Wray Nerely stared own at the slowly spreading stain moving across his jeans. He stared at the coffee cup in his left hand, spotting the dislodged cover and a line of black liquid running down the outside of the Styrofoam.
‘You okay back there?’ called the cab driver.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Shit.’ Wray put his phone down and manoeuvred the cover into place, then using the same hand, he wiped over the stain. Already the hot coffee was starting to cool and it was feeling unpleasant against his skin. ‘Oh, great.’
Instead of making it better, all he had done was get his hand wet. He sniffed his finger, an aroma of cherry vanilla filling his nostrils. There was nothing for it but to try and wash his hands when he got there.
He looked out the window as the lower Manhattan streets went by at a sedate pace. He hadn’t thought there would be any theatres this far down but he supposed that’s what “Off Broadway” meant. The cab turned left down a side street and stopped outside a church.
‘Here we go,’ announced the cabbie.
‘This is it?’
‘The Den Theatre, right?’
‘Then this is it.’
Wray dug into his wallet and handed over two tens and a one. He picked up his phone and stepped out of the cab. He double checked the email from his agent, reviewing the details.
The Den Theatre. Be there at 14:00. You’ve been personally asked for. Bona Fide project! Eight week run!
It was a turn of luck that he’d been at the Con when the email had come through. He’d already done his signing duties that morning and the panel wasn’t until 5. He had considered not going, it had been damn near fifteen years since he had last stared in any kind of stage production. He recalled had he hadn’t enjoyed it that much then. Playing a cross-dressing Caliban in a socially aware reworking of The Tempest had played merry hell with his back. He could swear that it was two sizes too small for him. But beggars and choosers etcetera. Besides an eight week gig wasn’t so bad. And more importantly he had no work booked. Not one voice-over, not one audition. He could work at nights, the occasional matinee and still be free for meetings, skype calls, whatever. And there any number of shows filming around the districts. He could get himself a nice guest slot. Yeah. This could be good for him. As long as they paid a fair wage. None of the industry minimum crap. And he’d want an apartment. He’d be happy to share. Well, he wouldn’t. But he could live with that.
He stood in front of half dozen steps leading up to the double door entrance to the church. It looked pretty old: the frontage was all grey-stone blocks. A sign above the doors declared it to be the CHURCH OF THE CHASTE VIRGIN. Nothing about being a theatre. A poster on the left-side door pronounced that next Sunday would be a special mass for Juanita Gonzales and Michelle O’Flaherty. Unless this was some kind of ‘method’ playhouse, he didn’t think this was where he was supposed to be. He cast around for where the theatre might be. He looked up and down the street but nothing leapt out. He turned his focus back to the church and noticed a wooden door to the right of the steps. There was no sign above it. No posters advertising future productions. Just a simple message painted in medieval lettering above a round iron door knocker.
KNOCK, TRAVELLER. AND ENTER!
Wray shrugged his shoulders and grasped the knocker, giving it three hesitant raps. He leaned in, listening for the sound of approaching footsteps. None came. He reached for the handle and turned it. Surprisingly, the door was unlocked. It swung in to reveal a set of wooden steps leading down to a shadowed corridor. Covering the flaking walls to either side of the stairs were a bunch of posters advertising all kinds of thespian endeavours. Okay, thought Wray. This must be the place. He carefully took the steps and made it to the bottom. The corridor continued on for a few steps, ending in a door. Just to his left was a darkened room.
‘Hello?’ his voice echoed.
He stepped inside. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he spotted rows of seats and a darkened archway that looked suspiciously like a stage.
Suddenly light burst into life from the stage, blinding his vision.
A moment later music erupted from somewhere behind his head, loud, insistent and all too familiar.
As the opening bars of the Spectrum theme reverberated around the room, Wray shaded his eyes and blinking furiously, he spied a figure step onto stage.
‘Wray Nerely!’ cried a voice. He thought he recognised it.
A strip light flickered on, illuminating the auditorium.
‘Oh my!’ declared the figure.
‘Yes, Wray. It is me. Your new crewmate.’
George Takei stepped down from the small stage and walked towards him, beaming a bright smile, his arms held wide. He grabbed Wray in a hug and kissed him on both cheeks.
‘George? What is this?’ asked Wray.
‘Why, what does it look like?’ asked George doing a little pirouette to take in the room.
‘A creepy birthday party?’ offered Wray.
‘No. Better than that. You know when we last spoke and I was off to rehearse for Allegiance?’
‘Yes…’ said Wray. He had recalled it was a Con in Phoenix. There had been a Green Room party. He’d been persuaded to try a Start Trek themed cocktail by George.
‘Well, as you know we’ve just finished a fantastic run on Broadway and it got me thinking.’
‘The public love us, Wray! They want to see their favourite science fiction stars act on the stage. Just think about Patrick Stewart – they lap him up!’
‘And?’ asked Wray, already fearing the worst.
‘I kept remembering you saying that there would never be a Spectrum movie. Never, ever,’ said George, waggling his finger. ‘So it struck me. We do the next best thing! Spectrum. The Musical!’
‘Just think about it,’ said George gamely. ‘The original stars going on a new epic adventure, fighting foes old and new. And all set to music!’
Ah! Wray thought of a way out.
‘Look, George. Jack would never agree to this.’ Besides, Jack was way too busy, having a career.
‘You are right,’ sighed George, shaking his head gravely. ‘I did ask his agent but, alas…’
George gripped his arms, the beaming smile is back.
‘So that is why Cash Wayne will be joined by a new Captain! Sonata Tanaka, a wily old space dog with a penchant for saucy space shanties,’ said George with a wink.
‘Yes! Together we will set off to the stars with a twinkle in our eyes and a duet for every occasion.’
‘And can I ask, George. Where would be performing this?’
‘Not exactly Broadway.’
‘Well, no. I decided we should give it that a miss. This one deserves a more intimate milieu.’
And a smaller paycheque, thought Wray.
‘Just how many cast members will there be?’ he asked.
‘Oh, just three of us.’
‘Yes. I have a young drama student who is very good playing multiple roles. Perfect for his final semester project.’
‘And are we expecting sell-out crowds?’
‘Oh yes, absolutely expecting them. We are operating on very small budget here, Wray. But I know you’ll need suitable accommodation. Us LA types demand the best, hmm?’
‘Yes. Absolutely,’ agreed Wray.
‘So I have arranged for us to stay in a lovely apartment in Brooklyn. A fan has lent it to us. Just think, Wray, roomies for three months!’
‘Three months. Right.’
‘I have a script for you to read – I am taking Spectrum in an exciting new direction.’ George handed him a bound A4 script. ‘Turn to page 25.’
Wray flicked to the page and read the first few lines. He tried to keep calm.
‘Wayne and Tanaka become lovers?’ he asked, his voice sounding shrill even to him.
George put an arm around Wray’s shoulders.
‘It’s about time Sci-Fi got with the social change agenda, don’t you think?’ asked George gravely.
Wray shook his head. It was The Tempest all over again. This was not going to turn out well.