Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 8

Thanks to Ingenio's computer teaching program, Frankie's academic results were adequate, and thanks to Con's advice, so was his school social life. Although fun loving and gregarious, he remained a private person and never accepted invitations, or gave any to fellow students.

At the first rehearsal of the play they sat in a circle and discussed what they would be wearing. When it came to Frankie, silence fell.

'What about you, Frankie?'

'Although his heart was thumping he shrugged as if it was no big deal. 'Naked of course. Anything else wouldn't make sense, considering the script.' He gazed around at wide-eyed stares. 'Have I got it wrong?'

'No. No. I'm relieved—I think. Everyone told me I'd never find anyone to play the part as written, so there's a version in which you can wear some sort of rag.'

'But that would change everything,' Frankie said dismissively. 'My uncle agrees this is a brilliant bit of satire that will only work if the pale monkey is naked.'

'Your family agree?' a girl asked in transparent awe. 'My parents would kill me.'

'So would mine!' the others agreed. 'No Indian could ever appear naked in public; it's just not the custom. We'd rather die.'

'Then why did you write the play?'

'It started as an essay for the philosophy course. Then I realised that as a play it would be easier to make my points. It was never intended for performance, so it was a shock when the Philosophy teacher gave it to Mr. Wing, who gave it to the principal, who insisted we put it on.'

'I'm glad he did. The only problem I see is that you guys are so uptight about nudity that you'll look embarrassed on stage and no one will believe you see me as an animal, not a naked human.'

'You're probably right. But… you really don't mind?'

'I'm looking forward to it.'

The others remained very doubtful. Until now it had been an exciting idea. Now it was becoming a reality they weren't so sure.

'We talked about it this morning,' Sadu said carefully, 'and we think that the audience will be too shocked. That they're not as easy about nudity as you and the principal think. That we'll make fools of ourselves and be hounded off the stage and out of school. It's just too radical. We thought we could do it, but now it's really happening we think you'll have to wear something.'

Frankie had no intention of wearing even a rag on stage. 'Let's invite Mr. Wing tomorrow, and if he can't convince you the audience will not be shocked, then so be it.'

Sadu checked with the others. They nodded nervously. 'Ok. If we've got Mr. Wing's approval it'll be on his shoulders if there's a riot. Well, now we're here let's have a read through.'

After school, Frankie closeted himself with Mr. Wing.

The following afternoon found the cast seated in the front row of the theatre, facing Mr. Wing who was perched on the edge of the stage. Sadu outlined their fears regarding the audience's reaction to nudity, and asked the Drama teacher's advice.

Mr. Wing was a smooth man with regular features, solid figure, sparse hair, mellow voice, warm smile, and a relaxing manner. In his trademark dark blue suit, pale shirt, tie and black shoes he looked like a corporate executive.

'Audiences go to plays because they want to suspend their day-to-day beliefs and enter into the fantasy of the playwright's mind. They do not want to be presented with dull reflections of themselves. They are not there to find fault, they're there to be amused. Therefore you start with a huge advantage—a theatre full of people who want you to succeed in transporting them into another world.' He looked around. Satisfied they were paying attention he continued.

'While reading Sadu's play I was caught up in the excellent language and ideas, and thought it was not only thought provoking, but hugely amusing . On stage, its success will depend on you actors convincing the audience that what they are seeing is not only possible, but probable. If you can't convince them of that, you will be laughed at. Therefore you must play it with total seriousness.'


'Indeed it is. But fear can either debilitate, or spur you on. There is only one thing you have to convince the audience of.' He looked around and smiled encouragingly. 'What is it?'

'That we honestly believe Frankie is a pale ape and not human?'

'Correct. And how do you do that?'

No one offered a suggestion.

'You do it by convincing the audience that to you he is not a human and therefore his nakedness is no different from the nakedness of any frog, dog, horse, fish or other ape. Audiences take their cues from the actors. You must be completely at ease, never indicating by even the slightest glance, expression, intonation or any other reaction even for a second, that touching, stroking, restraining, inspecting, or playing with the naked creature seems strange. And of course all of you must never for an instant show you are aware of the audience. Frankie will be angry and upset. He asks for clothes. But if the audience senses he is shy about being naked on stage in front of a few hundred people, then their suspension of disbelief will evaporate and the spell will be broken.'

'That'll be difficult.'

'Good acting is always difficult. Now, Frankie, demonstrate my point.'

Frankie jumped up onto the stage and sauntered nonchalantly to centre front, gazing abstractedly over his fellow actors' heads. Apparently oblivious to their presence, he removed his shirt, smelled his armpits, pulled a face that drew a laugh, flicked off his shoes, casually peeled off jeans and underpants in one go, tossed them onto a chair, then nonchalantly pulled at his slightly shrunken penis, returning it to normal size before doing a few press-ups and handstands. Then he jogged on the spot for a minute before sitting at a desk. When picking up a pen he dropped it and it rolled away. He crawled around the stage looking for it, and by the time he found it there was no part of his body that hadn't been observed by his attentive audience. He nodded happily, picked it up and placed it behind his ear, then ran as fast as he could around the stage three times, arriving sweating and panting in front, where he bent over, hands on knees, breathing deeply, still apparently unaware of their presence.

'Who feels embarrassed?' Mr. Wing asked.

Nobody did.

'Why was that?'

'Because he seemed to be completely alone on stage as if there's wall between him and us that we can see through but he can't.'

'He was just being himself – not acting.'

'He wasn't playing to us.'

'Wasn't aware of us.'

'It was private and nice to watch.'

'Not embarrassing or sleazy at all.'

'But still sexy,' a girl added with a giggle.

'Would an audience be shocked at seeing on stage a naked young man in the prime of health and fitness like Frankie, if it was an integral part of the plot and he appeared not to be aware of their presence?'

'No… But… At first I was embarrassed seeing his penis bouncing around and his balls dangling from behind when he was crawling, but after a bit it seemed natural. It was good you made him do it long enough for us to get used to it, but the audience won't have that time.'

'And that's good, because audiences love to be slightly shocked. Does any one still feel awkward seeing Frankie's genitals?'

'It's liberating,' one of the boys declared. 'I feel as if I've been mentally taken outside after years in a small room.'

Nods and murmurs of agreement.

'It made me feel happy,' said another boy. 'I've always felt a bit ashamed of my bits, but now I don't. Thanks, Frankie.'

'You're welcome.'

'What about the rest of you?' Mr. Wing asked.






'Sort of wild and dangerous.'

'Now I'm not frightened of getting married.' One girl laughed, slightly hysterically.

Mr. Wing smiled and turned to Frankie. 'Demo number two, please.'

Frankie took his clothes behind curtains at the back of the stage and dressed, then returned and stood centre front looking embarrassed. After glancing nervously at them he looked at Mr. Wing and said nervously, 'Here? Now? In front of everyone? You want me to strip now?'


With an insecure face and shaking fingers Frankie unbuttoned his shirt and removed it, trying to conceal his nipples, then he kicked off his loafers, unzipped his jeans, turned his back and took them down. Turning his head, he pleaded, 'Do I have to take my underpants off too?'

'Yes!' Mr. Wing snapped.

He did, then turned around, keeping his groin covered with his hands.

'Hands behind your back!' the teacher commanded.

Frankie reluctantly obeyed, gazing at his audience in mute appeal, then up to the ceiling in apparent mortification.

His audience were squirming in embarrassment.

'Ok Frankie, get dressed.' To the other students, 'How was that?'

'Despite the previous demonstration, I was embarrassed for him.'

'Yes. Poor Frankie.'

'He looked so ashamed.'

'I didn't like watching him. It seemed kinky.'

'The audience would get up and leave.'

'Thank you, Frankie. Do you all agree, then, that we will have no problem with audience reaction as long as Frankie appears unaware of the audience?'

A chorus of agreement.

'Excellent. Well, now that's sorted it only leaves the rest of you. Are you able to convince them that you do not see Frankie as a naked human but as a naturally naked wild animal? The way to ensure that is for Frankie to be naked during every rehearsal. No exceptions.' He paused for a protest that didn't arrive.

'Yes, that makes sense.'

'Frankie, you're amazing. Your body's like an anatomy textbook drawing. Nothing but muscle and bone. Not an ounce of fat.'

'Yes! You look almost inhuman. How'd you get so… so perfect?' Sadu asked.

'Got lost in the wilds of Tasmania for nine months, living on what I could find. It's lucky I haven't been in the sun for a while, when I was rescued I was darker than you guys.'

'And now you're like creamy ivory,' a boy said softly. 'So smooth and…' He paused, frowned and added, 'So healthy and fit I feel pathetic.'

'You really are amazing, Frankie! And so… sexy,' a girl giggled. 'I've never seen a live penis before.'

Nervous laughter.

'You'll embarrass him,' Sadu muttered.

'Are you embarrassed?' Mr. Wing asked?'

'Hardly! Not with those compliments. Actually, I love being naked. It feels real. Honestly, I feel more comfortable now than when I was dressed.'

'Will you bleach your hair and keep it long and wild?'

'No problem.'

'Pubic hair and armpits too?'

Frankie looked down. 'Mmm… I'd prefer to shave them. Will that be Ok, Mr. Wing?'

'Yes. It will make you look less sexual. Your character is not supposed to be sexy, he's supposed to be misunderstood, angry, humiliated, confused and pitiable.'

Murmurs of agreement.

'Do any of you foresee problems we haven't mentioned?'

'Yes.' Sadu looked worried. 'In the play we have to touch him all the time; sometimes intimately. While writing the story it didn't seem a problem, but faced with a real naked man I can see it might be…' He turned to Frankie, 'Won't you object to being prodded, inspected, tied up, rolled over, attached to a cart like a donkey, stroked and petted?'

'Not as long as your hands are clean and you only pretend to be rough. Don't worry, I'll act as if it really hurts.'

'Stop worrying,' Mr. Wing frowned. 'You're all good actors; the script's excellent and the only difficulty you'll have is remaining in character during those scenes. And that'll be easy once you're used to it. Therefore you must never skip those parts of the action during rehearsals. And if you're not satisfied, Sadu, make them repeat until they are totally at ease. Familiarity makes even the strangest things seem normal.'

'Yes, sir.'

'Any problems with that Frankie?'

'No sir, but I might get an erection until I'm used to it.'

The teacher looked at the rest of the cast and smiled. 'That'll be good. It'll be shock therapy for you Indians. Once you realise naked genitals are no different from naked faces, you're cured.'

'You think our modesty is an illness?'

'Yes. A mental illness.'

They laughed, but from politeness, not because they were convinced.

'Thanks everyone,' Mr. wing said seriously. 'If you behave like serious actors I've no doubt the play will be a great success. Remember, I'm available whenever you need me for no matter what.'

With a rehearsal every day it wasn't long before each character was believable and every move as firmly embedded in their brain as the words. The result being a stunning performance that became the benchmark of theatrical excellence in the school, and had audiences talking about it for years.

The art department made a magnificent job of the set in which a fantastic domed pergola and terrace gave onto a palm-fringed sandy beach. The costumes glittered and dazzled. Filtered lighting created a golden glow over everything and everyone. Frankie's bleached, tangled long hair cemented the difference between his pallor and the rest of the honey-brown cast. Ten concerts to enthusiastic audiences in the excellently equipped school theatre, in which their play was the final highlight of the concert, received rave reviews.

This was followed by a two-week season of three one-act plays, presented by a struggling independent theatre company in one of the last large, elegant old theatres remaining in the city centre. Their play was on last each night. TV and newspaper reviews were enthusiastic. "A brilliantly designed set" "Despite, or perhaps because of his tasteful nudity, the leading actor's naturalism and acting skill ensured the play's success." "A brilliant script exposing the moral vacuum in modern society." "A timely reminder of the worst aspects of European colonialist treatment of indigenes." Similar reviews ensured the theatre was sold out for all twelve performances, allowing the company to last another year.

During the first week of the season of one-act plays, confirmation of Ingenio's adoption of Frankie arrived, along with official notification of his name change from Frankie Goldmein to Frankie Fey. Frankie declared himself the happiest man on the planet and his performance that evening almost blew the audience away.

Every night of the second week, the same elderly man sat in the same seat in the middle of the front row. Before the Friday evening performance, Frankie received a note on a plain white card.

Frankie, I want to thank you for your excellent performances. I should like to meet you in the foyer directly after the performance tonight. Prospero LaDjess.

Cautious, as no one backstage had heard of such a person, but more curious than suspicious, Frankie dressed quickly after the curtain calls and hurried to the foyer. Prospero, as he asked Frankie to call him, was considerably older and frailer than he had appeared from the stage. Frankie, Prospero was perturbed to realise, was considerably younger than he had appeared on stage, therefore it was with some self-consciousness that the elderly man invited the youth to supper in his hotel suite. Frankie was honoured, but wanted his uncle's permission. Could Prospero go with him to meet Ingenio and explain the invitation? Delighted and relieved by the young man's response, Prospero certainly could, and twenty minutes later a taxi deposited the old man and his muse at the Fey dwelling.

Initially wary, Ingenio and Constantine soon warmed to the old man and it was decided that Frankie would visit Prospero directly after the Saturday Matinee. Ingenio and Constantine would join them two hours later, having been invited for dinner. When asked why he had invited Frankie, Prospero said he wanted to thank and get to know the young man who had given him such pleasure with his thoughtful interpretation of a misunderstood man.

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