A little over ten years ago, on February 5th 2006, when I was living in Kingston Ontario, I wrote these notes about a play I’d just seen. I didn’t record the names of the actors or the director, but I wrote about it because the themes of creativity and aging were speaking to me in my own life.
In the evening, I bundled up in the cold wind and light snow pellets, heading out to the bank machine 7 blocks away and back towards the newly-renovated performance space which is only 3.5 blocks from home to see the play Rough Magic, by John Lazarus, a local drama professor and playwright. The space, formerly a big Masonic Hall which looks like an old Presbyterian church, is simple and functional, with about 80 movable chairs, a simple thrust stage, good acoustics, and appealing lighting. There were only 4 of us in the audience, on a cold Sunday night while the Superbowl of American football was on television.
I loved the play, and I also loved the intimacy of being so close to it. The play concerned two actors in a movie version of The Tempest being filmed in the Caribbean in the 1950s, and also included the romantic partner of each actor. One actor was older, English, gay, and a classical Shakespearean stage actor (inspired by Sir John Gielgud), and the other was young, American, nominally straight, and a “method” actor. He was inspired by Marlon Brando. The older actors were professionals, and the younger two were undergraduates. It was funny, and in parts very sexy, and it had interesting things to say about acting and relationships and movies and Shakespeare, as well as the problems of being queer in the 1950s. The older actor starts out struggling to make dramatic sense of Prospero’s speech about abjuring his powers and breaking his staff, but as the play progresses he considers the potential benefits of retiring while still successful, and ends up being in sympathy with Prospero. Meanwhile, we learned that his partner had left a career as a set designer partly because of a drinking problem and partly to follow the actor, but now wants to pursue his creative talents again. All of these were familiar themes to me.
I have a thing about not making standing ovations routine, so I didn’t stand, but the lights were up and I didn’t hide that I was wiping my eyes. On the way out, I realized that one of my three fellow theatre-goers was the playwright. I wondered how it must feel to be watching one’s work come to life and watching some people appreciate it. I marvelled at how hard it must be to tell a whole story just through dialogue and action and to let other people do the telling. Then I remembered the teenage campers at our camp in 2004, roaring with laughter at the skit I wrote for the staff to perform on the last night, and in a small way, I understood.
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