Mary, Mary: Theatre Review

Jean Kerr’s Mary, Mary opened on Broadway in 1961, and ran for over 1500 performances. For awhile, it held the record for longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history. I really think it’s one of the classic American comedies-of-manners, in the vein of Philadelphia Story or Holiday, only of course twenty five years after those plays. It’s about the lives of upper-middle-class New York intellectuals in the early 1960s, and many of the jokes are about the lives and personalities and favorite haunts of that time and class. It’s the kind of play that Don Draper would have seen, or rather, the kind of play that his second wife Megan would have dragged him to. I’m making it sound dated, and it is, a bit, but the opening night audience at the Covey Center enjoyed it a great deal, as did my wife and I. The cultural references in the play may well seem old-fashioned. But the main characters are real and human and we do care about them. And the jokes still land.

The production, under the able direction of Barta Heiner, is first-rate, or at least has the potential to become first-rate. Opening night was marred by a few line fluffs, which threw off the actors’ comic timing on occasion. They’re fine actors, and they will adjust. See it next week, or the week following; you’ll have a delightful night in the theatre. Or better than delightful, because there’s a central performance here that really needs to be seen.

The play is set in Bob’s Manhattan apartment. Bob (Adam Argyle) is a publisher, fancies himself someone who publishes excellent books of high literary quality, which means his business is just this side of profitable. The IRS is auditing him, and his attorney and friend, Oscar (Reese Purser) is sorting through his records, and has invited his ex-wife, Mary (Becca Ingram) to peruse cancelled checks and generally help out. Bob’s current, much-younger fiancee, the enchantingly wierd Tiffany (Taylor Fonbuena) is particularly interested in meeting Mary, a meeting Bob is anxious to prevent. Meanwhile, Bob’s movie-star friend, Dirk (Eric Raemakers) is hoping Bob will publish his Hollywood auto-biography, a book nowhere near high-brow enough for Bob. Bob, of course, still has feelings for Mary, and despite the pain of the divorce, Mary may still harbor similar feelings for Mary. But Dirk isn’t just a movie star, he’s a charming, insightful, likeable guy, and genuinely smitten with Mary. So the play is built around a double love triangle, between Bob, Mary and Tiffany, and Bob, Mary and Dirk. And the major dramatic question is this: will Mary and Bob get back together? Or will she go off with Dirk (a choice that becomes increasingly plausible as the play goes on).

I thought the cast was all very good, except for Becca Ingram as Mary, who I thought was spectacular. And that’s needed. Mary, as written by Kerr, is a tremendous character; exceptionally bright and insightful and funny. It’s a play about Mary; it succeeds or fails depending on the performance by the actress who plays her. She’s the kind of woman who pretty much always sees the absurdity of any situation she finds herself in, and has a gift for the perfect bon mot to describe social absurdity. She’s also terribly, achingly insecure. She has never believed herself to be beautiful, or even attractive, though she’s in fact quite stunning. So her wisecracks are a defense mechanism, too. For the play to work, it requires an actress who can capture both her wit and her vulnerability, as she is equal parts both a funny, funny girl and achingly lonely and hurt and unsure.

Becca Ingram does all that, superbly, but then adds another quality. Her Mary isn’t just that humorist/wounded kitten duality. She adds another layer, a shaky but hard-earned confidence. Mary has been alone for 9 months, and she’s had to work through a tremendous amount of pain and self-doubt. But she has worked through it. She’s professionally secure (though she wouldn’t be Mary if she wasn’t also aware that her job, letters-to-the-editor editor, is at least somewhat ridiculous). She’s had a make-over; learned how to dress to her best advantage. She’s gained a lot, some self-knowledge, some professional assurance, some self-possession. She has, in fact, become a feminist, to the extent that that was a possibility in 1961. And yes, it’s very nice to have a movie star like Dirk interested in her. And gratifying to see her ex-husband realize what a mistake he made when he left her. But she wants something more, something rare in the play’s world of 1961. She wants equality. She wants to align herself with a grown-up.

How big a stretch is it to consider Jean Kerr a feminist? I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. I love her essay collections–The Snake has all the Lines, and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. She was a bit like Erma Bombeck, a very funny chronicler of American suburban women. She had six kids, and was happily married, to drama critic Walter Kerr. She was a best-selling author and a humorist. She wore pants, and said so; hated housework, and said so; drank and smoked too much, slept in the same bed as her husband, and said so. She’d lock herself in her Chevy to write. She and her husband were partners, and equals, and both of them said so.

And she created Mary. And Mary, in this play, is one of the richest, most complex and fascinating fictional American women in that period. The movie version of the play flopped, because Hollywood couldn’t handle a female character as independent as Mary. And Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, warm and wise and human and funny, was reduced to a Doris Day vehicle by Hollywood. But Barta Heiner and Becca Ingram (and costume designer Lisa Kuhne) have reinvented Mary for us, at the Covey Center. It’s really something special. Go see it.

Mama: Theatre Review

I had the recent privilege of attending a dress rehearsal of Mama, Plan B Theatre Company’s World Premiere of a new play by Carleton Bluford. There are many reasons to see this show, apart from the obvious; you should always see everything Plan B does, all the time, always. That almost goes without saying.

But there are other reasons to see the play. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s poignant, and it’s superbly directed and acted. The play is about, well, mothers. Mamas. The terrific four-person cast move back and forth from serving a choral function, reciting famous ‘motherhood’ quotations, to monologues about various mothers that seem to have come from a Facebook plea for such stories, then acting out the vignettes about motherhood that are the spine of the play.

I am, as it happens, very fond of my own mother. I’m less fond of Bartlett’s-style quotations about motherhood. But there’s a grit and power to the vignettes that offset the occasional sentimentality of the quotations. That’s where the play really comes together, as we realize that the vignettes are not meant as real-life illustrations of the quotations, but as tough-minded counter-narratives. That’s the dramatic tension of the piece, between ideals of motherhood and reality. And the reality is, Moms aren’t perfect. But also, that Moms do remarkably well nonetheless.

One of the vignettes, for example, started with Dee-dee Darby-Duffin on the phone with her lover. Their conversation is frank and explicit; the man is coming over, and his intentions with her, and her intentions with her, are lasciviously clear. Her son (Cooper Howell) shows up, and reminds her that a representative from Brown University is coming over, to assess his candidacy for a full-ride scholarship to the school. Mom informs him that she has plans for that evening, and that those plans do not include cooking a nice dinner for some white woman. Not quite the perfect Mom, we might think. Except that, in the next scene, the woman from Brown (Liz Summerhays) does show up, and tells Mama that she can’t stay long–the decision has been made, the son will not receive the scholarship. The response approximates that of a she-grizzly bear with a cub in danger. It’s a terrific scene, about a Mom who comes through in the end.

The fourth actor in the cast is the equally terrific Latoya Rhodes, who shines in the one historical vignette of the piece, a pre-Civil War Harriet Tubman piece about the lengths African-American parents went to to protect their children amidst the horrors of slavery. But another vignette was marvelously comic, with Summerhays as a white woman joining a black family, and countering a prospective sister-in-law’s dismissal with sass and courage, while Mama plays cheerleader.

Some plays tell one sustained story; others, like Mama, are episodic. Preferences vary. I’m generally a ‘sustained story’ kinda guy, but I liked Mama very much indeed. It really is a ‘you’ll laugh, you’ll cry’ kind of piece. Go see it. Tickets are on sale here.

Bare: Theatre Review

In a narrative performing art like theatre, there are any number of ways to respond to any particular piece. One aesthetic puts first such considerations as dedication, idealism, earnestness and passion, energy and commitment. That was my initial response to Bare, the 2001 musical by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo given its Utah premiere by the Utah Repertory Theater Company at the Sugar Space Warehouse Theater.

When my wife and I are driving around town, we’ll see a building and I’ll ask “school, or prison?” Obviously, the buildings we pass are inevitably schools; what makes this funny is how forbiddingly prison-like they appear. I thought of that when I saw the metallic set for Bare, essentially two staircases, a catwalk upstairs, and a few school lockers and beds.  The play is set in a Catholic boarding high school, and honestly, ‘school or prison’ became, for me, a functional metaphor for the world of the play. It’s about people who feel trapped, confined. It’s about trying to find something authentic and real and good while in a restricted, constricted social world. It’s about living in a closet–though not really a closet, but more like a school locker, metal and bare, with a lock on the door.

Plotwise, Bare is built on a that sturdiest of structures, the love triangle. Peter (John Patrick McKenna) is in love with Jason (Brock Dalgliesh), and has every reason to think his feelings are reciprocated. Neither of them is quite ready to come out to their fellow students, though Peter is close to ready, but Jason, outgoing, popular, athletic, filled with youthful sexual energy and power, is perfectly fine keeping the relationship quiet. It’s high school: of course there are rumors about them, and some homophobic harassment of the sensitive and introverted Peter, but Jason, he’s cool, he’s popular, and likes it when the girls flock around. And the school’s Miss Popular, Ivy (Emilie Starr), tends to get what she wants and what she wants–in addition to the lead in the school play, Romeo and Juliet–is Jason.

Further complicating the triangle is school nice guy Matt (Thomas Kulkas), who is pretty into Emilie himself, and has had reason in the past to think she likes him back. In addition, Jason has a less popular sister at the school, Nadia (Katie Evans), a self-loathing young woman with body image issues, and a ‘lash-out-at-everyone’ disposition. Rounding out the main schoolkids, is Lucas (Aaron Gordon), a party animal/entrepreneur, who, only too appropriately, has been cast as the apothecary in their R&J production. The play is being directed by a feisty nun, Sister Chantel (Yoah Guerrero), who hides a kindly soul behind a drill sergeant’s mien. And the school seems to be run by a Priest (Jonathan Scott McBride), who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of answers to the main questions the kids in the play pose to him, but who never seems uncaring.

So it’s a play, essentially, about gay kids in a gay-unfriendly religious environment. Albeit one that nonetheless tries its best to provide a nurturing and safe space for teenaged kids. I can see why Utah actors and Utah audiences would embrace the play as they have. And that was a lot of its appeal, for me, as a middle-aged straight Mormon. I loved the genuine and obvious commitment of the cast and production staff. This may be a weird response, but I felt like I was watching all of them bearing witness. Bearing testimony. To what? Well, to the idea of inclusiveness and acceptance. To the reality that, even now, too many gay kids are bullied and tormented and mistreated, and that too many of them, in hopeless despair, choose to end their own lives. Or run away, to degrading conditions on the streets. To the idea that traditional, organized religion, however compassionate, may not provide meaningful answers to kids in such terrible pain.

I could quibble about some aspects of the script and production. Peter, was, for me, an underdeveloped dramatic character, though I appreciated McKenna’s strong voice and stage presence. Some of the songs, I found rather pedestrian. The opening number set up a series of expectations–specifically, that the play would implicate religion as the main culprit of the play’s central conflict–that it (blessedly) did not fulfill. (So maybe cut the number entirely?)  The Sugar Space Theater remains a chilly space in which to see a play–wear a jacket. And for me, the play felt a bit dated. It premiered in 2000, and I’d like to think that now, fifteen years later, it’s perhaps at least a little easier for young people to come out, and that when they do, they’ll be at least somewhat better treated than this.

But Dalgliesh was a stand-out, embodying Jason’s youthful energy so completely that it never occurred to me to doubt that he would pursue Ivy sexually. Starr was tremendous as well, especially in “All Grown Up,” the best song for her character. The two of them lit up the stage. I also loved Evans’ “Plain Jane” song, in which she complained about how hurt she was by society’s expectations for female attractiveness. (Sad, that a young woman as lovely as Evans would be given a song like that, an excoriating diatribe on the difficulties of being un-lovely, and therefore, in our culture, tagged un-lovable).

Still, I was very moved by the production, by the commitment and energy of the cast, by the central performers, and by the over-all message of the play. Really, please, go see it. You won’t regret the decision.

Play Review: Company

The Sugar Space Arts Warehouse in Salt Lake City is, well, a converted warehouse. The floor’s concrete, the ceilings are high, acoustics are echo-y, and watching a play up there you can constantly hear an air compressor. Presumably, it was trying to warm the place up; it didn’t work. It was cold outside, and maybe a bit warmer indoors. The actors had to wear mics, and early on, the sound mixing was a bit off. And none of that mattered at all, not even a little bit. When a live theatre performance is as alive, and compassionate and wise and smart and funny and sad and warm-hearted and, my gosh, as human as Silver Summit Theatre‘s production of Company was last night, nothing else matters.

In fact, I rather liked the space and its limitations. Silver Summit is a company in search of a home; they find different venues for each of their productions, but they do great work, fully professional in every way that matters, and their Company was a pure joy. They’re worth following around. I spoke briefly with Michelle Rideout, their artistic director, during the interval, and told her that I felt like I was watching an early-days show at the Donmar. (Best off-West End company in London, and yes, they perform in a warehouse. And were the first London company to revive Company). We don’t go to the theatre for comfy chairs and gorgeous sets. We go to connect with our fellow human beings on this planet. We go to feel something, learn something, grow a little, weep and laugh and rejoice.

I wondered how Company would hold up, after all these years. This Sondheim/Furth musical was the hottest show on Broadway 45 years ago, and yes, there are moments where it shows its age. It’s hard to imagine a single, successful, Manhattan-apartment-well-off kinda guy today admitting he doesn’t know anyone black, Hispanic, gay. But I suspect that there are still ladies who lunch around today, and those great great songs are still knock-outs; “Another hundred people,” “Being Alive,” “Side by Side by Side.”

For those of you who don’t know it, Company is about Robert, Bobby to his many friends, a single man just turning 35, who is starting to think that maybe it’s time to not be single anymore. His friends both agree and disagree. He’s wonderful company, after all, charming and fun and widely beloved; he’s integral to all their social lives, it seems. But perhaps he’s not quite . . . ready? And the glimpses we see of his friends’ marriages are vivid reminders of, well, human frailty, the petty hypocrisies and foibles and annoying eccentricities that marriage both helps us overcome and accentuates. It’s a musical with no heroes and no villains and hardly any story, and Bobby never does meet the girl of his dreams. But maybe, at the end, he might. Might be ready for it, at any rate. And all fourteen of its characters are vivid, brilliantly drawn and acted and sung.

A few standouts last night, not that there was a single weak link in the cast. Rick Rea was tremendous as Robert, smiling, fun, smart, empathetic Robert, Bobby to his friends. And then, gradually, we see other shadings, his loneliness, his occasional selfishness (especially in “Barcelona,” with Heather Shelley wonderful as slightly dim flight attendant April), his increasing sense of quiet desperation. And his performance of “Being Alive” was wonderful. What a song.

I can’t say enough about Eve Speer and Brandon Rufener, as the karate fighting couple, Sarah and Harry. I loved Natalia Noble as the lively and eccentric Marta; her “Another Hundred People” had just the right mix of fear and comedy and pathos. But Marcie Jacobsen was a sensation. “The Ladies Who Lunch” is such an excoriating, biting satire of New York society, and Jacobsen found the right blend of self-destructive self-loathing, viciousness and tragedy in her Joanne. Look at the great Joanne’s of the past: Patti Lupone, Barbara Walsh, Elaine Stritch. Jacobsen fits well in their company. Or Company.

Anyway, wow. Go see it, y’all. The house was half full last night, on a Friday night. Go, and take a date, and ask your date to ask a friend, and date, to join you. Then maybe, like, both couples could ask out two other couples, make it an eight-some. And afterwards, there’s a really nice restaurant close to the, uh, well, a few blocks at least from the, uh. . . . actually, the theater’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But there is a Leatherbys kinda close. Bring a sweater, (a good, thick one) and see a fine production of a great musical. With a bunch of your friends. You won’t regret it.

 

My political manifesto

Confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors opined in class one day that actors were the most moral people in the world. His argument: the basis for morality is compassion, and compassion comes from empathy. And because they are in the business of creating characters, becoming other people, actors were pretty much always, you know, walking in the moccasins, so to speak, of other people. Hence greater empathy, hence greater compassion, hence morality. When he said this, I was in a show, acting across from a brilliantly talented actor who was also pretty much the most awful person I had ever met. Empathy was one of many human emotions he was wonderfully able to fake. Total narcissist, a womanizer and a creepy creepy person. We were doing a murder mystery; he was the killer, and I was the detective tasked with catching him. Watching him hit on every woman on the production staff gave my characterization added oomph, and I must say I found it supremely satisfying to hear the click of my handcuffs on his wrists, night after night.

Having said that, I would add that I acted for years, though not anymore, and that I generally love actors and consider many actors to be among my closest and dearest friends.

I thought about the misguided naivete of that professor yesterday, when I engaged in an entirely futile on-line debate about politics. A conservative friend found amusing a YouTube video caricaturing liberals; it was funny, he insisted, because it was true. I angrily asserted that it wasn’t either true, and that I could as easily stereotype conservatives. I argued poorly in that forum; let me redeem myself here by stating, firmly and unequivocally, what I believe to be true, absolutely true, in my heart of hearts true.

Principle One: American Liberals and American Conservatives are, for the most part, patriotic and decent human beings who differ somewhat in regards to matters of policy.

Principle Two: The Democratic and Republican parties are both comprised of people who love the United States, and want nothing more than for the nation to prosper and bless its citizens. Both parties are equal parts corrupt and idealistic. Most Democrats are decent, good citizens; some have the morals of pit vipers. Most Republicans are decent, good citizens; some have the morals of cockroaches. And both parties have individuals in their ranks who are narcissistic attention seekers, that being the besetting sin of politicians.

I am a liberal Democrat, deeply committed and passionate in my beliefs. I am a liberal  as a matter of principle and conscience. That does not mean that conservative Republicans are without principle or conscience-less. I study policy issues very carefully, and believe that my positions on matters of policy are factually based, supported by research and reason. That does not mean that conservative policy proposals are unsupported by evidence. Confirmation bias afflicts both sides; both sides tend to favor evidence supporting our previous prejudices and opinions.

As a liberal Democrat, I consider myself pro-choice. That means that it’s easy for conservatives to label me a baby-killer. I’m not a baby-killer. That’s preposterous. It’s a complicated issue, and in general, I come down on the side of a woman’s right to choose. My conservative Republican friends tend to disparage programs intended to alleviate poverty. That does not allow me to label them uncharitable or call them vicious meanies. It just means that they don’t believe federal anti-poverty programs are effective.

My father is much more conservative than I am, and there are a number of political questions on which we disagree. But he was and is a wonderful father, and I love and respect him immensely. My brother–one of the finest men I have ever known–is a Republican, but he called the other day, and we talked politics for an hour, and found very few questions on which we disagreed. Not all policy questions are partisan. Roads need to be repaired, schools need to be built, power grids need to be maintained.  Those may be ‘political’ questions, but surely they are questions about which reasonable people can find common ground.

None of this means that we can’t passionately advocate for our positions. Of course we can, and we must. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine differences between parties and ideologies and platforms. Of course, those exist. It does mean that we can’t demonize the opposition. I do forget that sometimes, and apologize for it.

Let’s all commit ourselves to civil dialogue, and civil disagreement, when disagree we must. But what unifies us is much more important than what divides us. We’re American citizens. Let’s always continue to respect what that means.

A theology of fear

Sunday was our stake conference. For those of you who are not Mormons, we worship every Sunday in a ‘ward,’ a group of 400-600 people. Wards are part of larger units, called ‘stakes’, a group of 8-10 wards; the guy who runs the stake is the Stake President. (The metaphor is that of a people gathered in tent, with stakes holding it together). Once a year, all the people in the stake get together for a big meeting, held in the stake center. And sometimes, occasionally, General Authorities of the Church come down and speak at stake conference.

This Sunday, we had the exceedingly rare experience of having, not just a General Authority, but an Apostle, Elder David Bednar speak to us.  This is very rare, and the stake center was crammed full.

Elder Bednar’s talk was outstanding. He talked about fear. As he pointed out, fear is generally described as something to be overcome. It’s a negative emotion, something that gets in the way of faith. Elder Bednar used as an example the story in Matthew 14, when Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are on a boat (presumably Peter’s fishing boat), and a storm starts up. Jesus approaches the boat, walking on the water, and says to them, “Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid.” And Peter, ever impulsive, asks if he can join him. But when he starts walking towards Jesus, he’s overcome by fear, and begins sinking, and says “Lord, save me!” and Jesus catches him by the hand and says “oh, ye of little faith, why didst thou fear?”

Elder Bednar made several cogent points about this story. First, it appears that fear is, in this instance, the opposite of faith. Peter is able to walk, miraculously, on the water, because he has faith. But, understandably, his faith falters. He essentially says to Jesus ‘the surface tension of water is insufficient to bear the concentrated weight of a two hundred pound human. I’m going to sink.’ But he has just experienced another miracle, the feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes. He should know that Jesus had the power to supercede natural law somehow. If he had had faith, he could have performed miracles. Like walk on water.

So looking to Jesus is the essence of faith; looking to Jesus is what gives us courage, enabling us to overcome fear. Courage and faith are therefore linked. Although Elder Bednar didn’t say this explicitly, I would add that love seems similarly linked to faith and to courage.

Today is veteran’s day. I have not served in the military, and have never experienced combat. I know people who have. I can only imagine what they went through, my imagination aided, in my case, by movies. Think, for example, of Saving Private Ryan, and its depiction of the Normandy beach invasion by Allied forces. We see soldiers on boats ready to storm that beach, and we see and hear guns firing, bullets whistling past them, the impact sounds as men are hit. After watching that movie, I thought to myself, “I do not believe that I would be able to get out of that boat. I believe that I am too cowardly to do so.” But those men did get out of the boats, and did race up that beach firing their weapons, and did win that battle. That’s an extraordinary thing. And I feel chastened by their courage. I’m in awe of it. No doubt, for some, that courage came from their own religious convictions; they ‘looked to Jesus,’ as Elder Bednar suggested. For more of them, though, I think they thought of their families. I think they were driven by love. Which I also believe to be a gift from God.

But let’s talk about fear. There is another usage of the word ‘fear’ in scripture. It’s sometimes used as a positive thing: ‘the fear of God.’ It’s rather an archaic usage; we mostly use it nowadays as a colloquial expression meaning ‘a boss is going to crack down on underlings.’  As in “look at our sales figures for August. We’re having a meeting and I’m going to put the fear of God into our sales staff.”  But as Elder Bednar pointed out, that’s not really how the scriptures use the phrase. In Acts, for example, Cornelius the centurion is described as a man who “feared God with all his house, and gave alms to the people, and prayed always.” ‘Fearing God’ seems to refer, in this case, to a general piety and charitableness. Fearing God means to hold God in awe and reverence.  Not really be afraid of him.

A parent who wants his/her children to fear him/her, and beats them, is, let’s face it, a horrible parent. There’s certainly an Old Testament sense of ‘fearing God’ that strikes me as atavistic. We should obey God because if we don’t, He might zap us, send horrible floods or earthquakes or diseases. If we assume that terrible weather events are the sorts of things that God is personally responsible for, then it makes sense to fear Him, just as it makes sense, when hiking in the woods, to fear bears or wolves or poisonous snakes. But I’d rather not liken God to a wolf. That sense of ‘fear’ suggests an interesting theological question, does it not? Is God in charge of, say, weather? When a hurricane devastates a coastal region, or when a tsunami wipes out a beachfront community, is that something God sent? Does God do that, send terrible tribulations? If so, does He send them as a response to unrighteousness? Do we believe that a town destroyed by an earthquake had it coming?

There does seem to me to be a lot of scriptural support for the notion that ‘natural disasters’ are actually supernatural; that severe destructive weather events are in fact sent by God as a punishment for wickedness–Sodom and Gomorrah, Zerahemla.  And it’s the kind of thing you do hear from time to time in Sunday School: “those people had it coming.” At the same time, when a Pat Robertson or other prominent right wing evangelical goes on the air to say “this hurricane was God’s punishment for allowing gay marriage” or something like that, most people respond with disgust and laughter. That kind of sentiment is no longer  acceptable in contemporary society, and rightfully so. We believe in, and worship, a God of love. And one of the ways the LDS church has distinguished itself in our day is in the area of disaster relief. Whenever there’s a natural disaster, the Church is on the scene with supplies–food, blankets, potable water, shelter. So, what, when God punishes people for their wickedness, we jump right in and try to make things better for the people being thus punished? Really?

I don’t think we believe that anymore. I don’t think we believe that God uses bad weather to punish wicked people. I certainly don’t believe in it; some Mormons may disagree with me. But I dislike the theological implications of that. A second possibility is even more appalling to me; the idea that God is in fact in charge of weather, but just lashes out randomly, out of, perhaps, a kind of divine Pique. That’s the God of predestination, is it not? A God that just picks some people to save, leaving the rest to roast forever? That was the mainstream theology of early nineteenth century America, which means it was the theology specifically condemned in the First Vision, was it not?

No, what I believe theologically is that our life here on earth is a testing ground, and that part of the test of mortality is dealing with random, arbitrary disasters. Weather happens. God set it up to happen, but I’m not convinced He directs it, particularly. I don’t think health setbacks are meant to teach us anything, for example. I think we just get sick sometimes. Certainly, we’re meant to deal with illness with courage and resolve; that is part of our test.  And maybe we learn something along the way. But I don’t think we’re supposed to go through life afraid that if we say the wrong thing God’s going to zap us with lightning. I think lightning just . . . strikes.

And yes, I believe that fear, and the courageous overcoming of fear are absolutely crucial to the testing of mortality. I think that we look to God for faith, and we pray in faith, not because we’re afraid of horrible things happening to us if we don’t, but just because. Out of love. Out of devotion. Out of gratitude. Not because we hope for a reward afterwards, because good things and bad things happen to us, here, randomly, without being deserved or earned either way. But we can always choose. And the right choice, the best choice, is always the most courageous choice.

There is another way in which ‘fear of God’ can function theologically, although this wasn’t one mentioned by or in any sense referred to by Elder Bednar in his excellent address. We can be afraid of each other. We can be afraid, not of God, but of ‘god.’ Not the God who loves us, who created a beautiful, terrible earth for our mortal final exam, but the ‘god’ made up of popular opinion, the ‘god’ of mainstream prosperous white American culture, the ‘god’ that whispers and gossips and points ‘his’ crabbed and arthritic finger at our everyday foibles and missteps. And who forbids, not sin, but life. Who mutters under ‘his’ breath imprecations against (this is crucial) courageous, principled acts of rebellion born of conscience. Not the God of the Tree of Life, but the ‘gods’ staring down at us from the various spacious and specious buildings of our oh-so-active imaginations.

Samuel Beckett, in the greatest play of the twentieth century, had a word for that ‘god.’ He called it ‘godot,’ a french diminutive. And his ‘godot’ is a ‘god’ that we fear, and wait for, and he never, ever, shows up.  ‘He’ doesn’t have to. As long as we never leave, as long as we stay put, as long as we spend our days testing the branches of our trees to ensure they’ll hold the weight of a hanging rope, ‘his’ purposes are amply fulfilled.

Because, you see, Peter and the disciples did have one more thing to be afraid of. Not just the storm and the sea and the fear of drowning. Read Matthew 14 carefully. All the miracles described there, the feeding of the multitude and the walking on the water came immediately on the heels of an act of state-sponsored violence. John the Baptist had run afoul of the tetrarch, Herod, and his step-daughter Herodias. And Herod had John murdered. It was right after that horrid event that everyone freaked out and ran to the wilderness, five thousand strong, desperate for answers, for comfort, for reassurance. For courage. It was then that Jesus fed them. It was then that Jesus defied a storm.

Because what Jesus understood was that godot is a coward, and like many cowards, a bully, violent and weak. And there’s really only one way to sidestep godot. It involves a storm on a lake, and a boat, tossed and turned. It involves a blessing, and bread and fishes, and a terrified people fed.

Short term, godot won. John was beheaded; Jesus scourged and crucified. And Gandhi and Dr. King; likewise murdered. But courage overcomes fear, faith is stronger than death itself. Ordinary young men, huddled in a boat outside Normandy, drove themselves, through love, towards heroism. No one remembers cowards, except as cowards. We ‘fear’ (honor, worship, sustain) God by loving our brothers and sisters. And love leads to faith and faith to courage.  And even amidst danger, we can be of good cheer. We must, in fact, overcome fear. That’s the real test, and one so many of us (Mormons, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Atheists) pass every day of our lives. By being, not just human, but the best humans we can manage to be, the most courageous, the most daring, the most audacious. Artists and artisans, merchants and beggars. Be courageous. Be strong. Be of good cheer.

 

Top Ten (or so) Reasons to see Much Ado about Zombies

The Covey Center production of Much Ado About Zombies, written by Becky Baker and William Shakespeare, and directed by yours truly, opens Friday, Oct. 24. Tickets available here. There’s also a super awesome promotional video, featuring Barrett Ogden, Ashley Lammi and Archie Crisanto, doing lines from the play that their characters never actually speak, but why quibble?  If you live in Provo, you should see this show. If you live in Orem, or anywhere in Utah north of St. George or south of Idaho, you should see it.  Here’s a top Ten (or so) list of reasons why:

Top Ten (or maybe thirteen) List of Reasons to See the Covey Center Much Ado About Zombies.

10) It’s Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Only with zombies. One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, only with 50% more zombies than ever before!

9) There’s a strange rumor, as yet unconfirmed, of a unexplained crack in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire England. Another rumor, also unconfirmed, describes a shambling bald bearded figure, dressed in decayed Jacobean clothing, stowing away aboard a fishing trawler operating out of Cornwall. Also, hobos have reported a similar figure climbing onto a train in Halifax, heading westward. One hobo said he overheard this same personage muttering about those ‘who doth disturb these unquiet denizens of underfiend realms’ under his breath. Another hobo, on the same train, had his brains eaten. Who knows what all this portends?

8) We’re talkin’ pure steampunk eye candy. Sets, costumes, lighting, makeup: all of it wicked awesome.

7) You can see Sierra Docken, a snarling, biting, zombie violinist. Also a string zombie trio performing Pachelbel as never before.

6) Also Archie Crisanto, as Friar Frank, a grave robbing, cigarette smoking, gun wielding pastor straight from Hell’s Kitchen.

5) You know the part of Hero? Sweet, innocent, bland Hero, Claudio’s fiancee, Beatrice’s cousin, Leonato’s daughter, and one of the dullest female characters in Shakespeare? Yeah, not in our version. Emily Siwachok creates an edgy, punk rock, feminist Hero. She’s an anti-Hero! (rimshot).

4) Janiel Miller rocks out as Balthazar, Leonato’s court musician and disease vector. With all original music by Keaton Anderson. (Who is himself not, as far as I know, an undead disease vector).

3) So many little touches. The blood in Zombie Kevin’s beard. The visor eye makeup for Conrade (Kristen Perkins). Plus Conrade herself, murderous, but at least conflicted about it. The bayonet at the end of Andrea Mullins’ rifle. Mark Buchanan’s monkish garb. The spinning gears. The fact that the zombie virus glows. Blacklight zombie makeup. The huge honkin’ syringe.

2) Megan Graves, a lovely young woman, relishing a letter from her lover, happily strolls along. And is pursued and eaten by zombies. You know, like happens sometimes.

1) Shakespeare’s fun! Zombies are fun! Dub step dancing: fun!

0) Barrett Ogden and Ashley Lammi make a terrific Benedick and Beatrice. Carter Peterson, an amazing physical actor, is a superb Claudio. Jason Hagey and Chris Curlett make a wonderful Leonato/Don Pedro. Can’t say enough about Sophie Determan and Nick Black as that charming sociopathic couple, Margaret and Borachio. And Jennifer Mustoe, Caden Mustoe and Andrea Mullen, as the bumbling law enforcement team of Dogberry, Verges and Ani. Hannah Witkin’s zombie walk, and dancing.  Really, the cast is phenomonal. And I’m entirely, completely objective.

-1) And Kat Webb’s Don John is as nasty a villain as any in Shakespeare. And she wears a black cape to prove it.

-2) Plus Leah Hodson. Who plays the lovesick Messenger, mad about Claudio, but also pursued by Zombie Kevin. And is also a fine zombie cellist. Who told me at our audition that she was kinda afraid of zombies, but now is one.

So there you go! Top Ten (or so) reasons to see it!  Tickets selling fast! And can sell faster if you call now!  And if you are able to come, I know you’ll have a good time.  Promise.

 

Two kinds of crazy

Anita Sarkeesian is a well known and well respected feminist scholar and critic.  Here’s her Wikipedia page. She specializes in studying how women are portrayed in various kinds of popular media, and especially in video games. She’s perhaps best known for a video series on Youtube, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Check it out. It’s great stuff, matter-of-fact, sensible, well researched.

She was invited to speak at Utah State University on Wednesday this past week. On Monday, though, a death threat was sent via email to university officials. The threat was specific and terrifying. I’m not going to quote it here, but it called Sarkeesian “everything wrong with the feminist woman,” and threatened not only her, but anyone who attended her lecture. Its author claimed to have pipe bombs, pistols and semi-automatic weapons. The email also referred to Marc Lepine, a gunman who murdered fourteen women in Canada in 1989.

I can’t begin to describe how incredibly troubling all this is. Sarkeesian’s videos are sensible, intelligent, informed, sort of fun, not terribly ideological. They do make the entirely reasonable point that women are objectified in video games. This is so obviously true, I can’t imagine it being a point of contention. Apparently there are men who feel terribly threatened–emasculated even–by feminism. Apparently lots of those men are also gamers. Who knew?

But as I researched this stuff, the misogyny embedded in so many video game texts, the ferocity of the rhetoric in so much of the so-called ‘men’s movement,’ I became completely disheartened. I wanted to post this yesterday, and couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I don’t want to research gamergate. I don’t even know what MRM stands for, aside from Men’s Right’s Movement. I read the MRM Wikipedia page, and found the MRM arguments incomprehensible.  I don’t want to follow the Red Pill subreddit. (I’m not even going to link to it. It’s on reddit, it’s not hard to find. I refuse to drive traffic there). I spent twenty minutes on Red Pill yesterday, and felt like I needed a shower.  I am a man, proud of being a man, proud to be male, fulfilled in my marriage and edified by the friendships and professional relationships with women I have always enjoyed. I’m a feminist, and proud of it. I don’t get this anti-women nonsense.

And death threats? Seriously, death threats?

And then came a (to be fair) entirely inadvertent interaction with a second group of crazy people.

And this gets tricky, because I have family members who are gun owners and gun defenders and I don’t want to call people I love ‘crazy.’

But here’s what went down. Sarkeesian was still willing to give her lecture on Wednesday. She just wanted to be safe while doing it. Perfectly reasonable. She wanted back packs checked at the door; Utah State made plans to do that. She also wanted personal firearms banned, except, of course, for cops providing security.  And Utah State couldn’t do it. State law allows concealed weapon permit owners to carry their firearms anywhere, to school, on a college campus. To search backpacks and confiscate (or ban) firearms is a violation of Utah law. And apparently a number of Utah State students do have concealed weapon permits, and could therefore have attended Sarkeesian’s lecture armed. Read about it here.

Argument A: This is a prominent speaker, speaking at the university’s invitation. The threat made against her was very specific and detailed. Surely the university had an obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect her safety. And the presence of concealed weapons by students licensed to carry certainly made her feel less safe, and probably actually made her less safe. If, heaven forbid, the guy who issued the threat had in fact shown up and started shooting, a bunch of untrained people waving their guns around and firing wildly would escalate the situation exponentially. The training received by concealed weapons’ holders is risibly ineffectual. Utah is the only state in the country with guns laws that idiotic. As Sarkeesian put it: “It’s sort of mindboggling to me that they couldn’t take efforts to make sure there were no guns in an auditorium that was threatened with guns and a mass shooting.  I don’t understand how they could be so cut and dried about it.”  She’s right. I don’t get it either. And I would certainly have cancelled my appearance, just as she did.

Argument B: Nobody at the university took the threat lightly. Everybody agreed that her safety needed to be protected, as well as the safety of other lecture attendees. But the University had no choice but to follow state law.  And concealed weapon permit holders are not the problem. Indeed, they’re potentially part of the solution to the overall problem of on-campus violence. It’s completely unfair to stigmatize law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights. Nobody wants to be called a ‘nut’, and adding the word ‘gun’ to the front of it makes things worse. Concealed weapon permit holders have a track record of responsible gun ownership and use. “Right to bear arms”, y’all.  It’s entirely possible that women, attending the lecture, may well consider themselves feminists, and may find gun ownership completely compatible with their feminism.It’s possible that if the guy had shown up, and started firing, an armed woman may have been the one to put him down. Another kick-ass, armed feminist. They do exist, and if we’re feminists, we should embrace them too. Feminism needn’t be wimpy. Guns protect women too.

I’m an Argument A guy. I do understand Argument B. They both exist, and they both have many followers. Let’s acknowledge that, at least.

Sarkeesian cancelled her lecture because she was afraid of getting caught in a cross-fire. I would be too. I think that’s an entirely reasonable fear. She was, it seems, more afraid of the cross-fire than of the guy who threatened her. I totally get that. I don’t get the gun thing. I have never understood it. I don’t want to own one, and I never have. We didn’t let our kids play in their friends’ homes if they owned guns. I think that was a reasonable stance for us to take. And I feel completely safe unarmed.

But I’m also directing a play right now, and we have lots of guns on-stage. We have a props table with maybe twenty guns on it. The cast spends most of the show waving their guns around, and at one point, they use the guns to shoot a whole bunch of zombies. Now, the guns we’re using don’t actually work. Our ‘shooting’ is a sound effect. The guns are mostly plastic. They’re completely harmless. But oh my gosh are they cool. And our actors enjoy using them.

I haven’t talked to the cast about their personal gun politics. None of my business. But I do get this about guns: they’re cool. On TV, in movies, guns are awesome.

Now, this makes me think that concealed weapon permit holders are living out movie-driven fantasies. I’m still resolutely anti-gun. But I went to rehearsal last night, and saw that our props people had created this massive machine gun, and it was the coolest prop ever, and my reaction, when I saw the thing, was a heartfelt ‘awesome!’  And then I asked the actress who uses it to stop pointing it at my head. (Not that it actually worked. It’s a toy, basically). And our show is about zombies, a popular video-game trope.  So where does fantasy end, where does reality begin, where does sexism or violence in video games lead to sexist or violent behavior in the real world, where do internet, chat room fantasies play themselves out in real life?

I don’t know. I like Anita Sarkeesian, enjoy her video series, and wish I could have heard her lecture. She seems like my kind of people. And I’m unapologetically feminist, and don’t get MRM at all.  And I desperately hope they catch the guy, Sarkeesian’s threatener, before he acts out his fantasies. And . . . I think that machine gun is wicked awesome.  So it’s all maybe at least a little bit complicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much Ado about problems, and solutions

I am currently directing Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. Make that Much Ado About Zombies, since that’s what we’re calling it. On account of us having zombies in it, see? It’s going to be very fun.  We open Oct. 24, and you can buy tickets here.

I’m really enjoying the experience. Love the cast, love the design team I’m working with, and of course, it’s a pure joy to work with Shakespeare’s text, even in this high concept, truncated version. What’s been interesting, though, is to see the way in which adding zombies not only clarifies the text, but solves textual problems in the text.

For those of you who don’t know the play, it’s basically a romantic comedy about two couples. Beatrice and Benedick are two smart, witty, clever people who can’t stop sniping at each other. Their friends are amused, in fact, by the funny but nasty things they say to each other every time they meet. And they’re both absolutely determined never to marry. No one they meet will ever be good enough for them. The script does hint that they have a past as well, that they were in a relationship once, and it was horrible. So Don Pedro, Benedick’s boss, decides to play matchmaker. He has a loud conversation with her uncle, which he intends Benedick to overhear, about how much Beatrice is into him. Meanwhile, Hero, Beatrice’s cousin and friend, has a similar overheard conversation about Benedick, about how much he wishes he could tell Beatrice that he loves her.  So Beatrice and Benedick, separately, overhear their friends talking about them, and about how each of them is secretly in love with the other, and this brings about their eventual reconciliation and subsequent marriage.  It’s fun stuff, and I have the actors to pull it off; both my Beatrice, Ashley Lammi, and my Benedick, Barrett Ogden, are terrific.

But the other love story involves Hero, Beatrice’s cousin, and Claudio, Benedick’s best friend. Theirs is, initially, a more conventional love story. They meet, and Claudio gets Don Pedro to negotiate with her uncle, Leonato, on his behalf, for her hand. Everything works out, until Don John, Don Pedro’s brother sister (in our production) a real trouble-maker, conspires to destroy their happiness. She falsely accuses Hero of sexual misconduct, on Hero’s wedding day, in a terrible, ugly scene of betrayal and poisonous destruction. Hero faints, and, advised by Friar Francis (one of those all-knowing Shakespeare friars), “dies.” That is, Francis urges B and B to tell folks that Hero has died from the shock of the whole ghastly experience, so at least everyone’ll all feel bad for her. Then, when the dumb-as-a-post constable Dogberry more or less accidentally uncovers the whole plot, Don John is exposed, Claudio forgives Hero, and they’re married, to live happily ever after.

There are two problems with the Hero/Claudio scenario. The first is that Hero and Claudio are underwritten and not-very-interesting characters. Hero is just a sweet young girl, innocent and nice. Claudio is noble, but not very bright. It’s hard to care about their story, except of course to feel bad for Hero, getting caught up in the middle of the nastiest sibling rivalry in Shakespeare, that of Don Pedro and Don John.

But the other problem is more intractable. It makes sense that Claudio would forgive Hero once he realizes she’s innocent of the charges that Don John has made.  But why would Hero forgive him? He’s just publicly, in church, in front of all their friends, on her wedding day, accused her of being a whore.  I can’t imagine any situation being more personal or more painful. Fine; he learns she’s innocent; he forgives her. But her father, Leonato, is so angry about this false accusation that he challenges Claudio to a duel. Why would Hero be okay subsequently marrying the jerk? Why (to put it in historical context) would her father agree to it?  Shakespeare doesn’t explain.  He basically glosses over the problem. It’s a comedy; everyone gets married at the end.

Not to brag or anything, but I honestly think we solve both problems.  The first problem, the Hero=boring problem, we solve by having her not be boring. Our Hero, a terrific actress named Emily Siwachok, plays Hero with sass and independence and attitude, playing nearly every line sarcastically.  She’s a mechanic, a tool-belt wearing blue collar gal, a fixer of machine guns and sharpener of knives.  She’s exciting and fun. And our Claudio, Carter Peterson, is one of the first characters to become a zombie. So he’s in conflict in every scene, fighting between his zombie tendencies and his love for Emily. (He’s also a brilliant physical actor).

We added another scene too. Shakespeare wrote song lyrics for the play, including “Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more,” set many times by many composers.  We’ve hired a composer of our own, Keaton Anderson, who gave the song a zombie-punk vibe. Our Balthazar, Janiel Miller, sings it, but it really rocks; pretty soon, Claudio has to dance. Hero sees him, and dances too.  I mean, what brings two people together better than a love of the same music? Right? (Plus, Carter Peterson’s dancing is a show-stopper).

But the zombie thing really solves the problem of the play’s ending, of Hero’s willingness to forgive Claudio and marry him. Because him being a jerk turns out to not  be his fault.  He believes Don John and rejects Hero because he’s a zombie.  He’s impaired.  It wasn’t him doing it. And when she wakes up at her own funeral, she’s a zombie too. But true love conquers all, and when the two of them see each other, they are able to fight off the zombie virus, and embrace.

It’s a lovely moment, if I have to say so myself. But if it works, it’ll be because our concept (Much Ado, with zombies), really works.  A good concept will do that for you. Shakespeare wrote magnificent characters, wonderful plays, and the greatest theatrical dialogue of all time.  But sometimes plot points don’t, actually, make sense.  That presents a challenge for a director and a cast.  I’m proud of our solutions here.

Divas

My parents are in town this week, visiting, and my Dad and I had a long chat this morning, him reminiscing about his career in opera. My Dad was never an opera star, as stars go. He was like a good Triple A catcher; the best player on a high minor league team, with a long career and multiple call-ups to the majors. He sang at New York City Opera, at Chicago Lyric, at Boston Lyric, but he didn’t have a long European career, nor a career at the Met. He could have; I don’t have any doubt of that. He was a terrific bass-baritone, with a voice strong enough for Wagner, but lyrical enough for Mozart. And he was a fine actor.  So if the Scarpio got sick (in Tosca), New York City Opera could call my Dad, and he’d fly in and sing the role at a moment’s notice. Meanwhile, he had regular gigs with Kentucky Opera, back when, under the direction of Moritz von Bomhard, it was one of the best regional opera houses in the country.

But Dad never wanted a European career, or a career at the Met. He taught voice at Indiana University (back when it was either number one or two in any listing of American music schools), and loved teaching. He loved his life in Indiana, playing catch with my brothers and me, sailing on Lake Monroe, camping and hiking and enjoying his family. I don’t want to say that he wasn’t ambitious, exactly, just that his ambitions revolved around family and teaching and the Church, not opera stardom. As a singer and performer, he would rather be good than famous. People who mattered to him knew the high level of excellence his work regularly achieved. And personally, he was kind of a blue-collar guy. He’d been a sheet metal worker, and was a dab hand with a set of carpenter’s tools. And he brought that work ethic and lack of ego to his opera career. He was never a diva.

But boy did he know some.

And that’s what made this morning so fun. Mom and Dad and I sat together in our family room, and he told stories of the great opera singers he knew, both at Indiana and in his career, and how preposterous their ego demands could become. I’ve worked professionally in theatre for over thirty years, and I’ve known some egotistical and demanding actors. And I’ve stood in the wings and snickered with fellow cast members at the antics of diva-esque stars. But theatre divas can’t even begin to compare with opera divas.

Case in point: Madame M—-, a singer Dad knew at IU who turned to teaching after a long career at the Met. She didn’t have a car, or any means of transportation, so she took cabs everywhere. She’d call the cab company and she’d say, in her heavy German accent, “Peek me opp.”  And, sure enough, the cab would show up. She’d take the cab to wherever she was going, and then she’d sweep regally out, saying to the cabbie, “zank you very much.”  The cab company would then send a bill to the Dean’s office at the Music school, where one poor secretary had the responsibility of paying this singer’s bills for her, carefully deducting them from her paycheck. She did the same thing at clothing stores. She’d select a few dresses and walk out with them, with an aristocratic smile for the clerks at the store, who would follow her around, keep of track of what she took, and send the Dean the bill.

Dad told a new Madame M—- story, one I hadn’t heard before. Apparently, a colleague followed her into a lady’s room, and heard, coming out of Madame M—–‘s stall, a most spectacular, lengthy and melodious fart. Then, after a moment, Madame M—– said, almost reverently, this: “schön.”

Dad told of the tenor who was singing the demanding title role in Verdi’s Otello.  As was often the case back in the day, he didn’t show up until the week the opera was to open; he’d walk through a dress rehearsal, then perform the next night. He showed up–the set completely built, the opera entirely staged, and saw that the door for his first entrance was stage left. He called for the stage director, and said, ‘in Otello, I enter stage right.’ The stage director pointed out that the set was completed, that there was no door stage right, and that he had been staged entering from the left. The tenor responded ‘in Otello, I enter stage right.’  And that was it. Tickets had been sold to an audience expecting to see this particular star. There was nothing to do except to completely rebuild the set that night, to give him a stage right entrance.

Another story, a favorite of mine: a soprano, arriving in Los Angeles for a gig, called her agent in New York and woke him from a sound sleep to demand that he call the driver of the limo she was sitting in to tell him to turn down the air conditioning. Obviously, she couldn’t be expected to, you know, actually talk to the limo driver herself. There are people who do those jobs.

A few years ago, I remember, my wife and I went to an opera. And before it began, we heard this pre-show announcement: “Miss _______ (the leading soprano) is ill, and not in good voice tonight. She has nonetheless consented to perform.”  I try to imagine, I don’t know, an actor like Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart or Michael Gambon doing that. “Mr. Gambon is ill tonight. Nonetheless, he has consented to perform.”  The best actors I know would honestly rather die than let you know they were under the weather some night. The show must go on, and every audience for which you perform deserves your very best. That’s the theatre ethic. Not this opera singer. What if she cracked on a high note? Better for us all to know how courageous she was even performing.

Dad did, of course, also sing with other big stars who weren’t remotely divas.  He was good friends with James King, for example, a splendid tenor and a fine actor and complete professional. One of my favorite roles of my Dad’s was his John the Baptist in the Richard Strauss opera Salome, with the wonderful Nancy Shade in the title role. Most opera stars are perfectly reasonable people, dedicated to their craft and easy to work with.

But sometimes, a combination of ego, insecurity and selfishness leads performers to misbehave. And this was the final point my Dad made, chatting about divas this morning. He said he saw this over and over; a diva opera star would perform, and during the curtain call, you’d hear thunderous applause for all the other performers, and then, for the diva, a big fall-off.  “You can’t fool audiences,” he said. “They can always tell a phony.  They see through them every time.”  I’ve seen that too. The diva’s mask may look, initially, comic. But it’s pure tragedy every time.