Dear friends and readers,
We’ve seen four more productions, and, as might be expected, since we are going to twice as many this year as we went to last (Izzy is going with us but 3 times and last time she went to nearly all), we did at last find ourselves at a real dud. But we’ve also had two memorable, so alive, stirring, and very contemporary experiences.
Pinky Swear is an all girls’ band, raunchy, angry, sexy; they are “in your face” in the way they apparently break all sexual taboos. They don’t quite break all, but they break several: dildos abound; they get into quarrels, they insult one another, are sarky, their songs range from a desire to fuck or be fucked, to grating irritation with the nature of life, to (sometimes) romantic longing and muted heartbreak. Masturbation is the way to go as you can do it anytime. If you can’t have the one you love, love the one you’re with was this year’s theme.
Last night (Thursday), there were three young men with them as support band, and sometimes they played music from the 60s and 70s; while I enjoyed these (they were written before the performers were born), I thought the electrifying moments came from the contemporary music, the stances the girls took.
The witty and wry Karen Lange who read aloud slips of paper on which members of the audience were asked to write the “weirdest place they had sex.” The weird experiences were not that transgressive, or odd or wild. One read loud: “We had sex under a bush in Central Park. The gravel underneath was a problem.” That prompted jokes about what positions the gravel would make most uncomfortable. Then there was a second on having sex in Central Park, and Karen remarked Central Park must be a busy place at night. The singers said they were going to put some of these on face-book, but I could not find any. An informative pdf. They were in the large (but un-air-conditioned) Baldacchino Gypsy Tent next to one of the central bars and meeting places of the Fringe.
Since the tent is across the street from the (famed) restaurant, poets-reading and performing theater space, Busboys and Poets, Jim and I went there for our dinner afterward. I had a pizza, scotch and ginger ale, and Jim had beer and burger and fries. The night was hot, but there was a breeze, and we sat outside under an awning near a working fan and were happy.
Tonight (Friday) we saw a spectacularly well-acted Hamlet. Powerful, fast-moving sizzling performances, especially by 1) Christ Genebach who was Hamlet and his father’s ghost, and the player king: he was just magnificent; his face and gestures reminded me again and again of Ralph Fiennes; and 2) Sandy Gainum as Gertrude and the Gravedigger, she probably was directed to be this sentimental and shocked Gertrude when Hamlet comes to her in her bed to tell her not to go to bed with Claudius, but otherwise she was sharp, gesturing and face just right, ever on the move. Raven Bonniwell did another unlikely doubling of Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Osric and was particularly good in the first two. As Laertes Billy Finn was violent emotionally as well as physically. The final duel is not with swords, but fists and the two men murder one another with blunt knives.
Directed by Hannah Todd, it was said to be much shorter than the original, abridged. And it ran only 1 hour and 40 minutes, but that is not just one hour (as most of the events are) and a lot was included. Horatio was the only major character cut; they chose to sweat lines rather than cut whole soliloquies. The director’s notes said she saw the play as a violent one, an outcropping of Hamlet’s feverish imagination, trapped by his own fantasies. The play began with Hamlet half-dreaming on the floor and ended with him dead in the same posture. He and all the players were driven people. I felt we really experienced the play. There was no intermission and that helped sustain the move.
Everyone clapped hard, and people stood for the performers whose lines had come so swiftly and naturally (it seemed) off their tongues. The company calls themselves the Flashpoint theater and their specialty is similarly abridged classics. Lauren Katz also thought it one of the strongest productions of Hamlet she’d seen in a while.
You can’t win ‘em all. Wednesday night we went to a musical based on the life of Helena Rubinstein in America, Madame it was called. The performers had worked very hard, the costumes were lovely, the choreography was well-worked out; the problem was the content of the lyrics and “book” and story line. Excruciatingly lame, sentimental where they should have been prosaic, including even a love duet which belonged to Carousel, and a major male role going to an actor who was wooden and couldn’t sing.
Apparently the management of the whole festival is aware of which shows are not likely to please or lure an audience, as this one was held in small basement room of a church, there were few chairs, and even these were not filled up. To be fair, here’s a reviewer who saw some good things in the show and tries to like it
Not as tedious (we stayed at Madame because we felt we’d hurt the actors-singers’ feelings), but their musical rock show nowhere as good as last year (Finn McCool) and last year not as good as the spectacular brilliance of the year before (Oreisteia), Dizzy Miss Lizzy Doing the Brontes was something of a disappointment. The idea of each rock show has been the same: interweave some story or intense anguish or misery with the upbeat of hard rock. This time it was the Brontes and I’ll give it to them, they didn’t pollyanna the story of these four finally unlucky geniuses. The frustrated outcast Branwell became an alcoholic; Anne died so young; Emily unable to integrate at all into any social life and dying fairly young; and Charlotte left alone, also unable to build a life of fulfillment with people gifted like herself, also dying, of a miscarriage; their isolated lives as children on the moors.
Izzy came with us and I can’t better her commentary.
It’s true that Jim and I probably didn’t get all the jokes because we didn’t recognize some of the pop references. It’s hard for me to believe I was the only person in that tent besides the performers who had heard of Anne Bronte — does no one watch PBS movies? there was a splendid Tenant of Wildfell Hall, with real stars in the leading roles, and on most of the listservs I’ve been on, admittedly literary ones, people have read this and/or Agnes Grey (a governess story). I was the only person to clap and call Yay! when “Anne Bronte” came forward and told us the titles of her novels. A woman sitting next to me told me she had never heard of Branwell Bronte, so I recommended Daphne DuMaurier’s powerfully passionate The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, which reprints what is left of his poetry. Considering the lamentable state of ignorance then about the Brontes, I suppose it’s picky of me to complain Dizzy Miss Lizzy did not seem to know that Emily was a great poet, but still I wish they had known it. Some of her verses set to rock might have stirred the audience.
Redbreast, early in the morning
Dank and cold and cloudy grey,
Wildly tender is thy music
Chasing angry thoughts away.
My heart is not enraptured now,
My eyes are full of tears,
And constant sorrow on my brow
Has done the work of years.
It was not hope that wrecked at once
The spirit’s calm in storm
But a long life of solitude,
Hopes quenched and rising thoughts subdued,
A bleak November’s calm.
What woke it then? A little child
Strayed from its father’s cottage door,
And in the hour of moonlight wild
Laid lonely on the desert moor.
I heart it then, you heard it too,
And seraph sweet it sang to you;
But like a shriek of misery
That wild, wild music wailed to me.
I go out to plays, to operas, see movies, look at pictures, listen to music, even walk in landscapes for the same causes I read. These experiences are meaningful to me, speak to me at some level that counts, help me endure. Funnily of these four, the one I came away with repeating an idea the artists had voiced was Pinky Swear. Karen had a song whose refrain was you end where you start out, find yourself what you were. That’s my case. Soon I shall be driven to retire (they are beginning to harass me at GMU because they want me to turn my English humanities into a business computer-based course and I cannot) and I find I end where I began.
Just being me, living alongside Jim, and the real irony is what I love after the few human beings who I am attached to and whom I hope are attached to me are books precisely those I started out with (Austen among them) and a set of 18th century historical romances, whose hero and heroine were norms for me in my conscious teenagehood: the Poldark series.
It’s not that Hamlet does not have much to say. But I’ve read and seen the play so many times it’s hard to have a fresh reaction. Maybe I did tonight. When Hamlet took Yorick’s skull, and said to his imaginary lady, to this you will come, I identified. I’ve few teeth, bad feet, my lower back hurts, my hair grey, my handwriting is terrible (when I go to make a letter it’s hard to make it come out clearly and often I will write another letter or number than the one I consciously intend), I’ve forgotten multiplication tables (and never could do percentages, fractions, long division), I can’t read late into the night or watch movies without napping, when I get on the Metro people actually immediately get up to give me a seat. Yes to that I am coming.
Do people know Sylvia Plath also drew? yes, lovely touching drawings of everyday things, houses, street scenes. Here’s a pair of shoes I can no longer wear except for a few minutes at a time unless the miracle of really soft leather is achieved.