It’s not unusual for people to gather in front of Center Playhouse on South Street in Freehold waiting for the doors to open before a performance. A regular patron of Center Players’ was passing last Thursday afternoon and was surprised to see a group of people standing outside the community theater. This seemed odd because no shows were scheduled at that time. They were all looking intently toward the window. Coming closer, our anonymous friend reported seeing a squirrel on the windowsill inside the theater! You can imagine what his initial thoughts were, “On no! A squirrel trapped inside!” None of the other onlookers seemed concerned about this dilemma so he immediately called the theater number posted on the front door and left a message to send help for the squirrel. As he was finishing the call he noticed people were laughing and applauding. Squeezing his way to the front of the small crowd, he was amazed at what he saw!
Now, there is no way of verifying the accuracy of this account, but through a series of anonymous telephone calls to Center Players, the story of a dancing squirrel in the window of Center Playhouse began to emerge and we are fairly confident that at least some of the details of this bizarre event are true! You judge for yourself.
Reports have it that the squirrel was not trying to get out through the window, as initially assumed, but rather he was entertaining the sidewalk audience. And he was very creative! He was doing a soft shoe number for a while using a coffee stirrer for cane. Then with a cap from a water bottle on his head and holding packet of sugar in his little hands he did the Philip Morris commercial! Is that amazing or what!
The Center Player’s Board speculated that the furry thespian had arrived early to audition for Manhattan Serenade. Frustrated at having missed a part in this original show, he seemed to have found an old fashioned venue to express his talent – street performing! So, behind the glass of the theater’s front window, he entertained passer-bys.
Why should that be a problem, you ask? Well, though our bushy tailed performer disappeared during the theater’s Cruise Night entertainment, we had no idea he planned on reappearing for a rehearsal of Manhattan Serenade the next evening. Creator and director of the show, Greg Brooks, was so taken aback when he was greeted inside the theater by the squirrel that he didn’t give him a chance to demonstrate his talent. The misunderstood rodent was forced back into hiding as the entire cast and crew went on the chase to evict him.
It was now clear that the squirrel was taking up residence at 35 South Street and it was time to call in Center Players’ resident animal control officer, Bob Szita. It is always surprising to learn about the backgrounds of Center Players’ board members. Most of you know him as House Manager at the theater and some of you know he is a psychotherapist and Co-Director of Contemporary Counseling Center with his wife Bernice Garfield-Szita in Marlboro, NJ. But how many of you knew that he is the official pet bereavement counselor for the Monmouth County SPCA and former Director of Education at the Staten Island Zoo? He is uniquely qualified for this assignment because of his extensive experience with the “human-animal bond!” Ok, we’re not completely sure what that means, so if you want more information on that, contact him directly – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bob received a volley of emails and phone calls requesting his help. Half of them expressed concern for the squirrel’s welfare and the other half for the safety of the two legged cast and crew members. Some suggested calling an exterminator while others offered the loan of a have-a-heart trap.
The following day Bob filed his report. It seems that he had his own have-a-heart trap and arrived early in the morning with a jar of peanut butter. He expected to set the trap and return later to transport the captive to the great outdoors. Upon entering the dark theater he surprised the squirrel in the lobby rehearsing his act for the lunch-time audience. The squirrel immediately remembered the angry mob that chased him the night before and he bolted down the hall and into the dressing room. There he found lots of boxes to hide in.
As Bob entered the dressing room hot on his trail he heard a few rustling sounds under one of the tables. His plan now was to leave the rear door open and close off all doors to other areas of the theater and, with his best house manager etiquette, usher the little guy out through the stage door. The squirrel had another plan, however.
Systematically moving boxes out from under the tables in the dressing room, Bob expected to herd the now shy performer toward to open door. One box after the other was placed out from under the tables. As he turned to take the next storage container, Dr Doolittle heard scratching in the box he had just place in the middle of the room. “Ok”, he thought, “this is going to be easier than I expected.” He gingerly picked up the squirrely box and carried it to the parking lot and closed the theater door. Bob feared that once the secretive actor was out of the box he might end his career crossing the busy street. Not wanting this to be his swan song, the squirrel in the box was moved across the street to a clump of trees for a final curtain call to this limited engagement. Wait! It’s not over yet! Houdini had one more trick in his act!
With each item he removed from the storage box Bob expected the furry jack-in-the-box to pop out and head for the trees. Yet, there it was, the bottom of the bin and no squirrel! Marlin Perkins barely had time for a mild curse when the HP inkjet printer began to boot-up right there on the grass beside him!
Think about it! How much room is there inside an inkjet printer? This is starting to sound like one of those Russian hand-carved sets of eggs, one inside the other, smaller and smaller till you can’t imagine one any smaller. So this must be the end, right? Wrong!
Thinking this would be the final step, Bob flipped open the top of the printer to reveal…
Ink cartridges. That’s it, just ink cartridges! Yet the printer was still making squirrely noises! What next!
Ok, turn the printer over. Nothing underneath! After a few more turns, there it was, a small opening in the rear panel where the printer cord would be stored. Instead of an electric cord there was a piece of gray tail sticking out. No, a foot! Then a face with a pink nose; and more gray fur – animal parts turning! It was like watching a miniature tumble dryer with a live load going round and round inside! With one last courageous move he stuck his finger into the lion’s mouth and pulled open the rear compartment door.
In a split second the bundle of fur shot from his tiny hiding space like a cartoon squirrel barely touching the ground till it reached the first branch of a nearby tree. Surprisingly calm and not at all out of breath, unlike the Center Players’ game warden who was reeling from this wild life capture and release experience, the still ambitious actor turned to Bob and said confidently, “I’m coming to auditions for Charlotte’s Web on June 12th. If I slick down my tail I’ll be perfect for the role of Templeton! Bob called back as the squirrel disappeared up the tree, “You really do have a lot of talent. I’ll put in a good word for you with Charlotte’s director, Debbie Pedretti.”
When interviewed, a passer-by said he overheard Bob talking to a tree; something about breaking a leg. However no one could verify the presence of a talking squirrel. We haven’t heard much from Bob lately. His wife says he’s been working a lot. We hope he’s all right! Leave a message for him here on the blog. Click “comments” at the top of the page. We’re sure he’d appreciate it.
It is true, that when anyone volunteers as an actor, artist, crew member, usher, writer, fundraiser, or any of the myriad of other positions at Center Players, they are treated with kindness and respect. Service to the mission of the theater as well as self-actualization are high priorities. A big part of the “pay” for contributing to the fine theatrical work of Center Players is having fun, socializing with a great group of people, doing what you do best, and learning new skills. Your growth and development helps the theater grow.
Yeah, yeah, we know, “Theater with heart in the heart of the community”. But isn’t this taking it a bit too far? Don’t you think it would have been a lot easier just to call an exterminator? What do you think? Talk to us!