Boy Toy

Boy Toy
A Mark Manning Mystery
Michael Craft

Cette fois,

en anglais:

For Leon

Contents

Part One Teen Play

Wednesday, August 1

Thursday, August 2

Friday, August 3

Part Two Fairy Rings

Saturday, August 4

Sunday, August 5

Monday, August 6

Tuesday, August 7

Part Three Midsummer Night

Wednesday, August 8

Thursday, August 9

Epilogue One Week Later

Thursday, August 16

A Biography of Michael Craft

PART ONE
Teen Play
WORLD PREMIERE
Dumont Players’ new production should prove ‘utterly mah-velous’
By GLEE SAVAGE
Trends Editor, Dumont Daily Register

AUG. 1, DUMONT WI—EXCITEMENT
abounds among the Dumont Players Guild as the amateur theater company prepares to mount the premiere production of
Teen Play.
The original script was written by local radio personality Denny Diggins, who also directs the show. Opening night is this Friday, curtain at 8:00
P.M
., with six performances running over two weekends at the historic Dumont Playhouse.

The play’s plot is highly self-reflective, centering on a conflict between two teenage actors involved in the production of an original play, itself titled
Teen Play.
Said Diggins, “It’s an unusual conceit, one truly meant to challenge its audience. What I intend to deliver,” he added in a tone well known to longtime radio listeners, “is an utterly
mah
-velous evening of theater.”

The roles of both playwright and director are new to the flamboyant Diggins, who has aired the often controversial
Denny Diggins’ Dumont Digest
for nearly 20 years. Asked about the motivation to try his hand at theater, he explained simply, “It was time to broaden my oeuvre.”

The young cast of
Teen Play
is headlined by two accomplished high school actors. Jason Thrush, 17, will enter his senior year at Unity High this fall with three years of acting experience in eight productions. Thad Quatrain, also 17, attends Dumont Central, where the acting bug bit him just this past year. Both young men are double-cast in the production, playing the leading role of Ryan in alternating performances. Jason Thrush will star as Ryan in Friday night’s premiere.

This reporter had the opportunity to watch a recent rehearsal at the Dumont Playhouse, downtown on First Avenue. Without telling too much, suffice it to say that the two-act play does deliver on its author’s promise. Friday night, petty rivalries will set the stage for murder when the baring of dark secrets leads to grim revenge. Don’t miss it.

Wednesday, August 1

RYAN.
Turn, crossing to Down Left window, (flippantly)
Not that it really matters, Dawson. Not tonight. It’s only community theater.
Pick up football from desk.

DAWSON
.
Rise, following, (from behind)
And what’s
that
supposed to mean?

RYAN.
Turn to him. Pause.
It means, there’s a world beyond Podunk.
Gesture toward dark sky outside of window.
There are bigger things ahead.
Cross to Center, twiddling football in hands. (thinking aloud)
For some of us.

DAWSON.
(laughing)
Lighten up, Ryan. We’re
kids
, for God’s sake. And I thought we were friends. This isn’t a contest.

RYAN.
Everything’s a contest, pal.
Throw football to Dawson, hard.

DAWSON.
Fumble ball. Cross one step toward Center.
No, Ryan. It’s a play, not a contest. We open soon, and we’re in it together, all of us. We’re a team.

RYAN.
Good teams win. And winning teams have winning players.
(smugly)
Some are better than others.

DAWSON.
Step nearer. (getting angry)
Okay, “pal.” You’re better than the rest of us—you’re the best.
Step face-to-face.
Is that what you need to hear?

RYAN.
(grunting) Not from you.
Shove Dawson, palms to chest.

DAWSON.
(with resolve)
Watch it. It’s not cool to treat a friend that way. And if that friend happens to be your understudy—well, don’t be stupid.

RYAN.
(slyly, quietly)
Don’t
you
be stupid, Dawson. I know all about that “little incident” over spring break.
Poke Dawson’s chest with finger.
Not something we’d care to spread around, right?

DAWSON.
(hatefully)
Why, you…
Lunge at Ryan.

RYAN.
Trip Dawson.
Don’t make me laugh, you pathetic…
Tumble together to the floor.

(Sound Cue 7: Desk phone rings, continues throughout.)

RYAN AND DAWSON.
Tussle. Ad-lib epithets. Roll together against Right Center end table, upsetting lamp. After lamp CRASHES:

(Lighting Cue 11: Room partially darkens.)

RYAN.
Pin Dawson to floor.
Tonight, or opening night, or any night, don’t ever forget this. Don’t ever forget who’s on top.
Tense pause. Release Dawson.

DAWSON.
Rise, brushing self with hands. Cross to Up Right doorway. Pause, looking back, (bitterly)
Keep it up, Ryan, and you may not live till opening night. Remember, I’ll be waiting in the wings.
Exit.

RYAN.
Laugh, sprawling on floor, as:

(Lighting Cue 12: Quick fade to black.)

(Sound Cue 8: Phone rings LOUD one last time in darkness. Then silence.)


Mah
-velous!” proclaimed Denny Diggins, clapping, breaking the theatrical spell. Rising from the dim pool of light that spilled from his makeshift director’s table in the fifth row of seats, he called to the control booth, “Houselights, please!” As he ambled to the center aisle, the rest of the cast and crew gathered near the front of the stage, applauding the two young actors for their performance of the fight scene that concluded act one.

Though the boys had made the scene look easy and natural, I knew that it had taken weeks of work—part of June and all of July—every movement carefully choreographed and rehearsed. I gladly added to the applause. Dawson, the kid who made the final threat, was played by Thad Quatrain, my seventeen-year-old ward. Two winters ago, when I moved to Wisconsin as the new owner and publisher of the
Dumont Daily Register
, Thad’s mother, a wealthy cousin of mine, died unexpectedly, leaving Thad in my care. Technically, he and I are second cousins, but we think of each other as nephew and uncle. In our day-to-day lives, we dispense with the specifics of kinship and simply call each other Thad and Mark.

My full name, by the way, is Mark Quatrain Manning. I’m forty-three, a reporter by training who made waves in Chicago as an investigative journalist. My acclaim stemmed from a succession of high-profile stories that I reported for the prestigious
Chicago Journal.
What’s more, I am gay—a distinction that I refused to hide when I myself discovered it nearly four years ago, at the height of my career and at the brink of middle age.

“Mark! Neil!” said Thad as he leapt from the stage and bounded up the aisle. I was sitting in the back row of seats with Neil Waite, a thirty-five-year-old architect, the man in my life. Rising from our seats in the otherwise empty auditorium, I noted the curious and distinct smells of the historic theater: dust and mold, the fresh lumber and paint of the newly finished set, an electrical transformer somewhere that should have been scrapped long ago. “Well,” Thad asked through a grin as he approached us, “what’d you think?”

Neil was first into the aisle and swept Thad into a big sloppy hug. “It really pulled together, didn’t it? And
you
were worried! The scene looked great, Thad.”

“Thanks!” Then Thad suddenly backed out of their hug. “Sorry, Neil—I didn’t mean to stink you up. I’m sweating like crazy.”

We all were. For Thad, the physical demands of the fight scene had soaked him with perspiration, but for the rest of us, the heat alone was sufficient to keep us damp and feverish. August in central Wisconsin could be brutal, and though the old theater was air-conditioned, the amateur troupe could barely afford to run the lights. For rehearsals, the auditorium was cooled to a level just shy of tolerable.

My turn to hug the kid. “Hey, don’t sweat the sweat—we won’t melt.” And I clapped my arms around him, a gesture that echoed Neil’s. “You’re really getting
good
, Thad. We’re proud of you. Thanks for inviting us tonight.”

I’d never seen him rehearse, and indeed, the whole theater thing was something of a mystery to me. Less than a year ago, when Thad had begun his junior year at Dumont Central High, he was still adjusting to his new life with “two dads,” showing little interest in school. He needed
some
sort of involvement to snap him out of an adolescent funk that sometimes had a rebellious edge, so Neil encouraged him to audition for a play. Thad took Neil’s advice and discovered talents that had lain dormant. The bug, as they say, bit, and he appeared in all three plays at school that year, each time mastering more challenging roles. Come summer, he was loath to let the long, hot months pass without honing his newfound craft. Again it was Neil who suggested the remedy—community theater. And it was Neil, throughout, who coached Thad in the lore and taboos of the art of Thespis; it was Neil who spent patient hours helping Thad memorize lines; it was Neil who knew exactly how to quell Thad’s doubts and butterflies. I could only look on with awed amusement as Neil helped effectuate this transformation of our inherited child, once sullen, now so gung ho.

So when Thad invited Neil and me to attend his dress rehearsal that night, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to get a firsthand look at this magic, this discipline found so addictive by those who “tread the boards.” What I saw, though, was simply work—rigorous work—and its rewards seemed elusive at best that muggy night. But I could tell from Thad’s sprightly banter, from the energy I felt through his touch, that his mind’s eye had locked on a future brimming with the boundless promise known only to youth.

(Never could I have guessed that tragedy was brewing.)

“Now remember,” he was saying, “on Saturday we switch roles. I’ll star as Ryan, with Jason playing the smaller role of Dawson.”

“Which means,” said Neil, “you both have to learn the other half of the fight.”

“We’ve got it nailed,” Thad assured us. “Jason and I rehearsed the reverse casting last night, and it was every bit as good as tonight. In fact,” he added with a nudge, “
better
,” meaning, of course, that he preferred playing the leading role.

“People! People!” called Denny Diggins from the front of the stage, clapping for attention, sounding downright schoolmarmish. “Listen up. Act one looked fabulous tonight. I have a few notes, as usual”—he brandished his clipboard—“but I’ll save those for the end. Take a fifteen-minute break, relax, try to cool off, then onward with act two. Remember, people: focus. We’ve got a great show on our hands.” Hopping from the edge of the stage, looking decidedly unathletic, even foppish, Denny signaled that he needed to talk with someone nearby, a nice-looking man who was not in the cast—a crew member, I presumed.

Some of the company wandered to the lobby in search of soda. Others gathered in clumps of conversation or lent a hand at a long work-table where volunteers folded and collated program books. A Latino boy sat by himself in a front-row seat, reviewing his script. Jason Thrush, Thad’s colead, who had just played Ryan in the fight scene, remained center stage, sitting on the floor, indiscreetly blowing his nose into a wadded handkerchief while chatting with some other kids who had joined him there. Among them were Kwynn Wyman, a classmate and friend of Thad’s whom I’d met at the house, and another girl, conspicuously pretty (the word
nubile
sprang to mind), whose eyes suggested an interest in Jason that went beyond the teamlike camaraderie of fellow cast members.

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