The play is both obscure and romantic, set in the 19th century. High in a foggy European castle. It involves a beautiful queen, an assassin, and dueling pistols. The Eagle With Two Heads, Jean Cocteau. Prior to the play’s beginning, a king had shot an eagle out of the sky. When he goes to retrieve it, he is surprised to find that it only has one head. (All the eagles in the coins of this realm had two).
I memorized lines and cues. Avoided bumping into the furniture. On my entrance I was to protect and question the queen who was mourning her husband’s loss. A unexpected chance to enter, play a scene, and go to the cast parties. (The woman who played the queen was beautiful).
I was to be escorted on stage by a servant, may friend, who was a deaf mute. On opening night, I turned back in the dimly-lit closet-like area of back stage, and told my friend I couldn’t go “out there”. I remembered nothing of what I was supposed to say or do. (No kidding, I was smack in the middle of stage fright). Not a deaf mute in life, he reached around pushed open the painted door and said: Don’t worry you’ll think of it. Let’s go,” and backwards into my first stage entrance I stumbled.
No lie I felt on the edge of a high cliff, was sweaty wet and my eyes were all blurry. Long story short, my fear proved irrelevant, I remembered; it wasn’t the silent disaster I was panicked would follow. After the curtain call, the stage fright had changed to be somewhat stage struck. I loved it. I was told I looked cool, surprisingly good, I felt in control of the audience. My character was manipulative and political. I’m typically neither, but it was swaggering fun to walk in this sleaze-ball’s boots. Some say that villains are among the most fun roles to play, and first time out I got to play this one.
Because the play was set in a 19th remote. high mountain airy, there were dueling pistols and poison before the final curtain. Two regal characters were soon dead. We wore tailored period costumes. I had handsome boots, carried a riding crop, and wore a cape over my shoulder. Props, sets, costumes, I got lucky, having been pushed backwards into what turned out being a magical far earlier world complete with queens, assassins, and intrigue. I mean when you get to carry a riding crop, self-possession as an illusion usually follows.
Dissolve to years later, I accepted an invitation to go to Nigeria as a visiting American theatre expert, Without hesitation said, I agreed, “let’s go!” While there I was told of the Yoruba myth that when you go backwards through a portal, you run the risk of going back in time. Sometimes we innocently agree to do things, sometimes we get pushed kicking and screaming into a more dangerous time. This one was an earlier time period, and one could say the theatre itself lives in an earlier time. I’m not sure now which makes the better story. This is one seems a proof of the Yoruba myth, or the basis of a Rod Serling television show, but honestly I swear had it happened to me.