I barely notice the two masks outside the building. One laughs at me. The other cries.
We walk at a distance behind the couple in front of us. Maybe they just stepped into public after being released from prison — not sure how to interact with society. Hands in pockets, looking left, then right, my wife and I feel the same way. We’re both a little giddy.
The box office woman welcomes us with a glowing smile. Although she’s masked up, I can tell by her eyes she is as happy to see us as we are to be there.
She checks our electronic tickets, then invites us through timber doors. The soft-lit room reminds me of shows from years past, a welcome déjà vu.
A guest spins around from the bar with four full glasses balanced between her fingers. She delivers the wine to her group at the round table nearest the stage.
Looking around, it’s real 3-D — from the foot of the stage to the red-furled curtain that hides the back wall. The unfamiliar height and depth seem strange compared to the walls of the 12 X 12 rooms where we’ve hibernated for so long.
Behind the stage a huge picture welcomes us to Las Vegas. My heart jumps a beat, but I am sure I am still in Delaware.
Look at the bottle of water on the empty stool next to the mic-stand waiting for a human voice to bring it to life. Live comedy starts in 15 minutes. Pinch me. It’s gotta be a dream.
My wife had forwarded me a text from the local theater the day before. “Do you want to go?”
I considered her question rhetorical. It didn’t matter if the comedians read the appendix from a science book, as long as it was live entertainment. And we were going on the date. “Maybe we’ll hold hands,” I wrote back.
The background music (I forgot it existed) creates a great atmosphere to people-watch as strangers assemble in a public place for the first time, even with the tables so far apart.
They dim the lights and lower the music for all 22 patrons to welcome the MC as he hops the steps to center stage.
His introduction is rusty, but so is our applause. We’ll get there.
The first three acts earn chuckles with well-timed one liners. And each offers a different pandemic experience before the headliner takes the stage.
We’ve never heard of him, but his natural stage-presence captivates the crowd. He opens by humbly thanking us for coming out to his first show since the “Beforetime.”
Briefly acknowledging the pain from the past year without saying “pandemic” or “virus”, he would rather talk about life before we put our lives on hold.
He has no one-liners, only stories about everyday life. The previous chortles evolve into a well-paced rhythm of laughter as he tunes into the crowd, connecting life experiences that relate to us. Babies, kids, the Gulf War, Florida. It doesn’t matter the topic. Around the room, permanent smiles wait for the next punchline.
A few times he pauses to review a handwritten note. Nobody cares. His act goes longer than anyone expects. When he’s almost done, he checks the scrap paper in his pocket again.
“I had two other stories, but they’re too long for tonight,” he says. We beg him for more. Nobody wants to leave.
Finally the lights go on. One woman line dances backwards to the goodbye music as she makes her way to the bathroom with a mask on. There’s no rush for the door. It’s been so long since we’ve had a night out…
… since the Beforetime.
We survived 9/11 and the Gulf War. Our parents survived the Gas Crisis, Vietnam, and Korea. Our grandparents the Second World War. They walked uphill to school, both ways, in the snow.
Soon our children will tell their grandchildren about 2020. They didn’t go to school, even on sunny days. Or they wore masks in class for seven hours straight. You wouldn’t believe.
I remember watching the plane crash into the tower a thousand times one day a long time ago. The man next to me at the bar said, “The world will never be the same.”
On October 30th George Bush walked out to the mound to throw out the first pitch at the Yankees game. We held our breath as he offered the country a flicker of hope.
Leaving the theater, three lanterns give a warm glow to the gold masks on the wall.
Melpomene represents tragedy. We’ve had enough of that. Thalia, the Muse of Comedy, smiles wide. Hopefully, this is just her first show of many for the foreseeable future.
A sign welcomes visitors to The Candlelight Theater. And if you look closely, a tiny flame serves as the dot above the “i” in Candlelight.
This little theater, built in a bucolic artists colony, has entertained audiences for over fifty years, surviving the good times and bad.
Today it breathed again, a flicker of hope for better days to come.
On the way home, a Foreigner song plays on the 80s channel. It reminds me of one of their original hits, “Feels Like the First Time.”
I reach for my wife’s hand. She squeezes mine back.
It feels like the Beforetime.