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Shakespeare’s Pericles: Prince of Tyre

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Last night I saw Pericles for the second time.  Both of the productions were very fine, and very different from one another.  So…why does Pericles have such a mediocre reputation?  [On the other hand, it’s apparently always been popular with audiences.  I guess I’m not “sophisticated” enough to know not to enjoy it.]

In the chapter of his Lectures on Shakespeare about Pericles and Cymbeline, W.H. Auden takes a few moments to discuss the whole idea of “late work” by great artists.  He explicitly mentions the late quartets of Beethoven, describing the ways in which the choice of materials and expressive modalities comes from the artist trying to work out for himself, and not necessarily for any audience at all, particular artistic issues.  Auden also talks about these romances [along with Winter’s Tale and The Tempest] of Shakespeare as being “late works” in this sense.

Given the complexity of the plot, it’s a good thing that Shakespeare included a narrator to remind us of what’s going on where, with whom.  Both of the productions actually included maps in the program, with–as Arlo Guthrie would say–“lines and arrows” showing where Pericles, his wife Thaisa, and their daughter Marina end up going, after being separated because of a storm at sea.

The production that I saw some years ago in Vancouver at Bard on the Beach [this season’s program] set the play as a Victorian traveling theater troupe–with Gower, the narrator, in a frock coat and top hat, and musicians to provide somewhat Victorian sounding songs. 

Last night, at Cal Shakes, the setting was much more “oriental”.  The stage was covered with oriental rugs, and there were low tables and pillows that could be moved around for “set”.  Gower was imagined as an African storyteller.  The music was also more oriental–influenced by the music of India and the eastern Mediterranean.  One amusing touch was to have Antiochus–an evil king who is commiting incest with his daughter–enter accompanied by four actors padding in on all fours with tiger face masks.

The whole play was performed by a cast of about eight, parceling out about forty roles–with even the actors playing Pericles, Thaisa and Marina being multiply cast.

And then it all comes down to the scenes where the family is reunited.  First, Pericles discovers that is daughter is not dead, but alive, and standing in front of him.  And then, that his wife had not died in childbirth, but had been living all these years as a priestess of Diana at Ephesus.

Maybe it’s not as poetic as The Tempest, but both times I’ve seen it, I’ve ended the performance with tears running down my cheeks.  Perhaps the resistance to this play is that it is a genuine tragicomedy.  There are so many way that things could work out badly–the pre-performance lecturer commented on the similarities between Pericles and King Lear in the relation of fathers and daughters–but they don’t.  Call it fate; call it grace; call it pure luck; or call it the reward of virtue; it still has tremendous power to move me.

afghans for Afghans–personal knitting for global connection

Monday, June 16th, 2008

A week or so ago, I got an email newsletter from a local yarn shop that included an invitation to knit a rectangular shawl for women going into a maternity hospital in Kabul.  This is only one of the projects of afghans for Afghans.  I really like the idea of putting my knitting to work to create a connection among people far across the world.

And I spend my working life dealing with the new infants of California collectively, as statistics–and I’m not minimizing the significance of what I do–but it’s not personal, not individual, in the way that this will be.  I know that, whatever I produce will be given to one particular woman; and I’m grateful for the chance to produce something that I hope she will like.

Unfortunately for me, they’ve asked that the shawls be ready to ship in July, which means that I’ve got to get my jet skis on, and make tracks.  I found some beautiful, soft, wool yarn in the local yarn shop–balls of variegated blue, or green, or purple.  I’m knitting the shawl longways, so I can change colors and get lengthwise stripes.

The project is supported by the American Friends Service Committee of San Francisco–who provides, among other things, a place to store the items as they accumulate. 

This whole project just leaves me smiling with hope for humanity.  

Falling in love with Baroque opera

Sunday, June 15th, 2008
Over the past few years, I've started to go to performances of Baroque operas, particularly the operas of Handel.  I'm delighted that these operas are getting performances these days, and that there are so many fantastic singers that have the ... [Continue reading this entry]


Friday, June 13th, 2008
I've always been fond of the number 13.  When I was young, somewhere around 8 or 10, we moved into an apartment building.  There were fifteen floors, numbered 1 to 12, then 14, 15 and 16.  Similarly, the apartments on ... [Continue reading this entry]

Book: A Void

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

[Warning: Posting from a world of odd cogitation.] 

This book, A Void, is a translation by Mr. G. Adair into Anglo-Saxon of a Gallic original, La disparition. It contains a mystery about Mr. Anton Vowl, who is abruptly gone without a word. ... [Continue reading this entry]

Naked Night at Blow Buddies

Friday, June 6th, 2008
Given the name, I suppose that you won't be surprised when I tell you that Blow Buddies is a sex club in San Francisco for men who want to find other men for, shall we say, oral enjoyment.  It's always ... [Continue reading this entry]

Other Countries, Other Customs–Obama and TUCC

Thursday, June 5th, 2008
When I was studying German in high school, I learned a proverb that has passed the test of experience: "Andere Laender, Andere Sitten"--Other Countries, Other Customs.  My version wouldn't be so much "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" ... [Continue reading this entry]

Film “Note by Note-The Making of Steinway L1037”

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008
I don't see many movies over the course of a year, but last weekend I went to see a new documentary "Note by Note--The Making of Steinway L1037".  The film follows the assembly of one piano, over the year that ... [Continue reading this entry]