It Wasn’t Meant to Be an Ice Cream Social

Blanche: (Twitting) Oh, come on, Pepper, why do you always start mentally wringing your hands when the subject — (Emphasizing) Divorce — comes up? You act like it’s the third rail of your life.

(Cavalierly) Divorce is passé — fact of the matter is — 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.

Pepper: (Crestfallen) Divorce may be out of date, Blanche, but people aren’t. It still hurts.

Blanche: Don’t you think it’s about time to take off that hair shirt?

Pepper: (Philosophically) I don’t really need to remove it. No one does; it comes as standard equipment to the species homo sapien.

Blanche: OK, touché!

(In mock trial lawyer mode) So you married young, right out of a convent school, which happened to be a four-year (Emphasizing) Catholic college, three weeks after graduation, circa 1960.

Pepper: (Rolling her eyes) From one container to another.

Blanche: (Exuberant) So you hit the jackpot — three beautiful babies in the next three and half years!

Pepper: (Looking back) It seems like light years away now.

Blanche: (Doggedly) So the marriage lasted…

Pepper: (Sarcastically) Why don’t you say strung out?

Blanche: (Straight away) Almost 14 years.

Pepper: (Reaching for a recollection) Not very long for a couple the (Emphasizing “Right Reverend”) Right Reverend Monsignor remarked…

Blanche: (Jumping in) Were so much in love?

Pepper: Get real, Blanche.

In the prelate’s eyes, we truly understood the meaning of the sacrament of Matrimony, two baptized Catholics expressing the unbreakable bond of love between Christ and his Church.

Blanche: Doesn’t sound very romantic.

(Jesting) I think this member of the Holy See might have had cataracts!

Pepper: That day, no, he was on target.

Blanche: How so?

Pepper: (Earnestly) We were like St. Francis and St. Clare, the perfect Catholic couple.

Blanche: The Clare that followed Francis after hearing him speak — and did everything to imitate him?

Pepper: (With burlesque flourish) ‘Twas I to a “T.”

Colin read a lot and was smart, a true scholar. Nice looking, too, kind of a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Tyrone Power.

Pepper’s younger sister, KJ, spins and flits towards the Back Fence like the sprite Ariel in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”
KJ: (Moving into the conversation) How could I forget you and Colin, Pepper?

Pepper: (Dismissively) And just what do you remember, KJ?

KJ: (Pantomiming handles on pitchers with her hands at her two ears) Little pitchers have big ears!

I liked Colin Muir a lot. We called each other “Garbage” and “Little Rubbish,” that was between Colin and me. It came out of sarcasm. It wasn’t cute at all. Colin told me sheepishly that his baseball friends, who really weren’t his friends at all, would scream out “That’s Garbage” to him when he messed up on the baseball diamond.

(Pensively) Colin would talk to me — whether he wanted to or not. He was always extremely polite and nice.

Pepper: He did the right thing. He was correct.

Blanche: There’s something to be said for good manners. Being well bred is a rare commodity these days.

KJ: (Jumping in) You and Colin were such a handsome couple, Pepper. Princess Margaret was marrying Tony Snowden at the same time; people were impressed how beautiful you looked together, like in a fairytale.

Pepper: (Slightly edgy) In retrospect, I’d like to pooh-pooh the whole thing, but I bought into it then; I played the game.

KJ: And won the Oscar! (Dreamlike) You were so believable!

Pepper: (Authoritatively) We were doomed from Day One, but I just couldn’t see it.

Blanche: Nobody knew, Pepper. Fifties into the sixties — it was an explosive time, revolution on every front: skirts raised from mid-calf to mid thigh; arrival of Enovid, the first hormonal contraceptive pill; a young Irish Catholic in the White House after generations of white Protestants; student sit-ins at colleges and universities, demonstrations against the Vietnam War and our history of racial discrimination…

It wasn’t meant to be an ice cream social.

Pepper: OK, Blanche, I get it!

But even when we first met and started to date, I being 16, he 17, Colin was arrogant and critical of me.

Being a slow reader, I took a summer school course at the local high school to get up to speed — and searching the library for a book to scan as fast as I could my first day of school, I found “I’d Rather Be Kissed,” something light and suitable enough, I felt, to get me going.

Blanche: Ah, oh, I can see it coming…

Pepper: (Nonchalantly) So here’s 15-year-old Dolores Keith who wants to be a famous writer when she grows up, and likes to pretend she’s 19. She spats with the boy next door; idealizes the carpet man; and learns some facts of life when her English teacher gets engaged…

KJ: (All ears) Sounds plausible enough to me — for a teenager.

Pepper: Well, when Colin saw that disgusting blob of paper and ink on the hall table, he excoriated me for picking such a dimwit story. “You should be reading something substantial — like “Kon Tiki” — not all that mindless fluff.”

KJ: I can hear the prudish tone of our Preacher Man.

Blanche: (Philosophically) Today, you know he was right, Pepper.

 Pepper: (Smiling) It may have been mindless fluff, ladies, but still and all, even today, I’d rather be kissed.










“Baba” bids a free-floating adieu

Baba before her baby picture

Baba before her baby picture


Cigarette smoke fills a living room replete with priceless family antiques. 

On the wall behind a French chaise-lounge covered with gold brocade hangs a life-size pastel portrait of Pepper’s grandmother “Baba,” age 4, in a full-length white organza gown. Soft blond curls frame the youngster’s sweet smile, as one tiny coral velvet slipper peeps out from under the hem of her skirt.

Four Dresden china figurines are artfully displayed on gold brackets on either side of the portrait.

Before the chaise sits a mirrored coffee table with mahogany trim, and two miniature pink silk-covered loveseats, their elaborately carved wooden frames depicting two eagles on the arm rests protecting, as it were, nesting love birds centered at the back of the chairs.

There’s also a cream-colored Italian marble bust of Juliette on a black marble pedestal, china vases made into lamps in the style of the 1920s set on side tables with inlaid-wood designs, Victorian gold-leaf chairs with 18th-century miniature paintings on their backs and a matching curio cabinet stuffed with well-appointed memorabilia from Baba’s world travels.

Baba, now 85, suffering from congestive heart failure and a recurrence of breast cancer, her eyes curtained with thick cataracts, presides as in court among her treasures, holding a Parliament filtered cigarette, and discussing whatever enters her head in a free-floating manner.

Blanche: (Looking up over the back fence into Pepper’s yard to the right, Blanche sees a young woman in her early 30s with an elderly white-haired lady. At first, she doesn’t realize it’s Pepper, essentially saying ‘Good-Bye’ to her grandmother, affectionately known as “Baba.”)

Who’s that old lady, Pepper?

Pepper: Shhh, Blanche, it’s Baba, my grandmother just days before she died.

(The stage darkens except for bright spots on Baba and her granddaughter in the living room.)

Baba: Those last three weeks in the hospital nearly did me in. Two days before I left, they put a colored woman in with me. She had nearly everything wrong with her, poor thing. I shouldn’t complain.

(Looking at her hair and nails) Well, look at me. I look good enough to die if I have to…

They said Miss Medberry had her hair done before…

Pepper: (Slightly startled) You mean — before she died?

Baba: We’re all really selfish; we’re never ready to say good-bye.

That dinner cost me $50 the night before I caught a terrible cold and landed in the hospital.

Dr. McKeever had a fit because I weigh so little. God knows, I eat enough. Steak. Lamb chops. Chicken. He wants me to go into a home. What would I do with all this stuff? (She throws her arm out around the living room where generations of antiques are arranged with precision.)

I had to pay him nearly $400, and the hospital $100.

I asked the day nurse to get me some chicken. She didn’t know I gave the night nurse a pair of shoes. And Tish gave the entire floor bonbons. I never got my chicken. That’s gratitude.

Old age is tough, Pepper. My vision is the worst. Of course, there’s a woman in this building who’s blind. Thank God, I’ve got my mind.

I never had very good husbands.

Pepper: Not even Grandpa Gunther?

Baba: I gave Gunther oil paintings and a great big German astronomical clock with men in it. And what did he give me? Well, there’s your mother.

What time is it now, Pepper?

Pepper: One o’clock.

Baba: Sally wants that Oriental plate. (Pointing to a large, round turquoise Oriental wall hanging plate with flying herons.) She brought me a brandy glass full of daisies yesterday.

Pepper: Was that plate your mother’s?

Baba: Yes, and there was so much more. When I was a girl, we had a gold room with Cupids on the ceiling; it was on Ashland Boulevard. A tapestry room. Music room. Library. People used to come from all over to look at that house. All the chandeliers were Venetian. We had four horses and a carriage, a brown Shetland pony, a jaunting cart…

Dad was chief grain inspector in those days under Governor Tanner. I was born the day he was elected to the Chicago City Council, April 6, 1888. There were no telephones then, so he sent a man home to see how mother was and she said to tell him he had a baby girl.

We had a cook; she was Bohemian, Anna Semrod, and a coachman. In the garden, there was a cherry tree, gooseberry bushes and an apple tree. Off the kitchen, there was a great big room full of canned fruit the cooks did up. People don’t do that anymore.

Isn’t it 2 yet, Pepper?

What time is it?

Pepper: 1:30.

Baba: Only 1:30?

I went to a private kindergarten. I forgot the name of it. And then I went to Sacred Heart on Taylor Street and then to St. Mary’s in South Bend.

The convent had a big frame building. The nuns wore black habits with great big white collars and their collars had a sterling silver Sacred Heart. I liked Mother Lynch. She’s pretty old. She must be over 90 now. She was nice to me. You always like those who are nice to you.

At St. Mary’s, I had Sister Donnatella and Sister Gottlieb. We went to 6 o’clock Mass and then walked a mile to the gate of the school and then had breakfast. I took rhetoric, that was English, and arithmetic. I also took French. I think that was my happiest time.

I was 20 when I got married. All these gifts were given to me. Gunther only had his relatives at my wedding. I was crazy. They said I was the prettiest girl in Chicago in 1909. And I should have waited. But if I didn’t marry Gunther, I wouldn’t have your mother. And that’s something. She’s an awfully good girl.

Before you leave, I want you to write down my pallbearers. Stormy Bidwill, Neal Bidwill, Tony Graham, Phil Conley… How many is that? Did I say Phil Conley? Joe Rink, Jr. How many is that? I need another one. Ray Bennigsen. I think that’s six.

Then I want to leave $500 to Fr. Joe Bidwill, $500 to Father Schooner, $100 to Lessie (I’ve given enough to her in life). Then you, Sarah, Joe and Kathy are in the will. The Madonna and Child oil painting goes to the Ryan sisters. They’ve been good to me. The crystal punch bowl and teak and marble table to Arthur. The Oriental plaque to Sally. And Pepper, you can have these two chairs and the Oriental rugs. Joe wants all these mirrors. Kathy wants that lamp in the bedroom, the couch and the ring.

I hope you’ll have a Mass said for me once a year. Don’t forget, that’s important. Sarah gets all the Dresden.

Must be 2 o’clock.

Pepper: Almost 8 minutes before.

Baba: These antique mirrors in the bedroom are beautiful and the one in the hall. You can’t buy them. I paid a lot of money for that bedspread.

Sign this proxy for me, will you? It’s for the Clorox Co. What does it say?

Pepper: They’re choosing new management and board members at the next meeting.

Baba: Pepper, count that money for me. Should be four 50s in cash.

Pepper: I only see three.

Baba: I must have spent a 50.

Are you cold in here?

I’m going to give you my Persian lamb. You’ve worn that one of your mother-in-law’s long enough. Her coat was awful. You should have had a decent coat.

I’m going to put the rollaway bed in the living room and we can put it away in the morning.

I’ve still got that stock in Tilden-Grannis, my stock in the dog track, my checking account, my savings account…

Your mom says you’re the only one that doesn’t ask for things.

Where’d you park?

Pepper: In the entryway.

Baba: What are you writing?

Pepper: What you’re saying.

Baba: What?

Tish hasn’t called me today and she calls everyday.

I sent Sarah $10. She bleached her hair; it looks terrible. Funny, Sarah doesn’t go with anyone. She’s so pretty. She’s not interested in boys. She says she’s not going to marry until she finds someone like her dad — and there just isn’t anyone like him. (Chuckling) “Best mother-in-law I ever had,” he’d always say.

After Elsie met that fellow she changed. The night I got sick and went to the hospital, I let her stay here for six months — for nothing. I just had the couch (Points to the sofa) reupholstered for $374 — and she got all the down out of it. (Slightly annoyed) She got mean in the end.

Your father wants this couch; and your mother gets this ring (Looking at her large diamond ring) and the draperies. I gave her my 19th-century Three Graces cameo. They don’t make them like that anymore. Then she wanted my aquamarine pendant. Now I have nothing. I even handed over my $4,600 bowknot diamond pin — and the diamond watch with sapphire insets around the crystal. She is like a darned kid; she has to have everything, too.

Sarah takes care of things. I think you do, too, Pepper.

Your father’s wonderful for 71, drives that car all over. Your mom’s gotten heavy. God, I hope he lives a long time. She’s 10 years younger, but she’d have Sarah. I wish she’d sell that house.

Do you think you’re mother’s better? I wish she’d get a maid.

She told me she took my curtains down and washed them. Honestly.

What time is it?

Two o’clock yet?

How was she the night of the birthday? I hope this Filipino woman works out.

Your dad called Jessie. He said he wanted her for me. I wouldn’t want her after what she did to your mother. She drank — and got plenty out of your mother, hiding spareribs under her bed to sober up.

Mother feels bad they’re not going to Florida. Wonder if they got the storm windows up yet? Young Joe stayed there. He didn’t call me up. His wife looks bad, she’s so thin and her hair being that color red.

You got a TV? If I die, take that one (Pointing to her large-screen television), it’s gorgeous!

Do you ever hear from that priest?

He wanted that candlestick I use for Communion. (Chuckling) I asked him if he didn’t want my false teeth, too!

And the plant Joe gave me for Mother’s Day. I gave it to Lessie. It’s just too much trouble for me to water.

I went to bed after Dean Martin. I heard Arlene Francis say on the radio that the best frozen food you can buy is Encore. Do you use Encore? I want to get a pot roast.

Maybe Kathy’ll come for Christmas.

Wasn’t the storm terrible?

The first time I didn’t hear from Tish was yesterday. One day last week one of those sitters didn’t show up. I’d have you for dinner, but we’re having leftovers.

Pepper, do you go to church? Marrying Gunther (her first church-door husband of three, Pepper’s maternal grandfather) I gave up my religion. But you can’t fool God.

(Looking at my suit) How much did that cost?

Gunther gave me nothing.

What’d you think of Stormy getting $6 million?

Mary, do you ever have a bad taste in your mouth? Take a Milk of Magnesia tablet.










From Little Miss Muffet to Antigone

Pepper: (Reflectively) It’s hard to believe, Blanche, but even though I’ve been an avid adult reader, as a young child, and well into my early teens, I hardly picked up a book.

Blanche: That’s shocking, Pepper, you who are interested in everything, or almost everything, under the sun.

Pepper: Sad to say, but long before kids were diagnosed in droves as hyperactive, I was the poster child for wired.

Being a tomboy became my goal. Not to be Babe Ruth, but the star female athlete of that time — Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias — and outshine my older brother!

(Wistfully) Then again, I was lost somewhere in a cloud.

Blanche: (Assuring) You may have needed an extra-long incubation period, Pepper.

Pepper: I almost didn’t get hatched!

Mom, whose nickname was “Lambie,” worked dawn to after-dark on household chores; she didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to sit down with fidgety me.

Blanche: And your dad?

Pepper: He was building a sales force in a newly formed book publishing company — and was on the road a lot.

Blanche: (Incredulous) Did you say book publishing?

Pepper: (Sheepishly) I did. Nobody was available. Oh, dad would recite nursery rhymes to me and he had quite a repertoire of those:

(Theatrically) “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children, she didn’t know what to do…”

Or, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and…” you know the rest.

Lest I forget, “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey, when along came a spider and sat down beside her — and frightened Miss Muffet away.”

So you can see, Blanche, my education has been sorely neglected.

Blanche: Well, then, how did you become such a… I guess we could say, deep thinker?

Pepper: It was at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, now Woodlands Academy, in Lake Forest, Ill. that the good madams or Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus took the time to help me catch up.

I was still dreamy, but I loved to learn and had an inordinate amount of imagination.

Blanche: And is that where Antigone comes in?

Pepper: Probably. Forget the “The Bobbsey Twins,” so indispensable for young girls of that era. Even stories like “Alice in Wonderland,” a must among the preteen set, didn’t tempt me away from the playground.

When my fellow female classmates, with their perfect corkscrew curls, were pouring over “Nancy Drew Mystery Stories,” I was out in the alley playing Kick the Can.

Blanche: But what about Antigone?

Pepper: It was in Latin class and the study of Greek and Roman mythology in English where I met my soul mate — Antigone.

(Wise-acre-ish) You might say Antigone was the ancient Greek version of Babe Didrikson. Spiritually, I mean. She had grit and daring; and she risked everything.

Blanche: How so?

Pepper: Antigone learns both her brothers are dead, that Eteocles was given a proper burial, while Polynices was not, because Creon, her uncle, believed him a traitor.

Blanche: (Encouraging) The plot thickens…

Pepper: Now my heroine pulls out all the stops.

After making an impassioned argument, declaring Creon’s order against the laws of the gods themselves, Antigone defies the law, and buries her brother — and is caught.

Blanche: Uh-oh…

Pepper: Creon had no patience with strong women, and he just tossed her in prison, despite warnings from the blind prophet Tiresias the gods disapproved of leaving Polynices unburied — and that they will punish his impiety with the death of his own son.

Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé Haemon, plus the Chorus pleaded with Creon to release her, but he relents too late.

Antigone had already killed herself.

Blanche: (Aghast) Babe Didrikson wouldn’t go that far.

Pepper: Babe Didrikson wasn’t as dramatic, I’ll grant you that, but she had the same strength of character.

While men of that era generally wanted women to be coy — and stay at home — Babe had the sense of humor to describe her golf swing:

“It’s not enough just to swing at the ball; you’ve got to loosen your girdle and really let the ball have it.” (Charles McGrath, New York Times)

And sportswriter Grantland Rice noted: “She is beyond all belief until you see her perform…Then you finally understand that you are looking at the most flawless section of muscle harmony, of complete mental and physical coordination, the world of sport has ever seen.”

Blanche: Hmm. One showed civil disobedience, par excellence, the other social. I also bow to your heroines, Pepper.







Egads! It’s Christmas!

Blanche: (Running out, waving) Oh Pepper, you’re back from the Heartland. How was your trip back to Chicago?

Pepper: (Half surprised) Chicago? Oh, the Big Old Hick Town couldn’t look better. It’s clean, vital, and with oodles of shiny new high-rises popping up all over. You might even call it “Silver City.”

(Reflective) Funny thing, Blanche, the moment I walked into the United Terminal at O’Hare International Airport, folks were dancing, making merry in the Baggage Claim, even though skies outside were gray and temperatures in the 20s or below.

Blanche: Think they might be on happy pills? 

Pepper: Could be.

And it wasn’t just at the airport; it was all over town: At the Art Institute, Millennium Park, up and down Michigan Avenue, at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, all over the Loop, even pervading the underground parking garages.

Then up on the North Shore, homeowners had lit up their homes as if they were destinations.

Blanche: (Confused) Destinations?

Pepper: When I was a girl, outside Christmas decorations and lighting were subdued. So much so, when dad would come upon an exaggerated effort, he’d exclaim, “That’s all lit up like a Chinese whore house!” It was simply bad taste.

Blanche: Your dad must have been a strictly tree and wreath man.

Pepper: He didn’t mind a sprig of holly — or catching mom under the mistletoe, but…

There was this destination house in Wilmette that folks flocked to with its own light show, called “Christmas on Cleveland Street.” The way cars parked cheek to jowl, you’d a thought it was a drive-in theater, the lighted house serving as the large outdoor movie screen, and visitors viewing the show from the privacy and comfort of their cars.

Blanche: Sounds nice and cozy.

Pepper: Well, I had to laugh at my high and mighty self, how I was drawn to the colorful scene, as were the others.

Blanche: So it might not have been in the best taste, Pepper, but it was bringing people together and making them smile.

Pepper: Must have been those happy pills.



To tell the tale — or should the tale unveil the story?

Pepper: (Snookered) This process — trying to jump-start a sitcom or whatever format I’m trying to conceive to tell a story in this blankety-blank Digital Age — has me up against a brick wall.

Blanche: (Tongue-in-cheek) Don’t you really mean up against a white picket fence?

Pepper: (Exasperated) I mean I wish I only had a stylus and piece of vellum!

Blanche: OK, Pepper, just jump in and tell the story — or even better, let your characters lead you into the narrative. (Facetiously) They’re certainly not as inhibited as you are.

I recently read filmmaker Richard Press who, when shooting “Bill Cunningham New York,” realized that the process of making the movie paralleled the unveiling of who the man was, that Cunningham’s relationship with the filmmakers should be a part of telling the story.

Pepper: (Seeing the light) OK, even though I’m in the driver’s seat, I guess I don’t have to be a control freak.

Blanche: Yeah, be loosey-goosey; you’ll get further, be happier. (Aside) And so will I!

Look, you’ve considered the Fourth Wall, that imaginary barrier between the audience and the stage, where an on-stage/screen character literally talks to the audience. Why not include an off-screen voice presence, heard but not seen, who could provoke and prod characters on stage/screen?

Andy Warhol used this technique at The Factory during the ‘60s. One character could hear the voice, then react or respond, while another might not.

Pepper: (Edgy) Look, Blanche, I don’t want to get far-out; I just want to tell a good story simply and well — and bring in a few coins at the same time.

Out of the blue, Pepper’s younger sister, KJ, drifts on stage, an almost apparition in theatrical, with-it garb, finding her way to the white picket fence.

KJ: (Energetically) Hi there, Poet-Hip-Sis-Ta! What is this? A white picket fence turned Wailing Wall?

Pepper: (Unconsciously) Oh, it’s you, KJ, don’t remind me of my fears.

KJ: Yeah, well, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try and help you out of your dilemma.

Pepper: (Crestfallen) Am I so far gone that I need a deus ex machina already?

Blanche: (Jumping in) See, Pepper, without even a subpoena, KJ has slipped seamlessly into your story.

KJ: (Theatrically) And I ain’t no Fourth Wall, nor disembodied voice, but the real deal, another bona fide, live character, besides you and Blanche, of course.

Blanche: (Correcting) Don’t forget, KJ, we’re only virtual, not flesh and blood, merely a knot of possibilities that invoke some sort of actualization. Well, that’s what Pierre Levy said in his Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age.

Pepper: (Rolling her eyes) I’m impressed, Blanche, how your nimble fingers can Google up anything is beyond me.

(Turning to KJ) OK, Sis, now that you’ve saved the day, so to speak, fill us in on a few theatrical techniques.

Remember how a spotlight opens up on the dark stage to one story/vignette after another in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”? What is that technique called?

KJ: I’m not sure about the technique, but Wilder’s Stage Manager is like an omniscient narrator in a novel. He’s all over the place, even leaves his stage-managerial role to become a character. He does what he pleases, calls the shots. He alone — not the characters — reveals facts about place, setting and plot.

Yet, theater techniques are merely procedures to present a good play. You don’t want to get hamstrung by them.

Blanche: Flash-forwards and flashbacks might be a possibility.

KJ: There’s a show on cable now called “The Newsroom.” Last season, they used flash-forwards and flashbacks. It’s like watching something on film; skip over to flash-forward, then rewind for flashback.

You could employ that in different ways. In Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” he did this f-ing cool thing.

There was this Ziegfeld-type producer tearing down an old theater and before the demolition, characters came in for a one-and-only reunion.

Sondheim takes every decade of music up to the 70s. An older performer would be backed up by a younger version of that song, like for “I’m a Broadway Baby, walking down the avenue,” a younger version of the same character would bring in more energy and light.

Pepper: What’s a Conscience Corridor?

KJ: Here a character’s dilemma is analyzed in detail.

Pepper: (Cynically) Sounds like too much of a support group.

Blanche: (Earnestly) We’re characters, too, trying to learn how to act and bring others into the fold.

KJ: Most assuredly.

Pepper: Should we venture into sound-scaping at this point?

KJ: No high decibels now, I would think, but a potential soundtrack could subliminally enhance the narrative. Keep it on the radar.

Blanche: Just what is physical theatre?

Pepper: Sounds like mime. And that’s just not us. We volley over the back fence; we’re “Wordies.”

KJ: (Recollecting) British actress Judy Dench was interviewed in a “Philomena” DVD about how she came to act. When she first went out, she’d have to come up with a pantomime. She didn’t know what to do, so she simply felt the air, smelled the flowers — and got high marks.

Blanche: Don’t forget split focus, like split-screen in editing.

A couple or more characters/scenes could play off each other at the same time. I could see Pepper’s grandmother, “Baba,” born in 1888, who was married and divorced three times, bemoaning Pepper’s divorce circa 1974: “What are you going to do when you’re my age?” Baba wondered.

Pepper: You’re getting warm, Blanche. I couldn’t understand what an 85-year-old woman meant at age 35.

KJ: Cross-cut is another possibility. Actions can occur at the same time in two different locations.

Pepper: Remember the tableaux or freeze-frames our French order of nuns, Les Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, would use at the convent, circa 1954, to tell a story, KJ?

KJ: I do, actions frozen as in a photograph or video frame. They were religious images, naturally, The Nativity, The Annunciation, etc. Still images can also be brought to life through improvisation.

Blanche: Then there’s slapstick. Oops, I can see Pepper giving this suggestion a thumbs down.

Pepper: We’re not Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers, Blanche.

KJ, can you tell us something about viewing from the wall?

KJ: It’s an interesting technique, also termed teichoscopy, when actors observe events beyond the confines of the stage, such as a distant battle, and discuss it on stage while the battle is taking place.

It was also used in Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V.”

And in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the cast wasn’t on stage, but on a widow’s walk (where technicians usually are) looking down on the action on stage.

Artistic director Sal Marchese from my own Hartford Producing Guild placed people on stage who were playing parts in “Oklahoma Rehearsal.”

And in David Mamet’s film “The Winslow Boy” about a kid thrown out of school because someone said he stole money, the playwright has people report on what’s happened in the court, as opposed to showing courtroom scenes.

Episodes in the original MASH movie show a journalist interviewing the group in unit, a talkie interview, and those goings on are filmed.

Lest we forget Arthur’s Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” whose Willie Loman envisions a rich uncle who will save him from penury.

Pepper: The possibilities are endless.

KJ: Almost. Hearkening back to Dench’s interview, the actress noted how Peter Hall, her director in “Antony and Cleopatra,” gave this advice: “You don’t have to play all the character of Cleopatra in one scene!”

Pepper: Good advice.

KJ: Then again, when Hal Prince directed Dench in “A Little Night Music,” he told her: “When you go into your song, use your same speaking voice.” It’s a transition.

Pepper: (Reflectively) So many subtleties go into a good story. Guess I’d best sit down at the baby grand and start noodling.