And cake and cake and cake. And bon bons. And biscuits. Saucers of tea.
We had heard the production involved an inordinate amount of pastry. Mile high wigs. Costumes galore. I hadn’t heard it was so funny or fresh (fresh in all senses of the word). I didn’t expect to be so enchanted. Engaged. Engorged.
It’s part laziness and part not wanting to be swayed, but I don’t read reviews before I see a play unless it’s by accident. My “reviews” are the words of friends. Of three friends I’d talked to about their experience of opening night, the verdict was 2 to 1, for and against. The against was not about disgust—more boredom. So I wasn’t sure. I’d reserve judgement for my own experience, but I was little swayed. The challenge was on: draw me in. And they did.
The inventiveness of directors can amaze me. This was one of those times. We are introduced to Marie Antoinette, heroine/victim of this play that employs her name. along with two poofily dressed friends, in literal six foot tall white wigs. They are so tall they’re suspended above the actors’ heads by ropes that reach into the above stage rafters. This costuming adds a level (literal and figurative) of absurdity and playfulness. We have a sense of what we’re in for.
I’m not a history buff, even French history, so I don’t have a sense of the accuracy of the course of events, but I was more interested in the childish Marie, the bumbling Louis, their little boy, Le Dauphin. In feats of lighting and sound (and one particular explosive effect), Paris crumbled around them and rose up to defeat them in high art/low language emblems. I love this kind of theater. Theater that makes big gestures. Throws me off and reels me back in. OK, so the end, we agreed, was a little sentimental.
But that’s the beauty of going to theater with a group of theater-savvy friends. Stephanie, Adam, Greg and I get to hash it all out—applaud it again and tear it apart—on Brattle Street, in the cool night air, long after the blackout ends.
My Philosophy of Life
by John Ashbery
Just when I thought there wasn't room enough for another thought in my head, I had this great idea-- call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly, it involved living the way philosophers live, according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones? That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like. Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests, would be affected, or more precisely, inflected by my new attitude. I wouldn't be preachy, or worry about children and old people, except in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe. Instead I'd sort of let things be what they are while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate I thought I'd stumbled into, as a stranger accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back, revealing a winding staircase with greenish light somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions. At once a fragrance overwhelms him--not saffron, not lavender, but something in between. He thinks of cushions, like the one his uncle's Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It's enough to disgust you with thought. But then you remember something William James wrote in some book of his you never read--it was fine, it had the fineness, the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet still looking for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and his alone. It's fine, in summer, to visit the seashore. There are lots of little trips to be made. A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler. Nearby are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well, messages to the world, as they sat and thought about what they'd do after using the toilet and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by principles, and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort? I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought-- something's blocking it. Something I'm not big enough to see over. Or maybe I'm frankly scared. What was the matter with how I acted before? But maybe I can come up with a compromise--I'll let things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn I'll put up jellies and preserves, against the winter cold and futility, and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well. I won't be embarrassed by my friends' dumb remarks, or even my own, though admittedly that's the hardest part, as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn't even like the idea of two people near him talking together. Well he's got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him-- this thing works both ways, you know. You can't always be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself at the same time. That would be abusive, and about as much fun as attending the wedding of two people you don't know. Still, there's a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas. That's what they're made for! Now I want you to go out there and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too. They don't come along every day. Look out! There's a big one...