A guy sitting next to me in a college class said: “I’m going to audition for a campus play, let’s go!” The new me said: “Sure. Sounds like fun!” The old, too-cool-for-high-school me would have come up with a dozen fictional excuses. (Acting galore in life, not on stage.) I auditioned, was cast and rehearsed.

The play is both obscure and romantic, set in the 19th century. High in a foggy European castle. It involves a beautiful queen, an assassin and dueling pistols. It was called “The Eagle With Two Heads.” Prior to the play’s beginning, a king had shot an eagle out of the sky. When he goes to retrieve it, he is surprised to find that it only has one head. (All the eagles in the coin of his realm had two.)

I memorized lines and cues. I avoided bumping into the furniture. On my entrance I was to question the queen, who was mourning her husband’s loss. A unexpected chance to enter, play a scene and go to the cast party. (The woman who played the queen was beautiful.)

I was to be escorted on stage by a servant who (in the play) was a deaf mute. On opening night, I turned back in the dimly lit closet-like area of backstage, and told my friend I couldn’t go “out there.” I remembered nothing of what I was supposed to say or do. (No kidding, I was smack in the midst of stage fright.) Not a deaf mute in life, he reached by me, pushed open the painted door and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll think of it. Let’s go,” and backward into my first stage entrance, voila.

No lie – I felt on the edge of a high cliff, was sweaty wet and my eyes all blurry. Fear irrelevant, I did remember; it wasn’t the silent disaster I’d been sure would follow. After the curtain call, stage fright changed to be stage struck.

I loved it. I was told I looked cool, surprisingly good, I felt in control of the audience. My character was manipulative and political. I’m typically neither, but it was swaggering fun to walk in this sleazeball’s boots. Some say that villains are among the most fun roles to play, and first time out I got to play this one.

Because the play was set in a 19th-century remote, high mountain aerie, there were dueling pistols and poison before the final curtain. Two regal characters were soon dead. We wore tailored period costumes. I had handsome boots, carried a riding crop and wore a cape over my shoulder. Props, sets, costumes, I got lucky, having been pushed backward into what turned out to be a magical world complete with queens, assassins and intrigue.

Dissolve to years later I accepted an invitation to go to Nigeria as a visiting theater director. Without hesitation, I agreed: “Let’s go!” While there I was told of the Yoruba myth that when you go backward through a portal, you run the risk of going back in time.

Almost a Rod Serling story. I swear it happened to me.

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