Saturday, March 30, 2013

springtime notes.

I woke up this morning with the sun flooding into my room, and I had an afternoon matinee at the Seattle Rep, so I did what I often do and walked downtown to catch the Monorail. With the spring sunshine there were people everywhere, and I was early, so I sat in the Seattle Center Armory (formerly the Center House) for a little while, reading Twitter on my phone and people-watching.

I saw an old woman at the next table, and realized it was the same woman I used to see outside the Seward Park PCC when I still lived in Mt. Baker. Markedly older now, perhaps, but recognizably her. Sometimes I’d see her at other supermarkets, or at a park. Often she would be selling plush flowers on bendy pipe-cleaner stems, for $1. There was something childlike about her. Today she seemed - as she always has - reasonably happy and cared-for, and I wondered again where she lives or what resources she has available to her. I hope there will always be someone looking out for her, that she won’t get pushed to the margins of society and fall off the edge.

Later, after the play, I ran into my friends Mike and Jenise at the Seattle Center fountain. I hadn’t seen them in a while, and we got to chatting, which meant getting on the Monorail later than I had anticipated. It was full, so I kept walking further and further back, found an empty seat, turned and saw my old neighbor Laura, who still lives across the street from my childhood home. She looked exactly the same as I remember her. She was not young when I was a child; I can’t even guess how old she must be now.

It’s getting hard for her, living in that light-filled house perched on a steep cliff. “I’m going to give it one more year,” she tells me of rattling around alone, but she still takes the Light Rail downtown and then the Monorail over to Seattle Center to see plays at the Rep and Seattle Shakespeare. I hope to be that active when I am her age.

Friday, March 15, 2013

London days.

I got back from London Wednesday night, four whole days and five nights at the end of a trip that included a few nights in Bath and four in Cornwall. I hadn’t been to London since the end of 1996, a terrible year for my family in which one uncle had been diagnosed with liver cancer, another uncle died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 50, and my own father was recovering from cancer.

Sixteen years went by. I wasn’t a teenager anymore. I found myself walking from Victoria Station to Sloane Square last Saturday night, almost-but-not-quite lost, eventually finding my way through the dimly lit cobbled streets and avenues to the Royal Court Theatre. I looked across Sloane Square; we had stayed near here the last time, and the Peter Jones at one corner of the square was as I remembered it.

The biting cold wind was as I remembered it, too. I’d walk out from the Pimlico station and pull my jacket closer against the cold, every day, walking the few blocks to our hotel. The path became familiar, past the curry shop, the pub, the stone hulk of St. Saviour’s, the long green park of St. George’s Square. Five nights is long enough to make a place feel like it belongs to you, even if it is only a fleeting moment in the passage of time.

My last day in London I spent on my own, invisible amongst the crowds. I wanted it this way. I got lost, turned around, found my way to a familiar place, kept moving. London, indeed England as a whole, was as warm and friendly as the weather was cold and windy. Shop assistants helped me count out my change; the VAT agent at the airport addressed me as “my love” (G. had told me this would happen). Even as I packed my suitcases to return home I was thinking, how soon can I return?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

theatre notes. Pinter, again. London edition.

A few nights ago, two friends and I headed to the Harold Pinter Theatre in London to see Pinter's Old Times. It was the long-awaited highlight of a much-anticipated trip, several months in the planning. Pinter is one of my favorite playwrights, and this is one of my favorite of his plays, and when I heard that its run coincided with our trip, naturally I had to see it. That two of my favorite actors, Rufus Sewell and Kristin Scott Thomas, were starring, was of course only a minor factor.

Old Times is one of Pinter's 'memory' plays, and I can't pretend to understand it any more upon the third viewing than I did the first time around. The one thing I see more clearly is how much depends on vision and interpretation. The choices made by this director and these actors are subtly different from those made by the previous directors and actors; this is how it should be. The playwright can only give so many clues to what he intends, and the rest is up to us. What *really* is happening in this story between Kate, Deely, and Anna is never clear to me. Perhaps it never will be, no matter how many times I see this play.

Memory, as Pinter shows us time and time again in his plays, is a trickster, a fickle, ephemeral creature. It is something created, imagined, imposed, reinvented according to our desires. No two people ever remember the same thing in the same way; we can't even be sure that our own memories are real or made up. This time around I began to wonder if one or two or all three characters were dead, and they were locked in the afterlife as in Sartre's No Exit. It could be true, couldn't it?

Maybe I need to see it again.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

theatre notes. London edition.

 Yesterday afternoon, G. and I went to see Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios, the former Whitehall Theatre near Trafalgar Square. Somehow I had managed to book our seats in the middle of the second row, which was honestly quite terrifying. Against the raw industrial space the Scottish play had been reimagined as something almost post-apocalyptic, with everyone in combat trousers and boots and tattered sweaters. The three witches came bursting out from trapdoors - there was a lot of bursting out from trapdoors - wearing giant aviator goggles, and for once everyone sounded (or was) Scottish. It was shockingly violent and transcendentally beautiful and, like that time I saw Amy Thone play Titus in an all-female version last year, I kind of wanted to throw up at the end.

Later that evening I went to the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square to see a play my Twitter friend Daniel Bye (himself a playwright) had recommended, If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep. It is hard to explain what it was all about - the current economic crisis in Britain, the sense of anger and rebellion and despair, the recklessness of being pushed to your limit. A series of short, linked vignettes leads to a final moment when all the threads come together, as a band of protestors squat in a disused courthouse. It wasn't perfect, yet I loved it anyway. As with Macbeth earlier that afternoon it was like holding electricity in my bare hands.

I hadn't meant to see any plays in London, but somehow it just happened - these two, and then Harold Pinter's Old Times tomorrow night. What I love most about theatre is the sense of community that we have in Seattle, the relationship and love that has built up over more than twenty years now. It is about the people as much as it is about the plays. And yet I realize now I need this, this jolt of electricity, this experience of something that is unfamiliar and new and exciting. To see what other people are thinking and creating and feeling on this other side of the world. I feel like the Little Prince who has left his own little planet for a much larger one, for the unknown, and while the new world is an extraordinary place it still it diminishes not his love and desire for home.