Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Ian McKellan Mr Holmes in the movie; yes, that’s the great actress Hattie Morahan in the back. The film also had Laura Linney in it. What more could you ask?

Sexual intercourse began
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

Up to then there’d only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.
Annus Mirabilis by Philip Larkin (1922-1985) — Larkin was one of Jim’s favorite poets; the poem is meant ironically; fucking is not all, you must also do it from the heart


That’s the latest advice I’ve had, and it was well meant. Do I want to do this Winston Graham/Poldark book? The difficulty in following it is not that the “sign” is too ambiguous, as in “follow nature” in the 18th century and ever since; but what is meant clearly to me carved out by the heart’s longings are in still desperate need of such different, contradictory and ceaselessly self-precluding food. Self-precluding. I don’t travel from home because I want to. I go out to teach and I post and blog because I need to.

This was in regards to my Winston Graham project, which I proceed at with such a snail’s pace (since I do much else in order to be with people and to feel I am useful in the world) I may not be ready to write until I’m dead. I have to make up my mind what I want. My sincere answer to that is it’s not what I want to do, but what I can. To sustain the will to live on actively (in the face of what is emerging as a fascist racist dictatorship funded by very sophisticated groups of super-rich people, enforced by a ferocious criminalizing police and court system, voted in by groups of people whose impoverished miserable lives fill them with hate and fear) I need the larger calm perspective provided by participating in socializing at whatever cost of time. And there is what I believe I will be able to publish after I’ve written it. I’ve learned to publish something takes social skills and vital permissions; to disseminate it, active connections.

I have begun listening to Oliver Hembraugh reading aloud Graham’s Angry Tide. Graham’s tone is what draws me in. So quietly intelligent and insightful, thoroughly realistic truthful as he can be about the era from the point of view of vulnerable, fringe people, those with hearts. I find the book has a quiet charm similar to what I found in the non-Poldark Dangerous Pawn and is found now and again when a book is set in Cornwall the tone is sustained.

I have managed to store up (like some squirrel) a couple of publicly shared experiences in the past couple of weeks, which it’s possible may come your way. During the time I am at these functions or places I forget what is happening in the public sphere, though I fear eventually the “mowing the lawn” will get to me and mine.

Theo and Kevin in the play

Last Sunday I went to Ken Urban’s The Remains as acted at the Studio Theater in DC (directed by David Muse). reminds me I had planned to buy a copy of The Gabriels, another play set in a family group over dinner or an occasion; The Remains reminds me of Nelson’s The Gabriels which I saw 2 years ago now and Karam’s The Humans which I saw last year. Nelson’s Gabriels is three plays — like Stoppard’s Norman Conquests, the same storyline and characters gone over from three different perspectives and time of day or night. Karam’s Humans is one night and not as good, but the family has gone over the edge economically

Ken Urban’s The Remains was astonishingly openly acted, with all emotional life on display. The story is of a pair of gay men whose marriage/partnership has failed or broken up. They have filed for divorce. They have invited the parents of one of them, Theo (Glenn Fitzgerald), American, Jewish, over for dinner, and Andrea (Danielle Skraastad) the sister of the other, Kevin (Maulik Pancholy), to tell them. The action consists of the reactions of these people, the revelations of their lives and a slow exposure to the final climax of the two men opening up before the audience what has happened within their private relationship.

One of the origins of their estrangement is Kevin is Indian, and so non-white, and after his degree from Harvard (! — much admired that he went there), and dissertation (also admired), he could not get any job above adjunct in Boston; to obtain these signs of respect and money (for comfort, a life in dignity and security for the rest of his life), he had to move to Oregon where he dislikes the school and culture. Kevin became very embittered and could not help taking this out on Theo (or so Theo felt it). They seem to have enough money because Theo has given up his humanities career in university (we are not told much about this) to become a lawyer.

Another source is their sex life has not gone well, and Theo seems to have broken their agreement not to have other lovers and to tell the truth about any other sexual encounter or partner. The assumption not gone into is that it is somehow more “natural” or part of their gay orientation to have more than one partner, and that is why they vowed not to do it because they wanted a total commitment.

Their different races have also been part of what caused the estrangement: Kevin feels Theo is turned off because he’s not white. Theo is the more vulnerable personality, he has had much more support from his parents; Kevin is adopted and the white parents keep their distance from Kevin and his sister.

Odd thing about the reviews of this one: one emphasized how well off this gay couple is, what a fancy kitchen. It’s not — they are okay — is being okay nowadays rare?

I mentioned in my previous blog that I saw Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach last Thursday or Friday (as is common with movies from his books, he did the screenplay). Dominic Cooke, the director of the TV films from Shakespeare, The Wars of the Roses 1 & 2 (from the 7 play Hollow Crown series). Chesil Beach is about a young heterosexual couple who cannot consummate on their wedding night: quite explicitly about the ravages of repressed sexuality (and fear and condemnation from the usual religious angles) and class differences. Their relationship is destroyed because he is very angry over the way he has been treated.

The two come together in my mind as exploring similar things. Both spoke home to me. Both are retrospective. The Remains is also about how lonely the two men are now; there is this moving epilogue of the character coming out to tell the audience in a singsong fashion about what life is like for them now. How Theo has not gotten over the loss of Kevin is made plain, but indirectly we see Kevin just has disintegrated too. On Chesil Beach is a series of flashbacks from the the wedding night but it then fast forwards too to show the two now. At one point the movie manages to allude to Philip Larkin’s famous poem where he says sexual intercourse began in 1963 and came with the Beatles. I know what he means, and this is an experience akin to what I knew in my teens and attitudes of mind almost impossible to shake. The movie is more upbeat because it’s a movie intended for general audiences and has this emotional bath at the conclusion where while the girl obviously got over her paralysis, married, had children and a wonderful career while the young man just became the owner of a very shabby music store (he had gotten his degree but it was clear without the girl’s father he had no chance for a middle class job). We see him weeping at a concert where her group of musicians is honored. She weeps too. I began reading the book, what a felicitiously unobtrusive simple style, I’m told it ends quietly and bleakly — as this core would probably from such a situation.

Although all four by men the males in his case do go into women’s true point of view: Kevin’s sister for example has lived through the hell of two broken marriages. Nelson’s characters are centrally women, all but one is a woman.
One troubling aspect to not lose sight of: at each step there is less larger political perspective. The Remains never touched upon our present economic situation as what has destroyed Kevin’s chances and made his race an over-the-top liability; The Humans showed such desperation no one could get him or herself to discuss the political situation.

This evening Izzy and I saw a HD screening documentary, biography style film, Ian McKellen: Playing the Part where he is the central continuing speaker — about him, his life, his career. Don’t miss this one either. Yes there is hype, yes he promotes himself but the film functions as a history of 20th century theater too since McKellan was so much a part of the evolution from actors who were part of the theater but not film before the spread of TV, demonstrating how important and often better or more genuine authentic were small and provincial theaters beyond London (McKellan was the moving force in the Actors Company — I didn’t know that). It was about gay history in the 20th century: before this century there could be no history since anyone who came out was subject to terrifying humiliating fatal punishments. I remember seeing him live with Jim at the Kennedy Center as Richard III. McKellen said that was a turning point in his life, when he turned that into film as a director. Jim got a kick out of how he handled a cigarette. I remember the large facsimile of a train on stage. For McKellen it opened the film industry to him finally.

Milo Parker

How I enjoyed two summers ago now Mr Holmes. Milo Parker who played the boy who loves Mr Holmes in that played the young McKellen in this documentary. I hope I put the book away in a place I can find it. If I should give up Graham, that would be one I’d try. Alas he’s won no Oscars thus far. The academy fears a homophobic part of the public.

Follow your heart: Ian McKellan was worth listening to for himself, for how he sees his life: he made it plain that he feels the driving force inside that made him an actor who could open up his intelligent passionate emotional life to others was his homosexuality. He was cut off from others; he had to hide himself. In order to reach others, he had to do it through this disguise, and so he did out — of a need for other human beings. He also regards himself as someone whose task it is to help others get through life by offering himself in the persons of these characters. Other people spend long hours at work, long hours of frustration and then they come to the theater and during the time they are there, you as actor are affecting them. Perhaps you can help them improve themselves or feel better by the emotional catharsis you offer, or the humor you enact. When a cruel law was promulgated by Thatcher over and above the anti-homosexual laws of the UK, he came out and worked hard to defeat it. It was passed, but no other was and it was then nullified by the change in attitudes towards gay people he and others in permanent institutions they set up continue to create. The AIDS crisis was another transformation: as an actor he went about extending the campaign to save as many people as he could.

When young as David Copperfield

Now he goes into schools and tries to help others by telling of his life as a gay man. He said they teach him, young people. They don’t want to be seen as categories — he has the generosity of heart to break out of his way of thinking and say, well yes. Why should he see himself as a gay man. He is a man, a human being first. His homosexuality does not define him, though his society tried to repress him wholly because of it. We see him living with the absurd roles he is now given in film: cartoon figures. He tries to give them depth.

But finally it is the theater that is his love. We see him with Patrick Stewart on stage doing Waiting For Godot. There was one at the Shakespeare theater this summer and I didn’t go — I should have. He said while the production is on, the rehearsals, the acting, the aftermath he becomes part of this group as a family. He knows so many actors like himself for years. He is alone now, no family, and he lives his life in effect among strangers. But he is buoyed by the sharing of this great talent and his gifts. We see his long-standing relationships in private: the men who were his partners are glimpsed. He singles out Judy Dench and a few others who live a life of meaning with him. He thinks of death frequently, has planned his funeral, is sad because he wont be able to be there.

I am writing from the heart; when I write even academic papers I write them from the heart; that’s why I can’t pretend them or make them come unless I believe in them. I try to teach from the heart. Post to the Internet, blog from the heart. Those texts written from the heart are the ones I look for and nourish myself on. There are people, as Shakespeare says, who seem to have no heart or only hard and selfish ones. How I love the actress Hattie Morahan in Davies’s 2008 Sense and Sensibility: like Holmes, she puts her inside self before us and reaches us fully.

Hattie Morahan as my favorite character, Elinor Dashwood

The local arts celebrity; Aubrey Davies was there to commemorate his mother.

I attended the abbreviated Bloomsbury day reading held at the OLLI at AU (1:30 to nearly 6:00 reading and talking of the Ithaca chapter, second to the last in Joyce’s Ulysses: it did teach me that chapter has alive vitality and the book may be readable — its outpouring of brilliant beautiful language reminded me of how I lost a female Telemachus (a young woman actually tried to chat me up at a function for Columbia grad students Jim and I went to. So after a six-year hiatus (Jim read one year and remarkably well) I returned to Jim’s worn and falling apart copy of Joyce’s book.

A married couple at OLLI reading together.

Both of my classes going splendidly — the Woolf too, and tomorrow is my film club. This coming week I go to another HD screening at the Folger: a DC original production of a re-write, modernization of Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream. The coming Saturday another mass demonstration across the US — what else do we have? Wall-to-wall people in the Metro paralyzes it so I may phone the Smithsonian to ask if they might re-schedule a Gilbert and Sullivan program they had scheduled for that morning. Real acting and singing from the musicals. Izzy and I were looking forward to it. How will anyone get there? Be sensible I’ll say. Very unlucky for that later afternoon (by mistake) I bought tickets for us to go to Wolf Trap Barns theater to see Mozart’s Idomeneo. Our first opera this year. We can still go as it will be in Fairfax but if we want to the demonstration we’d never be back in time.

A bad time over my boy pussycat, Ian aka Snuffy cat. About a week ago Ian had a crying jag around dawn, and it was not that Izzy would not let him into her room. He had at the time also developed a sore by his eye. I took him to the vet and she said his heart rate was worrying high: blood pressure 240. The bill for an “emergency” visit and tests was a whopping $455. She gave me pills to give him but he fought me so and then hid from me for a full day and one half (something he has not done for over a year and more now), that I gave it up. I was able to put the eye salve on and his eye is better. No crying jags.

Well I went again for a follow-up and the tests I paid for apparently say together (with her listening) that the cat has a heart murmur. It would cost me $1100 to have the blood, cardiac and other tests for a diagnosis and then I’d have to give him medicine the rest of his life if the diagnosis showed there is a medicine he could take. It could be three a day. But I was unable to get him to take medicine this week at all so I decided not to do it.

I do love this cat now — if you could see how most of the time he is a transformed personality and no longer hides most of the time but is affectionate to me and Izzy, playful, remembering what we do over the day and joining in. Right now he is on my map rubbing his face against mine. He now sticks by me most of the day. We shall have an appt every six months to see how he’s doing.

What we are reading together on WomenWriters@groups.io – thus far arresting, persuasive story about Muslim young woman who grew up in Pakistan come to do graduate work in Boston, Mass



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FullSizeRender‘ Sophie and I at the Metropolitan museum on Monday afternoon

Dear friends and readers,

Yes that’s another photo of me in a museum; this time with my friend, Sophie, at the bottom of the grand stairway at the Metropolitan Museum on Monday afternoon — we stood a long while in front of some Monets and Pissarros; we planned to spend Tuesday morning at the Whitney to see the new building and exhibit of the history of American painting and the museum’s collection (as if it were one), but found the Whitney was closed on Tuesday. (Later that day she did get to the Frick and mused surrounded by Boucher.) So we walked on the Highline park, and after walking about in the low areas (the village itself, shops and streets, and some originally beautiful churches still standing) had breakfast together.

I stayed at the Larchmont on West 11th on the advice of my friend, Diana; it’s relatively inexpensive, quiet, and comfortable enough. To have done with my Village adventures, I had a lovely dinner with another friend in Chapter One on Greenwich Avenue, and yet another long-time friend (on the Net, we met in person finally!) a hearty brunch at the French Roast.

The purpose of my visit was once again to go the Trollope annual dinner. Jim and I had gone the year Trollope on the Net was published, and I wrote and delivered at the Reform Club (Pall Mall, London) my “Partly Told in Letters: Trollope’s Story-Telling Art.” The Knickerbocker in NYC is now in a different place and I almost didn’t make it — taking a subway on the wrong side of the park and then resorting to Uber Cab to make it on time. This year John Wirenius who wrote the first true Trollope sequel, Phineas at Bay, gave a talk on the writing of his book, and since on Trollope19thCStudies we read the book and talked about it week-by-week, I wanted to meet him and to be there for his speech. I also renewed a couple of cherished and remembered friendships in person (since 2001 conducted by phone or email). Douglas Gerlach replaced Randy Williams as the president,and I met Doug’s wife — ate next to her. I can remember talking of Austen. Jim would have appreciated the wines. I liked the yummy vanilla ice cream.


I enjoyed it– people who can afford such an event but liking Trollope in all sorts of ways and talking of the books casually — but think in future I should try for the lectures (less dressing up and more genuine calm talk, especially about Trollope). I could come by Megabus of a morning, stay at the Larchmont, go the lecture in the evening, and if there is no good theater (after having tried to research this) or great movie I won’t see otherwise, or museum exhibit, or friend to see, come straight back the next day.

I had had an ordeal of an exhausting trip to get to NYC from DC since the Amtrak train accident (on the avoidable causes for which see John Nichols), traveling hard 9 hours, but with the help of a cab actually got to and saw Wolf Hall Part 2 on Saturday evening. I regret to have to say it was very poor: it may be that the vast theater will not allow intimate drama (no close-ups), but some imaginative effort could have made some substitute for the subjective filmic techniques of Straughan and Percival’s brilliant mini-series (including the ability of a film to get close to an unflinching view of a someone experiencing beheading); totally unnecessary was the way Anne was blackened and Cromwell simplified into a stiff Machiavel. I quickly saw the audience was older mainstream couples. Their intermission talk was dismaying; how bad a woman was Anne Boleyn seemed to be the moral some drew. This kind of adaptation gives a bad name to historical fiction.

I had intended to see The Heidi Chronicles but it was cancelled (for lack of audience — the repeatedly obtuse New Yorker critic, Hilton Alys treated its feminism as corny)

Perhaps the archly performative nature of the production was ironically appropriate to Mantel’s vision? (Bad joke alert.) While in my room or on a train I read straight through Hilary Mantel’s extraordinary Bring Up the Bodies, which I fear will be hard to do justice to in a blog: shall I read first a good biography of Thomas Cromwell, or Eric Ives’s Life and Death of Queen Anne (the stealth central character of the book), or turn to Diana Wallace’s The Woman’s Historical novel, British Women Writers, 1900-2000 to grasp its context, or maybe I should add to her memoir Giving up the Ghost and Eight Months on Gaza Street (a revelation of the underlying terror of living in a place like Saudi Arabia for the average citizen not even a woman) — the bleak dark center of apprehension about the nature of human beings’ relationships to one another needs none of these it might be said, nor the occasional moving poetry of Cromwell’s quiet voice turned steely criminal. You should feel fearful when you finish it.

Not that reality is trivial in comparison (it mirrors our world). As my train neared Baltimore on my way back to Alexandria, and I looked out the window to see miles of semi-abandoned streets and houses, I wondered why the choice has been acquiesced to allow a very few to live in super-luxury hidden away behind closed and locks walls of all sorts, with the rest holding onto tiny vantage places equally closed off within such wasteland landscapes. The wanton vile brutal destruction of Freddy Grey (killed as if he were some foldable animal) was distressing to watch, worse the full realization of how this kind of thing has been meted out something like twice a week for years on those black people in the US who don’t end up surviving for decades in appalling prisons.

I wish I could say David Hare’s Skylight (which on the spur of the moment, I fitted in on Sunday afternoon) more than made up for the disappointment of Saturday’s late evening, but it was another stiff performance: I noticed very favorable reviews. But Bill Nighy seemed unable to forget he was Bill Nighy and only became Tom Sergeant towards the every end of the play; one of the best moments was Carey Mulligan as Kira his disillusioned girlfriend mocking his (usual) artifical shrugs and gestures. The play itself moved me: Kira has been his younger mistress, a close friend of the family until his wife Alice discovered they were lovers; Kira felt all she could do was desert the whole family she had been undermining but in the intervening three years of no contact, Tom’s wife had died of cancer: he deserted her too, physically after setting her up in a beautiful room with a vast glass skylight. The confrontations with death in the talk, and the ironic wit towards all sorts of cant conventions (Tom would like gardening to be made illegal) could have been moving had the theater been smaller. I was so aware of how fake the experience felt as a whole, from the jostlings of the audience to the audience laughing at the least excuse for a joke which both sets of actors played to (in both plays this was so).


A rare quiet moment of genuine feeling only intermittently worked up to The city seemed to me sans Jim crowded, dirty, old, noisy, people struggling as best they can to carve out some modicum of quality life here and there in the crevices. I did find some food to eat now and again in not-such-expensive restaurants, two hearty breakfasts, one good dinner (where individual food items were recognizable, as eggs, bread, a piece of honest chicken plainly cooked). But mostly the eateries in NYC present the same hideous concoctions that I have noticed pass for food nowadays in most restaurants so I spent the usual long hours hungry, with styrofoam cups of coffee (sickening after a while) to get me through. I had a hard time getting cabs to stop for me; they kept shooing me away. I wondered if I look poor; was it a woman alone? One cab driver looked worried lest I not pay him. I discovered Uber cab operates in Manhattan by cruising (the hectic pace of life seems to preclude people standing and waiting for a cab to come using a cell phone app map) because they were willing to stop when I found myself (a couple of times) far away from where I needed to be at a certain time. I did use the subway and got quite good at the IRT lines, could tell north from south and east from west after a while. I kept in contact with Net friends through email on my cell phone mostly.

EllenHighLine (1)
Me at Highline park just before bidding adieu to Sophie and hurrying back to Penn Station to catch a train I remembered Jim again, moments here and there — on highline park the day of my mother’s funeral with Caroline and Yvette.

I was not so desperate as I have been traveling; after all NYC is the place I grew up in, know physically well (the Larchmont resembles the inside of my house in some ways). I still longed intensely to get home again — as if it is a substitute for him. I had left as soon as I could directly before Tuesday noon by taking a cab from the highline park to Penn Station — getting home to my cats by 4:30.

Both cats came to the door as I came in and have stayed close to me ever since. I missed them too, especially at night and in the early morning. Ian did sleep with Yvette, but Clarycat just was at a loss and kept to herself at night. She is sitting close to me now, nudging, putting her paw on me to pay attention and I am.

For tomorrow and on and off for four days I shall try to rest. I just about stumbled into the train home and my ankles now feel very weak. I am badly in need of rest, regular food and quiet.


Retro- and prospective: Last week had been hectic with my two final lectures and a fine (enjoyable) concert by the aging pianist of popular music, John Eaton, the way the OLLI people at AU ended their term (my class on the first 4 Poldark books went very well), and a luncheon for me with the OLLI people at Mason. This will give you an idea of what John Eaton was like — and the taste of people at AU:

Very pleasant, moving, touching, invigorating:

I shall distract and enjoy myself this summer teaching Framley Parsonage at the OLLI at Mason where I sense I will have a number of students who read The Warden, Barchester Towers, and Dr Thorne with me. In the fall I’ll do a partial repetition of my Poldark course this spring at AU: only 2 of the novels to fit the new series of 8 episodes for Ross Poldark and Demelza (and to fit in 7 weeks). At luncheon I was assured if I played a whole episode for a session and left the left over 40 minutes for discussion that would be fine, so while I’ll do some history, I will be comparing the two film adaptations, and perhaps write a proposal to do a paper on the Poldark films at the ASECS next spring in Pittsburg: For Fall 2015:

The Poldark World. In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two of the twelve novel series, and we’ll watch and compare episodes from the first and second Poldark mini-series (1975-76, 2015). The first two Poldarks are brilliantly realized regional romances, excellently researched historical novels dramatizing later 18th century politically radical movements, medicine and, mining, prisons, custom and law and smuggling. Written in the aftermath of World War Two, the books mirror issues of concern to that war-torn world, and the 1970 and 2015 adapt them to speak to issues of the 1970s and 2015. We will treat the novels and films as historical fiction, creating usable pasts across 70 years. Suggested editions: Ross Poldark, Demelza. NY: Sourcebooks, 2009/2010, or London & NY: PanMacmillan, 2008. 7 Sessions, beginning the week of Sept 28th and ending Nov 11th.

I should stress how much I continue to enjoy the Poldark books and want to read more of Winston Graham’s mystery fiction. Just now listening in my car to Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones as read by Ken Zanziger (for AU in the fall) — I sort of enjoy it.  And I’ll try seriously to think about colonialism in Trollope as reflected in his Australian or other travel books (including the fiction set in English new colonies) and write a paper deliverable inside twenty minutes.

Yvette and I will participate as we can in the summer activities of DC (Fringe Festival, this coming Saturday I will drive myself to Wolf Trap to watch and hear Garrison Keillor). I’ve got to go to City Hall as I discovered I may be eligible for tax relief on this house and property — that’ll be Thursday.

This will be my second summer without Jim, the third since he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I keep him with me in my heart.


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