The Performance
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Illustration by Mariusz Siergiejew
Worm that Gnaws in the Night

*scratching sounds, tape turning*

J: I can't tell you what the best play I've ever seen is, but I can tell you what's the most memorable performance I ever watched.

I: What was it?

J: The Worm that Gnaws by Orrin Gris, back in '67. I didn't want to be a theatre critic back then.

I: What did you want to be?

J: A 'serious' journalist, writing serious stuff. But I was the youngest reporter and my boss was sending me to things like the sweet potato festival and the crowning of Miss Xochimilco: filler. Bullshit. I couldn't stand it. One time he sends me to see a play and ta-da.

I: I haven't heard of Orrin Gris.

J: You wouldn't. you mind if I smoke?

I: Go ahead.

*sound of lighter flicking open*

I: What was the play about?

J: It was this costumbrist drama, set at the turn of the century. Everyone was dressed in Porfirian costumes. There was a girl and she was pregnant. She wouldn't say who her lover was. The play is spent with the family awaiting the arrival of the man. It ends with him knocking at the door, fade to black. It seemed to me it was an allegory of the hierarchical social structure in Mexico, and our Catholic hang-ups. The lover was probably a poor labourer. The girl was upper-crust. Like I said, melodrama.

I: So it was good?

J: No. Not really. It had some sharp stuff, but Orrin was young. The press package they'd given us showed him looking at the camera, smiling, and it said he was an entomology enthusiast turned writer. As if to prove it, you could see the pinned butterflies in the background. His biggest claim to fame, before the play, had been a thesis on the Mimetic Practices of Insects.

I: Exciting stuff.


J: Yeah, I suppose. He was the son of a movie director and that's how he got a pass into the arts. He was twenty-six, a little daddy's boy and not very good with metaphors.

I: How come you remember the play then?

J: Because he shot the leading man after the performance, then blew his own head off.

*silence as the tapes whirrs*

I: Wow.

J: Can I use that cup as an ashtray?

I: Go ahead. Why did he shoot the actor?

J: Mmm...over Amelia. The leads — and the best thing in the whole play, by the way — were Amelia Corazon and Joaquin Quezada. She was this pretty, sweet young woman. She was also engaged to the playwright. Joaquin was this tall, handsome man. Impossibly good looking. You just couldn't believe it. He looked flawless. Magnetic, to boot. Although...

I: Yes?

J: When we were shaking hands and as I was introduced to him, I remember looking into those dark eyes of his and being repelled.

I: You said he was handsome.

J: He was. Very. But when I was a kid, we used to play in my grandma's garden. We'd move the clay pots and from underneath out would come scampering a bunch of woodlice. I didn't like doing this, but my brother insisted. The woodlice made me itchy just watching them. When I looked into Joaquin's eyes I had the same sensation as I did when I was a kid and the woodlice would appear. I was itchy.

I: I guess Gris mustn't have liked him either.

J: No, they seemed to be good friends. Until, well...he murdered him. What seems to have happened is that Joaquin slept with Amelia. When Orrin found out, he killed him.


J: It was the first time I'd seen a dead body.

I: So you saw it?

J: Yes. During the reception, after the play, Orrin just came out and shot Joaquin Quezada smack in the forehead. I'm standing there with my camera, not knowing what the hell to do. I phone my editor and he says, 'Don't be an idiot, cover it!' and I think, 'This is my chance.' I head back to where the body is, start snapping pictures of the actor and dear God...I look at him and it's just nausea. Just disgust. I threw up right next to the body. That ended my career as a 'serious' writer. They made sure to keep me on the arts beat after that. The joke around the office was I didn't have the stomach for anything else.

I: I can see why the play would be memorable.

J: That's not why it's memorable.

I: No?

J: It's what happened after. A few months later the crime reporter walks by my desk and asks me if I have any background information on Orrin Gris. I do. I have the whole press package still sitting there. I ask him, 'How come you need it' and he says Amelia Corazon just killed herself. She was several months pregnant and Orrin's death had been hard on her. She was depressed and she talked a lot of crazy talk.

I: Like what?

J: She said she had a maggot growing in her belly. Said she was going to carve it out. I suppose she did.

I: Jesus.

J: That's right. Anyway, when I'm going through the press package, I'm flipping through the pages and there is this quote. It's this line from the play. I'd seen it before, but it didn't resonate until then. It says, 'Faces like paper masks conceal the dark. The worm slowly gnaws the heart.' It struck me deeply. I've never been able to forget it and I still think of the performance.

I: It's a pretty line.

J: I suppose.


J: I think about it when I ride the subway, sometimes. This city has what, twenty million people? All those faces rushing past you in the crammed cars, all those people heading from work or to work. Holding on to the rail or waiting outside by the curb. And we never look at their faces, do we? That's why I review musicals. It keeps me happy. The songs, the costumes, the laughter. There's no space for paper masks there.

*long pause*

It's getting dark outside.

I: Yeah.

*tape stops*

The Performance © 2012 Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Worm That Gnaws in the Night © Mariusz Siergiejew