I have just come back from a fantastic evening at the theatre. I went to see Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the Old Vic. It was directed by Sam Mendes and starred among others Ethan Hawke and the chick from Vicky Christina Barcelona. I was supposed to see the play with Tariq as a kick start to my birthday but sadly he couldn't make it and I had the extra ticket. I asked my girl friends and they were not able to make it either at such short notice. As I scrolled down my contacts, I decided to give my friend Haseeb a call. I said to myself, why not? He's a serious guy, I am sure he would appreciate it. So I give my Afghani friend a ring and he was up for it. He did say a few things which annoyed me like 'what time do plays end?' and 'I'm more of a movies person.' I even told the guy, look, if you are going to get bored or tired, it's okay, I'll ask someone else.
I enjoyed the play tremendously. The companion was - for a lack of a better word - a bit lousy.
I have never really been to the theatre as such so it is a new experience for me. And, it is as exciting and thrilling as I had imagined it to be. I wish I had taken the time to experience the theatre when I was an undergrad. Remember my friend Vasso? THAT's what SHE was busy doing in her spare time. This kid who is a year younger or more would be at the opera, at musicals, you name it. And I must thank her for being my theatre mate this year. Together we've seen Partenope, Twelfth Night and Hamlet.
Well taking the Afghan to the theatre backfired. My friend was making these dumb jokes all the time and that really annoyed me. It was killing my I'm-at-the-theatre-this-is-so-cool-I'm-so-arty-farty buzz. I think he enjoyed most of the play but the remarks got to me. On top of it, he is so friggin confrontational! Dude, no one is asking you to act like a gora here - reserved and fake and all - but at least be a little pleasant!
I mostly enjoyed my evening. The guy is 45 minutes late - we were supposed to meet at a coffeeshop. Makes one lousy remark after another. 'This is a shit building - why are you taking a photograph?' I ask him to pipe down - this is hello to me, by the way - but he says he doesn't care. In fact, when I tell him to try to be a bit more pleasant, he says, 'I've told my boss if he does not like him, he does not care.' I'm standing there, thinking someone please shoot me. Starts comparing plays to movies. 'Ok, so what kind of films do you like?' I'm thinking maybe he'll start waxing lyrical about some great films but what does he talk about? 'Shawkshank Redemption' and 'Gladiator' and 'Benjamin Button.' Don't even ask me. He does not even throw me the name of one obscure movie. How can one claim to be a film fanatic dropping those names? Please shoot me.
I am a much bigger nerd and much more tightly-wound than I actually think I am, I guess. Well who cares? Is it too much to ask?? If you want to go to the theatre, leave the Afghan, take the Vasso or Tariq. * At least you can go ga ga with a Vasso over Ethan Hawke. Or jump into hours-long discussions of English class in school with a Tariq. The Afghan wants to watch Gladiator! ** And, you can't have any freaking discussion with him. I know, I know, I am committing heinous crimes of stereotyping but I can't help it.
The play. It depicted the fading away of a wealthy landed family which was in utter denial. Ultimately, the play is a tragedy but it had some comic moments. The posters were promoting it as a tragi-comedy. I would say it - again - that it is a tragedy more than anything else. When you read this stuff as a kid in school, you're taught this play is a comedy or a tragedy. The distinction is made. When you see this stuff being played - in London theatres no less - you realise how many comic moments a play actually has, the thunderous feedback the comic moments receive (you never 'hear' the tragic scenes, except the absolute silence I guess), and the deep relationship that comedy actually has with tragedy and vice versa.
I appreciated the fact that the production stayed true to the period in terms of costume. The plays and opera I mentioned above were depicted in more or less modern costume which throws one off. Hamlet, for instance - the Queen looked like a frumpy old lady. Come on, she's the friggin queen - how am I supposed to believe it? If a costume can enhance the character, why not? I want to believe I am watching a certain era, a certain time and place.
It was really cool that the Yermolai character frequently - and erroneously - quoted 'Hamlet' in this play! Speaking of Hamlet, I really did enjoy my experience of Jude Law as Hamlet. It was a fantastic production and Ophelia was particularly haunting and tragic as she begins to unravel and go loony. Jude Law was pretty good and he played it more or less safe. The soliloquies - the most famous there are except for what? Marc Antony? - were delivered in an average manner. I was expecting something more from these iconic bits of dialogue.
I did have a heavenly brush with what would be an electric rendition of the soliloquy when I was watching "In the Actor's Studio" *** with Ralph Fiennes. He delivered a few lines of the 'To Be or Not to Be' in a jittery, speed-of-lightening energy and I was blown away. That was fantastic! I had always imagined drama to be delivered in painfully-slow-and-measured tones but never imagined that it would be delivered like that! It made so much more sense. Fiennes explained that they had thought the speech should be delivered as thinking out loud in a frantic manner.
I am so glad I had such a fine experience on the eve of my 30th birthday. The play itself was poignant and, made me think about bidding farewell to my 20s and ushering in a new era. The play reminded me of all the houses our family had had to leave at the end of each posting, moving country to country like nomads. It was always such a painful experience. Incidentally, I've been reminiscing with my grade school friends on Facebook over some sweet pictures that a friend dug up. It made me realise that I was happiest in school in Romania where I was part of a fantastic class and, had some great friends. I look so happy and part of it in those pictures. School got harder and harder in the subsequent schools I went to and never quite had the same bond with my classmates. And I peaked in 10th grade!
I am also ever ever grateful to my father and my English teachers for the love of literature they have grown and nurtured in me. My mother also taught us poetry, especially Urdu poetry. You often hear of people being thankful for the role of books and poetry in their lives and, it's all true.
*In case you don't get it, it's the Godfather 'Leave the gun, take the canoli.'
** Hey, I went crazy over Gladiator too. Bawled each time I watched the ending in the cinema three times. But the cinema is the cinema. The theatre is the theatre. Where and why is the comparison?
*** I've watched dozens of this programme on You Tube. It's a revelation! James Lipton is something out of a novel. He's fantastic, he's a character all on his own. It is delicious to hear these actors talk about their craft. What was really endearing was that most of these actors or directors are incredibly humble. The media can really make one believe otherwise.