A Thief in the Theater

Published in 2008; author Sarah Masters Buckley; illustrator Jean-Paul Tibbles


Summer's winding down. Kit has one more column to write for the paper, and decides to do it on the play Mr. Bell (the long-time boarder) is in, A Midsummer Night's Dream. She changes her mind to writing about how a play is made when the director announces this night's performance is the last one; they're doing Macbeth next. Going against theater superstition, she says the name of the play aloud in the theater instead of calling it The Scottish Play or The Play. She doesn't believe that it brings bad luck, but many of the actors, including Mr. Bell, are uneasy hearing the name. While Kit finds it baffling that adults are matter-of-factly discussing the remedy of repeating "Macbeth" thrice outside then spitting on the ground, she has to admit it's a pretty big coincidence that a huge piece of scenery collapses right after the announcement, and that the cash from the ticket sales is stolen the same evening.

The theater's not the only place beset with thieves. Stirling and a fellow newspaper boy have been accosted by a group of brothers who demand "protection money" and steal from them. They were around the theater the night of the theft, too...though Mr. Bell thought he saw a tall, thin man running off with the money. And there's the fact that one of the theater employees has spent time in jail, but it was for assault, not burglary (he says it was a fight, not an attack). But Mr. Bell's wallet is also oddly full, and when he gives Kit a dollar so she can get some ice (Stirling got beat up by the other boys) she recognizes it as the one she paid her admission with, due to the pink staining from when she hid it in her shoe. Plus he suddenly has extra money. And little accidents keep happening.

But as opening night approaches, things come to light. The employee who'd done jail time staged all the accidents, following what the former manager used to do (he died recently; now his daughter is manages the theater). Mr. Bell got money by selling his late wife's violin to another boarder, and by doing errands for one of the actresses. Now, that actress...she's sort of a prima donna. And has a ready supply of cash. That stained bill...and don't actors sometimes play genders opposite their own? Kit puts the pieces together and realizes she must be the thief. She, Stirling, and the manager go to confront her but her dressing room is empty save for a note about leaving the "unprofessional" production, and a train schedule in an overflowing waste basket. Stirling concludes that she's about to skip town. The manager is able to apprehend her in time and she gives back the money. Her understudy can play her part in the play (Lady Macbeth).

The problem with the bullies gets taken care of too. Stirling and the other newspaper boy they pick on defiantly sell papers without paying protection money, and Kit tells them about the pictures she happened to take of them threatening Stirling while she was getting her article ready (she doesn't mention that they're blurry). She says she'll make copies and send them to the police AND their mother. At least one of the threats sinks in, and the boys slink away.

The play opens to a packed theater. Even Uncle Hendrick attends, justifying the frivolity of a play with the slashed ticket prices. Kit and Stirling are given six free tickets for their help, and take Kit's parents, Stirling's mother, and Aunt Millie.

Looking Back

While Americans wanted and needed distractions from the strain of their day-to-day lives during the Great Depression, they often had trouble affording such luxuries as seeing movies or live plays, especially when there were exciting radio programs to listen free. Theaters offered special promotions like discounted tickets and prize drawings, but even then live theater struggled to stay afloat. The Federal Theatre (yes, officially "re" not "er") Project of 1935 endeavored to save live theater. It led to such memorable performances as the Orson Wells-directed version of Macbeth set in Haiti and performed entirely by African-Americans.


This book is dedicated to Alice Boyle.

Ruthie's not in this book; she's on vacation and Kit takes care of her fish while she's away.

Stirling gets a great line off on the bullies. As they leave, he yells after them for all to hear that if they want money, they should earn it like everyone else has to.

Mr. and Mrs. Bell were a married couple who rented a room in Really Truly Ruthie. Now it's just Mr. Bell selling his late wife's things. I don't recall reading about a death of one of the boarders.

This is the last Kit book. We never find out where Stirling's father went or what became of him.

Speaking of bad luck superstitions, this book has thirteen chapters.

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