Apr 25, 2011

trauma and nostalgia at the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

When my sister told me that she had three free tickets for the SecondStory Repertory's production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, (through April 30th; see it!) I was cautiously pessimistic. I was a little worried that the trauma of past failures would keep me from fully enjoying the show's irreverent sendup of the nerdiest of nerd pastimes.

When she said that she wanted to volunteer me to take part in the Bee, though, my whole attitude changed. All of a sudden it became yet another nerdy adventure--I've recently had a few--and a chance to re-experience the trauma firsthand.

So of course I said yes.

Upon signing up to be one of four non-actor contestants, I was given three simple instructions:

1. Always ask for a definition.
2. Always ask for the word to be used in a sentence.
3. Don't act.

The first two were essential to set up jokes. The third instruction was to ensure the right contrast between the actors and the amateurs. If I had attempted to ham it up--and believe me, the temptation was real--I might've spoiled the show. So I didn't act.

I just spelled.

The first word was easy: "xanadu." My only concern was that I'd make a silly mistake and screw up--my pulse raced, my voice broke a little at the end, but I nailed it. I didn't expect real nerves for a fake bee, but there they were.

The second was easier: "putsch." Also easy. I had encountered it in a real bee back in the late 80s, and I believe I misspelled it then. No way I would fail this time.

I forget the third word, which I spelled right, either because it wasn't a real word, or I was darned lucky. (It was an Irish something, starts with a K, and I can't find it in my unabridged Webster's.)

I figured it was my time to exit the show when I was called up immediately afterward. Lo and behold, I went out on "pheochromocytoma," which I heard wrong, starting with a T, so they sounded the fateful bell, leading to the hug and serenade and juice box from Mitch.

At least I was the last non-actor standing. Ignominious defeat never felt so good.

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