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May 1st, 2009


Last week was my school reunion.

Because I went to the same school for 12 years, it's not strictly speaking a highschool reunion, although all the women who came were, in fact, graduates, unlike the students who bailed in favor of boarding school in 9th grade. Of the 11 (out of a graduating class of 28) who showed up, 3 had been lifers--including my best friend from 1st grade, Eleanor. And me.

It was an interesting experience. I don't remember enjoying high school much. I remember being shy, un-athletic, old-fashioned, and hopelessly not-normal, also cursed with a mother everyone was terrified of. One of the great validating experiences of this reunion was being told by almost every woman there that she'd been scared stiff of my mother. Since she's been gone a very long time, I was beginning to think she couldn't have been as daunting as I remembered. Apparently, she was, which was good to know.

However, I seem to have had more fun in high school than I remember having.

Talks on the back stairs. Hi-jinks at Drama Club rehearsals. Study sessions before English exams (apparently, I started my teaching career young). Sleepovers and weekends away. Memories of Masako-San (universally adored by my classmates, who refer to her as The Dragonlady) hovering around with cups of tea and celery stalks with cream cheese. I complained about how hard I'd found the work and how I'd never managed to pull anything higher than a B+, and they were astonished. "You were so smart," somebody said. "I thought you were getting straight A's."

Huh. And here I thought they'd all known what a dork I was. Go figure.

Anyway. At my reunion, I learned (yet again) that people can grow up. I learned (yet again) that scary girls are frequently scared girls. I learned (yet again) that it can be both fun and instructive to talk to someone whose life is very different from mine. I learned that having a common history gets more important as you get older. I learned that letting go of old perceptions is a very liberating exercise.

So here's to the Class of 19mumblety9!

Yeats, Cycle B

Tonight we saw a quadruple-header of Yeats one-acts at the Irish Repertory Theater down in Chelsea, Cycle B of The Yeats Project. The plays were The Land of Heart's Desire, The Pot of Broth, Purgatory, A Full Moon in March, and Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

It was an unmixed joy to see staged productions of these plays, to hear Yeats's poetry, to see mythic drama presented without irony and without sentimentality.

The set is beautifully simple--projections of seasonally appropriate trees, rocks, a wide bay, a ruined house against a wide, curved wall, with a few simple props in front to suggest a house, a heath, a queen's bedchamber. The costumes were, frankly, lame. Possibly it was the budget, possibly it was the costume designer's not getting Yeats or mythic drama. But everybody was running around in burlap like shepherds in a not-very-inspired Christmas pagent over dark green tights and leotards. And I won't even go into what the Fairy Child in The Land of Heart's Desire was wearing, or the Sekrit Society funny hats The Queen's attendants had to endure in A Full Moon in March. Suffice it to say that I had to close my eyes sometimes. But then, I'm sensitive to that sort of thing.

I particularly loved The Pot of Broth, a genuinely funny trickster tale, featuring a nagging and small-hearted woman, her passive husband, and a hungry tramp with a magic stone. But they all gave me something to think about. The poetry in The Land of Heart's Desire was spine-tingling, as was Cathleen's final speech in Cathleen Ni Houlihan. Purgatory, the story of a man trying to run from memories and ghosts he can't possibly escape, is chilling and brutal and very beautiful. The strangest (and least successful, to my mind) of the pieces was A Full Moon in March, which, as Ellen pointed out, could only have been written by a man.

A Queen offers to marry the man whose singing moves her the most. A swineherd turns up, is gross and insulting, she has him beheaded, and then she grieves and dances over his severed head, begging him to sing to her. There are shades of Salome, and shades of fairytale, and shades of Noh drama and probably shades I didn't recognize, but it all adds up to a great big nothing festooned with portentous poetry about swine dung and love. The Queen got the best dress in the production, though. And the Tramp got a really cool mask. And one of the singers turned out to be a very fine counter-tenor. So it wasn't a complete loss.

Tomorrow night, we see Cycle B, a trifecta of mostly mythic plays. I'm looking forward to it . I wish I had time to attend the readings of some of the other plays they're not staging, particularly Dierdre of the Sorrows, which had a profound effect on me in my Irish Renaissance phase in college. But even we can't do everything or be everywhere at once, can we?


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