Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Roads Taken

I a few weeks we're going to drive to Lenox, Mass., to help my mom celebrate her 98th birthday. But as we prepare for that trip, I've been thinking about how much more complicated it is now--how much easier it used to be. When I was, you know, younger.

Back in the summer of 1968, for example (before I was married--before I had even met Joyce), my college roommate (we'd graduated in 1966) was out in Wyoming doing graduate work at the U of WY. I decided I would go visit him out in Lander, where he was doing some summer work.

And here was my prep: I packed a bag, got in the car (my hot '67 Chevy Nova SS), drove 700 miles from Aurora, Ohio, to Des Moines, Iowa (where my parents were living), then drove 900 miles the next day to Lander.

No biggie.

No cell phones. No GPS. Just maps from the gas station and a vast amount of youthful stupidity.

And now ...?

Stop the mail, stop the newspapers (we subscribe to three), get the car serviced, make other arrangements for the house. Then ... in the car to head into the East, stopping far more than I used to (think: prostate), listening to the GPS narrator along the way (Turn back!)--though I still take a road atlas along. Just for comfort's sake.

Lenox, Mass. is about 520 miles from our house--a long trip now. We'll probably stop for the night along the way. We'll check in, too, with our son on our cells. We'll arrive exhausted, sick of listening to the GPS Narrator, whom I don't really need at all (we've driven this route countless times).

And I'll think about Lander, WY. 1968. About how easy it all was when my body was cooperating--and when I didn't really bother to think too much ... about anything ...

Friday, August 18, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 356

It was a brain tumor that killed her.
Throughout 1850 she had not been able to do much—a few short visits here and there. One of her last social events was a dinner with Thomas Love Peacock, who’d first met and befriended Bysshe in 1812 (when Mary was about fifteen).
But Mary was suffering from headaches—weakness. And everyone knew. In January 1851, her girlhood friend Isabel Baxter Booth arrived at Mary’s home on 24 Chester Square to help care for Mary. But it was all palliative care at this point.
On January 23 Mary lapsed into a coma. And on February 1, she died. She was fifty-three years old.
Her death certificate said it was a supposed tumour in the left cerebral hemisphere of long standing.[1]
In “Mary Shelley’s Death,” an Appendix to her masterful, three-volume collection (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), the superb scholar Betty Bennett adds this information: The symptoms and duration of her illness suggest that she may have died of meningioma, a tumor in the covering of the brain that can spread into the brain itself. Bennett notes that the disease is three times more prevalent in women than in men.[2]
And so another of life’s horrible ironies: the destruction of the mind in an intellectual, a writer, a woman who lived by reading, thinking, writing, imagining. Why, such a fate seems almost fitting for the plot of a novel …

[1] Seymour, Mary Shelley, 538.
[2] Vol. 3, 389.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Even Plan.

Edna St. Vincent Millay has a sonnet I first stumbled across when reading Judith Guest's 1976 novel Ordinary People (and the successful film in 1980 (it won four 1981 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Robert Redford)). Some of it was filmed in Lake Forest, IL where Joyce and I had gone to teach at Lake Forest College during the 1978-79 academic year, so there was a bit of a thrill when we saw the film and recognized the places. (Link to film trailer.)

Anyway, the novel. I had my freshmen at Western Reserve Academy read it* in the 1979-80 school year (as part of their "outside reading"--one book/marking period), and I recall being struck by Millay's epigraph (see entire sonnet below):

But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

I remember thinking (I was in my mid-30s), Gee, that's true, you know? 

But what did I know then? Not a lot. (Though, of course, I believed I knew Every Damn Thing.)

The arrogance of making plans. The assumption that all will be well--that you will be able to execute those plans when the time comes. Now in my early 70s, I smile ruefully when I overhear people use phrases like next year or in a few years. Or even later this fall. We just assume that this Cup of Life from which we're drinking will never really run dry.

(I know that I shouldn't paint with too broad a brush here: Many people, even very early in their lives, learn the dark truth of Millay's lines--know the truth of them in the most intimate and painful ways.)

Since I've been struggling with cancer the past dozen years or so, I've realized the fatuity of my earlier thinking. Making plans, for me, is now an exercise in folly. I've learned in fairly harsh terms that whatever plans I make are about as stable as a pile of leaves in a fall windstorm. 

So many times in recent years I've had to cancel things I very much wanted to do. I just could not do them.

In late April this past spring, I found myself in the ER--faint--barely able to stand--profoundly dizzy. Joyce and I realized that this meant--if things did not improve (a lot!)--we could not make our annual journey to Stratford, Ontario, for a week of plays at the Stratford Theatre Festival--a trip we've made for fifteen consecutive years.

But I gradually got better, and at the last minute we decided to give it a try (we'd had our room and ticket reservations for months). And we did okay.

And promptly made plans (!) for next year--reserving the room we love at Mercer Hall Inn.

And just now? I have made some firm-as-can-be plans to go to Massachusetts in early September to celebrate my mom's 98th birthday. 

There's a chance--a good (bad?) chance--that I won't be able to do it. Between now and then are some medical tests and visits with physicians, etc. And--as I learned to my sorrow last spring--I could wake up one day between now and then and find I am incapable of carrying out the simplest tasks.

But I guess I remain a shining animal in some ways, daffily biting my thumb at the Grim Reaper, flipping him off, letting him know in every foolish fragile human way that I can laugh ... even plan.

And so I memorized that sonnet, certain that there would be countless occasions for me to recite it. In the future ...

*Which I can not find right now. (Curses! Foiled again!)

Read history, thus learn how small a space
You may inhabit, nor inhabit long
In crowding Cosmos — in that confined place
Work boldly; build your flimsy barriers strong;
Turn round and round, make warm your nest; among
The other hunting beasts, keep heart and face, —
Not to betray the doomed and splendid race
You are so proud of, to which you belong.
For trouble comes to all of us: the rat
Has courage, in adversity, to fight;
But what a shining animal is man,
Who knows, when pain subsides, that is not that,
For worse than that must follow — yet can write
Music; can laugh; play tennis; even plan.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 355

And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre*), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[1]  
The play opened on December 26, 1849, ran for fifty-four performances (a lot for those days), earned positive reviews, and closed on February 27, 1850.

This play was a musical parody of it all—written in a rollicking iambic pentameter. Early on, one character says
You must excuse a trifling deviation
From Mrs. Shelley’s marvellous narration.[2]
The university was called Crackenjausen; the creature was called The What Is It. And Victor Frankenstein himself is aware he is both in and out of the story.
Blockheads, aren’t I the hero of the piece?
And haven’t I a right to clear the stage
When in soliloquy I engage?[3]
We see the creation of the creature, who, upon awakening, sings a song;
I’m a gent
I’m a gent. I’m a gent. I’m a gent ready made,
Sprung up in a moment, a parvenu blade.
I’m a regular swell from the top to the toe.
But how I became so, I’m hanged if I know.
I’ve got no connexions not even a ma,
And I’ve no recollection of having a pa.[4]
The foolishness ends with the creature totally socialized and looking for a situation in life (a job, a position), and Frankenstein assures him that this is more than possible.[5]
As we know this was hardly the last time Mary’s story would undergo a transformation; the versions continue to this day (as I’ve written about earlier). Not that long ago (June 9, 2017), in a newspaper cartoon The Argyle Sweater, cartoonist Scott Hilburn shows us Victor Frankenstein and Igor (who, of course, does not appear in Mary’s original story)—Igor, who has misunderstood some information about the creature’s desire to marry, about “asking for the hand” of the Bride, and he has transplanted the bride’s hands onto the creature’s arms.
Oh, what a creature Mary created—and how it has lived, on and on and on and on! 

[1] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.
[2] Ibid., 229.
[3] Ibid., 230.
[4] Ibid., 239.
[5] Ibid., 249.

*The Adelphi is still there--but it has been rebuilt several times since Mary's day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to Seidman Cancer Center

Seidman Cancer Center
University Hospitals
Beachwood, Ohio

Yesterday was The Day ... well, one of them anyhow. The Day for my three-month visit with my oncologist, complete with multiple blood tests the week before.

I've been dealing with prostate cancer since late 2004 when my biopsy came back positive (I've always thought that odd--"positive" for a bad result!), and since then I've had surgery (removal of the prostate gland), radiation (when the cancer returned), hormone therapy (when the cancer returned again).

I'm now on two drugs that kill testosterone--Lupron and Casodex (Google them if you're inclined), and the combination has caused my PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) to stabilize at about 12. (Prostate cancer cells eat testosterone!) Of course, I should have no PSA at all since my prostate gland is gone--but the number indicates that prostate cancer cells are present and (in my case) are moving into the bones, a favorite spot for those nasty little buggers.

Yesterday, my oncologist was still encouraged by my body's resistance to the spread of the cancer (though bone scans have shown that the move is underway), and he told me that in a few months he will have me undergo a major blood-transfusion process involving something called Sipuleucel-T. (Link to some info about it.) Basically, they will drain my blood (Dracula, baby!), treat that blood with this stuff that will (we hope) strengthen my immune system, return the blood to my body, enabling my body to keep fighting This Damn Thing more effectively.

He told me the process will not affect my PSA score--just empower my body in other ways. (I think I'd rather be bitten by a radioactive spider, you know?)

The visit yesterday concluded with two injections: my quarterly Lupron shot (right butt cheek) and Xgeva (a painful damn thing) in the upper arm--a drug that works to increase bone strength (Lupron and Casodex can weaken bone mass).

So ... I drove home yesterday with sore butt, sore arm. But with Joyce beside me. I'll take that!

Feeling we "deserved" something more pleasant, we drove over to Aurora after supper and had a waffle cone at the Aurora Fantasy Delight (which used to be called the Aurora Dairy Bar when I first began sampling its treats in the late 1960s during the early years of my teaching career).

I can't do that kind of stuff all the time, though. Lupron and Casodex make it very hard to lose weight--and my oncologist has warned me that prostate cancer loves fat cells. Nice. Glad somebody does.

So ... it's been nearly thirteen years that I've been dealing with this damn disease. The medical procedures themselves (the blood draws, the surgery, the radiation, the bone scans, etc.) are nettlesome enough, but it's also the psychological burden that weighs heavily--the knowledge that it's always there. And ... worse--that it will eventually win.

To date, there is no cure for metastatic prostate cancer. Just delays. So ... each time I go see my oncologist (whom I greatly respect and like, by the way), there's this fear (no other word) that this will be the time I hear the Dark News.


I write these periodic posts not for sympathy--but to give me the illusion of control. There's something about words--about a sentence. Sometimes, a sentence can capture a fear, hold it for a while, somewhat tame it. And this can be a most comforting self-deception.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 354

In September 1849, Mary headed to the Continent for what would be her final time. Her son and daughter-in-law had preceded her, and Mary joined them in Paris. They moved then to the French Riviera, to Nice, where Mary, who was not well, sometimes nonetheless rode a donkey into the hills.
A donkey. And as I type that word, I remember how Mary and Bysshe and Claire—back in August 1814, the elopement—had sometimes traveled by donkey through France. They had run low on money fairly quickly and could no longer afford to travel by coach. We resolved to walk through France, wrote Mary in her account of their elopement, but as I was too weak for any considerable distance, and my sister could not be supposed to be able to walk as far as S*** [sic] each day, we determined to purchase an ass, to carry our portmanteau and one of us by turns.[1]
It seems that Shelley and Claire, on August 8, had gone to the ass market and purchased an ass.[2] Okay, I’m smiling as I type this. In some ways I’m still a fifth grader, I know.
But things didn’t work out. The ass seemed incapable of doing what they’d wanted it to do, and so, writes Mary, Finding our ass useless, we sold it before we proceeded on our journey and bought a mule ….[3] This doughty creature did better—bearing both their portmanteau and one of the women.
Then a few days later, Shelley twisted his ankle and ended up riding the mule himself, full-time. And in one remote village … As we prepared our dinner in a place, so filthy that the sight of it alone was sufficient to destroy our appetite, the people of the village collected around us, squalid with dirt, their countenances expressing every thing that is disgusting and brutal. They seemed indeed entirely detached from the rest of the world, and ignorant of all that was passing in it.[4]
And so I wonder … as Mary was riding through those Riviera hills, feeling ill, knowing that whatever malady had afflicted her was not going away—knowing that she never again would sit at her desk and imagine and create and feel the hours passing as briskly as a breeze—did her mind drift back to 1814, to that year when hope and love and life itself seemed eternal?
And while she was away, yet another play appeared on the London stage (the Adelphi Theatre), another play based on her most famous story, a play called Frankenstein; or the Model Man.[5]

[1] History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, in The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 8: Travel Writing, ed. Jeanne Moskal,19.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 20.
[4] Ibid., 22.
[5] In Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of Frankenstein from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, by Steven Earl Forry (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990), 227–50.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 153

1. AOTW: I can't really think of anyone this week, so I always return to the Default Choice: Daniel Dyer, who, pretty much every day, does something ... regrettable--something AOTWable.

2. This week we finished streaming the Brit series Suspects, which we loved. We had actually stopped the series at one point (when a favorite character departed in most sanguinary fashion), but we eventually picked it up again and were glad we'd done so. Such fine acting and writing and tension. Can't find out if there's going to be another season, though the final we saw certainly paved the way for one.

3. Friday night we went to the Kent Cinema to see Detroit, the latest film by Kathryn Bigelow, who did The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. (Link to trailer for the film.)

The film is based on the Detroit riots of 1967 (was that really fifty years ago?), riots which occurred about the time I had finished my first year of teaching at Aurora Middle School. The film was wrenching to watch--most notably because it's very evident that not much has changed. Far too many people in this country live in poverty--in hopelessness. And when you are hopeless, you will do about anything. (Evidence is abundant, all over the world.) I was surprised to see that the Bad Cop (the worst of them) was played by Will Poulter, whom I first noticed as the sort of likable goofy young man in the 2013 Jason Sudeikis/Jennifer Aniston comedy We're the Millers. Took a bit of getting used to, seeing him play someone so dark and heartless.

To Bigelow's credit, quite a few of the cops (and other law-enforcement professionals) were not the cliched shoot-first-ask-questions-later type. Some were compassionate, determined, professional. (And what an irony at the end when three cops, on trial for murder, etc., raise their Constitutional rights as a defense--the very rights they'd denied the characters whom they brutalized for half the film).

Anyway, it was a good film (not great), very troubling, very disturbing. Don't want to see it again. But glad I saw it once.

A Star Wars character, John Boyega, plays one of the conflicted black security officers.

4. I finished a couple of books this week.

     - The first was (via Kindle) the initial novel about Jack Taylor, The Guards, a novel that initiated a Brit TV series (we've streamed them all), Jack Taylor. Taylor once was a cop (in Ireland--the Garda Síochána in Galway), but was bounced for alcohol problems (problems that continue in The Guards). He's sort of an unofficial private cop now--gets involved in a case here involving suicide, finds out it's not suicide ...  The end reminded me a bit of the end of Farewell, My Lovely, but, hey, not a bad model to follow. (Link to some series footage.)

I enjoyed Bruen's style--and was interested in how he displays conversation on the page. Take a look at this screen shot from the book.
Notice how Bruen puts the dialogue tag (the "he said") part on a separate line from the actual words the person said. Took some getting used to--but I managed! Ended up kind of liking it.

     - The second book I finished this week was The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel, a writer I'd always heard wonderful things about--but had not read all that much. Now I've read them all. She is a talent. Geez. She can write a sentence that just changes things--Karen Russell is the same.

How about this sentence: "In the desert I like to drive through binoculars" ("Going," 53).

I will say, though, that I enjoyed her earlier stories more than her more recent ones. I don't know--it just seems that in the later ones she's become more ... obtuse? Less interested in narrative flow than in moments. This is not a sin, mind you. But it's a matter of a reader's preference. And my preference is for more of a narrative arc ... Old Guys, you know?

BTW: Some of the stories are only a single-sentence long!

5. Final Word: A word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers ...

     - from dictionary.com 

noun [sey-pee-oh-sek-shoo-uh l]
1. a person who finds intelligence to be a sexually attractive quality in others.
1. noting or relating to such a person.
Of course, many people seek an intellectual connection with their partners. But people who identify as sapiosexual often say intellect is the first or most important factor that draws them to another person ...
-- Anna North, "The Hottest Body Part? For a Sapiosexual, It's the Brain," New York Times, June 2, 2017
Sapiosexual is modeled on words like homosexual and metrosexual, i.e., it has a short first element that ends in “o” (two syllables for homosexual and metrosexual, three for sapiosexual). The trouble is that for some intelligent people, sapiosexual is an “incorrect” formation: the word “should be” sapientisexual or at least sapientosexual, which are correct but pedantic and unlikely to win many dates for oneself. Some people in the 19th century objected to the new-fangled word scientist because it had a Latin root (scient-) and a Greek suffix (-ist), an objection no longer made. Sapiosexual entered English in 2015.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Frankenstein Sundae, 353

And perhaps the most moving of the notes I took. In that same letter from her father, Godwin replied to a question from Mary about having, perhaps, some physical memento of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. He said he had reserved for you a ring of hers, with Fanny Blood’s hair set round with pearls.[1]
A couple of things to recall: Fanny Blood was the youthful friend—the best friend—of Mary Wollstonecraft; it was common practice to give to friends a ring made of your own hair. And after death a “mourning ring” was a common token, as well—a ring fashioned from the hair of the departed one. Look online: There are still places that will create them for you; there are scholarly and general-interest articles on the subject.[2] We don’t know what Mary did with this ring … did she wear it? Place it in an honored position?

Mary’s son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, married Jane St. John on June 22, 1848. And the family wealth increased: Jane had £15,000 to contribute. They honeymooned in the Lake District, long associated, of course, with the Romantic Poets. Off and on the Shelleys stayed at Field Place, where Bysshe was born, the family manor which I saw on April 15, 1999 (a visit I recorded earlier in this endless account!).
And then … a most awkward event. Clara Clairmont (the family called her “Clari”), the daughter of Charles Clairmont (who, recall, was Mary’s foster brother—the son of Godwin’s second wife, Mary Jane), came to stay with the Shelleys at Field Place in May 1849. There, Clari met Alexander Knox, one of Sir Percy’s friends from university days. A romance promptly blossomed, and in mid-June the couple married.
Clari’s aunt, of course, was Claire Clairmont, who had joined Bysshe and Mary on their 1814 elopement and had been in and out of Mary’s life ever since (a presence Mary was often not pleased about). Clari and the others had not informed Claire about the wedding, and Clarie was living in Kent, only about sixty-five miles from Field Place. And soon Claire was writing angry, bitter letters. And downright nasty at times, suggesting, even, that Mary and Knox had been lovers![3]

[1] Ibid., 904C
[2] See, for example, this piece from the online National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/02/160211-victorian-hair-art-work-jewelry-death-history/
[3] An accusation for which there exists no evidence. See: Seymour, Mary Shelley, 535.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Treasure from an Island

Last week, at the Stratford Theatre Festival, Joyce and I saw a production of Treasure Island, a staged version of the 1883 novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. As I wrote last week, the first half was weak (I thought), but the second was much better--funny, playful, moving.

And I also mentioned in that post that the playwright and the cast had fun by inserting some other literary references into the story. At one point, a pirate picked up a skull and recited Hamlet's speech about Yorick (the audience went nuts); at another point, one pirate told another he could not talk because he wasn't holding the conch (remember Lord of the Flies?).

But here's another one I did not mention in that post--mostly because I wanted to write about it now--after I'd done my homework.

At one point, some pirates were walking along (looking for the treasure--what else do pirates do?), when one of them launched into a poem; the others pirates kind of smirked and snickered at first, then realized they liked it. I muttered to Joyce: "That's got to be one of Stevenson's--from A Child's Garden of Verses."

Back in the room, with Internet access, I checked ... and ... yes ... "The Moon" was indeed one of Stevenson's.

Here it is ...

The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.

The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.

But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.

Well, at that moment, I knew I had to memorize it as soon as we got home. One of the first poems I remember as a wee boy was Stevenson's "My Shadow," a poem my grandmother recited to me while she held me in her rocking chair (that chair now lives in a place of honor in our living room); I recited that same poem for my older grandson when I first held him in the moments after his birth (I'm sure he remembers it well!). And I've since learned a couple of others: "Windy Nights" and "Where Go the Boats?" (Link to all of A Child's Garden of Verses.)

It took me a couple of days to learn it (Stevenson accommodates the memorizer by using regular rhythm and rhyme!). But ... yesterday ... I recited it for Joyce (she had to prompt me a couple of times), but now I've got it pretty well. Okay, very well.

And as the title of this post suggests, for me, the poem (and so many others I've learned), is the true treasure from the island. I am now carrying around with me some 210 pieces of gold. May my poor brain and iffy health allow me to keep finding more in the gardens of poetry... and keep storing them away for future use. Perhaps a great-grandchild?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Stratford Sundries, 2017-Final

City Hall
Stratford, Ontario
July 31, 2017
It's the quickest week of the year for me, our annual week in Stratford, Ontario, where, since 2001, we've spent the first week in August gorging on plays and books and being together. We generally see (as we did this year) eleven plays in six days.

We drive up on Monday, check into our inn (Mercer Hall, right downtown), walk across the street to Bentley's, where we have our first Stratford supper.

The playgoing commences the next day. A matinee each day (2 pm). An evening performance each day (8 pm). Then, on Sunday, a final matinee before we head sadly--sadly, sadly, sadly--for home.

We get up about 7 each day. I walk down to Coffee Culture (CC) while Joyce does some writing. Then, a bit later, she'll meet me at CC for breakfast. (I've been reading.) We'll read some more, talk a lot. Then we'll head out ... I generally go to another coffee shop (Balzac's) and do some more reading--and writing a Daily Doggerel on my trusty iPad. But I'll also check out a bookstore, a clothing shop I like (the Scottish Shop--got a new sweater this year!), a kitchen store (Bradshaw's--didn't get anything this year though I usually find something I "need" to do my baking).

Back to the room for lunch. We've bought a fruit-n-yogurt parfait for each of us back at CC--and I usually bring along from Ohio a batch of scones I've made for the trip. After lunch, we do some reading, resting, writing.

Then ... a walk to the theatre for a matinee.

Afterward ... a walk to the York Street Kitchen, where we have a light supper every night--and have done so for years. It's a tiny spot that closes at six (its major business is at lunch), but we always find a little table where we sit and talk about the matinee and eat our wee meal.

Back to the room to rest and read and write until the evening performance.

And after the play ... back to the room to talk and crash and set ourselves to begin all over again the next day.

Sunday--Departure Day--is different. We pack up, load the car, and drive in the morning over to St. Mary's (about a dozen miles southwest of Stratford). We love the rural ride, the lovely town with so many structures built with local stone--including a Carnegie Library (1905) that's still in business.

We used to go to a CC there, but it closed over the winter, but a new place has arisen from the ashes (no Phoenix allusions here!), the Stonetown Coffee Co., and we went there this year, read, had breakfast, read, talked.

Around eleven we head back to Stratford, stopping (as is our wont) for gas for the trip home. I drop Joyce off at Mercer Hall to pay our bill; I drive down to the parking lot outside the Tom Patterson Theatre (always our final venue--the easiest to escape from at show's end!). I leave the car in a spot near the exit, then walk up to the Stratford CC again for reading and talk and lunch with Joyce.

We walk back down to the Tom Patterson, see the show, move briskly out at the end, in the car, start, go, point toward home.

This we have done for fifteen consecutive years.

And this year I wasn't sure it was going to be possible. Health issues became acute late in April, early May, and we talked about canceling. Decided to wait. To see if things would get better.

They did. And my heart inflated with hope.

As you might expect, many in the Stratford audiences are ... older ... now. And every year--but especially this year--I am profoundly moved to see the effort that people make to get there, to get to their seats. Canes. Walkers. Breathing assistance.

But they will get to those seats. They will hear, once again, Orsino sigh, "If music be the food of love, play on!" They will groan when Timon's friends betray him. They will weep when Juliet awakens in her tomb and finds Romeo dead beside her. They will, once again, make themselves available for Wonder. And they will never--never--be disappointed. Just grateful, so deeply, deeply grateful. And I am one of them.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Stratford Sundries, 2017-7

City Hall
Stratford, Ont.
July 31, 2017
1. Last night [i.e., Saturday] we saw, down at the Studio Theatre (the most experimental venue of the four), a production of a play--The Komagata Maru Incident (by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock)--about an incident in 1914 when Canadian authorities turned away a shipload of immigrants from India at the port in Vancouver (the name of the ship is in the play's title). Much suffering. Some dying. Some egregious failures of humanity that echo down through the decades, where, in our own time, they howl with continuing relevance.

Upstage, the prow of the ship pointed toward the audience, and up on that prow was an Indian woman, singing to her child (not visible)--a song that continued continually throughout the show that ran about an hour and forty minutes (no interval).

Below, on the stage, were a Canadian official, the madam of the bordello where he lived, a visiting German man (on the eve of WW I, remember), another prostitute, and a character who appeared throughout--a woman portraying various voices and images of the "official" government position--and the desire to keep the immigrants out--even though some of them were family members of Canadian citizens; some had even served in the British army.

It was an odd and powerful production, and we see hope transform to anger, then desperation and despair.

And the script deals very directly with the desire of people to keep things as they are. Change can be so unsettling--especially when it comes in the form of human beings who do not look or act or believe like us.

2. After this show, back to the room at Mercer Hall for our final night in Stratford--hard to believe. We rose fairly early, packed, then drove over to nearby St. Mary's (the first time we've used the car since we drove up here last Monday), where we headed for a favorite coffee shop. It sits on a lovely corner in this lovely town. The Stone Town Coffee Co.

We sat and read and talked until about 11, then back to Stratford, where I parked the car at the Tom Patterson Theatre (venue for our final show), then walked up to another coffee place to have a light lunch with Joyce and read some more.

3. Then we walked down to the Patterson, where we saw a fantastic production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, the play by Jean Giraudoux from the early 1940s. It's a brisk and biting allegory about the domination of the rich, the resistance of the working classes in Paris. (Some contemporary relevancies are obvious!) Two of the lead performers, Stratford veterans Seanna McKenna (the madwoman--see program cover) and Scott Wentworth were simply outstanding--but so was everyone else, come to think of it. Ben Carlson was really strong as one of the greedy and inhuman "presidents" of commerce. (Some years ago we saw him play Hamlet, and while he was delivering "To be or not to be"--all the way downstage, audience members only a foot or so away, a cell phone went off. He stopped. Lowered his head. Waited for silence. When it came, he continued.)

Several times (that's right ... several) I wept during the show, and Joyce and I, who zoomed out afterward (about 5) to head for home, talked about it for, oh, about a hundred miles or more!

4. The trip home was something of an adventure. As we crossed the Ambassador Bridge (from Windsor, Ont.) to Detroit, we learned at the last second that the ramp to I-75 South (our road!) was closed, and we ended up driving through southern Detroit in pursuit of an active ramp (we found one--miles later). Our GPS woman grew very impatient with us and several times told us to U-turn. We didn't. We followed the detour signs. (I'm surprised she didn't just sign off and tell us to go ... you know .... go ....)

5. And so we didn't get home until about midnight (an hour longer than usual), and we stumbled into the house, stumbled through some of the necessary chores we needed to do upon return, stumbled into bed, and plunged into sleep.

6. A final, what-did-it-all-mean? post tomorrow ...

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stratford Sundries, 2017-6

City Hall
Stratford, Ontario
July 31, 2017
1. Last night, we walked down to the Tom Patterson Theatre, which has undergone a minor renovation since we were here last year: It used to be nearly in-the-round (one end had no seating), but now it's completely so. This is an arena-style venue, and, in fact, I think they play hockey games here in the winter. Bleacher seats.

But we've seen some great theater here--including the three parts of Henry VI some years ago (compressed into two shows, not three.)

Sadly, Bakkhai, which we saw last night, was not one of the great shows we've seen at the TP. Based on the play by Euripides, this new version features pounding contemporary music, some fairly explicit grinding and masturbation, and (of course--it's Greek tragedy, after all!) lots of blood and gore and body parts.

The story tells how Dionysus, disrespected and disbelieved by some key people in Thebes, exacts a most sanguinary revenge on a couple of his principals: A mother kills and dismembers her son, believing it's a lion she's killed. Oops. (It's the son's various gory parts we see onstage the last twenty minutes or so.)

I did very much like the young man playing Dionysus (Mac Fyfe): He was agile, leering, androgynous, sexy, vicious.

But I just felt the whole thing was over-produced--as if the director feared the audience wouldn't sit still for a more traditional version. He was wrong.

2. Back to the room to grouse and complain a little and to read a little more Michael Connelly (and just a few pretzels, you know?).

3. This morning, down to Coffee Culture, where I read the NYT online and finished--at last! at last!--
Joyce Carol Oates' recent novel, A Book of American Martyrs (2017), a long (736 BIG pages!) and wrenching novel about the abortion wars. The novel begins with the 1999 murder of a doctor at a women's clinic--and then we see all that ensues--from families on both sides: the murderer's family, the doctor's family. And we follow them for years--through suffering on both sides (the man who shot the doctor and his escort ends up in a life-or-death murder trial--in Ohio, where all this happens in the fictional town of Muskogee Falls).

We tend to focus on two of the most traumatized survivors: a daughter on each side, daughters who meet very near the end of the novel. (I'll say no more about that!)

Oates, by the way, has written about boxing for a long, long time--and she gets to do so again here: One of the daughters becomes a boxer, and we get to read about her training, her brutal fights. Oates writes well and convincingly about the sport she has followed for much of her life.

Oates shifts point-of-view often (and artfully) and also employs a sort of multi-genre approach: We get letters and transcripts and interior monologue and straight narrative and ... well, just about a bit of everything. So agile is Joyce Carol Oates.

I've been reading her since the late 1960s (and, oh, she is prolific! a wonder!), and I am very rarely disappointed. And this, manifestly, is not one of those disappointments.

It's a novel, I think, that will please and annoy people on both sides of the right-to-choose/right-to-life debate, a debate, as we see here, whose words we write not with ink, but blood. (I think I'll blog more about this book later on--lots to tell!)

Martyrdom has consequences that long outlive the life of the martyr ...

4. Stopped at Fanfare Books (one of our favorite shops up here) and bought the script of The Virgin Trial (which we saw the other night). (Wouldn't be a trip up here without shifting some $$ from me to the genial owner of Fanfare!)

5. Soon ... time for lunch. Then we'll head down to the Tom Patterson again for the matinee performance of the Bard's Timon of Athens, one of the first shows I saw my first trip up here in the summer of 2001. Timon is a dark play with enduring relevance. So ... we'll see ...

... Timon was just a great production, with the veteran Joseph Ziegler in the title role and the gifted Ben Carlson as Apemantus, the cynic who reminds me of Jaques in As You Like It.

The director sets this cautionary tale in modern times (lots of cell phones and tablets!), the tale of a wealthy Athenian (Timon) who is surrounded by "friends," all of whom, of course, disappear when he goes broke. He heads to the woods, where he lives as a bitter hermit, railing against humanity over and over and over again.

And then he finds buried treasure.

Now what?

Read/watch video of the play and find out!

6. Afterward, we headed over to the York Street Kitchen, where we had our final supper meal in Stratford--and we got to see that they'd named my nightly sandwich "The DANwich" on their sandwich board. I told them--and I was not really kidding--that this was one of the great honors of my life! (Seated in front of us are our server, Jordan, and the manager, Aaron, both of whom treated us with immense kindness all week.)

7. We're in the room now--but will soon walk down to the Studio Theatre for The Komagata Maru Incident, about which I know ... nothing! So I will fill you in tomorrow.

8. And tomorrow? We have a matinee (The Madwoman of Chaillot)--and then ... the dash for home!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Stratford Sundries, 2017-5

City Hall
Stratford, Ontario
July 31, 2017
1. Last night we walked down to the Avon Theatre to see Treasure Island, a stage version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel that I broke down and read a year or so ago (and loved, by the way). My first introduction to that story had been that old Disney film (the studio's first live-action film, I've recently learned)--Treasure Island (1950--I was six!), a film starring the awesome Robert Newton as Long John Silver and Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins.

That film scared the hell out of me. And I loved it! (Link to a film trailer.)

Anyway, the play version we saw ...

Joyce and I both thought the first half was bad. Very bad. I was ready to leave. Gave it a chance after intermission--and was glad I did so. It became much more playful (among the characters--who also played with the audience); some of the special effects were great fun (like little boats on a string running from R to L); an "old Ben Gunn" who was, well, a young athletic woman who crawled around on ropes and drapes as if she were born among them--as if they were her element.

The play version has a frame story: modern-day Jim Hawkins, a father (the same guy later plays Silver) who tells the boy pirate stories at bedtime. The frame story returns at the end, and we learn something key about his mother, as well--and his sister, who shares a bunk bed (she's up, he's down). So it all has the texture of a dream, this version.

There was some real playfulness, too. One pirate picked up a skull and delivered Hamlet's speech about Yorick; another made a reference to the conch in Lord of the Flies; and there were others, too.

Very strong performance by Stratford veteran Juan Chioran (Dad, Silver), whom we'd already seen in two other productions this summer--Romeo and Juliet (Prince Escalus) and The Breathing Hole.

So ... lesson learned: Don't leave at the interval ...

2. Back to the room to read some Connelly and munch on some very necessary pretzels, merely, of course, for nutritional purposes.

3. This morning--off to Coffee Culture, where I finished my Kirkus book and roughed out a draft of the review on my iPad. Joyce joined me for breakfast, then it was up to Balzac's Coffee, where I read 50 more pp of the Joyce Carol Oates novel (I'll finish it tomorrow!) and talked with Joyce.  Back to the room, where I revised and filed the review with Kirkus and fussed with this very blog before lunchtime.

4. This afternoon--Twelfth Night down at the Festival Theatre. Rain in the forecast ... walk? drive?

... we walked--missed the rain again (whew!)--and saw one of the best productions of this play I've ever seen. A plain, unadorned production (no sets, very few props), simple (period) costumes. Just that amazing language delivered by amazing actors. That's all you need--though "all," of course, is a lot.

Sir Toby Belch was Geraint Wyn Davies, born, I'd say, to play the part--and Feste, the clown, one of the hardest parts in all of Shakespeare, seemed easy in the hands of veteran Brent Carver (see pic above), who handled the complicated speeches with swiftness and intelligence and wit. Dazzled me, I'll admit--and he sang beautifully, as well.

The other principals were all great, too--totally convincing. A great Malvolio (Rod Beattle), who revealed both the pathos and the pettiness of this character. I understood every single word he said. And laughed at many of them. Groaned at others.


Walked home in a haze of wonder (avoiding, again, the rain!).

5. At the York Street Kitchen, "our" sandwich shop for our post-matinee supper every night, they told us tonight that they're going to name (for a while, not forever!) the sandwich I build every night (roast turkey, etc.) the "Danwich" and will put it on their menu board tomorrow. At which time I will definitely have a pic to post here tomorrow!

See, you legions of doubters: I did achieve something in life!

6. We're about to head out to our evening performance, our first this year at the Tom Patterson Theatre. It's Bakkhai by the Greek playwright Euripides. I've not seen it before--looking forward to some good old Greek gruesomeness!