The Story-Teller…A Session With Charles Laughton. Long unavailable in any format, this double album of one of Charles Laughton’s celebrated public readings, originally recorded by Capitol in 1961 and released after his death, can now be downloaded as a set of mp3 files. The thirteen tracks range from Psalm 104 to Plato’s Phaedrus to Jack Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums,” all read with profound comprehension and immense panache by one of the great stage artists of the twentieth century (TT).
Archives for October 11, 2012
From New York to Smalltown, U.S.A., to Chicago to San Francisco to San Diego to Ontario to the MacDowell Colony to Minneapolis to Lenox to Spring Green to New Haven…and now, at long last, I’m back where I started.
Mrs. T and I have never had a summer quite like this one. Some of it was glorious, some heartbreaking, and rarely did I know when I got up in the morning which of the two would prevail come day’s end. A couple of times the verdict was so mixed that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry–so I did both.
What did I bring back with me? I received a Guggenheim Fellowship. I wrote a good-sized chunk of Mood Indigo and revised The Letter and Satchmo at the Waldorf at MacDowell. I made two treasured new friends. And the revised version of Satchmo was produced twice, in Lenox and New Haven, with a third staging, at Philadelphia’s Wilma Theater, coming in November.
So yes, it was a productive and exciting summer, but enough is enough. I have a book to finish, mail to answer, prints to hang, old friends whom I miss, and plenty of shows to see. It’s time to unpack the bags and put my feet up–and to try to digest the near-overwhelming events of the past few months.
I suspect that in every person’s life there comes a point beyond which all joy is tinged with sorrow. I know I’ve reached it. As Mrs. T and I waited for the opening-night performance of Satchmo at the Waldorf to get started, I whispered to her, “You know who I wish were here?” Before I could answer my own question, my head was full of names. My mother and father, my beloved Nancy LaMott, Dick Sudhalter, Bob Brookmeyer, Howard Kissel…the list goes on and on. All would have loved to be there, and all are gone.
On the other hand, this melancholy, understandable though it is, can be carried too far. Dr. Johnson, for all his firm good sense, did just that in the oft-quoted last sentence of the preface to his Dictionary of the English Language:
I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please, have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.
Dr. Johnson was, of course, talking about his wife, who died while he was struggling to complete the Dictionary. He believed that his own chronic laziness (which to us looks more like chronic depression) kept him from getting the job done sooner, in the process contributing to her death. Very likely it did.
I think I know something of how he felt. But I also know that there are countless people in my life, Mrs. T foremost among them, whose love and support have helped to make the best parts of the summer just past even better. One of them, a fellow playwright, sent this message to me back in April: “When good news comes in tsunamis, you have to be wildly awake and aware! Enjoy it! This is the way life should be.”
Should be and–needless to say–too often is not. I’m sure I haven’t always been careful enough to be grateful for all my good fortune, much less to be fully aware of it while it was happening. Perhaps I’ve just been too busy to take it all in. That’s why I need to spend some quiet time at home and reflect on recent events, good and bad alike.
It won’t be long, of course, before I have to hit the road again. On Sunday Mrs. T and I are taking a few days off and heading for two of our favorite haunts for a fifth-anniversary mini-holiday, and come November I’ll go to Philadelphia to help get Satchmo up and running at the Wilma.
Right now, though, I haven’t got a single flight booked, whether to Chicago or Orlando or Smalltown or anywhere else. I need to sleep in my own bed again. The world can wait.
* * *
Pat Metheny plays “Last Train Home”:
The opening night of Long Wharf Theatre’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf couldn’t have gone better. The house was sold out to the walls–the box office was turning away people–and the audience responded rapturously. As for John Douglas Thompson, he lit the afterburners. I’ve never seen him give a bad performance, but what he did on Wednesday, even by his own high standards, was very, very special.
By the time Mrs. T and I made it home from the cast party, Frank Rizzo, the drama critic of the Hartford Courant had already tweeted a link to an online preview of his upcoming review, which will appear in Friday’s Courant:
Thompson gives masterful duo-performamces and Teachout creates a well-crafted drama of a good-hearted, soulful, gifted man dealing with a world that isn’t always so wonderful.
(I also liked the headline: “Old Man With a Horn.”)
I’ve had better days…but not many, and not by much.
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.
• Avenue Q (musical, R, adult subject matter and one show-stopping scene of puppet-on-puppet sex, reviewed here)
• The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)
• Tribes (drama, PG-13, closes Jan. 6, reviewed here)
CLOSING SOON IN NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO:
• Misalliance (serious comedy, G/PG-13, far too talky for children, closes Oct. 27, reviewed here)
• Present Laughter (comedy, PG-13, closes Oct. 28, reviewed here)
“My most concise, and memorable, lesson on editing came one day in 1958 when Groucho took me with him to visit George S. Kaufman in his New York apartment. For me, it had the aura of a visit to a tall, tin guru. I remember his being seated in a chair with his long legs seeming to be entwined at least twice around each other.
“‘Here’s a young director,’ Groucho said. ‘Tell him how to direct.’
“‘Well,’ Mr. Kaufman said, ‘if you have a script, and it says, “Sit down, I want to talk to you,” cut that out.'”
Robert Dwan, As Long as They’re Laughing!: Groucho Marx and You Bet Your Life