrilege. "You are going to breathe and eat and sleep that character. That’s what you need to do."

My character was to kiss Edgar on the lips in one scene. I didn’t want to kiss Gus, the guy playing the part, or any other guy. I leaned toward her and said, "I’m having a hard time with that kissing scene."

"Why? What’s the problem?"

I took a deep breath. "I’m . . . not too interested in kissing guys."

"That's what I’ve asked you to do. It's your direction. If you can’t do it, you will never be a real actor."

"Did you say anything to her?" Gus asked when we ran into one another on the stairs.

"Yeah, but she’s not listening."

"Are we going to do it, man?"

I shook my head and he shrugged. "Okay, but I think we’re both gonna get our asses kicked out over this."

I didn’t care at that point if Eileen was angry. I went upstairs and heard someone say the King Lear rehearsal in five minutes. I looked at my watch and ran out the front door into the cold November morning. One of the exercises Eileen taught was to run around the block, come back into the theatre, jump on stage and act. I ran through falling leaves along 75th Street to Central Park West, around to 76th Street, and back to Broadway; pounded into the theatre, down the center aisle, leaped onto the stage, hit my mark, and began my soliloquy, "Thou Nature art my goddess . . ."


The rehearsal was over, but I stayed and stared at the stage from a front-row seat. I'd longed for this moment my whole life: to act in a play on Broadway. I looked at the empty seats, remembering I’d not kissed Gus as I'd been asked. Eileen'd allowed the rehearsal to move forward without saying a word. Now, I'd a hollow feeling about acting and wondered should I quit, but the stage, the lights, the odor of my sweat, and the adrenaline rush —.

"There’s someone up there who would like to speak with you," Eileen said as I rose to leave.

"Oh, yeah? What about?"

"Why don’t you go and find out."

I put on my jacket and went up the aisle. In the last row sat the actress who'd played the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, more than forty years before yet there seemed little difference in her appearance. Although dressed in black, as she turned her face into the light she looked younger and much more attractive than in the film.

"Eileen said you wanted to see me."

"You know, you were very good," she said, to my surprise.

Her voice was nothing like Elphaba’s, but I imagined her looking into a crystal ball with monkeys flying around.

"Don’t give up and keep at it. You have talent." She turned her face back into the darkness.

Taking this as a cue to leave, I went down the aisle to Eileen.

"You’re still here?" she asked.

"I want to pay what I owe."

Eileen snapped the money from my hand and turned back to her paperwork. "I know what she thinks about you."

"So, are we okay then?" I asked, noticing the famous actress had disappeared from the back row.

"No," Eileen said, looking up at me with a sinister expression. "Even though I respect her, she’s wrong."

"Okay," I said as I turned and headed for the exit, "Goodbye, Eileen."

I went outside and walked up to Central Park. A young couple sitting on a bench kissed. Just seeing them confirmed what I’d known from the start: the Method did not work for me. I should have been able to kiss Gus and inhabit the character the way Eileen wanted. That wasn’t going to be me even in the context of becoming a character.

I’d met interesting people and explored the Method at the Acting Lab; and I knew why Eileen’d said I’d never be a real actor. Despite a life-long love of the stage, I'd be an actor in search of a part no more.

I got back on the A Train heading south toward 14th Street. As the train rumbled through the tunnels and the lights flashed on and off, I saw my reflection in the car window. The little boy who’d loved his own image seemed to have vanished. Now he was a man who accepted that acting wasn’t right for him; I'd have to be something else, but I was satisfied that on this day someone I respected had said that I was very good. It seemed to justify years spent wanting to act and confirmed an ability to do it well. For on this day I had thrown out any ideas I had about the Method and gave my best performance from the essence of my soul. That had impressed the famous actress, but it wasn’t good enough for Eileen.

At 14th Street I caught the L Train and headed back into Brooklyn. As I stood in the crowded car, I closed my eyes, knowing I would never have made it as an actor. I’d have to think of something else to do with my life, but at that moment nothing came to mind.

Victor Lana, a native of New York City where he studied acting, writing, and literature, received a doctorate in English from St. John's University, New York, and has taught all educational levels. Currently an English professor at Berkeley College in New York City, he is faculty advisor for the school's literary magazine. His writing has been published in literary magazines.

His first published novel, A Death in Prague, is available online at Barnes and Noble, Borders, and His second novel, Move, published in September 2003, is also available at those sites.

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