Monday, April 23, 2007

Eugene O'Neill: The Iceman Cometh (and a note about Lanford Wilson "The Fifth of July")

DVD if a stage play:The Iceman Cometh, by Eugene O’Neill.
Taped by the American Film Theater Institute at 20th Century Fox studios in 1973.
DVD distributed by Kino International (a German film company).

Starring Lee Marvin (as Hickey), Jeff Bridges, Frederic March, Robert Ryan.

The first Friday night in October 2001 some wet snow flurries blew through the air in Minneapolis and, after watching a discussion of 9/11 on Nightline, I walked into the Boom, a favorite gay bar on the East Side of the River. A talked, or perhaps prattled, about the existential implications of the Nightline broadcast to a graduate student that I have befriended.

A few minutes later, as I was standing around, an African American woman named Lorraine approached me and asked, “What is your birth day.”

“July 10, 1943,” I said, taking the question literally.

“Which birthday?”

“The last one was 58.”

“You like Scott,” she challenged.

“Well, yes, I met him at the U.”

“His boyfriend thinks you like Scott, and that presents a problem. Please keep your distance.”

So I was the creep here. A guy, in life’s endgame (having “traded queens”) walks into a bar. No, I didn’t give a three hour lecture, more like five minutes. I had no confession to reveal. The police never came. But someone was asking me to leave. My behavior was, to some people, boorish. There seems to be a basic parallel.

Lee Marvin, so well known for being mean in many other movies of his day, walks into a bar, “the Last Chance Saloon,” and begins to challenge the idea of the other patrons that they expect anything. We gradually, over three hours, learn why he is at the end of his own road. There is that kind of despair you sometimes find in expressionistic classical music of the time. (The soundtrack contains honky tonk music -- maybe Scott Joplin -- on an out-of-tune upright piano that reminds one of a similar effect in Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck). The youngest patron in the bar, Don Parrit (Jeff Bridges), resents Hickey’s “staring” at him – often an issue in bars. It’s interesting that O’Neill could construct a four hour play on this simple problem of being welcome. It turns out that Parrit has more to learn from Hickey than the other patrons.

The play does bring up other issues of the pre World War I period (anarchists), in ways that could parallel some of our own issues. And the “movie” DVD, all 239 minutes, recaptures the visual atmosphere of a speakeasy in the first decade of the last century, when there was so much to look forward to and no one had a clue as to the shell shock that was about to come.

I recall that my last year in New York City in 1978, I went to some plays with a good friend, one of them being Lanford Wilson 's post Vietnam "The Fifth of July." I saw this in May 1978 in an off-off Broadway stage in Greenwich Village. (My friend made a comment that a disco-like orb above the stage looked like a "UFO". That was the rage at the time.) It was a bit heavy, as it deals with a midwestern gay veteran (Ken Talley) who lost both legs to gunfire in Vietnam. He has a devoted lover, and they have friends over during the summer holiday. There is an undertone of the idea that sexual attractiveness can be lost because of involuntary disfigurement in war. Today, the play would have some context in relation to the debate over gays in the military. Afterwords, I would have a curious confrontation (over French cinnamon ice cream in the Riviera Cafe) with the friend in a restaurant, and it's easy to imagine a play about that.

I think that O'Neill's Iceman play may have been around then, but too long to see.

Here's a link for a 1990 performance directed by Kate Hammet-Leader.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Joshua Bell (violinist) performs on "Five Lines"

On Sunday, April 8, 2007 Gene Weingarten wrote a story for The Washington Post Magazine, “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.” On Friday, January 12, 2007 (a mild morning, before the month long cold snap arrived), Joshua Bell, one of the world’s leading violinists, playing on his hand-crafted Stradivarius, started a 43 minute concert of unaccompanied violin music by Bach (much of if being the Chaconne in the violin-friendly key of d minor), playing in the manner of a New York City subway musician, at Washington D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza, where the Yellow-Blue and Green-Yellow lines cris-cross (remember the movie “Five Lines”?). (He would also play a transcription of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria, Manuel Ponce ‘s “Estrelitta” and some Massenet). Now Bell, 39 but looking younger and quite handsome by social standards, dressed with a Nationals cap (and those Nats aren’t doing to well, are they, coming off of a four game sweep loss at home to Arizona, chuckle) would make only $32 in the event. (Maybe that isn’t so bad.) At least one person recognized him, and many people assumed he was homeless but found that hard to believe.

Here is the full audio of the event (43 minutes).

Here is the news story with three video clips.

Here is a related discussion for Post Magazine.

These articles may become archived and require online purchase from The Post.

Joshua Bell appears as (I) on

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Gilbert and Sullivan: The Mikado (English National Opera)

The Mikado
Composer: Sir Arthur Sullivan
Libretto: William S. Gilbert
Performance in 1987 by English National Opera, performed on cable by A&E
Director: John Michael Phillips; stage director: Jonathan Miller

The original opera takes place in Japan and is here transplanted to the British seaside (Brighton substituting for the town of Titipu) in the 1930s. Off of this makes the story, on its surface, seem even sillier. Ko-Ko (Eric Idle) has to pay heed to “sales culture” and come up with his quota of decapitations to win the heart of Yum-Yum (Lesley Garrett). Now Nanki-Poo (Bonaventura Bottone) has returned from self-imposed banishment for Yum himself, and the deal struck by “The Mikado” (by definition, an emperor of Japan, Richard Angas in this performance) is to let Namki have her for a month as long as he fits into the quota of executions.

The music is particularly lightweight and acting stereotyped, so it is hard to tell if this operetta is farce or satire. The subject matter (given the Capote movies) seems hardly fit for fun. This shows that you can make “entertainment” out of almost anything, but by today’s standards it is pablem. There is a lot of silly dialogue playing games with marriage, execution, being buried alive, and so on. Nothing is shown.

Sir Arthur Sullivan did sometimes compose majestic music, as the Overture “In Memoriam” in honor of his rather, part of it in 5/4 time.

Available as a television tape of the stage production from Netflix (distributor is A&E).

There is a great conceited line "I am an acquired taste. Only the education palette can appreciate me.... Just as I was at the point of completing education, I shall find another."

Or "Accept my love, or I shall perish on the spot... You know not what you say..."

"I have just married this miserable object."