The Turn of the Screw

Decided to spend October rereading Henry James’s masterful novella. Its sense of dread, suspense and just plain scariness is singular. I’m not surprised it’s been adapted as an opera (not seen) and the movie The Innocents (I own a copy- Criterion, of course.)

I’m reading with the perspective that the demonic possession is in the governess, not the children. Both perspectives work.

I should be done by Hallowe’en.

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Testing The Current

I read William Macpherson’s Testing The Current when it came out in the eighties. A believable sustained coming-of-age novel from the point of view of a small boy.

A couple of well-observed gems, thus far:

“One day his mother came home with straws that were pleated like an accordion so they bent easily. Tommy liked those straws, but his mother saved them for when he was sick; he couldn’t use them at other times.”

“[His father’s dress shirt] was as stiff as a board there was so much starch in it, and the front was pique. That’s what they called it. It looked uncomfortable but very fancy.”

“Though [his mother’s] dress was black, it seemed to pick up the light from the lamps in the room and give off a soft shine of its own. His mother said it didn’t shine; it had a sheen, and there is a difference.”

Edward Albee liked it

Two years ago I performed a monologue from my script “The Good-bye Play” at the hub 14 in Toronto (pictured). The performance was filmed but needed an introduction. Here it is. Thanks to the people and events that inspired it; to videographers Anthony Da Souza (for the performance video) and to Jason Sauernheimer (for the introduction); and thank you to Andrew Gaboury and the Field of Crowns. And of course, Edward Albee.
hub 14

Clock Dance

Thanks to e-reading everywhere I went, I finished Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Clock Dance. (As of this week, it begins to emerge on the NY Times Bestseller list.)
No doubt I’ll review it. For now, a selection of quotes. No one observes quite like Tyler.
*****************

She yanked the closet door open and her reflection vanished.

“Hello?” he asked, in that reluctant, dread-filled voice he always used when he answered the phone, his second syllable trailing away as if he were already preparing to hang up.

Now she settled into the dailiness of grief- … the steady, persistent ache of it, the absence that feels like a presence.

She was the only woman she knew whose prime objective was to be taken for granted.

She had forgotten those whooshing pauses that happened during phone conversations with smokers.

She just loved saguaros, was all. …It felt like a cucumber, cool and smooth and sturdy. It seemed aware of her. She could almost believe it was steadying itself to receive the pressure of her hand.

(She had refused to ask her own seatmate. She didn’t like to discommode people.)

The dark was that half-hearted kind that happens on summer evenings…

It was, in fact, a bare-bones kind of house, its small rooms furnished sparsely, with pieces that seemed to have lead full lives in other houses long before this one.

… she’d felt like a watchful, wary adult housed in a little girl’s body.
And yet nowadays, paradoxically, it often seemed to her that from behind her adult face a child about eleven years old was still gazing out at the world.

Marriage was often a matter of dexterity…

Oh, already she was feeling the limitations of living out of a suitcase.

Now Willa remembered what a boon these young women could be; offering privileged glimpses into her sons’ private lives.

“If you don’t have grandchildren, you won’t have to worry about them going through the death of the planet.”

Home! Even the word was a comfort.

“….he thought it was impolite to pick up a telephone in mid-ring…”

Wit without the Vitriol, Please

I got to see the revival (and Broadway premiere) of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, the benchmark play with the all-gay cast from 50 years ago.
I saw the play in revival in a Toronto production in the 1980’s. I recalled a play of great wit and pain.
The night I went to the Broadway production, the main character (portrayed effectively by Jim Parsons), Michael, descending into his drunken tirade against his party guests, hurling racial and homophobic insults, got empathy for his neediness but not for his drunken slurs. Were they meant to be funny in 1968? Did they amuse in the 1980’s Toronto version? I can hardly print them here- the “N” word; “Coon”, and more. In 2018, they seemed to wound the audience, as well as the characters.
Times are changing. The sarcasm of plays like Boys and its influence- Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – might be out of reach for today’s sensitized audience.
The wit is still appreciated. Maybe not the vitriol?

Brilliant, Solid Colors

Months later, I finally finished Christina Stead’s 500 page tome “The Man Who Loved Children” (1940)- and the title really does refer to love, without any unsettling irony worthy of today’s salacious headlines.

Herewith, some gems*:

“Sam heard nothing but the crepitations of the arboreal night.”

“The tempests of July and the swamped earth and flooded rivers had come to wash away the sorrows of Henny: headstones sank in the graveyard, and the new earth piled over her fell in. Towards the end of July, it was as if Henny too had stormed, but in another room in the universe, which was now under lock and key.”

“Everyone had an outline, and brilliant, solid colors.”

(*Besides, I had to read it. It’s among my favourite author’s (Anne Tyler) favourites.)

Blame it on Glenda

Blame Glenda Jackson. I reserved tickets for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (he always has the name before and above the title) for Easter weekend.

New York is always extremes. The highs of theatre-going to the frequent degradation of the subway and elsewhere.

Subways aren’t for sleeping: meet “Brimstone” a subway gospel rapper. (Check Youtube). “Jesus loves you” in white letters on his black shirt, front and back, a large cross slung around his neck, made of palm leaves (it was Easter Sunday). Then a sermon for his subway ministry.

A young pianist plays electronic keyboard on the platform. Classical, then Pop: The Heart Does Go On, Theme from Love Story, The Sting (Scott Joplin)… he’s dressed to kill in a soft blue pastel suit. His father (?) sits on a bucket off to the the side. The most memorable aspect? He appears to be playing a video game on his phone at the same time as playing, without missing a note, (or a point.)

Subway peddlars are endless. Candy, clothes, and just plain panhandling, from all ages (a Vietnam vet, teenagers, and younger). A raging boom-box announces a dancer whose parting words are “I’m not homeless but I do better if I look it.”

Another low-point: mistaking a scalper in Times Square as staff for the TKTS half-price ticket booth. When it became clear to him I only wanted to know if I could get Sunday matinee tickets on Saturday, he told me I was wasting his time.

The last straw: a strategically placed snow storm right when my flight was to leave. Then it cleared up. But not before I had to take a much later flight home.

I prefer to dwell on the positive: the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (I understand a lot more than when I saw it in high school but still am mystified by parts); the transforming set of Afterglow (more than the titillating plot of an open relationship); and, best for last- Glenda Jackson, 81 (!) in Albee’s third Pulitzer Prize winner. I go on and on in my drama class about voice on stage. It was all she needed to be a Tall Woman. Actually got to meet her afterwards as she greeted fans, having her after-show cigarette (!). “Let the lady have her moment”, Security warned us. We did. She seemed not to be bothered by the question about returning to the stage after 23 years in politics. “It’s what I did,” she said between drags. Of course she can still do it.

I blame Glenda Jackson for another hectic, harried and totally worth-it Easter weekend jaunt in the Big Apple. Thanks Glenda.