The past tense is just for me, alas. The core group is still there, and will be until the middle of March, turning out almost unbelievable numbers of words every day. As I was, too, for me. It's amazing what you can get done when Real Life is a morning walk to the Gardine to get a chai latte at Starbucks and pick up icecream and mango juice for the household. Two weeks was plenty long enough to be away from home, though. I missed ellen_kushner quite keenly.
Also, going to the theater. (See how I did that there? That's a segue, that is.)
Last night, we went to see John Ford's The Broken Heart, produced by Theater for a New Audience, which did the Jew of Malta/Merchant of Venice double-header with F. Murray Abraham a couple of years ago. Like Red Bull, it's a company that isn't afraid of difficult language and vanishingly obscure plays with high body counts, complicated plot lines, and characters whose world and motivations are foreign and bewildering to a modern audience. All of which describes The Broken Heart to a T.
The plot is driven by a brother (Ithocles) forcing his sister (Penthea) to marry a wealthy, powerful, older man instead of the younger, less powerful man her late father had betrothed her to. Her husband (Bassanes) is insanely jealous, even to the point of accusing her of incest when she meets her brother alone. Her lover (Orgilius) pretends to leave Sparta so he can disguise himself as a poor scholar and hang around the edges of the action, pretending to be mad while soliliquising about the faithlessness of women and how much he hates Ithocles and Bassanes and, well, everybody. Except Penthea, even though she has banished him from her sight and made him cry.
It soon becomes clear that he's not just pretending to be mad. In fact, sanity (as Ellen remarked during intermission) is clearly in short supply in Sparta. Penthea spends a certain portion of what must be Act IV raving (I give her a 7 out of 10 possible Ophelias), Bassanes' character is basically one big scene-chew--until he is reduced to tears in Act III--again, by Penthea--and becomes abruptly calm, reasonable, and self-controlled. And let's not forget Calantha, Princess and then Queen of Sparta, who laughs and dances as she hears of the deaths of her good friend, her father, and her lover, orders the execution of her lover's murderer, crowns herself, doles out her large and complicated kingdom to the men around her, kisses her lover's dead lips, then dies of a broken heart, smiling stoically at grief.
As you can probably tell, this was all great fun for the actors. There wasn't much scenery, but what there was, was chewed to ribbons. Ford's language is nothing to write home about--neither particularly poetic nor particularly dense. But it is good and melodramatic, with some very nice ironic moments, which Jacob Fishel as the vengeful Orgilius milked for all they were worth, before expiring in a fountain of jet-black blood on a plastic sheet in the final act. Everybody up there was a pro, veterans of The Red Bull, TFANA, various Shakespeare festivals, and the London and Irish stages. And it showed. Annika Boras (who we saw in Orlando a while back) played Penthea as a strong woman, whose strength, like the Spartan boy's fox, had nothing to gnaw but her own vitals. In a nice bit of gender-reversal, she shed not a single tear, but reduced every important man in her life to grovel in tears before her stony and unyielding sense of honor. And when she lost it, she raved up a storm. Not the most sympathetic character in the world, but oddly real. As was Bianca Amato (who we saw in Arcadia) as Calantha, Princess of Sparta, devoted daughter, consummate politician, reluctant lover. Like Hamlet, she was likely, had she been put on, to have proved most royally. I also loved Olwen Fouere as Penthea's chaperone Grausis, who Bassanes addresses as "Nightmare," and gives excellent glower.
I loved it. So did Ellen. Unfortunately, a 1633 play about honor and duty and the Apollonian virtues of chastity and fidelity and keeping your vows in spirit as well as deed and self-control and self-denial is going to be a hard sell on Broadway in 2012. It's also about the essential powerlessness of women. And suffering without remedy or end except in death. Which is probably why the theater was only half-full last night, and certainly why the elderly couple behind us left after the first act. "Don't you want to see the bodies?" the husband asked, rather ghoulishly. "No," his wife answered. "They're not nice people."
And so they aren't. Which is what makes them so delicious.