Ash Fork Madness©️
Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
copyright 2019 Nana Cook and Charlotte Madison
The stage lights rose and the sight I beheld was beyond all my expectations. Under a stand of old juniper trees a father and his two young children were quietly sitting in the moonlight around a flickering camp fire while off in the hills a coyote yowled. From out of the shadowed night three grizzled old rock doodlers appeared and as they began to weave the tale of Ash Fork the tableau came to life.
Apparitions from Ash Fork’s past slowly materialized from amid the junipers and moved close to the fire where the father welcomed them all with song, while a beautiful young Mexican girl danced, her sequined fiesta skirt flashing in the firelight. The songs of the first act drew the audience into the chorus, We’re Friends and Neighbours, lyrics they found in their programs.
The Act Two brought the Mail Order Brides dressed in flower trimmed gowns and veils. They stepped down from the bright red stagecoach and waltzed into the arms of their handsome grooms.
Act Three In a quarry of real flagstone, my tall brawny rock doodlers sang like Caruso and danced like Gene Kelly.
In Act Four wild young girls, clad in cotton and lace under things sang complaints, passed behind a diaphanous Chinese screen and transformed themselves into starched and stockinged, prim and proper, uniformed young women — the Harvey Girls, dominated by the Housemother.
I lived each word spoken and every song sung, transfixed by the outpouring of talent.
As Act IV ended a fire-bell clanged and the door to the rear left of the audience was thrown wide open. There silhouetted against the setting sun stood the imposing Kaibab Fire Chief, lieutenantt colonel Sally Carrol. She blew an ear splitting whistle, and with the voice of military authority, shouted commands to her troops. She marched them with tattoo precision, up the steps, into the brilliant lighting of centre stage. For the first time I was seeing our gal Sal in her professional mode — tweaked by Madness. She and her brigade wore their own military uniforms, some in army boots and some in hip-waders, all accented with green camouflage papier-mâché fire-hats — all but the dimwitted Irish foil who wore a paddy green fire-hat trimmed with hot pink, as she felt some allegiance to the Ash Fork brigade She lacked status with the military group, as she was not a veteran herself, only married to a military officer. Because of her low rank she carried in the brigade’s fire hose and the neon red, papier-mâché fire hydrant!
No sooner had the audience recovered from the sight of these women when another whistle blew. This time to the right of the audience. The Ash Fork Ladies Volunteer Fire Brigade in florescent pink papier-mâché fire hats and hip waders ran squealing through the theatre and up the stairs to the stage. They were led by the bath-brush wielding, Ash Fork Volunteer Fire Chief Pat Witted who was wrapped in a bath sheet with a soap ball hanging over her bare shoulders.
She was followed by a succession of women caught “off guard” on a Saturday night — not the least being the “Blonde” who shimmered in silver lame, bell bottom pants and matching, fringed short top. She moved like liquid light and between choruses exchanged slashing repartee with “those pushy military women.
The brigades had kept a few surprises for me and I was totally amazed, as were friends and neighbors in the audience, when Pat, the Ash Fork Chief dropped her bath sheet to reveal a hot pink bikini. As the two brigades drew together for the chorus line kick, a plant in the audience dressed in proper fire-fighting gear and spouting chauvinistic rhetoric left his seat, roared down the centre aisle and stood before the stage — he was one of Ash Fork’s real volunteer firemen!
The women wound up their chorus line kick with:
“We’ll come running to your fire — when you ring our bell.” Bong! They rang a large mission bell as they picked up their buckets filled with confetti and flung the contents at the audience. But it was buckets of cold water that hit the fireman!
The audience went wild and the cast burst forth with the laughter and joy of conquest and achievement.
From a little island kissed by the ocean to a tiny high desert town seared by the sun, Ray and Virginia Newman’s music and creativity had survived the adaptation and exploded on stage once more.
Amid thunderous applause threatening to bring down the walls, the Fire Chiefs called me up on stage to join the cast.
I don’t remember climbing the stairs to the stage, but I remember the cheers, smiles and laughter and my arms overflowing with dozens of long stemmed dark red roses given to me by the loving cast and crew. As the audience continued to applaud, my family joined us on stage. I leaned against G.B. and he kissed me. Looking into his sweet face I remembered our first kiss in the cinder pit and the day I was a stranger in this little town.