Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is a foundling child, left on the steps of the Théâtre Illuminata when she was only a baby. Her bedroom is a set onstage, her food comes from the Green Room, and her best friends are the four fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaid, and Ariel, the air spirit from The Tempest. The following scene features the two favorite themes of Bertie's life in the theater: food and mayhem.
Chewing Scenery (A Play in One Act)
by Lisa Mantchev
Beatrice Shakespeare Smith returned from a brief trip to Théâtre Illuminata's Green Room to find that the fairies had eaten an entire gingerbread house. Not one of the elaborate constructions that Mr. Hastings had stowed away in the Properties Department for the party scene from The Nutcracker, but a full-sized cottage, complete with poured-sugar windowpanes, candy cane rafters, lemon-glazed cookie shingles, and licorice gutters. Only the jawbreaker doorknob remained, which Mustardseed was trying to cram into his gaping, sticky piehole while the other two boys kicked him in the seat of the pants.
"We claimed the door knob when you ate the chocolate door knocker!"
"Give it over, pig!"
"Won't!" was his response, somewhat muffled Bertie thought, by his nearly dislocated jaw. The entire tableau reminded her strongly of a jungle snake unhinging its jaw to swallow a beach ball, while two irate leprechauns hopped screeched threats and sugar-fueled insults. Only Peaseblossom maintained a precarious decorum, sitting atop an upturned water pail and delicately licking a gum paste daffodil.
"I was gone for five minutes," Bertie said with a furtive look toward the Stage Manager's corner. "Only long enough to get a coffee and leave a note on the Call Board for Nate. How in the name of the three wise monkeys did you four manage to eat an entire house in that amount of time?"
"We're overachievers?" Moth suggested in between vicious kicks to Mustardseed's posterior.
"I hate to cast aspersions," Cobweb said, "but you were the one dumb enough to call in the set from Hansel and Gretel and then leave us here unattended."
"I tried to stop them," Peaseblossom said before her conscience--and the mouthful of gum paste--got the better of her and she added, "for a full minute, at least."
"Longest sixty seconds of my life," Moth said, sharing a disgusted look with Cobweb. The two of them squinted at Mustardseed, and before Bertie could stop them, they switched tactics and forced the jawbreaker down their comrade's gullet. With a terrible gulp, Mustardseed swallowed the enormous candy ball, which settled in his midsection like the padding on a very jolly Santa Claus.
"Told you I could manage it in one bite," he said with a smirk and a burp that jiggled his distended belly like a bowlful of jellybeans.
"You fatten up well," Moth said with disgust. "If I didn't mind the toe jam and belly button lint, we could eat you for dinner!"
"I'm a delicacy in twelve countries!" Mustardseed retorted.
Fairly certain they wouldn't resort to immediate cannibalism, Bertie ran to the Stage Manager's corner and lifted his headset to her lips. "Cue the complete Patisserie set." Behind her, the fairies yelped as the curtains swept away the few remaining crumbs of the gingerbread cottage and the walls and chairs and tables of a French bakery landed on the stage with a series of gentle thumps.
"Nyah!" Cobweb yelled, "Now I'm going to eat all the éclairs!"
Bertie snagged him by the seat of his pants. "No. No you are not."
"Why'd you call in the bakery, then?" Moth wanted to know.
"How do you think you'll look in an apron?" Bertie asked.
Grabbing the other three with one deft swipe of her hand, Bertie ducked behind the counter and walked through the swinging glass doors on the back wall. Underfoot, unseen bits of machinery rumbled to life, and the set began to pivot on a giant turntable. The lights blazed to full, gleaming off countless copper pots, silver measuring spoons, an enormous stone hearth, and ovens burning bright with coals. Loaves of gently steaming bread sat on marble counters. Row upon row of empty pastry shells waited for custard and berries. Bertie located a pile of freshly ironed aprons, and she unfurled lengths of blue and white striped fabric with the snap of a pirate's flag in the wind.
"I am NOT wearing this!" Cobweb said, flinging a tiny ruffled cap onto the stone floor.
Bertie took a single menacing step toward him, making all necessary threats with her eyes. Cobweb hastened to don his baking apparel without further protest, tying double knots in his strings and jerking his cap so far over his eyes that surely he couldn't see a thing. The others followed his example, though Mustardseed could barely fit his apron over his massive gut.
"Tell me what it is we are doing again?" he demanded.
"You four ate that house," Bertie said, putting on her own chef's hat with grim determination. "So you're jolly well going to bake a replacement before Mr. Tibbs finds out what you've done."
Cobweb knew better than to argue, but the first thing he did was make a trail of bread crumbs on the floor, marking the way to the apple tarts. Then the fairies set to work, rubbing butter into flour and measuring spices. By the time Nate arrived on the set, the boys were sliding massive slabs of gingerbread into the ovens, and Peaseblossom stirred a vat of boiling sugar like one of the witches in That Scottish Play, but with less cackling and more creative cursing every time a fleck of the devilish-hot stuff landed on her arms.
Nate paused in the doorway, earring glinting in the spotlight, smile both bemused and concerned. "Whate'er are ye doin'? This is a new sort o' mess yer makin'."
Nate's gaze traveled over the fairies, wearing more flour than clothes. "Looks like a mess t' me." He shifted his attention to Bertie. "Like ye were on th' losin' side o' a food fight."
"Close." Keenly aware that she was up to her elbows in butter and probably had chocolate on the end of her nose, Bertie tried to concentrate on fudge instead of the pirate towering over her. "They ate the gingerbread house set."
"Th' one Mr. Tibbs just finished?" Nate successfully turned a laugh into a cough, but only just. "I thought he'd ha'e it under strict watch."
"Not strict enough!" cried the four triumphant and not-at-all-abashed fairies.
Turning up the sleeves on his shirt, Nate smiled at Bertie. "What d'ye need me t' do?"
"Taste this," Bertie said, offering him a spoon, "and keep a wary lookout for the Stage Manager."
He took the spoon but didn't so much as glance over his shoulder. "Aye, well, ye needn't worry about that."
"About the fudge?"
"About th' Stage Manager. I saw him headed t'ward th' Theater Manager's Office, full steam ahead, an' knew ye must ha'e done something, so I--" Nate cleared his throat of a suspiciously guilty-sounding tickle, "might ha'e bumped him int' th' broom closet."
Bertie knew her mouth was hanging open wide enough to fit a six layer cake, and didn't care. "You knocked him into a closet?"
"An' locked th' door," Nate admitted.
The fairies whooped through mouths full of caramel. "Like the witch tossed in the oven!"
"Save he wasn't wearin' a great flappy cloak, an' I never heard a witch curse like that." The oven timer went off with a great clackity-clang, and Nate set down the wooden spoon and took up the potholders. Within minutes, every surface of the kitchen was stacked with enormous cooking sheets holding steaming gingerbread.
"They have to cool before we can decorate them," Bertie said, feeling the sweat trickle down the small of her back. "There's no way we can wait that long without someone catching us."
Nate's cheeks were ruddy with heat and exertion. "Yer right about that. Th' frostin' an' decorations would slide right off—"
Before he finished the sentence, a cool wind eased its way through the kitchen, ruffling the edges of their aprons, bringing with it the scent of Artic snow-tinged winters. Though Bertie peered into the dark space above the stage and could see nothing save scenery and rigging, she knew Ariel was somewhere nearby. As the temperature dropped around them, she could do no more than smile at the well-timed gift.
"Ye notice he didn't stick around t' do any o' th' heavy liftin'," was Nate's only comment.
"Lucky," Mustardseed muttered, and it wasn't the last of the complaints. They complained about the cold, about Bertie's decree that they "eat nothing else," about the fact that she caught them every time they were about to lick their fingers. It took another hour, a vat of royal icing, and approximately a thousand pounds of candy (conveniently purloined from the chocolate factory set in the Scenic Department, though Mr. Hastings was still maintaining it belonged in the Properties Department and would hopefully help replace them) but the group finally stuck the last lemon-glazed shingle into place and collapsed on the stage with sighs of relief.
"For goodness sake, send it away before they eat it again," Bertie finally muttered to Nate.
With a groan, he rolled over and headed toward the headset. The newly rebuilt cottage disappeared into the flies alongside the bits of the Patisserie set, so the only thing the Stage Manager found, upon his arrival with the Theater Manager a few seconds later was Bertie and her cohorts, faces innocent if suspiciously sticky.
"Th-th-they were making a proper mess!" the Stage Manager sputtered. "Up to their elbows in eggs!"
"If THAT were true," Mustardseed said, hiding his jawbreaker-pregnant belly by sitting criss-cross-applesauce and leaning as far forward as he could, "you'd also smell bacon!" He punctuated the statement with a burp that reverberated in the rafters.
"Then the pirate locked me in the broom closet on purpose—"
"Come, come, do you see any of the pirates on stage right now? None of them were called here." The Theater Manager gave Bertie a stern look, the sort that said I know you've been up to something, but I've no time to deal with your shenanigans right now (or, at least, that's what she thought every time she saw such an expression on his face) before he guided the Stage Manager out the Stage Door with comforting words and a "come along, old chap, a tot of whiskey will do you wonders."
Nate reentered the scene when he was certain they'd gone. "I guess th' real question is: did ye get enough sweets fer once in yer lives?"
"You'd think that, wouldn't you?" Peaseblossom said with a tinkling laugh. "But last one to the Green Room is a chocolate door knocker!"
Lisa would like to offer one of you Advance Review Copy of SO SILVER BRIGHT
All Beatrice Shakespeare Smith has ever wanted is a true family of her own. And she’s close to reuniting her parents when her father disappears. Now Bertie must deal with a vengeful sea goddess and a mysterious queen as she tries to keep her family – and the Theatre Illuminata – from crumbling. To complicate it all, Bertie is torn between her two loves, Ariel and Nate.
to be released September 13th, 2011.
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Lisa Mantchev is the author of the Théâtre Illuminata series: Eyes Like Stars, Perchance to Dream and So Silver Bright, as well as a number of short fantasy stories. She grew up in the small Northern California town of Ukiah, wrote her first play in the fourth grade, and has been involved in theater ever since. She makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state with her husband, two children, and three hairy miscreant dogs. When not scribbling, she can be found on the beach, up a tree, making jam, or repairing things with her trusty glue gun. You can learn more about the theater books at www.theatre-illuminata.com
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