"Frozen Face" is a showcase of emotions in a roller coaster of dreams and disappointment, while framing only a glimpse of life.
“Here they are.” James slaps the stack of uneven papers on my desk. “Just fish out the credentials and pick out the pretty faces.”
I let out a long breath. As James leaves the office I think about the discombobulated pile before me. I had written a script three years ago and barely got through the publishing process. On January 12th, two weeks prior to this very day, Mr. James Benet knocked on my apartment door. He physically came to my place of residence so that I could sign a sheet of paper. Most producers just send a fax to the nearest P.O. Box.
I roll my eyes at the open door. James had wanted my full participation in the production, and he certainly receives it. He has been saying that the author is the only one with the right vision for a play. James won’t even hire a director until I hand-pick the cast; He is only hiring one at all because I refused to direct it myself.
There is a grayscale photo peeking out of the manila folder in front of me. The file is labeled: “Miss Gloria Anderson” and the folder won’t stay shut without the green rubber band stretched around it. I pull the two-ton stack to arms’ reach after grappling across the table for it.
Inside the tag board binding sit about fifty pairs of headshots and resumes. It is exciting, finding the faces of my characters, but I still brace myself for disappointment. I know that I cannot find absolutely perfect actors, but at least I’m presiding over auditions. “It’s your story,” James had said. “No one can change what came from your head.”
I decide to dump out the jokers first. I don’t want to get hung up on a face and end up with a crummy actor. Within ten minutes I pull out twenty-four resumes, all of which have no prior acting experience. Not one of these contains a single reference, not even from high school. I cannot always keep myself from looking at pictures. At least none have looked priceless.
Until now, I think. As much as I try not to look at any headshots first, one picture captures my gaze. The man in it wears a turtleneck sweater and gentle eyebrows. Stubble extends from behind the crown of his head to cover his chin and the edge of his lips. His shining eyes give me an urge to kiss his nose, like a brother who has been gone for too many Christmases. Dimitri.
I have seen this man before. Every time I wrote a scene containing the lead, there was this face. The same face is laid in literal black and white before me now. I had dreams of what he would sound like on stage, and if his voice could show the audience what each song feels. At this point credentials could not matter less to me. I have found my Dimitri Moyer.
I stare at the headshot for what must be many minutes. Most actors have their photo taken so that it reflects their personality; photographers use different angles and show different lengths of their subjects’ bodies to be creative and catch the eye. This picture only shows the face, head-on. If it were my own I would not have paid the photographer, but for this actor, it works. It is more than perfect. The lips show a small smile which is made honest by the eyes. It may not be an interesting headshot, but the face is wondrous.
I almost run to find James. I’m halfway out of my chair with the picture in focused hand when the flapping paper attached to it is noticed. James will never call if the resume is incomplete. I sit back down and pray agnostically that he has at least one prior role on the sheet.
Oh God. The font is tiny. With small margins, all the references barely fit on the single page. Aside from the list of ten directors there are over six years of recorded acting and tech classes as well as over twenty roles. Yet, his name holds no history in my memory.
Jeremy Sanders spent his entire career in community theatres across Iowa with only one performance in New York. His character experience includes Doctor Manette from “A Tale of Two Cities,” Egeus from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Algernon from “The Importance of Being Earnest.” While all but one production listed are classics and fully spoken, the single Broadway show proves his flexibility. Mr. Sanders held a small role in Avenue Q, a highly provocative musical done totally with hand puppets, during the summer of 2004; the peculiarity was how short of a time he stayed with it. The show is still running now, in the year 2008. At least there is plenty to satisfy James.
I race out of the door of James’s office, then the lamp at the end of the hall, looking in all directions. I don’t normally get to any state that approaches visible excitement, but now I fell ready to spring out of my skin and fly. I can’t even fell frustration for spending two minutes ducking in and out of rooms, dropping curt apologies to any occupants, without finding James. Finally, with a slower gait and much heavier breath, I turn into the doorway marked “Mr. Benet” and nearly knock over the devil himself.
“Jesus, Gloria.” James barely manages to save a falling bun from his hamburger plate. I have never found him with coffee or muffins, but often with energy drinks and full meals. Does he ever eat outside of this place?
I only offer him a winded, “James, finally.” I breathe several times while he bends to retrieve the bun and sets his food on the table. He brushes a crumb from his shirt and I impulsively wipe a fleck from his cheek. He smiles, having grown accustomed to the motherly tendencies of his childless client.
“So,” James starts in, “are you finished already? I had expected the process to take at least an hour.”
I readjust the headshot in my hand. The paper under the staple had torn somewhat from my fruitless chase around the fourth floor. “Not yet,” I replied. “But there is a winner. This,” I say, holding the now-disconnected photo before his eyes, “is our Dimitri.”
James raises his right eyebrow at me, and then studies the picture. It takes him more than a second to remove it from my fingers; my brain doesn’t want to lose that face. He gives me one last look before sitting with the photo in his hand, the other hand reaching out.
I’m so preoccupied with the sight of the greasy burger being near the headshot that James ends up simply grabbing the resume out of my hand. I stand staring at him, hoping than his eyebrows will not furrow. I have yet to see a look of rejection from James that was directed towards me, but every other who has received it could not sway him with negotiation. I am not sure I would have a better chance.
“Well,” James began before looking up, “he certainly has experience in theatre. The lack of real musical experience, however, could prove to be a threat in the long run. Gloria, what made you so sure?”
“It’s him, James.” I pull out a rolling chair to be at his eye level. “It’s the character I see in every scene I write. This,” I snatch the photo from his food-stained fingers, “is my Dimitri Moyer.”
James taps the table as he studies the resume.What is the problem? I wonder impatiently. Where does he get off questioning my character? I am not an aggressive person, and yet these thoughts barely blip on my careful offense radar. I wanted him to call, to set up the audition. As compromising as I could be, I would not settle after seeing that headshot.
“Then,” he said, face still to the page, “I’ll have to call him. His residency is in Queens, so I’m not going all the way out there.” He looks up at me with the smile in his eyes. I’m beaming. “Good to see you’re sticking to your vision.”
I pull James halfway out of his chair and send my own rolling backwards with the hug I give him. James isn’t one to laugh, but I take his gasp for air as enough of a chuckle to allow the hug to hold. “You will be happy,” I assure him. Pulling back, I steal a fry from his plate. “I’ll get the rest of the cast picked out and,” adapting a joyous French accent, “la vision will be complete.”
* * * * *
After a week and a half James has arranged auditions with the cast that I selected, having found a few actors that could work for each role. The only one without competition is Jeremy Sanders, but he is also the only actor without an audition. James and I have both called the number listed on his resume several times, as well as every director on the list. All had given the same information that we already have. No one seems to have heard from him for over a month.
I watch James hang up his cell phone as he exits the building. “That’s it,” he calls to me. “Either he answers the door or you will have to find a new Dimitri.” We pull open the side doors to his BMW after hearing the signaling click. I sigh with dread.
I am silent for the entire trip. It takes us ten minutes to clear the parking lot and reach the first red light, and then another half hour passes by before we are on the bridge to Queens. James looks over to me every once in a while, more often asking, “You gonna be alright?” I always nod and smile a little hopeless smile at him. I have to believe he will answer. I have to trust that Mr. Sanders sent us his resume on the last week of January because he wanted a role. I need to believe that.
James has to tell me when we arrive. There are multiple doors entering the brick building before us and we pass several before parking on the north side. A beep from the car brings my head up to the door. The way the complex is arranged each numbered doorway only leads to one apartment; fire escape stairs in the ally are the only access to the second floor balcony. The tin mailbox attached to the dark bricks has “J. Sanders” printed in stick-on letters. James raps on the door, his usual four-beat knock. His last tap, though, is left out. I turn not to face him, but the door.
A sun-faded 8x11 sheet of paper is stapled to the door of the pretend brownstone. Below the words, “For Rent” is a description of the apartment’s interior. The sentence that stops my eyes is, “Furniture included.” It is followed by, “Auction to be held March 1st for remaining property.”
James takes me by the shoulders and turns me around. He leads me back to the BMW and clicks the doors open. The engine engages and my seatbelt is in place before I feel the tears leave the corners of my eyes.