One year, my monkey played a part in the Christmas opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors”, a story of the miraculous healing of the boy, Amahl, when he helped the three kings to find Jesus.
My monkey was involved in a different kind of Christmas miracle.
Each night I had to check in with this richly dressed, three-pound monkey, 23 inches long from head to the tip of her tail. When her music cue sounded, I handed her off to an actor, and talked to the stagehands while I awaited her return. One night they told me about the last time there had been a live monkey in a performance at the Kennedy Center. It was back when stage scenery was lowered into place, and then lifted for scene changes, with the help of huge sand bag counterweights. The monkey, which weighed around twenty pounds, got loose and started jumping into the scenery panels. From there, he swang onto the sandbags, chaotically lifting and lowering scenery panels during the performance. Some he dropped, with resounding thuds and crashes. Some he ripped. One or two escaped damage, as he careened from the back stage area to the main theater work area. He was said to have gotten loose outside, with possible help from a stagehand who opened a door.
“We couldn’t believe they would let another monkey in here!” the stagehand declared.
I felt the call to reassure. I explained why this would not happen again – why this could not happen this time. We had engineered success into this venture. We had secured the monkey.
In the story, the monkey was owned by one of the three kings, wearing silver and gold and fake leopard skins, just like him. She was carried by his slave, a young actor who was very preoccupied by his part and duties in this grand opera performed at the Kennedy Center. The monkey was on a leash that had one of those plunger connectors. The plunger connector secured the monkey to the actor when it was pushed into a socket sewed onto his costume. This way, he did not have to use his hands and hold onto her leash, and possibly, accidentally, let her go loose in the theater. Another socket was attached to a basket on stage. The basket held a comfy bed. Once the slave marched on stage, he disconnected the monkey from his costume and connected her to the basket. From the basket, she would regard the audience, flirt with the actors, and generally do her part to make the production something very special. And, no one needed to watch over her because she was safely attached to this large, unmovable basket. Elegant idea, no?
No! I mean it was, until the unthinkable happened. The plunger connector broke. And the slave, not used to paying any attention to the monkey, continued to pay no attention to the monkey. He marched her onstage, straight to the basket. He extended his arm and she gracefully danced down his arm and into her basket bed. Then he left. He left without even tying her into the basket.
“Ai-yi-yi!” One of the stagehands hissed at me, back stage. “Your monkey is loose!”
“It just looks that way. See. She is attached to that basket with a leash. ”
“Then why is she climbing on the fireplace?”
So I prayed the emergency short prayer: “Oh my God!” Then I ran to the entrance to the audience side.
I saw a little monkey, climbing happily all over the fireplace. She rearranged the mantle. She checked out the taste of the fake fruit. She checked out the taste of the sulphur heads of the long matches. She chittered at the young boy who was the star of the show. They adored one another and she seemed puzzled that he didn’t stop to talk to her now. Although young, he was professional, and showed but a hint of surprise when he saw she was loose.
The audience also noted that the monkey was loose. They did not seem to think that was strange. But, being loose, she was much more active and distracting than normally, and they laughed a little more than normally. She became a bit restless. Thank God it was time for the sleeping scene. The boy would soon lie down before the fireplace, and draw a blanket over himself. Maybe she would decide to go to bed. Maybe I could quietly call her off stage from behind the scenes.
But then again, maybe not. She did not go to the basket. Instead, as she often did at home, she went to the foot of the boy’s bed and lay down. After a surprised glance, he accepted her presence. She nestled under the covers. Then he lay down, pulling the covers over his shoulders – pulling them right off her! She bounced up with an indignant chuff. She grabbed the edge of the covers and popped down again, pulling them off his shoulders. “Hey!” he exclaimed, popping up to grab the covers, and pulling them back again. She jumped up again. She yanked those covers back into their rightful place. It served him right that he was now exposed. Again. This time, he did not pop up, but rather reached down and grabbed the cover’s edge, and pulled it back – but just a bit. He left her some too. And so she remained quietly in place.
That is, until the scene was over. She saw the slave come and go. But, she was not attached to the basket and he did not try to take her out. She looked after him with bewilderment. She stood alone, mid stage, surveying all with a lost look. I heard people go “awwww”. But that is all I heard. I dashed into action, making my way backstage as fast as possible without starting a stampede (not good to run in a theater…). From the wings, I called quietly to her. She started, and then began to come straight toward me. In another moment, she was back on my shoulder and I was reassuring her and commiserating about the blanket. I praised her good behavior and sense. More to the point, I gave her chocolate!
She died two years ago, soon after Christmas, at the age of 32. I miss her deeply, But, she left me a gift that never runs out: memories of our shared Christmases. She left me the memory of the miraculous night. The night when Amahl had a second night visitor. A night when the loose monkey at the Kennedy Center is remembered for causing NO mischief. Well, just a little. She stole a blanket!