I recently wrote about my new vocation as a DIY coffin maker. OK, strictly speaking it’s not a coffin. It’s a casket. On a draped bier. Thanks to the braintrust at Google, I now understand that a casket is rectangle-shaped, whereas a coffin is tapered at the head and foot. (The sort of vessel from which you might expect Bela Lugosi to emerge.) It’s only taken me 76 years to appreciate that distinction. I also learned the difference between a full-couch casket and the half-couch version. The latter has a hinged lid that allows mourners to view only the upper half of the dearly departed’s remains.
Because my construction project is for a stage play, certain compromises have been necessary for purposes of practicality and theatrical illusion. For one thing, the box is slightly shorter than the standard 84-inch model, which is designed to accommodate almost anyone other than a deceased NBA player.
For another thing, the lid is not split exactly in half. The ratio is more like two-to-one because one actor has to conduct a certain amount of stage business on the lower portion, while another poor shmuck has to crouch inside the top portion throughout most of the play.
Another critical design requirement is that this body containment device needs to appear solid while also including enough uncovered area for the poor shmuck’s voice to emerge clearly. Additionally, it has to contain enough ferrous material to drive a metal detector crazy.
On top of everything else, the whole contraption must be easy to take apart and stuff into a van so that it can be schlepped from one venue to another if the play makes it onto next year’s Fringe Festival circuit. If this sounds a tad ridiculous to you, I agree. After all, I wrote the darned thing that put me in this (pardon the expression) box in the first place.
The biggest challenge, however, is not technical. It’s aesthetic.
This is supposed to be the crappiest-looking casket ever seen. It says so right in the script. Problem is, while it’s fair to describe me as a mediocre carpenter at best (the term “wood butcher” seems appropriate) I also happen to be a bit of a perfectionist.
When I’m staining and varnishing a lovely piece of pine trim, for example, I struggle to fight my natural instinct to avoid any globby drips or missed spots that would detract from the satiny finish. It may eventually require a sub-contractor to rough the thing up with chains, lace it with worm holes, gouge it liberally with a chisel and cover it with galvanized patches.
Oh, how we must suffer for our Art!