Accounted for

B71EswhCMAAd-iY.jpg-largeMrs. T and I departed Florida’s Sanibel Island on Saturday and are now on Siesta Key, another island not far from Sarasota, where I’ll be reviewing a show and giving daily thanks that I’m not where it’s cold and damp.

We made the most of our final week on Sanibel, walking on the beach, taking two daytime cruises, going to an excellent concert by the Amphion String Quartet (about which more tomorrow), watching Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, Max Ophüls’ 1948 film version of Stefan Zweig’s Letter from an Unknown Woman, and the season premiere of Justified, eating Yucatan Shrimp one last time at Doc Ford’s, and gazing raptly at the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen in my life. (I also wrote five pieces and gave a talk, proving that it’s possible to simultaneously work hard and have a good time.)

The intensity of that sunset reminded me of two of the most beautiful days of my life. They took place during my 2012 stay at the MacDowell Colony, and I wrote about them at the time with a sense of wonder that I can still feel long after the fact:

I made a random turn onto a tree-lined road, and all at once I knew where I was. On my left was a fenced-off hill, and just beyond the fence were tombstones. I had come to the half-forgotten cemetery that inspired Thornton Wilder to write the graveyard scene of Our Town….

No sooner did I stumble across the tombstone of Samuel Stanton four years ago than I knew that Thornton Wilder had almost certainly stood where I was standing, for one of the characters in Our Town is a desperately unhappy church organist named Simon Stimson. It took me a few minutes to find the spot, and when I did, I stood in silence for a long time, gazing at the stone.

I sat on the ground to take a picture of Samuel Stanton’s grave. I haven’t been in a cemetery since my mother died, I thought. But this time I didn’t cry. Instead I sat in the afternoon sunshine and remembered the piercing question that Emily Webb asks at the end of Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?–every, every minute?”

To which the Stage Manager replies, gently but inexorably, “The saints and poets, maybe–they do some.”

I vowed to do my best to be present for each and every moment of my life, knowing even as the words formed in my head that it is in the nature of such vows to be broken. Then I walked down the hill to my car and drove back to the MacDowell Colony, there to rejoin my friends and resume my work.

ourtown1I remembered that vow as Mrs. T and I watched the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, and whispered to myself, I know that I am happy right now. So I was, and so I still am, even though the causeway to Sanibel disappeared in our rear-view mirror two days ago. Not only is Siesta Key is almost as beautiful as Sanibel Island, but I believe deeply in the importance—the necessity, really—of getting the most out of each day as it comes. That is, of course, a counsel of perfection, but I find it quite a bit easier to follow when the sun shines brightly.

Tomorrow I fly up to New York to see three shows on and off Broadway, and on Thursday I return to Florida. I’m very much looking forward to seeing those shows and the friends with whom I’ll be seeing them, and I know, too, that I’ll be glad to spend a couple of nights in our art-filled New York apartment. There, too, will I seek to seize the day, though I know that I won’t be truly happy until I am once again where my heart is.

UPDATE: My flight to New York has already been canceled because of the approaching blizzard. Suits me just fine!

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Hello, Thornton!

In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review an important regional revival, Asolo Rep’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker. Here’s an excerpt.

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The best American play, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” is also the most popular American play. While this is a nice coincidence—if you want to call it that—Wilder’s other full-length plays don’t get done much nowadays, in part because everybody does “Our Town” instead of “The Skin of Our Teeth” or “The Matchmaker,” which ran on Broadway for 486 performances but hasn’t returned there since it closed in 1957.

In both cases, scale is also part of the problem: It takes 16 actors to do “The Matchmaker” and more than two dozen for “The Skin of Our Teeth,” on top of which “The Matchmaker” requires four sets, thus putting it out of the reach of cash-conscious drama companies. In addition, “The Matchmaker” has the further disadvantage of having been turned into a musical, Jerry Herman’s “Hello, Dolly!” The colossal success of Herman’s brassy simplification of Wilder’s play inevitably pushed “The Matchmaker” still further into the wings, where it seemed fated to remain until Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theatre came along. Asolo Rep is a professional theater company that is also a drama school, meaning that it can cast student actors in smaller parts. This allows it to produce rarely seen large-cast Broadway plays like “Once in a Lifetime,” which it mounted to splendid effect in 2012. “The Matchmaker” is another natural choice for the company, and I’m overjoyed to report that Asolo has done right by one of the sweetest and smartest romantic farces ever written.

MatchmakerRoeder“The Matchmaker,” like Tom Stoppard’s “On the Razzle,” is freely based on “Einen jux will er sich machen,” an 1842 comedy by the Viennese farceur Johann Nestroy. If you’ve seen “Hello, Dolly!” (and who hasn’t?) then you know the plot, in which Horace Vandergelder (Steve Hendrickson), a grumpy businessman-widower of a certain age, seeks the counsel of Dolly Levi (Peggy Roeder), an impecunious matchmaker of like vintage, and ends up popping the question to her instead of the much younger milliner (Olivia Williamson) with whom Dolly purports to be setting him up. This being a farce, what Dolly really has in mind for the unwitting Horace is—of course—exactly what happens as the curtain falls…

According to Wilder, “The Matchmaker” is a parody of the stock-company farces that he saw as a boy. But it’s also a wholly serious restatement of the theme that he first explored in “Our Town,” which is the importance of making the most of the “world full of wonderful things” in which we live….

Peter Amster, who staged Asolo’s excellent 2013 revival of “You Can’t Take It With You,” another budget-busting Broadway hit, has done comparable justice to “The Matchmaker,” taking Wilder’s script seriously (though always with the lightest of touches) rather than using it as a point of departure for directorial foozling. Mr. Hendrickson, whose booming, raspy voice and hair-trigger irascibility recall George C. Scott, is ideal as Horace, and Ms. Roeder’s no-nonsense Jewish-grandma Dolly is just the woman to awaken his shriveled soul….

* * *

Read the whole thing here.

The theatrical trailer for the 1958 film version of The Matchmaker, directed by Joseph Anthony, adapted from Wilder’s play by John Michael Hayes, and starring Shirley Booth as Dolly Levi:

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So you want to see a show?

Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, virtually all performances sold out last week, closes Mar. 29, reviewed here)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Matilda (musical, G, nearly all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, reviewed here)
On the Town (musical, G, contains double entendres that will not be intelligible to children, reviewed here)

The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

The Elephant Man (drama, PG-13, contains partial nudity, all performances sold out last week, closes Feb. 21, reviewed here)

Saint Joan (drama, PG-13, remounting of off-Broadway production, closes Feb. 8, original production reviewed here)

One Slight Hitch (comedy, PG-13, extended through Jan. 31, reviewed here)

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Almanac: George Bernard Shaw on taste

INK BOTTLE“A man of great common sense and good taste—meaning thereby a man without originality or moral courage.”

George Bernard Shaw, “Notes: Julius Caesar,” Caesar and Cleopatra)

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Lookback: Johnny Carson, R.I.P.

LOOKBACKFrom 2005:

Johnny Carson, who died this morning at the age of 79, devoted most of his adult life to that most ephemeral of endeavors, hosting a late-night talk show. I must have seen several hundred episodes of The Tonight Show in my lifetime, and I even went out of my way to watch the last one, yet I doubt I’ve thought of Carson more than once or twice in the thirteen years since he retired, just as I doubt that anyone now alive can quote from memory anything he said on any subject whatsoever….

Read the whole thing here.

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