Friday, November 29, 2013

Richard Nelson on Theater

This is what Richard Nelson says — so eloquently — what theater is all about, and I quote with a deep appreciation.

“The theater has a unique place in the history of societies.  After all, the theater is the only artistic form that uses the entire live human being as its expression, and hence, carries within itself a very specific view of the world; and that view, in a word, is humanistic.  The individual is a the center of the play, and the world of the play revolves around the individual — that is simply what a play is.  By a play’s very nature, the heart of any play is the individual voices of its characters.  And in times like our own, when human voices seem more disembodied than ever, where words seem pulled from their meanings and turned into rants and weapons, the theater can, I believe, be a necessary home for human talk; that is, a place where human beings talk about their worries, confusions, fears and loves.   And where they also listen.”

Richard Nelson is the playwright of the tetralogy The Apple Family, of which Sweet and Sad, perhaps the most poignant of the four; at an extended lunch, set on September 11, 2011, family members chat around their personal tribulations and familial tensions as they reflect on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11.  Seemingly casual in speech and minutely realistic in performance, the play conceals a remarkable artifice of tight writing by which every simple dialogue is fraught with meaning and emotion. 

Movie is a picture show, the audience looking at an event beyond a glass wall that is the screen even when it comes into our living room in the form of television. In the theater, we are in the living room inhabited by the characters and even though we the audience does not speak we become active participants as listeners.  We are moved breathing the same air as theirs, and we are moved actively, not just vicariously. 

In distinguishing theater from cinema, I don’t disparage movies.  As an art historian I take pictures seriously, especially pictures that narrate as they did in the Western tradition.  So, I also take graphic novels, moving pictures, and talking pictures no less seriously.  But I want to alert to the deep experiential difference between theater and cinema, albeit they both narrate and therefore give an impression that they are alike.  Consider the difference between having been present at a good party and being shown a film footage of it.

Thanksgiving fast

The Thanksgiving Day this year coincided with the beginning of the Chanukkah and was quickly dubbed the Thanksgivukkah.  My Thanksgiving Day was almost as exceptional as I fasted through the day on account of the viral diarrhea of exceptional severity that I suffered at dawn.  Consequently, after a light breakfast of tea with honey and then rice gruel for lunch, instead of a sumptuous dinner I had an invitation to, I thanked for my (normal) health and the circle of great friends and the city of New York which nourishes my mental and emotional well-being, with a dinner of more rice gruel and boiled tofu dipped in soy sauce — an abbreviated Bratty diet.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rest, Repose, Respite

Rest I know not lest in slumber.  I cannot enjoy being indolently in repose; I feel rested when I am engaged in doing what I enjoy doing. 

I don’t believe I am exceptional in finding boredom tiresome and tiring, nor in finding an obligatory work exhausting. The 20-block walk on the way to work might be a drudgery but the same 20-block back from a great show is more likely a swift walk afloat in euphoria.  Time passes without fatigue when the task at hand is enjoyable for, then, it engages. 

I am in no doubt that a restful repose can be engaging, as the Italian “dolce far niente” puts it concisely.  But I understand “far niente” to mean not “doing nothing” but “doing no work or nothing onerous.”  In those years when I sunbathed with devotion, as I did from March to November, mostly in my backyard, I engaged myself intensely in the effort to expose myself to the sun maximally and earn the deepest deep tan as I possibly could; the pleasure, I can vouch, was from this effort and not from the idle repose.    A busy day, for me, is restful; a whole day sitting at home can get exhausting.  No respite in resting.

When I am at last deposed to my rest in peace, I am sure I will get restless.  I will certainly find interesting tasks to keep me busy, or else, I may disturb my resting companions or even haunt the friends left behind.  Is my future a ghostly life, perhaps?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Movies hardly now

In mid-career, teaching film courses, I watched loads of films, well over 200 in most years — in theater, on videocassette, and on television (particularly, on the stations Bravo and Turner Classic for oldies).  The number diminished toward the end of 1990’s to a hundred or fewer.  But after my retirement in 2001, the number went down further to 50 in good years, and more recently barely a dozen. 
Living in New York, I cannot imagine ignoring the live performances this city uniquely has to offer in abundant variety.  Why spend more time and expense at the movies when films remain accessible on DVD, as they do today, long after their release, and stage shows vanish after a given number of days or weeks never to be retrieved later. Unless profession or social fitness, so to speak, demands us to be cinematically au courant, we'd be wasting the city's valuable resources otherwise.  So, opera, ballet, dance, music, and stage plays solidly fill up my calendar; I go to movies lately only when urged by friends.

This is as good a reason as any why I give more time to live theater, even though it is true that I love theater, its breath and immediacy and brought me to New York as my place of retirement in the first place. I will return to watching movies on DVD when I am old and feeble and can no longer go out comfortably,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Introducing myself

Twelve years after my retirement, no longer a professor of art history, if I were to describe what I do in order to identify myself I can only say that I am an unpaid freelance theater critic who concerns herself with opera, ballet, modern dance, music, and theater, occasionally with art, but has no assignment and contributes no writing nowhere nohow in no print whatsoever -- totally truly free freelance.