Disability Studies Quarterly
Winter 2005, Volume 25, No. 1
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies

A Play of Deception

Abigail L. Johnson
E-mail: abjoh@wyoming.com

"Deception! Deception! Deception!" yelled Linda as she marched into her mother's room at the retirement home.

Startled, Dorothy looked up from the newspaper she was trying to read. With her failing eyesight, she could only read the headlines and even some of them were too small. So, she looked forward to the end of the day when Linda came and read her the evening paper. Now, as Dorothy looked at her daughter, she could tell Linda was angry at her about something but she couldn't imagine what it could be.

Dorothy was concerned about her daughter. Linda seemed tired and strained. Ever since her husband died a couple of years ago and both her children left home for college, she'd thrown herself into her work. Dorothy felt her daughter was taking on too much and would soon crack under the pressure. So, to distract Linda from whatever might be upsetting her, she said with a smile, "Hello, dear. I was just looking at the headlines and it's funny you should walk in here like that because it says here there are to be auditions for Tennessee Williams's play 'The Glass Menagerie' and I think you'd make the perfect Amanda."

Dorothy and Linda were both active in the community theater years ago. They were both in a production of "The Glass Menagerie" with Dorothy playing Amanda, a dominant mother who was once a Southern belle, and Linda playing Laura, Amanda's shy, submissive daughter.

Now, Linda snatched the newspaper from her mother's unsuspecting hand and flung it aside. "Why did you do that, dear?" asked Dorothy in astonishment.

Linda sank into a nearby chair and sighed. "I went to Day Break today to tell them that you are recovering from pneumonia and that you would probably be returning in a few weeks."

"Oh," said Dorothy. She realized why Linda was so upset. She remembered the scene from "The Glass Menagerie" where Amanda discovers that Laura has not been attending classes at the local business school as her mother thought she was doing. Now, Dorothy realized that the tables were turned and her own daughter found out that Dorothy was not going to the adult day care center as she promised she would.

"Imagine my shock when Diane told me you hadn't been there in a month," said Linda. "I just can't believe that you would deceive me like Laura did to her mother in 'The Glass Menagerie.' Now, if you'd thrown up all over the floor in front of everybody like Laura did at the business school, I can understand why you would be too humiliated to return but Diane didn't mention you doing anything like that. Besides, it's not in your nature to be shy and deceptive. So, why did you pretend you were going to Day Break all this time?"

"Linda," said Dorothy with a sigh of resignation. "You've been under a lot of stress and I didn't want you to worry about me. Besides, I don't like being around those old people. I went once just to see what it was like and all they did was watch TV, play cards, and eat and I can do those things here."

"But you don't do anything here except sit in your room all day and listen to those books on tape the lady from the library brings you," Linda whined. "Even before you had pneumonia, you only left your room to go to the dining room for meals."

"That's because they only deliver meals to your room if you're sick," Dorothy retorted. "And as I said before, I don't like being around those old people."

"But you're just as old as they are," said Linda.

"You may think so but I don't," said Dorothy. "I have nothing against these people. They're all very nice but they're just not my crowd. Now, let's talk about you. I think you should go to those auditions for 'The Glass Menagerie.' You're old enough now to play Amanda and you've just demonstrated to me that you'd be perfect for the part."

"Mother," said Linda with an exasperated sigh. "Real estate is a 24-hour business. I just don't have time for the theater anymore. You know that."

Dorothy appreciated the fact that Linda took time out of her busy schedule to come and read her the paper every day, although she could easily attend the newspaper reading sessions that were held daily in the retirement home's activity room. So, she knew what she must do to persuade Linda to take some time for herself. "I've always believed that you can make time for things that count," she said. "So now, I'll make you a deal."

Dorothy knew how much Linda enjoyed the theater. "The Glass Menagerie" was not their only performance. They were in other plays, both together and separately. "If you try out for 'The Glass Menagerie,' I'll start going to the newspaper readings so you won't have to come every day and read the paper to me," she now told Linda. "And if you get a part, which I know you will, I'll be there opening night."

"How will you get there?" asked Linda. "You know it would be difficult for me to drive you if I'm in the play."

"Of course, I know that, silly," replied Dorothy. "I'll call Gladys and ask her to drive me."

Gladys was Dorothy's oldest and dearest friend. They met years ago when they were both teaching English at the local college. Gladys lived in her own home and was still able to drive. On the other hand, Dorothy was forced to sell her house and move to a retirement home several months earlier after she broke her hip and started losing her eyesight. Gladys came often to visit Dorothy at the retirement home.

For many years, even after she retired from her teaching position at the college and her husband passed away, Dorothy was involved in a variety of organizations besides the local theater guild. She also enjoyed playing tennis, golf, and bridge. After she broke her hip, started losing her vision, and moved to the retirement home, her difficulty walking and seeing made her self- conscious when associating with others. And of course, she could no longer play tennis or golf. So, she stopped attending her various meetings and although she could have continued to play bridge with the help of large print playing cards, she chose to discontinue that activity as well. But now, she realized that Linda wanted her to become more active, and her daughter was consumed by enough worries with her real estate job and its many obligations. So for Linda's sake, Dorothy knew she must try to be more active.

"Are you serious, Mother?" Linda asked.

"Of course I'm serious," said Dorothy. "I want you to take some time and do things you enjoy and you want me to get out more. So, it's a perfect deal, don't you think?"

After a short pause, Linda sighed. "Okay, Mother, you win. But the doctor says you probably shouldn't be out and about too much for the next few weeks." She rose and picked up the paper she flung aside earlier. "Let's see. It says here that the auditions are next Tuesday, rehearsals will start the following week, and the play will run at the end of next month. So, just to be on the safe side, why don't you wait to hold up your end of the deal until after opening night? Now is probably not the time to overdo it."

"Fair enough," replied Dorothy, breathing a sigh of relief.

"Mother, I do worry about you," said Linda, taking Dorothy's hand. "Once you're recovered from this pneumonia, I wish you'd get out more. I know you can't play golf or tennis anymore and it would probably be hard for you to play bridge and be involved in AAUW or the Arts Council, but the YMCA has an excellent water exercise program and there are some nice things that go on at the senior center."

Dorothy groaned to herself. Again, Linda was suggesting that her mother become involved with more old people. But with a sigh of resignation, she said, "I'll try, dear."

The day after the audition was supposed to be held, Linda rushed into her mother's room and cried, "I did it! I tried out last night and got the part right on the spot. The director says I have natural acting abilities. I don't think any director has ever said that before."

"Didn't it say in the paper that the director is retired and he used to direct on Broadway?" asked Dorothy.

"That's right," said Linda.

"Then maybe you should have tried Broadway first before going into real estate," Dorothy countered.

"Perhaps," said Linda. "But I still use my acting skills in the line of work I do now. When you sell a house, you have to convince a customer that this is the house he or she wants to buy and you can't let customers see that you're tired and stressed out."

"That's true," replied Dorothy. "In any case, congratulations! Come here and let me give you a hug."

Over the next month, when Linda came to visit Dorothy, she talked about the rehearsals. She gave her mother all the details including who the other actors were, the blocking, the set, and the costumes. During this time, because they agreed that Dorothy wouldn't participate in any activities until after opening night, she was content to remain in her room, listening to books on cassette and visiting with Linda and Gladys when they came. Dorothy enjoyed hearing Linda talk about the rehearsals because it brought back so many pleasant memories of her involvement in the community theater when she was younger.

A few days before opening night, there was a rave review of the performance in the local newspaper. The article spoke highly of Linda's portrayal of Amanda. "Even though this actress has never lived in the South, you can tell by her authentic Southern accent that she's a born southerner," wrote the reporter.

"Oh honey, that's wonderful," exclaimed Dorothy when Linda read her the review. "I can't wait to see it."

It was true. For the first time in a long while, Dorothy looked forward to going out, despite her failing vision and her difficulty walking. Gladys agreed to drive her and on opening night, they both set off in her car.

The theater was crowded but since Dorothy and Gladys arrived early, they were able to find seats in the front row. Dorothy hated using her walker, since it signified to others that she was no longer as independent. But the physical therapist explained that using the device was necessary in order to maintain her balance and prevent future falls and injuries. So, it was with resignation that Dorothy made her way into the theater, pushing the walker in front of her as she went.

She didn't think she would be able to see everything that went on but at least she would be able to hear the voices of the actors.

Because she knew the play by heart, she already knew what actions would take place. Her heart pounded with excitement as the lights dimmed and the curtain opened on the first act. Behind her, someone ruffled a program as the action began.

But as Amanda spoke her first words, Dorothy realized that something was wrong. The voice of the woman portraying her was not that of Linda. Dorothy agreed with the reporter who wrote the review that the actress spoke with a true Southern accent but she knew in her heart that the voice wasn't Linda's. Although she couldn't see the actress very well, Dorothy knew she didn't have to look at her to know it wasn't Linda. What happened, she wondered. For some reason, they must have called in an understudy but why? Where was Linda? Dorothy pictured her daughter lying in a hospital bed, seriously injured or possibly dead. By intermission, Dorothy was on the verge of panic. Yet, she fought to remain calm.

"You know," Gladys mused. "It doesn't even give Linda's name in the program. It says that Amanda is played by Pamela Warner. I noticed that in the paper too but since you said it was Linda, I assumed it was a mistake. I think she's very good, this Pamela Warner, but what do you suppose happened to Linda?"

It was then that the truth hit Dorothy. The stories Linda told her about what went on during the rehearsals were fabricated and when Linda read her the review in the paper, she substituted her own name for that of Pamela Warner. Linda probably didn't even bother to audition for the play.

A light touch on her shoulder interrupted her thoughts. "Hello, Mother," said Linda from the row behind them. "Are you enjoying the play?"

Dorothy turned and glared at her daughter. In a soft but icy voice, she said, "Deception! Deception! Deception!"