Saturday, April 30, 2011

a poem for a Saturday.

I found a scrap of paper as I was cleaning up my room last night, floating to the surface of the tide of flotsam and jetsam that fills that bedroom. It must have been tucked into a letter from my friend Ana, written when we were young. "A Wednesday Poem," it says. A handwritten note on the back suggests that we have 'Wednesday poems' every week, but somehow I think this tradition never took hold. It seemed serendipitously appropriate to find this at the end of a week of grieving for a friend, who died Monday afternoon. The letter I had been writing the Sunday before is in my bag, unfinished. I wrote another letter to her daughter, instead, late Monday night, still reeling from the news.

Day brings what it is going to be. Trees -
wherever they are - begin to stand.
I have a crossing to do today
onward through this shadowy land.

How still the earth stayed that night at first
when you didn't breath. I couldn't believe
how carefully moonlight came. It was
like the time by my mother's grave.

Today I am going on. In former times
when you were back there, then
I tried to hold the moon and sun.
Now when they ask me who you were -

I remember, but remember my promise
And I say, "No one."

Letting You Go.
(William Stafford).

My friend loved poetry; when her children were young she put poems in their lunchboxes every day in April, which is National Poetry Month. In return, they started a blog of poems for her at the beginning of this month, the three now grown children choosing a different poem each day. She died before April came to an end. This friend loved many poets, but her favorite poem was another one by William Stafford, posted here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

in memory of Kim Ricketts.

This afternoon I got the email that I have been dreading for weeks. The wonderful Kim Ricketts had passed away after a long illness. She had been in and out of the hospital all winter, the hospital which I can see from my windows. The hospital which is within a stone's throw of the bar where she went into labor with her oldest child, nearly 27 years ago. The news of her passing hit the internet with a speed most often reserved for famous celebrities, like Elizabeth Taylor, and the outpouring of grief on Twitter and Facebook for Kim and her family was like a tidal wave. I expect it will continue over the next days and weeks.

Most of us in Seattle who love food and books have been touched in some way by Kim and the events she put together. I attended one of the dinners she had at Lark (for David Tanis and his book A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes) two and a half years ago, and while I didn't meet her that night - I was too shy to introduce myself in those days - it was one of a series of moments that changed everything. Her motto - and her company's - was "connecting people, stories, & ideas." She loved books more than anyone. She loved her three children - and they her - with a pride and a wild strength that was like a hurricane, and my heart is aching for them and her husband and the rest of her family.

I told Kim, all the time, in my letters to her, that I was so grateful to have met her, and that she was so loved by all of us. Nothing was left unspoken. It is a rare and precious thing, to understand what someone means to you, and to be able to tell them this. I was lucky to have this chance. We all were.

"Only connect."
(E. M. Forster).

Friday, April 22, 2011

theatre notes. O Lovely Glowworm.

(in memory of Mark Chamberlin).

I had planned to see New Century Theatre Company's production of O Lovely Glowworm even before the untimely death of Mark Chamberlin a month ago. He had been very much involved with the company from the beginning, and was already in rehearsals as the Goat when he died. In the wake of his passing, another founding member of the company, Michael Patten, stepped in, and this tightly knit small cast pulled together a beautiful production dedicated to Mark's memory. Throughout the tender "scenes of beauty" that make up the play there seemed to be an undercurrent of grief and loss for a fallen comrade, or perhaps I was imagining it. Perhaps I was imagining that shattering poignancy to every word. Perhaps it was all really there.

O Lovely Glowworm is a shape-shifting creature, a tangle of fables that leap from one to another. At first I can't tell where the separate stories are headed, until the second act when they begin to collide and then intersect. The thread that ties everything together is very simple: our never-ending human need for love, desire, faith, that is almost an ache. This thread is pulled and twisted by the Goat, who looks on with longing at the human comedies and dramas that swirl around him like the eddies and whirlpools that guard Philomel, the mermaid who lives in the lake. I am confused and enchanted at the end, and I want to see it all over again.

The New Century Theatre Company feels like an actor's theatre company, more born out of a collective passion of a group of performers than a single director's vision. In my program is a list of people who have donated to the company over the last year; I recognize many of them as actors whom I've seen on Seattle stages over the past twenty years. Sitting behind me in the audience is Anne Allgood, who I remember from Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll and one of the Pinter Fortnightly readings last year. (I introduce myself at intermission, telling her I recognized her laugh; I'm learning not to be shy). Nearly all the actors onstage are familiar to me, and I remember all over again why I've come: theatre is about passion and faith, and it gives me something to believe in. It is an enduring kind of love.

It would not be fair to Michael Patten and his wonderful performance to try and imagine Mark Chamberlin as the Goat. But his presence seemed to be there, still. The part that moved me most to tears was when the Taxidermist (Patten, in one of his shape-shifting roles) prepares the goat (a stuffed dummy, really), talking to him all the while. "You are loved," he says, gently. For a moment I am not entirely sure if he is only speaking to the goat.

O Lovely Glowworm, presented by the New Century Theatre Company, performs at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway until May 14.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

more theatre notes.

I heard the other day that Intiman Theatre was closing for the rest of the 2011 season, only just begun. I must say that I have not supported them lately, but the sadness I feel is still very real. Many of my dearest theater memories stem from their magnificent productions - Betrayal, Ghosts, The Importance of Being Earnest, (all when I was in my teens), and more recently, To Kill a Mockingbird, Heartbreak House, Crime and Punishment, and A Thousand Clowns. Lately my attention has been more preoccupied with other theaters, with ACT downtown and Strawberry Theatre Workshop in my own neighborhood, and the Taproot up in Greenwood, which has a tender intimacy that reminds me of the old ACT Theatre on Queen Anne. There is the New Century Theatre Company which I discovered last year with the incredible On the Nature of Dust, and the Pinter Fortnightly readings run by Frank Corrado, and my time and money are taken up with other things. But these are all only excuses.

I feel guilty. For not having contributed. For not subscribing to another season. For not taking the time and making the effort to ensure that our city did not lose any of our incredible wealth of theater. I take heart in remembering that ACT went through its own turbulent times, perhaps ten years ago. They had moved from a tiny space a block or two from Seattle Center (which houses both Intiman and Seattle Rep) over to a giant building downtown, which contained three separate stages on different levels. There were a few rough seasons, which I don't quite remember because I was off to college at the time, but I remember wondering if they would survive. And they did. The Taproot was rebuilt after being devastated by a fire about a year and a half ago. I hope that Intiman's new director will find her own ground, coming back to us even stronger, and better than before. There will always be room for all these theaters in Seattle.

Art is a necessary privilege. We need art the way we need air or water, unconsciously. If it is taken away then our souls will die the way our bodies will die without air or water. But at the same time it is a privilege, too, one that can be taken away if there are no resources to sustain it. I hope Intiman will be able to regroup in the coming year, and find a way to move forward.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Re-reading. Pinter/Fraser.

To console myself for not being able to get a seat for tomorrow night's Pinter Fortnightly, I'm returning to Antonia Fraser's Must You Go?, that beautifully tender gathering of memories of her life with Harold Pinter. I read it in one fast gulp last fall, staying up late into the night. It opens with the two meeting for the first time, after a 1975 production of The Birthday Party. "Wonderful play, marvellous acting, now I'm off," she says. "Must you go?" he asks. She stays, and eventually they leave the party, with Pinter giving her a ride home. I offered him coffee. I actually gave him champagne. He stayed until six o'clock in the morning with extraordinary recklessness, but of course the real recklessness was mine.

Pinter knew all about recklessness, of course. Think of the lovers in Betrayal, their tangled stories unraveling until we can see that first knot from which these twisted threads emerged, that first tryst in a bedroom in the midst of a party. Earlier (that is, earlier in the play but later in the story), there are those letters Jerry sends to Emma when she is off in Venice with her husband. (I'm going by a memory, now fifteen years old, of how it all unfolds). What we don't see, of course, is what happened before that - what unspoken messages, accidental touches, speaking glances across a room - that led to the point where the play ends. Someone has to make that first leap into the "must you go?" moment that leads to all the other moments.

They were Bohemians, Fraser writes, shedding the class divisions inflicted upon them by the press - she from the titled upper classes, never mind that her father became an earl late in life, he from the working classes - to meet in this kingdom of Bohemia. They were like the Schlegels in E. M. Forster's Howards End, who were the answer to his question, "who will inherit England?" some sixty years before. Aside from being a great love story, theirs was a kinship of two writers, though not collaborative like the Didion-Dunne marriage, writing in separate studies in their combined household, working on plays and screenplays (him) and researching historical biographies (her) wherever they could, in London or in Scotland or in New York. They had three decades of happiness, not without cost, but real happiness, even if it is seen through the rose-colored flushes of early passion and late widowhood.

The more I read of him, the more Pinter I see performed, the larger and more intricate grows the puzzle that is his vast body of work. I feel as if I have only just begun.

Fraser, Antonia. Must You Go?: My Life With Harold Pinter. Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010. p 5.

Monday, April 04, 2011

farewell. (coda).

(in memory of Mark Chamberlin: 1955-2011)

The first Pinter Fortnightly reading of this year (now we are in the third year of this wonderful series) was scheduled to take place tonight. It was canceled in honor of Mark Chamberlin, who passed away quite suddenly last week. He was to have taken part in tonight's performance, but his memorial service was this afternoon, instead. I wrote of my sadness at his death earlier, and of the sense of loss that surely must be felt by the Seattle theater community, to say nothing of his family and friends.

The theaters of Seattle, large and small, make up an intimately connected constellation that spreads across the city. They form a tight network of actors, directors, and writers who make their home in this city and whose work I have been privileged to experience for the past twenty years. People come in from the outside, of course, visiting directors from New York or the occasional movie actor from Los Angeles. But the heart of the community is people like Mark Chamberlin, who settled here as a young man and continued to grow and develop over the years as an actor, constantly evolving, constantly challenging himself.

I remember the first Pinter Fortnightly reading I attended, nearly two years ago. I remember my heart leaping at the sight of Suzanne Bouchard, Michael Winters, and Frank Corrado. I remember recognizing Marianne Owen in the audience. The gods of my youth were real now, and even better than they had been when I was young. The more Pinter readings I attended, the better I understood Pinter, of course, but most of all, the more I could see the extraordinary level of trust and collaboration between the actors. It gave a soft tenderness and depth to Pinter's often brutally sharp words, but maybe that was what Pinter intended.

This sense of trust and connection happens best when you have a distinct community of people who have known each other and worked together often, sometimes for decades. This is what Mark Chamberlin was very much a part of, and I will always remember the last role I saw him in, as Gibbs in The Hothouse. He was suave and menacing and hilarious by turns, and later made a wry reference to "the Scottish play" during the post-play discussion, which made everyone laugh. I looked forward to seeing more of him, and now that will never happen.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

movie notes. Jane Eyre

A few weeks ago, I went to see the newest film version of Jane Eyre with a fellow literature-geek friend. Both of us had read the novel as young girls (mine was a hardcover classic edition, one of a set that included Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, and Walden. The last one doesn't quite go with the others). It surprised me how deeply the dialogue has sunk into my consciousness, how much I remembered of it. This is what happens with books that you have read many times, that you've loved for most of your life. The most memorable scenes remain the same from movie to movie, bringing them alive as they have been in your imagination for twenty years.

L. has seen every film version of Jane Eyre there is; I've seen most of them. There are a lot. The New York Times recently had an article explaining this: as costume dramas go, this one is relatively easy (that is, inexpensive) to produce. There aren't that many characters or houses to costume, unlike, say, Pride and Prejudice. It's a more sympathetic story than Wuthering Heights (everyone in that one is selfish, weak, batshit insane, or some combination of the three), and in this version, much funnier than I remember it being. L. and I giggled a lot, much more than we should have, I suspect.

If you think about it, Jane Eyre is the precursor to the modern romantic comedy: our hero and heroine have their "meet cute" when the latter startles the former clean off his horse. There is some bantering dialogue, the thrilling incident of his bed catching fire and her tossing a jug of water at him, their gradual falling in love, and the inevitable separation and ultimate reconciliation. There's a crazy ex (for him) and the seemingly perfect match who nevertheless isn't quite her soulmate (for her). There is tragedy and heartbreak - as Brenda Blethyn says on the commentary for Saving Grace, you've got to have drama to give the comedy its emotional weight - and, of course, a happy ending.

My favorite thing about this version of Jane Eyre is the luminous strength of Mia Wasikowska. She is not shy. She will not waver, will not break, will not give in, the most indomitable of Janes. She is not beautiful, only heartbreakingly young. Watching her impossibly slender figure walking away from Rochester and all he can offer calls to mind that line from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: "...they were made of thin invisible steel." I have never liked Jane Eyre so much before.