George On My Mind
English teacher Mrs. Simmons, who was directing the winter theater production of Our Town, insisted that everybody in her Honors Class participate in some way - by auditioning or volunteering in the crew and management team.
Rawley was no actor but he decided to try out anyway, especially when he found out that his secret crush Kim Wallace was auditioning too. Rawley'ss secret fantasy was that Kim would be cast as Emily Webb and he'd get the part of Emily's love interest, George Gibbs.
As it turned out, Emily did get the part of Sweet Emily but Rawley ended up playing her kid brother Wally who makes an early exit when he dies of a ruptured appendix while on a camping trip.
As fate would have it, everybody's heartthrob Jerry Dowd got the part of George Gibbs and he became the lucky stiff who got to play lovey-dovey with Kim as Emily.
Most of the students thought Thorton Wilder's play was outdated and corny but Rawley liked the theme of life and death in a small American town and he agreed with Mrs. Simmons' sentiment that the classic play was timeless in its message and meaning.
"We're seventeen, Rawls," Kim said in response to his comments on death. "We don't plan on dying for a long time."
"Tell it to the kids at Parkland," Rawley replied. "This flu season is already a killer and it's only February. Who's to say one of us won't get some fatal string?"
"That stuff doesn't happen anymore," Kim insisted.
Although Jerry Dowd was perfect for the role of the All-American George Gibbs in looks and talent, he was a pain in the ass when it came to committing himself to the project. He was Captain of the basketball team that was going to the playoffs and that was his first priority. Jerry also didn't seem to be taking the production all that seriously, spending most of his rehearsal time showboating, flirting, and hogging all the attention as star of the show.
Rawley didn't care about Jerry except how he related to Kim (as George and Emily). Jerry's lack of interest (and attendance) made it hard on Emily so Rawley took it upon himself to learn George's lines as well as Wally's and whenever Jerry was a no-show, Rawley volunteered to stand in so Emily could do her lines.
"Mr. Higgins, kept this between you and me, but you're the official understudy for George Gibbs," Mrs. Simmons told him one afternoon. "If our hero Mr. Dowd is unable to fulfil his commitment for any reason including me dismissing him, you will be our George."
The idea both thrilled and terrorized Rawley but the bottom line was he didn't worry about what could happen as long as he was spending quality time with Kim. Jerry was a much better actor with obvious stage charisma and when he showed up to enchant his fellow cast members and Mrs. Simmons.
Kim played off Jerry's George much better as Emily than she did with Rawley filling in but at least Rawley was there to support her. When Jerry was around, Kim tended to be upstaged by Jerry's personality and his aura but when Rawley was pinch hitting Kim got the attention – and Rawley's undying encouragement, attention, and cheer.
Kim appreciated Rawley's favoritism, kindness, loyalty and devotion and as the rehearsals went on the two developed a friendship, although Rawley quickly became the third wheel whenever Jerry honored the group with his presence.
"He is a fake, arrogant self-centered, self-serving blowhard," Rawley couldn't help but point out to Kim after Jerry held court during one rehearsal.
"He can be a little over the top," Kim acknowledged in a rare criticism of her co-star.
Rawley knew he couldn't compete with the personality and popularity of Jerry Dowd so he became a resident expert and booster of the play instead, continually trying to impress Kim with his insights and swaying her with his interpretation of what Wilder was trying to emphasize.
"It might help you understand Emily better if you could relate to the play's theme more," Rawley told Kim one afternoon as they sat on folding chairs running lines together.
"The play was written in 1937, Rawls," Kim frowned. "Back in the day of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney dancing and singing together. The days of Andy Hardy are long gone. We're rapping and hip hopping now. We're in charge of our own destiny these days."
"There are still the basics of life that know no era," Rawley argued.
"Such as?" An amused Kim wanted to know.
"Love and death to start," Rawley reasoned. "Change for another. Look how things change in three acts of this play. Nothing is permanent. People age. People die."
"You seem to have a fatalistic outlook on life there, Wally Webb," Kim grinned.
"I'm just being realistic and appreciating the meaning of the play," Rawley shrugged. "Don't you think Hillsboro is a little like Grover's Corners?"
"Maybe a little," Kim acknowledged.
"People are nice here, just like there," Rawley said. "But life doesn't always work out the way we hope."
"Would you rather be Wally or George?" Kim asked.
"You mean as part of the production or in real life?" Rawley wondered.
"In real life."
"Couldn't I be both?" Rawley wondered. "A kind brother and a guy someone would want to marry?"
"Emily's kind of depressing in that department," Kim noted.
"That's because she's still maturing," Rawley reasoned. "Figuring it out. She's young, just like us.'
"And she dies young," Kim complained. "That's a bummer too."
"That's my point," Rawley remarked. "Life is beautiful and heartbreaking almost at the same time. Life is fleeting so we should live each day as if it is our last, appreciating each moment."
"Are you seventeen or forty-seven, Rawls?" Kim grinned. "Don't you think the play is old fashioned? Traditional? Stereotypical?"
"Love is timeless," Rawley replied.
"I didn't realize you were a romantic, Rawls," Kim smiled.
"Why did you try out then?" Rawley wanted to know. "If you think this is all silly?"
"I didn't say it was silly," Kim said defensively, holding the script she had in her hand up in the air. "I like acting. I wanted to audition."
"You don't mind playing a small town girl?"
"Well, I am a small town girl, aren't I?" She smiled. "You said so yourself."
"I meant it as a compliment."
"Are you having fun?" Rawley asked hopefully.
"You mean other than having to memorize endless pages of dialogue, the stage directions and blocking, hearing daily notes, showing up for the intense rehearsals, and working with a lead actor who's never here?" Kim asked. "Sure, this is a blast."
"Well, I'm having fun," Rawley said.
"I'm having fun, Rawls," she told him. "Don't be so sensitive."
"I just think this important stuff," Rawley replied. "It's a serious topic. Life. Love. Death."
"I admire your convictions and compassion," Kim replied. "I'm glad you're here. You make this fun."
Rawley smiled with relief. "I am too," he said.