05062013 A “Glorious” Evening of Theater!
My theater mates again came thru, taking me with my cane and wheelchair to dinner and to see Candice Moore’s production of Glorious, Peter Quilter’s play about one 1940s nut bar, Florence Foster Jenkins, who remained convinced that she didn’t suck at singing soprano, so convinced that like Apple founder Steve Jobs, she created a strong “reality distortion field” around her in which he associates came to believe that she was the greatest coloratura soprano that ever lived.
Jacqueline Gourlay Grant is perfect for the role of La Jenkins, having the extraordinary musical ear needed to replicate awful music, comic talent of a high order, and movement skills that convey emotion in true Isadora (Duncan) style. She brings back the faded memory of a woman’s world of the Depression and the war in which high pitched shrieks of emotion were normal, a world that men like Barry O’Rorke’s St Clair knew enough to value so highly, and that Andrew’s Cosme McMoon initially resists but soon comes to love. This world is not only defined by loving music so bloody much that you must sing off key, but also by high tea and any number of things that ignore the growing brutality of the world.
A bond trader essentially bribes the New York Philharmonic to let him wave his arms a beat behind the orchestra as it performs Mahler’s Symphony #2. Asian Tiger mothers push their kids into miserable practice regimes only to forbid their children to have anything to do with music if they don’t win first prizes…in a way reminiscent of the Italian Tiger Mom in Aldous Huxley’s short story “Young Archimedes”, who drives her mathematics-loving son to suicide by insisting he study music. Music originated in the scream of protest against the brutality of everyday life.
In a redeemed world, the solitary dances to Beethoven on her iPod, and I’ve been dancing ever since I heard some wild Scots bagpipe music on the radio thirty years ago and could not but dance. I dance prone in bed now because of the pain in my legs, and before le debacle I danced alone in clubs when I didn’t know the etiquette for going up to some woman and saying “ya wanna dance or what?”. The sight of a man dancing alone is like listening to Henderson’s stinkaratura, painful at first. But the alternative to creation and the tolerance of others’ creation is corporate work and consumption.
I have no-one to cavil with, no “minor” flaws to point out because Candice Moore’s directorship eliminated them, at least in the performance I attended (the last one), and I don’t care to find any. For special mention though I loved Wendy Herbert’s Hispanic maid Maria, who cannot speak English any more than Florence, St Clair or Cosme McMoon can speak Spanish, and of course, this being Florence’s reality distortion zone, nobody troubles to learn.
Wendy Herbert is a master of facial expressions ranging from crafty smiles to various glowerings, with eye rolls at no charge. She didn’t upstage so much as add to the production.
Nicola Rae was also hilarious when she tried to break the Force and tell Florence the “truth”. We all instinctively hated her character because, perhaps, she reminded us of so many school rejections where we were told that we were no good as aspiring writers, ballerinas, or pianists, or that we were but should nonetheless follow a “practical” course and study law (a field which today guarantees unemployability).
But supported by the talented Barry O’Rorke’s ever-loyal St. Clair and some money in the bank courtesy of her late parents (but not enough, perhaps), Florence remains in the heaven of invention.
Florence is fin du siècle, more precisely, Edwardian in thé sensé that the Edwardian haze, of cigar smoke and Guerlain, was financed by the Empire even as American prosperity was supported by the ruination of the American West. But the Edwardians on either side of the pod didn’t want to thrash either Red Indians or Real Indians any more. Dirty hot work, that, much nicer to clip coupons or whatever it is we do to get PaPa’s money.
Without spoiling the ending in the event you see another production, I’ll just say the end is Florence’s apotheosis or transformation to Goddess-hood.
Neoliberalism tells us we must pursue the dollar all the time with maybe two weeks of vacation beside the sea which neoliberalism has trashed. The alternative is having “just enough, just enough for the city”, and having time, as do Florence and St Clair, for creativity and love.
This alternative was implicit in the 2012 election and was “in the air” when I had to return to the Chicago area last October. It’s insane to destroy a dream, as mine of being An Artist was destroyed, just to be sure I would maximize my income by being A Lawyer and An Asshole, working for a firm specializing in denial of employee compensation or health claims.
I don’t know if Peter Quilter, the author of Glorious, had these large themes in mind. But he could not help but tell which way the wind is blowing while writing this play.
7 May 2013 Added note re “Edwardian” theme, etc
10 May 2013 Added clarification re dancing