The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Monday, March 12, 2007

BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE: It’s almost spring as I write this, the snow is melting, baseball season opens in only a few short weeks, and here in our happy little burg, it’s drama club time down at the new high school. Yes indeed, all is almost right with the world. This year the kids put on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Now, I have to admit, the idea of this mob of juvenile delinquents putting some Shakespeare on the boards impressed the heck out of me when I first heard it; back in the day I could swing a mean pentameter and forsooth with the best forsoothers in the school, but that was once upon a time, when our happy little burg still imprisoned adolescents in the great brick hulk of the old high school. Things have changed since then, as they always do, and today I couldn’t soothsay if my life depended on it. Actually, I couldn’t do it then, either. I was Trinculo, one of the two comic relief guys in The Tempest who get Caliban drunk and try to help the misshapen monster rebel against Prospero, but I bailed out about a month before opening night. I think I was all right in the part; I knew my lines, I knew where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there, and I enjoyed the process of rehearsals and brainstorming the problems, big and little, that go with putting on any stage production; I just didn’t want to act in front of an audience, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of acting in the first place; it also puts a fairly large crimp in ticket sales. My English teacher tried to convince me to be a trouper and go on with the show in the best tradition of the theater, but while the flesh was nauseous, the spirit was unwilling, and so I became the lighting director instead, which I found suitably congenial as it involved little more than standing back stage out of sight of God and this acting company turning the stage lights on and off on cue. I was great at it, too. I flip a mean switch, if I do say so myself.

But this year’s play was wonderful, as such things go; the kids did their best, but speaking verse doesn’t come naturally to American kids unless they’re rapping about politically incorrect antisocial behavior, and so they filled the night with a singsong manner of speaking they wouldn’t dream of using in their real lives without a Dr. Seuss book in their hands and their annoying little brother or sister sitting next to them. Still, they did a good job of it, all things considered. The parts with Bottom and his merry crew of incompetent thespians went very well, indeed; here the requirements of the part and the skill of the actors met and melded in a positive orgy of overacting, with the smell of ham fried, roasted, and boiled permeating every part of the theater, to the absolute delight of the audience, who no doubt thought that the play was over and Rachael Ray was somewhere in the building about to cook up a thirty minute meal for everyone. In short, a good time was had by all and sundry.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have gone to this showing, but the niece was in the play this year and I had to go and show moral and financial support. She was one of Titania’s fairies; it was not a speaking role and so, along with the rest of the nonverbal cast, she had to spend a lot of time up on stage nodding her head as if she agreed with everything the principals were saying and in general being conscious that hundreds of people were looking at her not do anything. As a high school student, of course, she often spends a good deal of time not doing anything with hundreds of people around, but she is usually not cognizant of their presence. Ignoring an audience is a bit harder to do, especially in the new high school’s equally brand spanking new theater. That auditorium is huge, not at all like the overheated hole in the wall wherein I flung my iambs all those years ago. I also noticed that the typical high school division of labor was yet again at work in this particular production. The popular girls got all the best roles, and apart from my niece, who is tall and willowy, most of the rest of Titania’s fairies looked remarkably like the Chicago Bears’ defensive line. If Oberon, the king of the fairies, had tried anything with Titania while those girls were on stage, they’d have knocked him back on his ass for a fourth down and a loss of seven yards.

In any case, the niece had very little to do up there and she did it very well, I thought, and I was impressed that she thought so much of the part that she actually colored her hair a uniform shade of something dark in order to play it. This is, in and of itself, no mean accomplishment, and I think you could safely say that this might even be one of the few triumphs of modern American secondary education. The niece’s hair has been all the colors of the rainbow these past few years, and often several of those rainbow colors at the same time, and for a school project to engross her to the extent that she would willingly surrender her ongoing experiments in tonsorial spectroanalysis is nothing to sneer at. Of course, the dark color her hair is now is not her natural color, or, at least, I don’t think it is; it’s been quite a while since I saw her hair in its natural shade, so I could be wrong about that.

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