Back in 1999, my mom and my older brother John acted in a community theater production of The Ugly Duckling. It didn’t click until fairly recently, while watching an interview on Letterman, that they shared the stage with an up-and-coming celebrity.
Aubrey Plaza, for those who don’t know, plays April Ludgate, a government office worker on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. She also recently starred in the critically acclaimed film Safety Not Guaranteed. Notably (or perhaps not), she’s from my home state of Delaware.
Delaware rarely produces famous people, so when it does, we lose our collective mind, all of us claiming undue ownership of whatever scrapings of our hometown hero’s narrative we can find (“I used to drive past Ryan Phillippe’s mom’s house all the time” or “Judge Reinhold used to ride his bike in a park that I have also been to” or “Joe Biden has really soft hands”). We make ourselves into extras in the proverbial films of minor celebrities’ lives. It’s kind of pathetic, I guess, but it happens so infrequently that it doesn’t really matter.
So what the hell, let’s do this thing.
Coming home from dress rehearsal one night, Mom and John, still chuckling, told me about how the cast, in full costume and makeup, had marched down the street to McDonald’s and asked for People McNuggets. The guy at the register looked at them dumbly for a moment before suggesting that perhaps they wanted Chicken McNuggets, to which they responded by squawking and flapping their arms. This story still vicariously embarrasses me a little bit, but I probably get embarrassed too easily. That, among other reasons, is why I am not an actor.
Supposedly, 15-year-old Aubrey Plaza orchestrated that episode, but neither my mom nor John remembered it that way. That’s not to suggest it isn’t true. It just, for them, didn’t live on as a Plaza Signature Event, and I don’t want to retroactively assign importance to someone who, until recently, Mom and John knew simply as one of two girls named Aubrey in the cast. It probably was her idea; she’s been known to pull the occasional prank.
Aubrey isn’t the star of the play, but if you want to think of her that way, go ahead. There’s a movie called The Prisoner that supposedly stars Jackie Chan, but Jackie Chan is in it for probably less than ten minutes. What was I talking about? Oh, something about how Aubrey Plaza isn’t the star, but whatever, sure she is.
I won’t editorialize too much on the play, as its brilliance clearly speaks for itself. The cinematic eye, too, the sensitivity and artistry with which it was immortalized on VHS—such a triumph.
John played a duckling. Mom was the mother duck. Below is the play in its entirety. They’ll never forgive me for this.
I was 12 years old at the time. My brother Alex and I watched from the front row through holes we punched in our programs, held to our faces like masks. We were trying to make the actors crack up. Mom yelled at us for it later. We deserved it.