There is a five-word sentence that all stage actors learn very early in their careers.
No, it isn't, "Want some fries with that?" It's, "The show must go on."
So when Daniel Breaker was running a 104-degree fever about noon on Thursday, seven hours before he was due to play Puck in the Shakespeare Theatre's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," drastic measures were called for.
"We thought about canceling for about a half a second," said Jef Hall-Flavin, who directed the show. "But the prospect of canceling, we just don't do that. We do anything we can to make the show go forward. Too many people are counting on it."
This is exactly why God created understudies, but the Shakespeare Theatre doesn't have them for its free summer shows at Carter Barron Amphitheatre. With only 10 performances, it isn't worth it. Looking around town for an actor who knew the part was briefly considered, as was bringing down a hired gun from New York.
"But, honestly," Jef said, "the best option was me."
That is how the Shakespeare Theatre's 35-year-old associate director found himself stepping in front of an audience for the first time since 1997, which is when he last acted in a performance.
"I played the Boy in 'Three Tall Women,' an Edward Albee play. . . ," Jef said. "That was a role where I sat onstage for 20 minutes and didn't say anything."
That's not a luxury Jef had as Puck, the mischievous sprite who propels the action in Shakespeare's comedy about a feuding fairy king and queen and two pairs of star-crossed human lovers. Puck has some of the play's most memorable lines, including the ever-popular "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (No less true today than it was when the Bard wrote it 400 years ago.)
Jef printed out a script. He tried on the costume -- except for the shoes, it fit perfectly -- and the stage manager jotted down a cheat sheet: where to go after each exit, when to change costumes and what props to remember to carry onstage.
And then it was showtime.
I figured that knowing where to walk on stage -- the blocking -- must have been easy for Jef, since he was responsible for recording it when he assisted director Mark Lamos in the original production at the Lansburgh Theatre. Not necessarily.
"It's a mirror image," he said. "I'm used to looking at the stage one way. It's exactly backward to that. . . . The entrances and exits took some thought."
Then there was the script. How can you memorize all those "forsooths" and "anons" in a few hours?
"The words are actually quite familiar by the time we open," said Jef. "We've discussed meaning and motivation. . . . It's not a mystery to us. It is complex language, but our job is to make it understandable. In so doing, we have to know it."
He did falter every now and then, and when he did he used that old actor's trick: "We just pretended like nothing was wrong. I wonder if anyone even knew what I screwed up."
My family saw Jef on Saturday night, his third performance filling in for Daniel. The play was wonderful. And Puck? Well, some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them when one of their leading actors has a 104-degree fever.
I asked Jef what he was thinking after the show ended on Saturday and he took his bow.
"I've never taken a curtain call in front of 3,500 people, and that was really stunning. The experience was very rewarding, and what was going through my head was, 'I hope Daniel's better tomorrow.' "
Hitting the Showers
Dupree Johnson is 32, a plumber who works at George Washington University and lives in Forestville. When he was a lot younger, he lived in the District with his mother, across the alley from Family and Child Services. She heard they ran a summer camp and decided that's exactly what Dupree needed. She took him to McCrory's, bought him a sleeping bag, and before he knew it, he was on a bus bound for Camp Moss Hollow.
"That's the only time I went camping," Dupree told me, when we were both at Moss Hollow a few weeks ago.
I was there looking for story ideas. He was there to work on the camp's showers. He'd volunteered to turn four group showers into eight single showers, a task that would take several weekends.
He'd taken a break for lunch and was looking at the group photos hung on the walls of the dining hall, wondering if he might spot himself as he was 20 years ago.
"It's the first time I ever saw a snake," he said. First time he had a s'more, took a nature hike, slept in a tent. . . .
"Inner-city kids, their parents don't have the time," Dupree said. "This program helps elevate them."
What did he tell his mom after his time at camp?
"I know that when I came back, I talked a hole in her head."
Our goal is $650,000. So far we've raised $21,227.60. Here's how you can make a tax-deductible contribution:
Make a check or money order payable to "Send a Kid to Camp" and mail it to Family and Child Services, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.
To contribute online, go to www.washingtonpost.com/johnkelly. Click on the icon that says, "Make a Donation."