Frank loved the crowds and the audience adored him in return.
The shadowed faces blurred into a melted mass of men and women and all endured the sweltering heat of the dim theater simply to watch him perform. They hung on his every pun; his tantalizing turns of phrase; his juxtaposition of humor and tragedy that left them laughing and gasping and crying at the same time.
Large thatched fans stirred the stagnant air of the warm evening as the laughter of the crowd swelled and died. One lady sobbed unashamed into a lacy handkerchief.
“My dear lady!” he said as he swept a bow from the front of the stage. She looked up at him, feathered hat bobbing as she sniffled. “How do you keep from soiling your hands with so many holes in that lace?”
The crowd roared in response and he smiled a toothy grin back. The woman took in the laughing crowd and mouth twitching began to laugh once again, the barely stifled tears beginning to flow once again.
He pulled an identical lace handkerchief from his back pocket, only four times the size and proceeded to blow his nose with the force of a bull elephant, a tuba from the orchestra providing the appropriate accompaniment. The handkerchief flew from his hands and sailed out over the audience, sending men and women scrambling to get out of the way of the descending dirty dainty.
He bowed to the audience and with a tip of his hat, signalled the orchestra to take over with a musical interlude.
He strode off, stage right and into the wings of the stage. The theater manager, a fat balding man in a white fedora rolled over to meet him, double chins quivering. “Excellent show, my friend, most excellent show!
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out another handkerchief and mopped his brow. “My, my what heat we have today! I almost cancelled this performance, but with all the seats sold…well business before pleasure as they say!”
Frank picked up the clear jug of ice water with floating slices of lemon and poured himself a glass, chugging the contents down with barely a swallow. He listened to the murmuring of the crowds receding through the back doors of the theater for half time refreshments and some relief from the sweltering interior. He swiped his sleeve across his beaded forehead.
“Look, Eugene, it is too hot out there to continue the show. The audience will all be melted puddles before the end of the second half. I think we should give them a rain ticket, preferably for a rainy day… oh about December 15th.”
Eugene’s eyes popped out of his head. “Are you refusing to go back on? You can’t leave the audience waiting! The show must go on!” He grabbed at Frank’s sleeve.
Frank’s eyes took in the shimmering waves of heat dancing in the light of the flame lamps lining front of the stage. He shook his head and drops of sweat arched away from his limp hair, evaporating before they reached the ground.
A rustle from deeper in the curtains caught his attention and a pair of men came up the wooden steps onto the platform.
“We’re sorry, but we couldn’t help but overhear your conversation” the shorter of the two said. “We would love to perform in your place and let you rest for a bit” said the second “until you are ready to go on with the show.”
Eugene looked at the pair of them, dressed in too short of pants hauled up by shortened suspenders, suit coat sleeves frayed at the edges and bowler hats perched on heads covering varying quantities of hair. “What kind of act do you do?”
“Comedy, silly comedy, to cheer the crowd and make them belly laugh.” The other nodded earnestly.
“Ok, I will give you a trial. You may go set up while the intermission is going on.”
“We have nothing to set up.”
Eugene frowned once again. The sound of returning patrons swelled and filled the theater as they filed back to their seats.
“Fine, Fine, get on the stage, we will discuss your fee afterwards, depending on how the crowd likes you.” The three men hurried out onto the stage and two of the men pulled a banana from their pocket. Frank wandered out to join the pair.
Eugene watched in amazement as the impromptu comedy trio launched into a simple but effective comedy skit involving nothing…but two bananas for props. The audience roared with as much if not more laughter as they had for Frank’s solo performance. Eugene chuckled along and clapped his hands with glee.
Thinking that the crowd was giddy with heat, Eugene invited the pair back to open with Frank the following evening and as it turned out, for every evening after that. Word spread of the trio’s comedic timing and the demand for tickets grew ever greater.
One day a couple of VIP clients arrived at the theater, escorted by Eugene himself and seated in a roped off area in the center front of the audience, set with two cushioned chairs and two personal attendants pouring iced beverages for the VIP customers.
Both Frank and the new players became self-conscious for the first time in their careers, sensing that these men were important in some way.
This evening, both sets of performers changed up their offerings, performing the crowd favorites and also pulling some new entertainments out of their hats.
The latest offering from the new additions went something like this:
The VIP clientele smiled and nodded and observed the mirthful audience, who roared with laughter and tossed coins onto the stage in appreciation.
After the show, the guests were escorted back stage to meet the performers.
“You are amazing” said the talent recruiting executive for Warner Bros “You really are the top banana here!” shaking hands with the pair.
“Top Banana”(also top dog): the principal person in a group, organization or undertaking…The first term comes from show business where from the early 1900’s it has signified the leading comedian (possible the original allusion was to Frank Lebowitz, a burlesque comedian who used bananas in his act). It also gave rise to the “second banana” for a supporting actor, usually a straight man.”
–The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
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