the opening line exploded
when the curtains drew open and each lip of the unlikely actress parted ways
her voice shot like sparks,
zapped along under-stage wiring and microphones
and reached the audience, whose dresses and suits caught fire.

the sound was sickeningly girlish
yet frighteningly hoarse
and each aristocrat, as they fanned off their singed bustles and
dusted their blackened monocles
could see without imagination
the faraway lips of the painted puppet,
cracked beneath stage lipstick,
blistered with syphilis
pronouncing the words of Desdemona
as though she was still back on Left Street
leaning over car windows and propositioning likely clients

no black sheep amongst the cast,
the prostitute, nay, headliner Veronica May
was at home in the critically-christened “riffraff Shakespeare”
Othello was a Center Street pimp
insistent on draping his plate-gold chains
amongst the Moor’s ruby-gilded sword and African necklaces
Iago,
talent if the New York stage ever saw it,
was a former bum
(currently put up in a Park Avenue suite)
whose drunken rants and delirious, mystic ramblings
nearly contested the soliloquies he’d been instructed to recite

that audience,
still smoking from the initial burst of flames,
cried at the mastery of the bum,
who they had all seen and ignored on the MoMA steps.
they laughed as the sword fights became impromptu gang rumbles
and sat in awe at the notion that the theater had given hope to
these otherwise hopeless creatures

Each addict, whore, dealer and hustler
had a score of understudies,
as they tended to die regularly.
This was not mentioned in the rave reviews.
New York Times:
“Experimental to the extreme. Such a cast does not outshine the mastery of the play, but displays performances equal to the veterans of the stage.”

count this true:
every unconscious body scraped off the sidewalk and unto an endless journey on a stretcher—
every woman bruised amongst the eyes and bruised along the arm—
every chauvinist dripped in chains and lacking in shame—
is a small-time actor
in pursuit of attention
and they are not discriminating.

Intellect and fancy dress
written reviews and eloquent compliments
erased not the need for heroin or the lifelong self-hatred
but every production went on on schedule
and the audience never noticed
no, no one ever noticed
that they were not lifesavers

Rachel Knight, ~2007

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