Anne and I have been watching the PBS documentary series, Country Music, which is produced by Ken Burns, the most distinguished of our high school alumnus. He graduated the year before us. We’ve watched the first four episodes and plan on tuning in again, when the series starts back up tomorrow. I’ve never been as big a fan of country music as with other musical genres. I guess that I’m just too much the city boy, but I do like the stories that they tell. From the country classics to the silly one off songs, there is something quintessentially American about their stories. In typical Burns fashion, he has segmented the bigger story into episodes that encapsulate the musical genre’s successive periods. Beginning with old sepia tone photos that are brought to life again with a panning camera, and which by episode four film has supplanted. I found the series playlist on Spotify and am listening to it while I write this post, except when Patsy Cline’s Crazy comes on and Anne demands a dance. One criticism of the series is that it is too personality driven, especially in the later yet unseen episodes. Even with sixteen hours of storytelling, not everyone’s favorite singer will get their due. Next time that we’re in Nashville, it would be nice to visit one of Broadway’s honkytonks again.
We launched the new theater season, with a show at the Rep, Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. This seminal play was revived last year on Broadway and has made it to our little regional theater’s neck of the woods, in almost record time. Tony Kushner’s magnum opus is not for the faint of heart though. Its mature themes dealing with homosexuality, AIDS and death could easily be off putting to some theater goers. Then there is its length. Combined, both parts clock in at just under eight hours. Last night’s performance was punctuated with two intermissions, without which there would have been some serious numb-butt going on.
The cast of eight actors all handle multiple roles. Principle among them are Joe and Harper Pitt, a young married Mormon couple that are going through a rough patch, Louis and Prior, a gay couple, for whom things are about to get a whole lot worse and the non-fictional Roy Cohn, former aide to Senator Joe McCarthy, mentor to Donald Trump and all around nasty person. The time is the last quarter of the Reagan administration. The place is NYC. The AIDS epidemic is raging out of control. A diagnosis is a death sentence.
Prior announces his disease to his partner Louis, which soon sets in motion the eventual unraveling of their relationship. Roy Cohn is also diagnosed, but refuses to admit it. He is a Jew hating Jew and a queer hating homosexual and he cannot come to terms with who he really is. He diagnosis himself with liver cancer. Joe and Harper Pitt have recently moved from Salt Lake to NYC. Joe is a lawyer and is clerking for a judge. After work he takes long walks, leaving Harper feeling more alone. She fills her day with Valium fueled hallucinations.
Tickets to Angels Part One came as part on our regular season subscription. We had to buy Part Two separately, so there was a little upselling by the Rep’s new artistic director. After the show, six of the eight actors led a panel Q&A about the show. The discussion was part personal reflections and part promo for the other half of the play. We’ll see Part Two next week.
With the play’s dark subject matter, it is hard to believe that it is a comedy, but there are moments of levity. Almost any scene where the black gay male nurse Belieze appears is a hoot. Come to think of it, all of actor David Ryan Smith’s roles are great fun. The hallucinations or dream sequences are also funny. In a nod to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, Prior Walter is visited at night by the ghosts of two his ancestors, both also named Prior Walter. There is some discussion as to whether the current Prior Walter is the 37th or 41st Prior Walter that boils down to whether you count the bastards or not. My favorite scene is when Ethel Rosenberg appears as a ghost to haunt Roy Cohn for what he did to her and her husband. It is more taunting than haunting. In the end, this show is less a ha-ha type of comedy and is in a more generous sense the Human Comedy.
I chose my initial career path one night in my senior year in high school. I had accompanied my dad on one of his nightly runs to the University of Michigan’s computer center. As he punched a few cards for his next job, I looked around. It must have been at the end of the term, after years into his fellowship. The gleaming clean of the computer rooms counterpointed the trampling dirty footsteps of final’s week. Somehow this dichotomy captured my heart and I longed to be on the other side of that computer room glass. I majored in computer science and at times scrounged dirty, but un-punched cards off of those totally unsanitary floors, but never did I break that glass. I graduated, just barely. My first boss was originally my college advisor’s babysitter. After two years on the job, I had become disenchanted to the point of insubordination. I was got a second chance in Saint Louis.
Anne and I married and moved to Saint Louis. We enjoyed our great adventure, before settling in and buying a house and having kids. My computer company was shot out beneath me. I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and hired into the defense industry, just as the Berlin wall was coming down and my prospective employer was also experiencing its own financial difficulties. What ensued was ten years of layoffs. My employer’s workforce shrank to 20% of my hire in numbers. I still remember my new hire orientation instructor touting his weight loss, while wearing his now oversized suit. Still, I persisted. Those ten year probably took twenty off my life. I survived and eventually prospered. What did I do? I like to say that I made paper airplanes. It tends to fend off further questions and keeps me square with the government. When I calculated that I had made enough money, I punched out.
When I look back over my career, there are a few things that were of note, awards, promotions and innovations. What I value most from my work was that it provided for my family. All of the petty crises that once populated my day-to-day work life have melted away. I can look back and see that my success was founded on three principles: 1) staying healthy 2) staying married and 3) staying employed. I wish my children my kind of success, because I love my life, I love my wife and I hope that they enjoy our kind of success. Show them the money!