A Colonel of truth

This piece was written for the Six Sentence Challenge, with the prompt word of ‘play’. It’s basically true, allowing for some poetic license and what time does to memories, and I only publish it as a very poor confession for a thoughtless act.

In my callow and thoughtless youth, I was a budding and ambitious thespian who grabbed at the offer to be stage manager in a touring production of a play, with the bonus of also having a very small part, as a black English sailor.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I am not now, nor was I then, black but a ginger-haired Anglo-Saxon who, with the aid of a crew cut and voluminous amounts of make-up was up for the challenge,  rationalising my decision on the basis that persons of colour were rare in the theatre in 1960’s Australia.

One night after the show, a smartly dressed woman waited around afterwards and, after introducing herself as the wife of the Colonel at the local Army base, insisted we come to their home for supper and wouldn’t hear of me waiting to remove my make-up.

When the cast arrived at the grand house and trooped into a living room that would have served well as the setting of the final scene in an Agatha Christie mystery, a maid was despatched to prepare tea and supper and to fetch the Colonel.

Soon the Colonel made an appearance and, without batting an eyelid, marched over to me, shook my black make-up caked hand and said ‘Welcome, you look like you could do with a scotch’ and then chatted to me amiably, as if fake black men were regular visitors to his home and that they always left black stains on his expensive scotch glasses.

When we finally grasped the chance to say our farewells, the Colonel once again gripped my hand and intimated in a low voice that I was the least convincing black man he’d ever seen and that perhaps other roles might suit me better.

35 thoughts on “A Colonel of truth

  1. Good for him! Our teacher once arranged an outing to see a production of Othello in little old Perth. I don’t recall if it was an amateur production or just amateurish, but we embarrassed the poor teacher by laughing the whole way through. Othello was played by a scrawny white chap with boot polish on. Desdemona’s death bed so small she nearly fell off it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Olivier was playing Othello in black face as late as 1965. The play ‘Red Velvet’ outlines the horrific response to Ira Aldridge being the first black man to play Othello in 1833. Full circle came in 2017 when a British theatre company abandoned plans to have a white woman play Othello. Irony doesn’t even begin to cover it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Indeed, just as it was when a white Kiwi, James Laurenson, played a half-Aboriginal detective on Australian TV for two seasons.
      And when Mexican Anthony Quinn became the most famous Greek in the world, Zorba, and Alec Guiness played Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia, and so on ad infinitum 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoy so much the (delicate?) weaving of subplots in your stories.
    And upon reading your comments at other Sixarians, may I suggest that your mom words to you need to be gathered in a beautiful collection!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks, Spira. I’m not sure my Mum would look kindly on that from wherever she is these days after passing away at 95 some years ago but I imagine it would be something along the lines of one of her favorites: ‘If bullshit was electricity, you’d be a walking powerhouse.’ 😉

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  3. First of all, Doug, I love the title, sets us ap beautifully for the punch-line.
    Secondly, I don’t think any of us need apologise for events of 50-60 years ago.
    Al Jolson, one of the 20th century’s top entertainers, made an entire career out of ‘blackface’, and I am much more upset by the current Orwellian rewriting of history by far too many ‘woke’ morons.
    All in all as entertaining as ever – the thought of you as a black English sailor has me grinning happily.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The title made me laugh even before I got to your site – excellent pun, even better after I’d read the story. And what a good one it was.
    Did you go on to further thespian adventures? We need to be told. 😉
    On the subject of ‘blacking up’, one kind thing that I retain from organised religion is this: You shouldn’t judge past sins with present awareness.
    And then there was the wee boy out in the village in the bush in West Africa where I worked for a couple of years in my youth, who wet his finger and rubbed my hand with it – yep, to see if the white would come off!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jenne. That was the end of my thespian adventures, which began with portraying a dung beetle in The Insect Play, a bumbling uncle in My Three Angels, the romantic lead in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and the white doctor in The Death of Bessie Smith, and of course my swansong in A Taste of Honey, as described. The nearest I get to the stage these days is an occasional stand-up comedy gig.

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  5. (As Spira intimated); the measure of a good Six Sentence Story often is evidenced by the thread of Comments becoming a conversation)
    So many places for me to jump in…

    Good Six!

    (Seems kinda mundane in light of the above thread lol)

    I’m enjoying the continually developing community here, in Sixville.

    That is, to go from: a bunch of prompt stories that are fun to read and challenging to write, to
    the friendships and connections that, while not necessarily pre-existing their participation are pretty immediate, finally on to Six Sentence Story(s) like yours this week, (and Keith’s in previous Sixes) wherein the human behind the blog becomes increasingly ‘real’.

    I’ve been accused of being overly-fond of the social metaphor of a classroom, i.e. later grammar, early high school, when discussing the virtual world; but the last 12 to 18 months, here at the Six Sentence Story bloghop is so like being a transfer student during the first semester of the year. lol

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s one of the things I enjoy about the good ship SS SSS too, clark, although I must say I exited the club stories a while back when it started to turn into an in-joke for the cognoscenti. As for the ‘praise the Lord and pass along the cliches’ brigade’, the less said the better. 😉 Ultimately for me, it’s a source of ongoing amusement and education and nirvana for an incurable punster to pump out a bit of weekly insanity.

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  6. And more is revealed! Why am I not surprised younger Doug took a turn at acting? Of course you did! An incredibly eclectic collection of roles, eh?, lol
    Btw, think I would have liked you mum. What a great bit – ‘If bullshit was electricity, you’d be a walking powerhouse.’ Excellent 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nothing like a bit of carefully selected and creatively re-purposed history as a source for writing. And I think Mum would have liked
      you. Women she didn’t like were often described as ‘no better than they should be’, which would cover being ‘common’ or having pretensions above their station in life or immoral, an epithet occasionally assigned to girlfriends I’d bring home, especially ones who liked to share their cleavage endowments. 😉

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