Red Peppers, a Quest for Noel Coward's script

I woke up with Red Peppers on the brain. Not the kind suitable for eating, dear Readers; the play.

I recall my mother telling me about performing in Red Peppers. It is a warm, fuzzy memory, the likes of which make you immediately think, “wow, why in the hell did I grow up?” The topic came up during some sort of play that I was working (or perhaps it was one of her productions that I was acting in?) We lived in California at the time. Perhaps my father was still employed at Paramount, perhaps he had moved on to Hannon Engineering. Who is to say? I can’t recall it. I have no intention of calling Mum to ask. Much too early in the morning (two hour difference between us.)

Let’s jump into our Way, Way Back Machine, preset to the 1970’s or early 1980’s. She hands me the tattered remains of what was once a working script. Noel Coward’s name is fading from the cover and the pages themselves bear the brunt of an actor’s touch.

There was a feeling of connectivity then, standing in their library and grasping something that my mother once used in her Younger Days before she gave up her career to raise me (promise to God, complex, to be explained someday.) Her lines were not highlighted. There were notes scribbled in the margins as well as blocking. It had the scent of old makeup and cigarette smoke. The paper, aged and soft, had the occasional gritty speck stashed between the pages. I imagined a much younger Mum, the sort that would toss the script onto the apron during a rehearsal thereby permitting the particles to embed themselves.

Wow, my mother performed this, I thought to myself, and then added for good measure, in front of people in a theatre.

To this day I have but one regret: I have never seen my mother perform. She was instructing and directing by the time that I came along. She has recited lines for me (such as the Red Peppers moment) and I always found myself to be dumbfounded by her knack of getting quickly into character, to step into a role that she had not embraced in over “a million” years. I was immeasurably proud of her during those moments.

Accents. “A Southern accent is infectious and can ruin an entire show.” It is sage advice from a woman who understands her craft better than most people know their own navels. My mother ran through a few lines (by memory) using a flawless Cockney (or East Ender) accent. The script begs for it. I was duly impressed as I stood in her library.

This is the point where I would insert a bit of dialog in order to give you a peek into Red Peppers. I would like to. I can’t find the lines anywhere.

Pickabook offers: Thisitem is not a usual stock item, but we can try to source it. Our price includes a finder's fee of £2.00 per copy. The usual dispatch time is 4-6 weeks.

No shit, Sherlock. I spent a good hour Googling in hopes of finding a snippet of lines from the script. Class and wit have been replaced by talking vaginas and cuckold men (my apologies to my NOW friends and family.)

Samuel French did have a copy and a short synopsis of the play.
One of the "Tonight At 8:30" series produced in London and New York. Doing a song and dance act in a vaudeville theatre are George Pepper and his wife, Lily. They also have a genius for picking quarrels and insulting co workers. When the house musical director, Bert, comes to the dressing room to bum a cigarette and a beer, they chide him for accompanying them in the wrong tempo, call him a drunk, and oust him. Mr. Edwards, house manager, comes to defend Bert, and he is insulted. At the following show Bert had his revenge when he plays the accompaniment so fast the Peppers get frantic and finally fall down. Lily stalks off the stage after heaving her hat at Bert. Also published in Tonight at8:30.
FEE: $35 per performance. Sheet Music (2 songs), $1.25 each.

La te da, Samuel French. (It's located in Key West. No, not Samuel French. La Te Da.)

I'd like to know some of the lines. I'd like to touch upon a memory. There is only one thing for it: Call Mum.

“Hello,” says my mother and I detect a hint of curiosity in her voice. It’s noon here and I am actually out of bed. Did the house catch fire? Am I in the hospital dying from typhoid? Did we win the lottery?

Detour moment:
I never call her early in the day. I always manage to call her towards the end of the day, as if she were nothing but an afterthought to my busy (NOT) day. This is not the case, dear Readers. My mother is not an afterthought. She is writing a book and I do not wish to disturb her. Also, Better Half drives me nucking futs during the day and I seem unable to string two words together without him shouting at some animal or another.


Jebus Crisp, Better Half! “Better HALF! BETTER HALF. Shush! SHUSH! SSSHHHUSH, I’m on the damned phone”. Thus go my days.

I have a sweet friend who also is cursed with oft-impish fur children. He will politely say, “Simba, get down. Mummy’s on the phone.” So elegant. I sometimes dread calling Michael for fear that Better Half will spontaneously explode from the sound of his own voice.


I would then have to apologize to Michael and offer to pay for his now-ruptured eardrums, hang up the phone and grab the mop and towels before the neighbors notice the red goop trickling down the walls.

Back to my mother:

“Hello,” says my mother and I detect a hint of curiosity in her voice.

“Hey, do you remember Red Peppers?”


“Didn’t you and Dad do that one?”


“Wasn’t there a song in there?”

“Yes… hmm.” She sings some lyrics.

I laugh. Her memory is phenomenal. She goes into lines.
George: Now then.
Lily: Now then what?

She runs the dialog too quickly for me to type out beyond that. She runs it with the Cockney accent (very soft but still there), accurately portraying both characters as they react to each other. She laughs; she can’t remember any further.

“If Dad were here, we could run the lines for you,” she adds. (He is at the dentist today.)

I can feel her smiling as she says, “I directed your Dad in New York [City] with Peggy, and then I performed it with Dad in California.” It has been forty-two years (at the very least) since they performed ‘Red Peppers’. She still remembers.

I cast my mind about for lines from any productions that I’ve been in, reaching far back into my thirty-seven year old memory cache. It’s not impressive compared to Mum’s cache. (I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast, where I left the dog and my own age.)

Lines? I have the ability to remember those. Perhaps it is a gift from Mum.

My first thought is The Decision. I remember the entire script, and I do mean the entire script. Every line. It’s a three-act play. Three hours of lines. I was in every scene; my father initially played the role.
This trial is one of great decision on your part. The accused is not present at this hearing. I have been assured by his counselor that the defendant will be watching these entire proceedings.

I am prepared to present to you many witnesses to prove the accused is guilty of having misled and confused millions of innocent people. In actuality, it is not so much the defendant who is on trial here, but rather it is his lunatic ideals that his followers have plagued mankind with…
I remember things from high school and earlier – first grade at St. Rose of Lima Elementary, we did a production called The Five Stones. I played the part of Martha. I think my husband was Zack. I can recall grabbing that young actor’s arm and delivering an irritated, “Come on, Zachary!” before dragging him stage right. Is this just some sort of floating dream? I reminiscence about a scrapbook and of an old photograph published in our local paper. It depicts that exact scene. Therefore, I can assume that either my memory is foggy or that I am actually remembering the lines.

Red Peppers. Mum and I enjoyed an hour on the phone. We talked about her old haunts and jobs. We discussed the university. We laughed over Vatican II nuns, communist lists, foolish Cardinals and the degradation of the Theatre Arts.

Today is my Grandfather Frank’s birthday. He passed when Mum was sixteen. I know it’s a poignant day for her. I am certain that her memories of her father are just as fresh as the lines that she so easily recollected over the phone. I think of the future Autrice and where I will be in forty years, when I am as old as my Mum and recalling loved ones. I also think of where my Mum was when she was my age. Both are bittersweet thoughts. I have not achieved as much as she did by her mid-thirties. I have not slain dragons or taken on the world with the same determination and fervor as she.

My hope is for my memory. I want to be able to peek over my shoulder and recall things such as soft scripts and Mum’s voice giving lines. I want to be capable of journeying down Memory Lane and seeing all the splendors with my mother’s same accuracy.

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