Murder Trials And Pixie Dust
By JAMES GROB
The Ottumwa Post
Here's a sentence I never imagined I would hear myself say ...
"I have to leave the murder trial early today so I can go be Captain Hook."
Yes, it sounded strange coming from my own mouth, and those around me gave me a strange look when I uttered those exact words a couple of weeks ago.
But they had heard me right. And my press comrades and the friendly Henry County Sheriff's Deputies who I had spent the last three weeks hanging out with knew I meant it. As important as the murder trial I was covering as a member of the media was to some, my commitment to my community theatre was just as important to others.
I was Captain Hook, by thunder! Brimstone and gall! There's no way to put on a stage production of Peter Pan without a Captain Hook. You could have the best Peter Pan in the world -- which we did -- and all the flying, singing, pixie-dust-coated children you could hope for, but if there's no Hook, there's no show.
I had taken the Captain Hook pledge a couple of months earlier, long before anyone knew that on opening night, an indecisive jury would be deliberating to a stalemate a couple of county seats away.
Yes, you take a pledge when you accept a role in a community theatre production. There's no written oath, and you don't have to swear on a stack of Bibles, but when you accept a role, you are making an unspoken, unwritten, unbreakable promise to be present for the shows, come hell, high water, the apocalypse, chronic diarrhea or even 12 jurors who can't seem to agree. Pity those who make a deliberate effort to cause such a promise to be broken, for their souls will suffer eternal torment by the merciless demigods of community theatre.
Well, maybe not eternal torment, but at least some short-term discomfort.
I had attended auditions for Peter Pan in the hope of earning the role of a pirate. Any pirate would do. Why, you might ask? Well duh! It's a freaking pirate, dude! Who doesn't want to be a pirate, for at least a while? Listen to some deep Jimmy Buffet album cuts, then try to tell me that you wouldn't want to be a pirate.
Note that I'm not talking about those Somali pirates from that Tom Hanks movie. Too doggone scary. I'm talking about an old-fashioned, bottle o' rum drinking, parrot on the shoulder, swash-buckling, plank-walking, yo-ho-ho, treasure-seeking, grog-swilling, sword-fighting, sash-and-bandana wearing, foul-smelling, loot-robbing, bling-displaying, argh-yelling, singing and dancing pirate.
EVERYONE wants to be one of those, at least for a little while. And so I went to auditions hoping I could be one of those.
But as it turned out, no one else really wanted to be Captain Hook all that much, so it fell to me. Like me, everyone else just wanted to be one of Hook's crew of bloodthirsty lubbers.
And that's where the canker gnawed. Take a look at the script of any production of Peter Pan, and you'll notice that Hook and his crew are indeed "lubbers." That is, they are big, clumsy, incompetent buffoons who are constantly outwitted by a group of adolescent boys. Man, this was going to be fun!
So I took the part of Hook, the gloriously-dressed, self-involved, famous fictional hero with a sharp weapon for a right hand, a brutal hatred of the boy called Peter Pan and an irrational fear of a crocodile who ticked.
And the directors did a brilliant thing. They cast the play so that Hook and his band of pirates would all be played by adults, while Peter Pan's posse of "Lost Boys" would all be played by grade-school kids. So alliances were formed, and gangs were created. It was us against them.
And even though we knew that Peter Pan and his crew would always get the best of us in the end, every single night, the pirates still gave it their all, incompetence-be-darned. The battles would be fought with whole hearts, the songs would be sung with deep feeling and flair. Yes, for a couple of hours each night, I was surrounded by pirates -- not amateur actors dressed in pirate costumes, but real, honest-to-goodness pirates, every second they were on the stage. It was a great feeling, to be the notorious leader of a band of real, live pirates for two hours a night. As Peter Pan himself asked, "Do you believe?"
Yes, I believed we were pirates.
There were times when, in my mind, I believed the members of that jury in Henry County would somehow bond together like my pirates did, and be able to take a look at all of the facts in that murder trial and come to an agreement. Our system of justice, in some ways, kind of depends on that to happen. They cut the jury off from the influence of the world outside of the courtroom, and they throw them all together, dependent on each other, and they ask them to come to a decision.
Twelve of them, against the world, making one decision that they each have to agree upon. There's a hope that there will be some camaraderie, some bonding, some "all-for-one-and-one-for-all" spirit. A coming together into one powerful entity.
But, alas, there was no such agreement in the real world in this case. That shouldn't surprise us -- just try to find 12 individuals these days who agree on any one thing. It's tough. Tell 12 people that the sky is up, and there's always at least one who wants to argue the meaning of "up," and at least another who wants to debate the meaning of "sky." A faithful coalition of random individuals who believe anything is a rare thing these days.
And so is an unwritten, unspoken, unbreakable promise.
It's less and less likely you'll find these things in the real world anymore. In order to find these things, if you're looking, you might just have to leave the real world a little early. You'll need to make it on time for opening night of your stage production.
I suggest a show that features pirates and little boys who refuse to grow up.
Sometimes they're the same thing.