|In Anchorage, Alaska, 1972, James
Morrison performed his first theatrical performance as
Pope in William Gibson's A
CRY OF PLAYERS.
Set in a little, obscure town in England during three days of one autumn in the 1580's, Gibson states that this play must not be staged Elizabethan but rather look more like Appalachia. The townsfolk are filthy and ignorant. Events and places are recorded in songs. The stage props are minimal -- a rear platform which has various functions, a table, a tree, a stocks, a casement window and a banister. Each piece serves to identify each locale.
The story evolves around Will, a twenty-one year-old man who is married to Anne, a woman eight years his senior. They have a four year-old daughter, Suzanna, and twins. They share a house with Will's brother, Gilbert, and Will's parents. His mother is a demanding invalid. His father was once a person of stature in the town -- a town now governed, more like ruled, by a man named Sir Thomas. Will is in the business of tanning hides with his brother, but he poaches off Sir Thomas' land to supplement his income -- or maybe just to satisfy his need for excitement.
It is Will's need for excitement and to delay responsibility that is the crux of the play. His wife treats him like a child, both in public and private. Will has distanced himself from her after the birth of the twins and has entered into a series of meaningless affairs. Unlike most of the town's population, Will has had an education.
The oppression he feels is brought to a head when a troupe of players arrives in town -- just as his wife and former schoolmaster are trying to convince him to take a teaching position in another town.
Will is familiar with the head of this acting troupe, Kemp, from childhood. The players secure reluctant permission from Sir Thomas to perform their plays for the town.
As the performances begin, Will and two friends have narrowly escaped one of Sir Thomas' men after having poached a fish. Will returns to the town only to be publicly confronted by his wife about leaving Gilbert to work alone. Every confrontation with Anne concerns Will's lack of love and attention for her and his family.
Anne is soon told of Will's latest affair by a male friend of hers, Sandells, who seems just a little too protective of her. She is also approached by the schoolmaster who wants to recommend Will for a teaching job, though permission to take the job must ultimately be given by Sir Thomas. Despite Sandells' illumination, Anne feels that this is her chance to escape from the town and start a new life together with her husband, so she agrees to make sure Will is at home when the schoolmaster comes later that evening to talk to him.
However, Will has different ideas. He goes to the local tavern and proceeds to seduce the tavern owner's daughter, Jenny. This scene provides some comic relief in the play. The tavern owner, Hodges, has invited the players to rehearse in the upstairs room now occupied by the coupled Will and Jenny. Hearing them approach and with no place to hide, Will puts Jenny out the window onto the roof. As the players enter and discuss the reactions of the audience to their latest play, we get to hear Pope for the first time. Arthur, a young boy with the players, comes in with a stool. Pope tousles his hair; Ned follows with another stool.
Pope: "He's near the end of his female days, his voice is growing hair in it's cracks. Did you hear him drop an octave in your love scene today?"
They seat themselves and begin rehearsal. As Hodges looks for his daughter to serve the men, Pope gives him orders for the ale and sausages.
Pope: "I'll have one, Ned?"
The players continue to discuss the last performance, even while the loud, drunk voices from the tavern below can be heard very clearly upstairs.
Ned: "Listen to them. Today they guffawed at the death scene."
Will: "Oafs, yes, I agree with ..."
Heming: "Ned thinks we'd have a glorious stage if we'd only get rid of the damned audience."
Pope: "Wasn't the scene, Willie (Kemp) was ogling a wench in the front."
Ned: "Ogling a..."
Kemp (Willie): "I wasn't ogling a wench."
Ned: "What were you doing?"
Kemp (Willie): "Humoring the scene."
Ned (shocked): "Humoring a death scene? Willie ..."
Kemp (Willie): "Well, don't draw it out so."
This discussion continues until Will asks Kemp if he can watch the rehearsal. Ned asks Will if he can act. Will says yes, among other talents. They discuss what a mudhole the town is. Ned again asks Kemp if Will can watch.
Ned: "Why can't he watch?"
Kemp (chortling): "He can, he can! Watch, act, rule the realm, he'll talk his way into anything. Midnight?"
Will: "Midnight." (They are setting the time to go poaching for deer)
Ned: "It's exactly that, and the issue is are we to compromise it to entertain the vulgar, or..." Pope: "For God's sake, what's wrong with entertaining the folk? It's what we're for."
Ned: "It's not what I am for."
Kemp: "It's what he's against. Ned, there's your throne."
Ned: "No, we're either practitioners of an art going back to the ancients or a pack of clowning beggars, and I won't be bound to the level of a herd of dolts."
At this point Anne arrives and they pull up a stool for her -- against Will's wishes.
Pope: "Let her watch too."
As the performers keep rehearsing the play, Hodges keeps looking for his daughter. Will tells him that she is downstairs in the outhouse. But suddenly Jenny yells for help, and Will confesses that she is stuck. Stuck in the outhouse they ask -- no, stuck on the roof. Will and Kemp proceed to rescue Jenny.
Pope and Ned continue rehearsing lines from the play.
Pope: "To wear ourselves?"
Ned (outraged): "Now?"
Pope: "I've got three lines, I've been kneeling for three hours..."
Ned (savage): "...always kneeling as the restless dolts will us to hang ourselves..."
Jenny is pulled into the room. She totters onto a stool, turns, and finds herself face to face with Anne.
Jenny: "Oh! Good ...evening, Anne..."
Anne (pleasant): "Good evening, Jenny, are ye laying with my husband?"
Anne proceeds to insult Will's manhood in front of all, then she gets up, apparently to leave. The stage directions are as follows --
Anne passes Jenny to leave, Jenny hits her over the head with the tray, and the fight is on; they grapple, fall, roll on the floor in a hubbub of many voices, clawing at each other's faces and clothes, the men making way. Anne straddles her, pulling hair, and Hodges intervenes ("Let go, I'll hit her, let go!"); Anne hits him backhand; Hodges gives her a kick, Will clutching the text gives Hodges a kick, they swing fists, grapple, fall over Anne; Jenny crawls out but Anne seizes her skirt, which rips loose, and falls upon her; Arthur climbs on a stool for refuge; Kemp cheers them on ("Upper garment, get the upper garment!") as Heming holds Anne's fists, she struggles, and Will tackling Heming brings him down; Hodges half covers and half beats Jenny as she crawls; Ned pulls free of Pope's clutch in a rage ("Look for me elbow!") and stalks out over bodies; Jenny breaking away collides into Arthur's stool, Arthur topples, Kemp catches him. Jenny escapes out, half-naked and shrieking, with Anne in pursuit; the shrieks rise, off. Kemp runs after them.
Kemp: "Not a stitch on her, lovely sight, come, come! Arthur, come, study real women in moments of stress..."
All the players run out. Will is left alone. He collects the loose pages of the play, puts them in order and leaves them on the stool. He starts to leave, pauses and returns. He picks up the play and starts to read aloud. The lights fade.
Between the father's forgetfulness, Gilbert's complaining, the mother's demanding and Anne's nagging one can see why Will doesn't like to spend time at home. He has missed the meeting with the schoolmaster and now comes home to a bandaged and very unhappy wife, a very angry brother and a very pesty daughter. The little bouquet of marigolds he brings with him will not get him out of this mess.
After finally shooing everyone away, Will and Anne begin a serious talk. Anne learns that Will has had other affairs and that he feels he has to sample all that is out there in order to be true to himself. He can not bring himself to tell Anne that he loves her and that he wants to be a good husband and provider. He feels like he is missing out on so much and is just not ready to be these things. He is also not ready to become a school teacher.
Anne confesses that she, too, has looked elsewhere for affection -- with Sandells. Will does not appear to be mad. Instead, Will starts into some foreplay with Anne and the scene ends with him placing marigolds in her hair, bodice -- and one has to imagine where he will place the last one when the lights fade out.
Sir Thomas has been very angry about the poaching, and he wants the culprits caught. But he does not like his man, Richards', idea of setting man traps. Richards disobeys Sir Thomas' orders and leaves the traps in place. Unfortunately for Will and his friends, this is the night Kemp has talked them into poaching a deer.
They all meet in the woods. Will has come to the woods after leaving Anne. Their love making has left him more restless than satisfied. In the woods he is met by Jenny. He learns that she has had a child that her father made her give up. He also learns that she was beaten by her father. He sums up his feelings by saying, "Jenny, man and wife put out roots that invade each other, children too, till there's -- such a rootbind on us all." Their conversation is interrupted by news that their friends have killed a deer. As both Will and Jenny run in opposite directions, Jenny steps into one of the traps. Richards appears, and they are caught. Only Kemp and a few others escape.
All the captured are put in the stocks. Anne and Suzanna come to see Will, and Anne brings his things and tells him that he can not come home again.
Sir Thomas comes to tell them that Jenny will lose her foot. At this time Sir Thomas also learns that the schoolmaster was going to recommend Will for the teaching job, and he becomes very angry with Will and the schoolmaster for trying to deceive him. The townspeople taunt Will for his actions, and Will, in return, lashes out at everyone for being hypocrites -- especially Sir Thomas for allowing the traps to be set. Once set free from the stocks Will proceeds to write a very derogatory poem about Sir Thomas on the back of his discarded letter of recommendation. He sets the poem to music and gets the townspeople to join in.
Sir Thomas has been suspicious of Kemp's involvement in the poaching incident and also in the effect that he and the players have had on the town. After the poem and song, Sir Thomas decides to assign more punishment. He tells Kemp and the players to leave town without finishing their plays. The town is very upset, and it is then that Will confesses to writing the poem. Sir Thomas tells them that instead of the play they can watch Will's whipping. This should be a lesson to them all.
After the lashing, Anne comes to see Will . She cleans his wounds and tries to comfort him, but he will not allow himself to take the comfort. He feels that she is trying to trap him. He does love her, but he won't keep any promise he has made to her -- and he won't stay. He wants to go with the players. But Kemp tells him no. Kemp tells him the only thing he would be good for is selling sausages in the pit. Will blames Kemp, the players and their plays for his unhappiness. They have opened his eyes to the world and shown him how seemingly empty his life is. Kemp tells him that he and the players would give all they had to have his so-called "empty" life. He advises Will to make peace with Anne and Sir Thomas.
Sir Thomas convinces a council to determine additional punishment now that he has found out that Kemp and a few other townspeople were also involved in the poaching. One man, Fulk, is to lose his one remaining hand, and his woman, Meg, is to be whipped unless they leave town within twenty-four hours. Kemp is to be whipped if he and the players do not leave within the hour. Will will be banished from the town unless he shows remorse for his actions, but he can not bring himself to say he is sorry. Anne intercedes for him, telling Sir Thomas that while they were alone he did admit he was sorry. This is good enough for Sir Thomas.
As everyone leaves, Sir Thomas asks Will if he can give him counseling. Will inquires, "And how shall I make order of the contrarieties in me?" Sir Thomas responds, "By giving up parts of yourself, as all men do; it is called self-mastery." Will asks, "Which parts?"
As the plays ends Will chooses. He leaves Anne and his children to follow the players. Synopsis from play by William Gibson.