Jul/Aug 2000 Humor/Satire

Mandelbaum Reviewed

by Jack Goodstein


To say that Mandelbaum was upset when he read the review of Arsenic and Old Lace would be an understatement. Not only had the ignoramus of a critic mentioned everyone else in the cast from the "dashing delightful Mortimer" and the "fearsomely farcical Jonathan" to the "endearing Celtic cop,"—not only had he lauded the set design, praised the costumer, and gushed over the lighting—not only had he... but enough! Mandelbaum was furious. And with cause. To have droned on and on and on about the production and never once to have mentioned Mandelbaum's own contribution was an insult of such monstrous proportions that fury was merely the most reasonable immediate response.

Such egregious insult necessarily brooked some stronger retribution.

A stinging letter of rebuke was the first and most obvious thought.

Dear Sir:

Your failure to recognize the elegant
specifics of the performance given by...

But even as he composed the withering missal in his mind, Mandelbaum knew quite well that self praise, no matter how accurate, was not the answer. Something more was called for.

That was when the vision of the offending reviewer bloodied, bruised and beaten crashed carelessly into his mind. Not normally a violent man, despite his bodily hulk, Mandelbaum mulled over broken bones gleefully for a moment, but expectorated the vision almost as quickly as it came, and put his mind to seeking some method of revenge more suited to his own cerebral character.

He imagined the effect he might create bursting into the viper's office and delivering the kind of verbal tongue lashing that would leave him withered and shrunken in shame. This was more like it, Mandelbaum thought. Except that the words necessary for such a tongue lashing lay far beyond his limited abilities; he, after all, was an actor, his facility with words when he did manage to demonstrate it, was with the words of others.

He pictured himself pointing a revolver at the cowering word monger, but he owned neither revolver, nor rifle, not even a cap pistol. Guns frightened him. A knife, he thought, but knives made his flesh crawl. He pictured the hack crushed under the wheels of his car, but Mandelbaum had never learned to drive.

Mandelbaum thought about getting him intoxicated, enticing him into some subterranean chamber and there interring him with freshly laid bricks or even large concrete blocks; he seemed to remember having read something of that sort somewhere. He even went so far as looking through the basement of his apartment house for a suitable nook or cranny, but when it came right down to it, he knew as much about bricklaying as he knew about automobiles. Mandelbaum's huge ham hands had not been often used for any kind of skilled labor.

Poison. Mandelbaum smiled at the writhing body in his mind. He grinned as it clutched at its stomach. He laughed at its coughing blood. And poison Mandelbaum could get. In the supermarket, in the hardware store, in the drug store. Poison was everywhere, there for the taking.

Mandelbaum was happy.

Happy, that is, until into his pleasant dream intruded the realization that revenge is only sweet when the avenger has the pleasure of seeing or at least knowing that the avengee understands that the vengeance has been exacted. An arsenic laced pizza might achieve the desired punitive effect; it might even do so with a certain poetic justice, but what satisfaction would there be did his nemesis fall without ever comprehending that it was Mandelbaum who had exacted this punishment? Without that comprehension what pleasure would there be?

When it came time to leave for the theater for the evening performance, Mandelbaum was no closer to his goal than he had been after reading the offensive critique. As he walked to the subway, he wondered what the others in the cast would say when they saw him. He wondered what he would say in reply.

"How could he omit any mention of your..."

"One man's opinion."

"Critics, what do they..."

"I never read reviews." He would answer and walk as stately as he could in the squatness that was his body to the safety of his dressing room, knowing full well that once he had passed there would be the snickering derision of jealousy.

Their commiseration, their pity was beneath him. Indeed, so too were the opinions of some minuscule minded, aesthetically challenged windbag who, probably as a result of some nepotistic influence, happened to find himself in a position for which he lacked both vocation and qualification. Mandelbaum was above such things: mere flies on the icing of his talent.

And now Mandelbaum understood.

Poison, letters, beatings—these were unnecessary. Revenge was a need for small people. True revenge would be in his art. True revenge would be to show the world the absurdity of the little man's critical evaluation, or in this case the lack thereof, by giving this night and every night, a performance unequaled in the annals of the theatre.

Mandelbaum understood. Mandelbaum's Spinalzo would be a Spinalzo for the ages.


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