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Nightmare in Dogpatch

Ah, Facebook! How many of us have been contacted by someone out of our dim high school past and suddenly found the window opening on a memory that had long been banished to the depths of the closet? In my case, it was a fellow cast member from our High School production of L’il Abner, circa 19-- ... ahem... well let’s just say it was a while ago.

Daisy Mae was my first lead role ever and of course words cannot describe the thrill. Unfortunately, I was handicapped in two areas when it came to playing this incredibly buxom blond bombshell: I had short brown hair and my bosom, instead of resembling ripe cantaloupes, was more the size and shape of two frozen peas.

Problem number one was soon remedied. I managed to borrow two wigs from friends of my mother. Luckily “frosted” hair was in style and by layering them I ended up with semi long hair, true not very curly, but at least it was blondish. As for problem number two, I was sure I had found the perfect solution...

Now every actor has had those nightmares. The ones where you find yourself naked on stage with everyone staring at you, or where you have no idea what play you’re in and you realize another actor is looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to say your lines. But this was high school. I hadn’t had those nightmares yet and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the part.

Opening night! I don’t know whether you’re familiar with L’il Abner. It’s based on a comic strip by Al Capp about a bunch of hillbillies who are trying to save the town of Dogpatch. At one point there is a Sadie Hawkins Day race. All the girls go running after all the boys, trying to catch themselves a husband, and the stage directions called for us to race through the audience, exiting through the far doors. The first act went well, I’d gotten through my first solo, and now it was time for that race. Ready… set… away I go, playing Daisy Mae to the hilt, off to catch that handsome L’il Abner before I end up on old maid at the ripe old age of 17. I jump off the stage and go tearing pell-mell down the aisle, and as I get to the auditorium door I look down and suddenly realize that my chest has gone back to its natural condition. In a horror movie, this is the moment when everything would snap into slow motion. I turn my head. Heart pounding music swells as I look behind me to see a trail of cotton balls, like so many bread crumbs, going from my feet all the way through the audience and back to the stage. Someone giggles. The eyes of the spectators go from me to the cotton balls and back to me. With a screech like fingernails on a blackboard, the camera zooms back in on my sagging polka dotted top, empty and pathetic…

What I did after this has been mercifully wiped from my memory. I know I was supposed to keep running, sprinting through the halls and coming back onstage immediately for the next scene. I know my mind was racing, trying to think of something, anything, I could put down my shirt. A distant whiff of paint wafts through my mind. Did I grab a paint rag from the wings to stuff in there? And why in the world didn’t I use socks in the first place, like any other self-respecting teenage girl?

This early humiliation certainly didn’t keep me from continuing the “biz” but I think that I can safely say that my actor’s anxiety nightmares date from that period...

L'il Abner with Alyssa Landry (cotton balls and all!) and Bates Wilder way back when...