House of Joy

Taj Mahal by Julian Yu on Unsplash

Last night, Anne and I began this year’s fall theater season, with dinner and a show. We went to see the Rep’s House of Joy. Before the show, we had dinner at Cyrano’s, which has had a long and checkered tenure throughout our residence in Saint Louis. In our first year living here, while we were away on our honeymoon, it moved into where our favorite pizzeria had been, after its building had burnt. Then in the nineties there was that infamous “extra whip cream” incident. We’ll say no more about that here. Ever since then, Cyrano’s has remained in the regular rotation of dining establishments prefacing the Rep. Our visitations there, like with a lot of other things, kind of fell of the map, because of the pandemic. So, last night I was surprised to learn that Cyrano’s is now owned by Sugarfire, my favorite go to spot for BBQ.

Not to worry though, because Cyrano’s still features their signature ice cream desserts (with extra whip cream), as demonstrated nicely when a nearby family of three ordered the flambee for two. Prepared tableside, as her parents watched on, the little girl was enraptured by the spectacle, although the flames did startle her, but her eyes remained steadfast in happy anticipation. By the time that the dessert was finally served, she had the full attention of the entire restaurant.

Joy has a ghost story, a love story, political intrigue, fantasy, bawdy jokes, fight sequences and an assassination. This play is set in some unnamed emperor’s harem, during the 300-year rule of the Mughal Empire of what is now India. The Mughal’s are famous for the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world and also a tomb for some dead emperor’s favorite wife. I had the good fortune to visit this place, when I was about the age of the little girl from Cyrano’s, in the fifties. It was an experience that was also enrapturing.

The play opens with a street urchin, who had recently beaten a man to death. She’s approached by the steward of the house, about becoming a harem guard, an all-female cloister where the empire’s royal women live. She agrees and discovers that this magical house will let women enter but not leave and won’t let men enter at all, except the emperor, who we never see. The only other person who is free to come and go as they wish is the steward, who is “both boy and girl”. Aside from the steward and the house, which is a character unto itself, the rest of the cast are all women.

To cover the gambit of outlined stories, the play regularly veers from one direction to another, leading to a convoluted plot. Also, our seating was quite different than normal, adding to the weirdness of the experience. We were in the second row, center. Where we normally sit, rows back, was closed off to seating. Still, the house last night was so small that not even half of the available seats were filled. Sitting where we were the action occurred all around us and often felt up close and personal. All-in-all the play was an unusual experience and we have been going to the Rep for over thirty years. So, that is saying something. What? I am still coming to grips with that.

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