Acting with conviction
(Page 5 of 6)
Memories of the crime hit him in rehearsal for "Othello" one day. Sammie started to sob. "It really broke me down," he remembers, crying even now. "And what was really great was having all my partners there to support me. It's like getting down to the truth, and delivering it.Skip to next paragraph
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"And then, about five minutes after I bawled my head off, Curt said 'Okay, let's do it again.' "
Onstage, a nurse brings a baby to Aaron in the woods: his son born to Tamora. If the emperor hears of his wife's infidelity, he will have the baby killed. In his only tender moment, Aaron promises: "This before all the world do I prefer, This maugre all the world will I keep safe."
Last year, Sammie got a letter whose return address bore the last name of a woman he'd slept with once. It began, "Hi, my name is Desiree, and I am your daughter. I'm 18 years old, and if you'd like to get to know me, please write me back."
When he read that, Sammie remembers, "I have never been happier in all my life." They began corresponding, and later in the year they met. "We fell instantly in love, me and Desi. We write all the time, and talk. [In] her very first letter back to me, she said, 'I've already forgiven you for not being there for me.' I needed to hear that."
After rehearsal, Sammie and Michael head out to the rec field for some last-minute coaching. Michael plays an old Roman lord mourning the play's tragedies in the final scene.
"My heart is not compact of flint nor steel," Michael begins, "Nor can I ... break?"
"Utter," reminds Sammie gently.
He pauses, nearly stutters, then remembers: "Nor can I utter all our bitter griefs. But floods of tears will drown my oratory, and break my utterance, even in time, when it could move ye to attend me most, and force you to commiseration...."
"Excellent, excellent!" Sammie shouts, when it's all over. "It can't get any better than that!"
On the way back in, Sammie stops at his office. He almost single-handedly runs the prison's database system, which handles a huge volume of state information.
Sammie's already been offered a high-paying job with Captiva Software Corp., if the parole board decides in his favor in 2003. "I hope to be released," he says. "I know I'm ready."
When he's finished at work, Sammie heads back to his room. The cell blocks are 'dorms,' cellmates are 'roommates,' the central corridors 'day rooms.' But for all the collegiate language, there's no question that this is prison. The place is an assault of constant noise: metal doors crashing, guards shouting from behind shatterproof glass, keys jangling, walkie-talkies spewing garbled directives, and cheap shoes squealing on hard-shined cement.
A shelf runs the length of Sammie's narrow room, covered with pictures and albums. He proudly shows photos Desi has sent, and snapshots of his stepdaughter, Jen. Sammie married her mother when Jen was six, and he was already in prison. He remains close to Jen, though he's now amicably separated from her mother.
Both Jen and Desi plan to be at the play. Sammie's learning a sonnet to recite for them at intermission: "If I could write the beauty of your eyes," he reads, "And in fresh numbers number all your graces, The age to come would say, 'This poet lies - Such heavenly touches ne'er touched earthly faces.' " He pauses, looking abstractedly out past thick window bars at the field, then repeats: "The age to come would say, 'This poet lies.' "
Act V: expectation
The afternoon of the first performance, the actors are frantic. A group gathers early to move the backdrop into the gymnasium. The newer guys stay on, to pace and pray.