Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Present, Ethyl Barrymore Theatre, New York

The theatre was my first love. I attended Manitoba Theatre School evenings after high school.  I  was  a lead in a high school play.  I  did a year of English and Theatre at College. I dreamed of being a playwright mostly.  I’d become a dancer to pay the rent.  I was dancing on tv, doing walk ons with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.
I don’t know what went wrong.  I never planned to be a psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist.
I remember studying DH Lawrence in a stuffy classroom.  DH Lawrence wrote about fucking and partying in a particularly pretty way.    I thought what am I doing in a classroom listening to an old guy talk about old or dead guys and gals having it on when I should be doing that myself and writing about it.
With organizational skills that would later be used for purer pursuits I convinced my classmates that we needed to have an orgy and write about it.   My long haired friend had an apartment. One wall  was painted a great black and white yin and yang symbol.  Two beautiful classmates agreed to join our homework research project.  My friend had pot but the girls wanted wine. We stopped at the Liquor Control Commission for four bottles of cheap red wine.  We had an orgy.  We didn’t create great art afterwards.  The girls hadn't liked it. They said it wasn’t  DH Lawrence.
Years later I couldn’t help but laugh when I read what Joan Baez had said to Bob Dylan, “How come you always promise us girls we will feel like princesses but  we end up feeling like whores?"
Older I met a professor of literature from Montreal who told me she’d been one of Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy’.  She said,"my girlfriend and I spent a weekend in a motel room with Leonard. Later when he sang us that beautiful song we told each other we didn’t remember it quite that way."
The Present brought a lot of those memories back. Theatre is raw and innocent and older than Shakespeare. It was probably the first art form. Men story telling after a hunt, acting out the kill.  Women making fun of the men for some reason or other.
My friend John is a psychiatrist from Australia.  I  make fun of Australians when I’m around him.  Bad jokes about sheep,  kangaroos and wallabees. John is a genius and a scholar who loves  St. Francis. My other deep psychiatrist friend Steve teaches at University of Sidney.  Cultured, refined, he loves the opera and theatre there best though he's been all over the world.  My Thai friend Aim and her French Canadian husband Marc have just had their first baby there.  Aim is a professor of political sciences at University of Sidney. They’re all internationals, jet setters who have travelled and taught around the world.
I remember telling Londoners  when I lived there that I was from Canada.  They called me “colonial."  When I was motorcycling across America  riding my Harley Electroglyde to  Sturges, South Dakota,  I stopped at a gas station.   An American asked  me where I was from. I said Canada. He said, “that’s north right. Mexico is south?"
Cate Blanchett is Australian.  I said to my friend that I thought she was one of the greatest women actors of our time. I said, "She's right up there with Meryl Streep,”  my other all time favourite woman actress. She  has that incredible diversity. She can play so many different roles. Obviously both Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchet  have multiple personality disorders they channel.  They get right inside  the role.
By contrast Clint Eastwood is always Clint Eastwood.   I love him and I love all his movies. In Gran Turino, a movie I think is one of the greatest of all time, he still plays an old man Clint Eastwood.  By contrast, Cate Blanchet is every woman.   ‘ A man for all seasons’.
In the play, The Present, she was Anna Petrova.  She was somebody else in the Aviator and someone else in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button and someone else in The Talented Mr. Ripley.  She was someone totally different in Elizabeth, the Golden Age. She’s a personality pretzel.
Seeing her on stage in The Present she was a ‘real actress’, everything that a simple movie star doesn’t have to be.  Movies are two dimensional.  Theatre is three dimensional.  The theatre gets under your skin.  There’s a joining of audience and actors neural systems in theatre.
I don’t like to compare  unique geniuses but really Cate Blanchett and Richard Roxburgh were as close to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor as we can ever hope to see in this day and age.  I even hate more to use an alcohol analogy especially for such young people,  but these two were aged. Their craft was anointed.
This Sidney Theatre Company Production was possibly better than anything because it was ‘colonial’ You have to be better.
I’d been moved as I was in The Present, years ago watching Lauren Bacall and Jeremy Irons in Applause on Broadway.  I’d felt the same way when I’d seen Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith in London. There’s something about greatness. Theatre and acting at it’s finest is like NASA.
Obviously  Irish director John Crowley is a major factor.  Last year I’d seen The Shadow of a Gunman at Abbey Theatre in Dublin and know the Irish get to a depth most don’t care to go.  Anne Enright in The Green Road wrote, “I am sorry. I cannot  invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad."
You have to be mad to direct Chekhov.  At theatre school he was considered the best. The greatest of Russian playwrights.  A kind of English Noel Coward on vodka.  Combustible!  
Andrew Upton’s adaptation, updating Chekhov's  Platonov, was simply seamless.  It’s a family and friend gathering for Anna’s 40th birthday celebration. The twists and turns and inter relationships would challenge afternoon tv.  Close friends, lovers, history and wine then vodka and life and death. It was a rollercoaster train ride.  Emotionally heart wrenching, hilarious, angry, sad and choreographed with utter brilliance.  I was shocked by the intermission.  The play  just kept coming at me. I was in the room. The audience was in the room. The air was electric. I was remembering so many similar scenes of my own life with such horror. It was the ultimate in the human condition with commentary.
Rejection, unrequited love, too little too late, too much too soon. Jealousy, anger, passion and lust. Did I say I dropped acid.  I’m an addiction medicine specialist who knows something of the effects of alcohol. The play really spoke to reality.  It  ratcheted up to something almost divine. Truly human.
"Isn’t Cate Blanchet one of the sexiest women in the world?" I asked my lovely theatre companion later
She answered, "Don’t you notice that the Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchets are never just sex symbols. I agree she’s sexy but she’s so much more.” She truly is.
I felt for all the men  in the play.  Goethe’s "Suffering of Poor Werther" came to mind. There was something in the pathos of the male condition that Chekhov captured so well. Each of the male actors portrayed this exquisitely.  Dr. Carl Jung saw all the players in the dream as archetypes of the self.   The Present had that kind of depth.  I’ve been all these men at sometime in my life. So many mistakes.  Chris Roxbugh as Michail Plotonov really focused the confusion,  passion and sheer irony of man.
All the cast, Anna Bamford, Andrew Buchanan, David Downer, Eamon Farren, Martin Jacobs, Brandon McClelland, Jacquelline McKenzie, Marshal Napier, Susan Prior, Chris Ryan, Toby Schmitz were incredible.  I loved the huge cast too, almost Bollywood,
It was a bang up job.  I have to admit, how could it get any better, sex, booze, beauty, intrigue, guns. All the components of the human dilemma.  I loved every moment of it.  The rest of the audience did too.
When the curtain fell the audience shot to their feet with bravos and applause.  We held the cast for four curtain calls.  
Outside my companion and I  joined the throng waiting  to see the cast come out.  When Cate Blancett finally appeared she stopped to  graciously sign  autographs before jumping into her limousine.  I loved that she cared that much for her audience. A teen age  girl had climbed up on a lantern  to see Cate Blanchett better,  screaming when she appeared.
I snapped a iPhone picture. I’m now a  paparazzi.  I’d have done the same for Colonel Hatfield, Canada’s foremost astronaut.  There’s something about excellence that knows no bound.
The Present was a play about a physical present but something much more. Metaphysical and now. I’m so much richer for being there.

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