The Middle Ages

The play's the thing for sixth-grade thespians

A sixth-grade school play brings out the tiger (and other animals) in 12-year-olds

So they held the school play the other night. I liked it, not just for the theme of kindness to animals but for the vision it offered of a fairer, less-contentious world.

Afterward, we all went out to the loud Mexican joint that is the social centerpiece of many American suburbs. One mom nearly drowned in her fishbowl margarita, that's how celebratory we were.

Lessons learned? Cast parties are the best parties. Always bring a personal flotation device.

The next morning came too quickly, as most mornings do. I told the little guy to just drive himself to school. In our town, not many of the sixth-graders have their own cars yet — a few, but it's rare. In truth, he's a little young to be driving. Yet you have to learn sometime. And actually, I suspect our son will be far more responsible at 12 than he will be at 16.

"Go on, just take the car," I told him.

Meanwhile, the reviews for the sixth-grade play are still pouring in. They have been, as you might suspect, overwhelmingly generous. Me, I detected a few hiccups, but I have an unusually keen eye for failure, being Irish and all.

Even so, the sixth-grade play was an artistic triumph by almost any measure, reflecting months of hard work on the part of kids and parents. There is nothing playful about a stage play. It is a grinding task: memorization, floor marks, stagecraft and a million other little things that can go as wrong as a walrus wedding.

In the movies, school plays usually devolve into fallen scenery, missed cues and angels stuck in the air. In real life, shows generally go more smoothly, and I see even in the giggly hesitations and tremulous line readings an authenticity that is missing from most popular entertainment today.

Truthfully, I'd rather watch 100 school plays than one more Oscar telecast devoted to overly earnest movies no one really wants to see.

In the play, a one-act musical based on "Doctor Dolittle," I detected only a moment or two when one actor stepped on another's line — or worse, his tail. Like I said, the theme was animals, so the costumes were extravagant, even by L.A. standards. And a little too warm. By the end, a gamey pre-pubescent musk hovered over the stage like coal smoke over Victorian London.

You know what they say: the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd ...

It's a wonderful age, 12. I don't know that life ever gets much better — less confusing, maybe, but seldom better.

At 12, baseball is best, and so is friendship. At school, the opposite sex is there, ghostly and impossible to grab. Hormones, big as melon balls, have just started pinging them in the brain, making them a little goofy, but 12-year-olds are still essentially children — good-hearted and well-meaning. A little sweet still. They cry over stupid stuff, especially the boys, who seem more emotional than the girls.

In a year or two, that will change. The boys will toughen up, and so will the girls. They will all start to turn into little me-creatures, more concerned with friends than family. They'll become frightfully self-conscious, unable to pass a reflective surface — a refrigerator, the fender of a Tesla — without checking out their bangs.

Blame it on the melon balls, bombarding their brains.

You know, when Posh and I had children, it was both too early and too late. With the first, we weren't quite ready. With the last, we were painfully over-qualified. But, even when you've been through it all before, you're still blown away by how fast they grow up. Like tulips around a windmill.

At the cast party, one of the parents looked over at a table full of 12-year-olds, raised his arms like a Southern preacher and ordered them to "just stop" — to quit growing, to stay as they are in that moment.

The lessons? Life blasts by. Bring a helmet.

They were a glowing sight in the restaurant, bunched like puppies, some still in their costumes from the show. The little guy still had the tiger stripes I'd painted on his face. It's round like his mother's.

I'd painted him up for dress rehearsal, then again before the evening show. I don't know an eyebrow pencil from a glue stick, but somehow it all turned out OK.

And one stripe at a time, the boy became a tiger.

twitter: @erskinetimes

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times