Saturday, June 26, 2010


Applause as an expression of approval is today universal. We applause by clapping hands to welcome a speaker, to hail a celebrity, and to show appreciation at the end of a performance, or at the end of a number as in ballet or of an aria in opera. If the performance is exceptional, we shout "Bravo" while clapping. In recent years, we find certain members of the audience at the opera and ballet who, with or without applause, howl and yowl, even screech and squeal. They are by and large a young crowd on the balcony but I have noticed some over 30. Their noise-making makes me think that it is a carryover from rock concerts and sport events, and I find it uncouth and inappropriate, that is to say, vulgar and annoying, no less than the bad habit of some spectators who talk during the performance as though they were at home watching television. We must remind ourselves, nevertheless, that the practice of clapping hands in approval is a convention, too, apparently historically rather recent. There are, after all, other forms of applause -- stomping the feet, snapping the fingers, groaning, and knocking the table with the knuckle. We need young audience, of course, to sustain and support opera and ballet in the future, and it is not inconceivable that decades from now the practice of screaming to express approval may establish itself as a norm. Mercifully I shan't be around.

猫背 Stoop

あたし、30代の頃から、立っていても,歩いていても,背中を丸くして前屈み,亀みたいに首を前に突き出しているのが写真に残っていますけど,ニューヨークに住むようになってから、町を歩いていると、ショーウィンドーに映る自分の姿を見せられて,いやおうなしに姿勢に気が付き、背中を延ばして、肩をひいて、大股で闊歩することにしてます。それで、母がやっぱり40歳の頃から猫背だったのを思い出します。骨粗鬆(しょう)症 だったのでしょうね。あたし受け継ぎましたけど、知ったのはロンドンのホテルの狭いシャワーで転んだあとで、66歳の時でした。身長8cmほど失いましたけど,姿勢は良くなりました。

Already in my 30s, I tended to stoop forward, standing or walking, with the shoulders rounded and the neck pulled out like a turtle, as I appear in photographs, but, since moving to New York, walking on the street, I am constantly made aware of my own image reflected in store windows; and thus, checking my posture, learned to straighten my back, pull up the shoulders, and walk in stride, and I remembered Mother who had, since she was about 40, a nekoze, the cat's rounded shoulder, as we say in Japanese. It was evidently osteoporosic, and I inherited it, of which I learned only in 1999 after a fall in a London hotel when I was 66. I lost something like 3 inches but my posture is much better now.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Red: Rothko on Stage

Alfred Molina played Mark Rothko on stage in John Logan’s Red, a Donmar Warehouse production. His impassioned performance was impressive, Michael Grandage’s direction was effectively composed, and the set replicated the artist’s studio credibly. Yet the play, for me, lacked credibility, despite the raving reviews it received both in London and here in New York. My immediate reaction was why Rothko rather than an unnamed artist, if the play’s point was the internal struggle of a tortured artist. But the point, for Logan, was evidently Rothko.

The problem was with the play itself. It was conceived as a docudrama on stage, an impossible enterprise. A documentary makes use of documents; so, a documentary film compiles the footage of real people and place, stock or newly shot. But in the process of editing, the filmmaker would bring to the work her/his point of view, and, in this manner, fictionalizes it by default. Enacted on stage, a play cannot realize its set and characters except by reconstruction. Logan’s Red is therefore a fiction aspiring to be a documentary but, given that such is an impossibility, can only be a fiction pretending to be a documentary. The final effect, therefore, lacks conviction. It is a fake, patently false, a fiction which should have presented itself as faction.

Representation of artists on film and stage is rarely convincing. But an instructive comparison is Edward Albee’s The Occupant, as the title read, which portrayed Louise Nevelson. In this play the artist, played by Mercedes Ruehl, is interviewed by an anonymous interviewer after her death. In each play, an actor mimics a celebrated artist. The lines the actor is given to speak, in each case, are drawn from the artist’s biographical material. In this sense, the text is documentary. But whereas Molina impersonates Rothko’s actions -- his activities in the studio, Ruehl taking on the persona of Nevelson talks about the artist’s life and art as she might have spoken in interviews during her lifetime. Ruehl’s Nevelson is fully credible. This is because Albee’s play is not a fiction pretending to be a documentary. Rather, it is a documentary constructed into a dramatic fiction.

Fictionalized biography of any kind is tricky. It is generally successful in writing; examples of biographical and historical novels are abundant. Margaret Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian is one preeminent case that comes to my mind. Writing allows the reader to create the character in her/his mind. A visual medium -- film or stage -- renders the characterization of the subject concrete; the viewer is given an image which is by default fraudulent. It is perhaps no surprise that in Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, also from Donmar Warehouse and directed by Michael Grandage, Frank Langella’s president was credible; the substance of this play was a series of Frost’s interviews of Nixon.

My dissatisfaction with Red was real. But it took me days of mulling over the play and its presumed failure. The explanation may be totally off the track, of course; it is, after all, only an opinion of one seasoned theater goer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Okada Toshiki 岡田利規 Enjoy

小川あやの巧妙な英訳による,「エンジョイ」の公演を,今年の春ニューヨークで観たのが、岡田利規の作品に接した最初でした。そして、早速原文の本、「エンジョイ・アワー・フリィータイム」、を入手して読んだのですけど, 最近の若い世代の不安定な思考及び心理状態が、若者言葉で表されているのは、アメリカに永住の年寄りのあたしにとっては興味深いことでしたけど、それ以上に感心させられたのは、俳優が配役の人物を演じつつ同じ俳優がその人物について語るという形式で、現実の社会とか生活の一部をを模倣するとか要約するという常套な演劇でなく、というよりそれに重ねて、演劇とは何だろうと云うとか、そんなふうな、岡田氏自身の疑問を戯曲化したような作品であるということです。その点で、注目すべき傑作だと思いました。


Last spring in New York, I saw the production of "Enjoy" in Aya Ogawa's ingenious translation (directed by Swarthmore's own Dan Rothenberg), and this was my first encounter with the work of Okada Toshiki. Immediately I ordered the book in the original, "Enjoy·Hour·Freetime" and read it through, and found the current youth's intellectual and psychological instability expressed in their vernacular of particular interest to this elderly reader settled in the US, but more than that I was impressed how the playwright, adopting the form that allows the actors to act the characters and at the same time comment on those characters, eschewed or, rather, perhaps layered over, the conventional theater which replicates or summarizes an aspect of the real society or life, and created a work which addressed Okada's own doubting question as to what the theater is, and, so to speak, made it into a theater; and in this regard this is a noteworthy masterpiece.

A few weeks after "Enjoy" I saw, also in New York, an English rendering of "Five days in March" and subsequently read it in Japanese together with "The Plural of my Place" edited in his volume "The End of the Special Time Allowed Us," and, again, in the form of a novella, the author, instead of relying on a simple representation, attempts to probe deep into the layered consciousness and sense perception and succeeds in bringing to light the reality of this effort; and I was deeply impressed.