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

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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.

Quote Me By Your Name

Just finished the novel Call Me By Your Name, by Andre Aciman. I’ve already seen the film. It’s a beautiful adaptation.
The book contains more than one meeting between Oliver and Elio after Oliver’s departure (as depicted in the movie). Beyond that, the story is mostly inside Elio’s head, so the novel is probably better suited to tell it.

There are too many quotable lines, so I’ll just choose this:
Towards the end, when Elio visits Oliver years later, Oliver invites him to meet his wife and children. Elio finds a way to tell him why he can’t.
“The ‘can’t’ did not mean I wasn’t free to visit him but that I couldn’t bring myself to do it…
And then it came out of me: ‘The truth is I’m not sure I can feel nothing. And if I am to meet your family, I don’t want to feel anything.'”

I won’t quote the final paragraph of the story, but I don’t remember the last time, reading a novel on the bus, I had to contain tears as I closed the book.

Approaching Perfection

A couple of thoughts on perfection. The first is about perfection in education; the second is about perfection in writing.

If you’ve read the blog, of late, as a teacher, I am trying to lessen the emphasis on marks. (Reducing the Emphasis.) More than once, I’ve had students start discussion about assessment with words to the effect, “Where did I lose marks?” “How can I get 10 out of 10?” “How can I get perfect?”

I try to shape the discussion around being “close to perfection”, due to the subjective quality of English.

Which brings me to the second aspect: perfect writing. In a previous blog,Whole Separate Language, my favourite quote appears:
“There ought to be a whole separate language for words that are truer than other words- for perfect absolute truth.”

Apart from the quote itself being about words and truth being perfect, there is the perfection of the syntax. How many drafts did it take Anne Tyler to perfect the construction of that sentence? Was it instantaneous? Did it come to her all at once?

Maybe sentences like this can be held up to students as an example of writing that is close to perfection. The fact that it is about perfection and words themselves only makes it more perfect.

Reading- just finished, current and waiting

Just finished the plays:

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

Outside by Paul Dunn

Non-fiction:

Other People: Takes & Mistakes By David Shields

Current fiction:
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman

The Man Who Loved Children By Christina Stead (an Anne Tyler favourite, apparently)

Testing the Current by William McPherson

Current Non-fiction:

World Class Learners by Yong Zhao

Waiting their turn…

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill