Another rich text from the author of Near the End, Automatic Vaudeville is an experimental fiction in which dream and reality overlap to generate hauntingly suggestive images and states of mind. Shot through with intimations of heartbreak, parting, and the dissolution of sophisticated structures, the imaginary action ranges from California to Central Europe as the narrator drifts through spring at an isolated English country house: Edward Light is always leaving, and Mary Remnant is thinking of someone else. Automatic Vaudeville vividly reflects the paralyzed unease of the early 1970s even as spontaneously arising word-play sparkles and flares in the unexpectedly luminous light.

Michael Smith is an award-winning playwright, director, and theatre critic. For additional information and access to other texts, please visit michaeltownsendsmith.com.

An excerpt from Automatic Vaudeville:

And if they cannot quite remember where they are it is because there is some doubt.

Egress from the backstage workroom is through a tiny door. This obliges me to slither out, carrying with me everything I will need. I promised a spectacular effect. Here is a huge sheet of metal. He can light a grand spectacle from the other side of the world.

I promised to remember everything. It is easier as someone’s assistant. The sequences are intricate but senseless, the electrical fittings inexplicably primitive. One of the women wears wooden shoes. The others are lying on the lawn.

The floor is concrete. I am spoken for. She looks like a creep. I am neat. I am changed. I am chilly. I have put up a panel to make the door even lower.

The baby is in the gardener’s rough shed, which was built between the wars. Much has come down. That wall was too solid. I repaired the step with a movement of the stone.

Sometimes you tell me not to. The baby shrieks. Mary Remnant rises from the lawn. My left hand tingles to the tips. I touch it to your lips.

Images remind me of evil, history. I yield to the frenzy of another opening night: how to control it without killing it. Every other dream escapes. No baby is bored with its mother.

They rise from the lawn. I look elsewhere. My former thoughts fade.

I spoke to Edward Light in the foyer. He stood in the bright open doorway, I in his shadow, and told me anecdotes of his many friends. I was interested not in them but in him. She brushed the leaves from his hair. They took pills and went raving through the streets.

He appeared to me in a dream. I cannot remember anything he said. He smiled and went out, shutting the door behind him.

A bright form seemed to linger in the darkness. Slowly I moved forward, reaching in among the overlapping shadows of my blindness. Frantic breathing echoed from the past. Then I touched the solid door and knew I was alone.

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