Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I was deeply saddened last night to read that the local stage actor Mark Chamberlin had died after a bicycle accident over the weekend. I saw him last year, in ACT Theatre's production of The Female of the Species, and also at various Pinter Fortnightly events. He sat near me in the audience one night and while I didn't have the chance to meet him, he was warm and funny and charming and quite disarmingly handsome. His passing has rent a hole in the tightly knit fabric of the Seattle theater community, and I am reminded again of the fragility of human life, and also that when you have the chance to thank someone for what their art has meant to you, you have to grasp it with both hands or else be left with an everlasting sense of regret.

For twenty years, Mr. Chamberlin was one of many actors whom I loved and admired in our local theaters, and I am sorrier than I can say that his great light has been lost to us. My heart goes out to his family, his friends, and his colleagues.

Monday, March 07, 2011

l'heure d'été. (movie notes).

*contains plot spoilers.*

I watched l'heure d'été (Summer Hours, directed by Olivier Assayas, 2008) some weeks ago, and it left me with a kind of lingering wistfulness. I think it's one of those films which will stay with me for a long time, from the opening sequence to the last moments. In between it is a meditation on the nature of art, of death, of family, of memory. Of childhood and growing old, opening on a pack of children running through the gardens of a family summer home, following a treasure map up and down trees and along steep winding paths. The house's chatelaine is turning 75. She is determined to see that her late uncle's legacy of art passes on after her death. She takes her unwilling oldest son through her things, the Majorelle desk and cabinet, the Redon panel that is quietly mouldering on the studio wall, the shards of a Degas plaster cast that her sons broke when they were boys. Everything has a memory for her, and she is the last one left.

If it were an American film, this elderly lady would die dramatically clutching her chest as a glass of water spills to the floor and shatters, as shocked family and devoted housekeeper looked on, but thankfully it is a French film, and her death happens offscreen. We move slowly through the seasons, as the three grieving grown-up children sift through the estate and come to terms with what it really means to preserve a legacy. The art goes to the Musée d'Orsay; the house is sold. Two of the grown children live abroad, and to them the house is just a house. "Our children won't care," one of the sons says. They won't remember the stories that come with every piece; for them the Uncle Paul who collected it all is just another ancestor who died before they were born.

Near the end of the movie, Frédéric and his wife walk through the Musée d'Orsay to see his family's collection displayed in the gallery of decorative arts. There is a piercing sense of nostalgia, seeing these antique pieces, the Majorelle desk cleared of papers and the vases arranged on glass shelves under spotlights, instead of on the mantelpiece or filled with summer flowers. The Redon panels have been cleaned and restored; behind the scenes an expert is piecing together the shattered Degas into a dancing girl. But there is also a sense of loss; that human touch of everyday life and its accompanying clutter has been swept away in the climate-controlled rooms of a museum. The line between art and object has blurred; that inlaid mahogany desk was built to be used, to be cherished, in a home. The painting was meant to be hung in defiance of rot. A vase is meant to be filled with flowers, no?

At the end, a teenage girl holds her boyfriend's hand as they walk across the countryside where she and her cousins played at the beginning of the film. She tells him, her grandmother used to bring her here, used to tell her that she in turn would bring her own children here. "Now the house belongs to someone else." But she'll remember it, always. Do you have a place like that in your heart? I do.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

jeunes filles en fleur. theater notes.

K. invited me to her daughter's class production of High School Musical last night. Her daughter goes to a private school in my neighborhood, and this was the 7th and 8th grade stage production. Everyone takes part, regardless of talent or experience. I go because this is how the next generation of people who love theater, onstage or in the audience, this is how it begins. I sit with my friend's younger daughter, who's seen the musical twice already. It's a nice theater, with fixed stadium seating and a thrust stage with a simple but professional-looking set. We are reminded to turn off our cell phones - the frequency might interfere with the performer's wireless microphones. What? Wireless mikes? We definitely didn't have those when we were in middle school. How times have changed.

Things I forgot about middle school: in 7th and 8th grade, the boys still look like little boys, some short, some tall. One boy has a Bieber haircut and is so baby-faced as to make the real (and already near-fetal) Justin Bieber look like an octogenarian. The girls are almost young women. They are long-limbed and not quite graceful, but they are definitely jeunes filles en fleurs, young girls in flower. They are all beautiful. Were we all that beautiful, when we were young? Another four years and they will be even more beautiful, like the girls in a high school production of Noises Off we saw a few months back, who ran effortlessly up and down stairs clad in skimpy slips and dangerously high heels.

The singing is not all in tune. Sometimes the mikes fade in and out. But there is energy, poise, love, the kind that might mature into passion. They have pride. They've worked hard for this. They are having fun. And so are we.