Stay Away From Off-Off Broadway
“How long is this thing, babe?”
My girlfriend loved theater. It was not my favorite topic of the new relationship; but she had dropped the hint enough times to get me off my lazy, lily-white ass. Put up or shut up time, so to speak. Sorry for the cussing.
Maybe I just didn’t get it. That was a big possibility. Off, off Broadway had never gotten it’s proper two shakes from my perspective. I had seen Lion King, and Les Miserables, and a few of the other proper, lesser-known shows. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I had never been in a theater so sketchy and seething with the smugness of bearded guys in suede jackets.
“I don’t know… I didn’t look up the run-time…” she let her voice trail off to insinuate her annoyance at the question. Noted. Not a good idea to ask that.
The play was in a converted warehouse somewhere downtown, and the stink of the place was surreal. I shuddered to think what kind of unseen shit-shows of mold and rot sat behind the thin layers of paint and primer peeling off the porous walls. It made all the less sense when Jess dropped a seeming line of assurance at my sideways glances –
“Isn’t it cool? Everything is part of the scenery. Some of the stage props are made from recycled seaweed.”
“How is seaweed recycled?” I asked. “What is considered to be the first-time usage of seaweed? Stirring and shitting around at the bottom of the sea until some dick-head steps up and says ‘hey, this would make a sweet sombrero?’” I tried to take the edge out of my voice towards the end, but no dice. Jess was offended.
“Don’t be such an ass, Staci. It’s salvaged, not recycled. Sit in the seat and shut up until it starts if you plan on even seeing me later tonight,” she snapped back with full sass.
And so I did. There were only twenty of us in the cramped room, and we were stuffed into the plastic-folded seats like sweating sardines in a melting freezer. But I suffered through. The things we do for sex…
The performance was titled Saucy in the Stairwell, and it was comprised of a single scene between a young woman and her would-be attacker. The play-bill was short; printed on a piece of paper crudely cut into the shape of a napkin. I thought it made the perfect drink coaster for the crook of my leg until Jess slapped it away to put in her purse.
Saucy in the Stairwell was written, directed, and starring the same individual, and his name was Nils Nilsen. Supposedly, the only thing Nils did not do was play the poor damsel in distress to his sadistic psychopath. That role was occupied by the perfect-sounding Janice Owens.
When the curtains opened, Janice sat staring with forlorn into the faded light of a single window; against the backdrop of the stage. She was pretty and middle-aged; with shining, straight blond hair that peaked out of her tight white ponytail. Janice’s small and tight frame was contained in the clothes of a standard working professional – black slacks, black jacket, white button-up. There was a staircase beside her, and she slowly made her way to the top of it in clicking heels, to the apprehensive chirps of the decrepit piano.
Suddenly, a man dropped from the ceiling and landed on top of the stairs. The geeks in the front row nearly busted out of their belts as they beat their hands together like monkeys in thunderous unison. Nils turned, basking in the bravado and blustering of his greatest fans. He was not handsome in a traditional sense. His thinning red hair was hidden by an old fashion bowler cap, and his big belly was kept behind the folds of an over-sized, gray trench coat. He seemed to forget his line for a hot second before catching himself and saying –
“Ma’am, this stairwell is not safe. There are snakes and sycophants lying in wait behind those parked Subarus. I have seen them stalking you, and they will capture your sweet little ass in a bottle, but only if you beg.” His voice boomed with all of the authority of a man coughing up his last couple Rolaids.
Janice walked back one step and yelled upwards at Nils, in a soft voice that sounded like Bambi before the slaughter.
“Sir, you should know that I have taken the steps to protect myself. I have mace, made from strong materials that will make your eyes bleed for days. Stay back if you want to see the sunlight anytime soon!”
With that, a weird cat and mouse type game ensued. Nils would drop down one step, and Janice would drop another, all the while looking nervously above.
Nils pulled back his jacket and the stage light focused on a reflection of the wooden ax in his sleeve. Janice started to scream, but he came down the steps too quick. There was a wild look in Nils’ eye. He pulled out the ax in a sweeping gesture, and swung the thing so low it nearly sliced off some hair.
“Folks…” She shouted. “This is not part of the play… this man is not well.”
The audience applauded louder. I looked around to see nods of enthusiasm and assurance from the backs of bald heads.
Janice was sobbing now. “I am absolutely serious. This man is deranged. He is mad that I fucked his friend last night and just said he is going to kill me onstage.”
I started to stand from my seat, but Jess forced me back down. Nils took another swing, and this time, connected with a flailing arm. Janice was pinned to the wooden staircase with an ax inches away from cutting off the limb.
The screams were awful. I don’t know if you have heard the dying cries of a human being who knows their last few seconds are upon them… it is simply not something that an actor can mimic. Janice begged for her mom, or for an audience member, or anyone to save her from an inevitable fate. But the crowd just stood up and cheered. They blocked my vision, and I fought with Jess to approach the stage, so I only saw the shadow of Nils dance down the last few steps. When he pulled the ax from her arm, it made a soft sucking noise that brought the oohs and ahs of the assholes in all twenty seats.
Then Nils drove the blade deep into the brain of poor, dead Janice Owens. I screamed and puked onto bearded-bro number two’s blue bomber coat.
In a second, it was silent. They were all staring at me. Every audience member, including Jess. The bro never even bothered to wipe the wet vomit off the back of his curly brown hair. Then he raised his arm and pointed at me. From a foot away.
Suddenly, Nils stopped decapitating Jane, who was long dead, to turn and look from the stage.
I started to back away. Nobody was stopping me at first. But they all turned to watch my movement in unison. Their faces were disgusted, like I had committed some kind of faux pas against their sacred art form. When it was clear that I was headed towards the back door, they all started to mumble in some unintelligible harmony.
As if in response to the verdict, Nils nodded grimly. Then he leaped off the stage and ran towards me.
I ripped open the door in perfect timing. If there was a second of hesitation, I would have caught the sharp side of Nils’ ax. Luckily it connected with the wood backside of the frame and stuck there. There were muted groans from the audience on the other side, and Nils struggled rigorously to pull the ax out of its fitting. I bolted out the unlocked front door and found myself on a frigid city street. I ran the whole way to the subway station and caught it just in time. Back to Jersey.
When I got home, the police were phoned and informed of every single detail. My phone was taken in as evidence, and Jessica’s number was found to be a burner that never responded. The truth was that I ended up knowing very little about her.
Once given the location of the murder, the warehouse was swarmed by what seemed like sixty city officers. It was empty. The plastic chairs and staircase were gone. No murder, no blood, no witnesses. No missing person named Janice Owen.
The entire freakish production disappeared into the madness of Manhattan. I never heard or saw a single soul from that fucked up show ever again.