The stage must be red—that’s all I know, all I see. So said Armick, the visiting writer-in-residence, grant-supported.
What, the others said, do you mean? Red as theme? As conflict? As motif? Symbol?
And Armick said he didn’t know from motif. The imagination is literal, Armick argued. I mean, he said, the stage. The floor, the boards, the set, curtains, costumes. That’s exactly what I mean.
What kind of red? someone asked, one who knew that to argue with the grant-supported Armick-in-residence at this point was not to argue but to feel the hippo-weight of Armick’s obstinance, which Armick preferred to think of as genius, and why wouldn’t he prefer the latter term? This someone also knew that to get the hippo-weight of Armick’s . . . genius moving, best to bait Armick with red specifics.
That’s your job, responded Armick, unbaited and unmoved. I will not tell you how to do what I ask. I will only ask you to do. Your profession is to execute the what of my wanting as you see fit. Ask only yourself what you want from my request for a red stage.
Our job, said someone else, our collective job, is to create theatre. For an audience. A paying audience in a medium-sized city. A medium month has gone by. All we have to go on is—you want a red stage. You want a red stage? Paint it yourself.
Armick: You refuse my request? You question--?
--Yes, I refuse, and I question. Give us a play. That is your job, paid for by a grant.
I wish to play with red, said Armick. That is the play. The beginning of play. You disgust me. Build a stage for the fourteen billionth production of Our Town. Build one for a Neil Simon package. So said Armick, haughtily.
We could do worse. So said the other.
But you will not do better! Cannot, apparently. You’re an idiot, apparently.
Perhaps. The sum total of a month’s work is . . . you want a red stage. Who’s the idiot?
You are, as noted, said Armick.
Maybe so, said the other. I’ll admit the possibility, considering what I do and where I do it. You must, by the same red token, admit the possibility that you’re a lazy fraud.
The combatants’ cheeks flushed. Shouting. Shoving. Intervention. Outside: rain, and a police car going fast. Siren. Whirling red light. Inside, Armick stalked off. The others slouched against gray surfaces of regional theatre, slumped in stained chairs of beige of brown, of green.
Finally someone said, I can get us a deal on red paint at the hardware store, for the owner is a member of our theater’s board of directors.