This week we're talking about memorable performing arts experiences. Once I started I couldn't stop at five, but sadly these experiences have definitely tapered off since leaving New York City. I really must make more of an effort.
1. In college I saw a production of The Canterbury Tales in which the actors also served as props, becoming part of the landscape or a piece of furniture, as needed. When the action called for a river, an actor with long blond hair leaned over and her hair became the rippling water. A fiery hot poker was played by a man wearing a red sock.
2. I saw the dance troupe Mommix perform a piece called Baseball. Momix is incredible, and if they ever come to your town (or Pilobolus, a troupe that is somehow related to Momix) try to go. They do things you would not thing possible. This particular dance was funny and amazing and athletic. In one sequence they danced in full baseball regalia with bats. I also remember a naked woman dancing in a giant baseball mitt (this sounds cheesy, which it was, because it was poking fun a bit).
3. In the 90s I saw a production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Papp Public Theater in New York that I liked a lot. They set the story in Fascist Italy. Definitely not flawless acting, but since it is a Jacobean drama, it was violent and excessive and ran pell-mell over taboos (Giovanni falls in love with his sister Annabella, who wants to stop bonking her brother and marry, provoking violent rage in brother). I looked up the production online—it starred Val Kilmer, whose name I recognized at the time, and Jeanne Tripplehorn, whom I did not know at the time. Although I have a suspicion that someone else played the role of Annabella the night I saw it, and the phrase “Sharon Stone’s little sister” stays in my head). The final scene was memorable: Something nasty (perhaps the title) written in blood on the wall of Annabella’s bedroom.
4. I saw Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia during it’s first run in NYC. If you don’t know the play, it flips between the present and Sidley Manor in 1809, where the 18th century gardens are being transformed into a more romantic style. The main protagonist is Thomasina, a young math genius who has somehow anticipated chaos theory. I loved the way science and art bounced off each other. Thomasina’s story was haunting. She had these incredible ideas that bumped up against the limits of science (no computers), and because she was a girl, her interest in mathematics would have to give way to marriage and family. But she doesn’t even get that far, because we learn at the end that she dies in a fire the very night depicted in the last scene we see with her (she dances with her tutor).
5. This isn’t strictly speaking one of the performing arts, but I saw Jeannette Winterson give a reading. I find that a lot of readings are pretty boring. The authors go into “Public Reading” cadence (for poets, that means that each line goes dowwwwnnnnn). But you could tell that Winterson had been groomed to be an evangelical preacher. I guess she was reading from Sexing the Cherry, which had just been released at the time, but I don’t remember. It didn’t really matter what she was reading, but how she read it.
6. Recently we saw an experimental puppet show about the Epic of Gilgamesh. The show started with the actors, dressed in fatigues, singing shape note songs in the lobby. The puppeteers, who were visible at all times, also served as narrators, and sometimes as actors in the drama. They used a variety of puppetry styles from around the world. There was even puppet sex—very memorable, and rather startling I think if you were anywhere within firing range (I leave this to your imagination). One of my coworkers (who unfortunately has left and now I don’t have anyone to talk with about books who won’t get all prissy) recommended it because it engaged the Big Themes of redemption and death.
7. DramaQueen recently performed in The Foot Book for Dr. Suess Day at our local library. She was Big Feet. Or maybe Fuzzy Fuzzy Fur Feet. It’s not just me—the performers were also a little confused.