The Privilege of Pessimism

“I think to not be optimistic is just about the most privileged thing you can be. If you can be pessimistic, you are basically deciding that there’s
no hope for a whole group of people who can’t afford to think that way.”
– Ophelia Dahl


Mean-Spirited or Just Spirited?

Just finished our school production of Once in a Lifetime by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart (teaser pic above). The students loved doing it, and the audience enjoyed. So as I recover from exhaustion, I can post a bit of theatre philosophy.
I was always attracted to the particular skill of this Broadway duo. Previous productions of The Man Who Came to Dinner and You Can’t Take It With You were highlights of our school’s stage history. The appeal? The plots and the characters. Scenes are expertly structured with most entrances and exits on the heels of a character-driven one-liner.
But. The plays are from the 1930’s, and the regularity of sexist and racist remarks in all the plays jumps off the page and stage in the 2010’s. Itemizing them here is not my interest. We dealt with those lines (they are hard to miss) and still did the shows.
A more subtle sensitivity struck me later in our rehearsal preparation of Once In A Lifetime, and I felt it in the performances. Lifetime spins on the dumb luck of George Lewis who unwittingly becomes the top guy in Hollywood (the play is about the advent of the “talkies”.) More than one character makes George’s slowness the butt of the joke. More than once he is called stupid, told to shut up. My question- is this as awful as it sounds? Are we oversensitive, or is it the right amount of sensitivity for the sensitive times in which we live? Is the play mean-spirited or just funny?
Sometimes the audience laughed at George; they always seemed to root for him.

Difficult Conversations

After two weeks of Difficult Conversations (let’s abbreviate them to “DC’s”), I thought I was done for a while. As a teacher, I’d had my share, recently, of DC’s with students, parents, and colleagues. The content varied: managing competing ambitions (between parents and children), disrespectful students (I know- comes with the territory), and colleagues with personal agendas (including maybe me). Some were connected; all were difficult for their own reasons.

(I haven’t even mentioned DC’s in my personal life, which competed for my patience and energy at the same time.)

Some DC’s resolve but others never end. More often than not, the same ones continue. All you did by confronting them was to lay some groundwork for the conversation to continue (and still be difficult).

Toby’s, If Memory Serves

I must have been downtown (Toronto).  My memory is frequently jogged by something I pass by, or rather, by something that is no longer there.

I’m not sure what is in its place now (the new condo?) but I recently had a memory rush of Toby’s (“Good Eats”) Restaurants. One on Yonge Street just south of Bloor, another on Bloor near Bay (if memory serves). The Google gods tell me there still is one open on College Street.

In 1983, I actually had a meeting with a dramaturge from the Shaw Festival about a play idea at the Yonge Street Toby’s. The meeting didn’t last long. By coincidence, after, we each took in Woody Allen’s Zelig (that’s how I recalled it was 1983), playing at the now defunct Plaza cinema (Yonge & Bloor). We said hello once more when the movie was over.

Which makes me think of the now deserted Pottery Barn at Bay & Bloor, which I never went in. I wanted it to be the old University Cinema, long gone. I took a date there to see Murder on the Orient Express (the original) in 1974. The movie was more memorable than the date. So was the theatre- one grand large screen. No Cineplex boxes. I also remember a popcorn server/usher at the cinema with a tremendous lipstick-stained overbite. Hard to forget.

Are all memories still available? They just lie buried, I suppose, waiting to be unearthed. Whatever it takes to jog them.