Oslo

Oslo Program Cover

In 1993, the Oslo Accords were adopted. This was the last success in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Culminating in an iconic photo-op, where Bill Clinton presides over, while Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands, on the Whitehouse lawn. Rabin and Arafat later shared the Nobel peace prize, but the origin of this diplomatic win began much more prosaically, with a quiet Norwegian couple.

Husband and wife, Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul, facilitated the negotiations that eventually led to the Oslo Accord. In 2017, J.T. Rodgers adopted their story to the stage, with his Tony award-winning Broadway play, Oslo. Performed at the Rep, this is artistic director Steven Woolf’s final directorial production in his illustrious thirty-year career with the Saint Louis Repertory Theater.  

In the opening scene, Terje describes meeting Rabin, who at first comes across as a sputtering clown. “Six months later, Rabin is prime minister, and I am a fool,” says Terje. “Why? Because I saw one side of this man and assumed this meant I knew all of him.” Chance encounters lead to secret meetings. Through Rodgers, we witness not these meetings themselves, but the intervals in-between them. Set in the anteroom adjoining the negotiating room, we witness the down time between principles. Jokes are made and stories are told, lightening this three-hour history of a peace process that had some measure of success.

Juxtaposition this story, with last week’s debacle in Vietnam. Terje emphasized personal relationships in those negotiations, but he also had a plan, a strategy that he called gradualism, a policy of gradual reform rather than sudden change. Contrast this with Trump and Kim’s mano o mano quest for a deal, where so little preparation was done that the two sides can’t even now agree on what they disagreed about. It is a sad commentary on this summit that the world first held its breath and then let out a collective sigh, when no deal was reached. Fear of a bad deal being struck, just for a win, was that great. 

Alabama Story

Alabama Story Program Cover

Date night, with dinner and a show, at Cyrano’s and the Rep. The evening’s entertainment was a play called Alabama Story. Set in 1950s Montgomery, it is in part based upon historical events. A children’s book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, caught the eye and ire of segregationists, because it told the story of two rabbits, a black male rabbit and a white female rabbit who fell in love with each other and married. Racists claimed that the book promoted miscegenation.

The historical half of this story centers on the conflict between Alabama’s head librarian, Emily Wheelock Reed and state representative E. O. Eddins. Eddins claimed that Reed “put stock in racial incorporation” and demanded that “This book and many others should be taken off the shelves and burned.” As a result, the library system banned the book from all libraries in Alabama. Reed, enjoyed the book, but complied to the extent that she moved it from general circulation and put it on reserve, available upon request. This made the book still accessible and thus was not a complete ban of the book. She explained, “We have had difficulty with the book, but we have not lost our integrity.” Before the year was over Eddins again found fault with Reed, who had distributed a reading list that included various controversial titles including a Martin Luther King, Jr. book.

Parallel to these historical events and mirroring the underlying children’s book, the play also tells the story of two fictional characters, a black man and a white woman. Their conversations, in chance encounters on Montgomery’s streets, recounts their shared childhood history. Playmates, while their mothers worked together in the kitchen of “the big house”, their friendship ended one day, when she innocently kissed her friend. He and his family were forced to move away. They meet again in Montgomery, because she is in town to care for her dying father, while he is in town as a civil rights worker. Through their conversations, their childhood friendship is rekindled. 

Brothers of the Deer

Brothers of the Deer, Michael Coleman, 1986

According to the artist Michael Coleman, “Brothers of the deer refers to the ravens in the painting. The ravens were in many cases spotted on the horizon, preceding the migration of the great herds of caribou, and called brothers of the deer by northern tribes,” in referring to this painted scene on Vancouver Island.

I called my dad, because I was worried about my Aunt Betsy, his sister. She lives in Wilmington, NC and had decided to shelter in place during Flo. I first asked him how things were going, to which he answered, “Not so good.” My heart sank, but as it turned out, it was nothing. His Internet was out and he was missing it. It had been out for a few days and AT&T’s past promises of fixing the problem had already come and gone. It has been diagnosed as part of a sporadic outage that is affecting the area and has nothing to do with the equipment at his end. It sounded like a first world problem. As it turned out, he had called Betsy after the storm and she was fine. There was no damage to her home, but she had lost power. Consequently, she didn’t want to talk very long, for fear of losing the charge on her cellphone.

Anne and I went to The Rep last night, kicking off our theater season. I had to switch our regular tickets for this show and a number of others, in order to accommodate our future travel schedule. I did pretty well, except for a show in January (Sorry Joanie) and last night’s show, which I had to re-reschedule.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” was the show.  This historical musical about Eva Peron of Argentina was one of Webber’s early shows. As it turns out, next week we have tickets for “Love Never Dies”, Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” and one of his latest shows. It will be interesting to compare and contrast these two works. I noticed many similarities between this show’s music and its predecessor “Jesus Christ Superstar”. It will be interesting to look for similar comparisons between “Phantom” and “Love Never Dies”. 

Nonsense and Beauty

Covent Garden

Nonsense and beauty have close connections. – E. M. Forster

Another day means another play. On Saturday, we attended the Ignite! reading of the new Scott C. Sickles play, “Nonsense and Beauty”. Here is it’s synopsis:

In 1930, the writer E.M. Forster met and fell in love with a policeman 23 years his junior. Their relationship, very risky for its time, evolved into a 40-year love triangle that was both turbulent and unique. Based on a true story, Nonsense and Beauty captures the wit and wisdom of one of the last century’s great writers.

We’ve been attending Ignite! since its beginning six years ago. Each year The Rep produces three of these readings, making for a total of eighteen so far. We have attended most of these performances. “Nonsense and Beauty” is by far and away the best written play of the lot and the most mature one too. By which I mean, for many of these readings, the script is being revised right up to the moment of presentation. This often results in a still rough around the edges product. This is a natural artifact of the play writing process and as such is excusable. But when such a finely tuned vehicle like “Nonsense and Beauty” comes along it puts the others to shame. Typically, The Rep chooses one of each Ignite! season’s offerings to produce as a play. I pray that they choose this one. 

Born Yesterday

Honeycomb Moray

The character of Eddie Brock is that of an eel, who slithers into Washington, all ready to snatch up his next lucrative deal. Eddie is into junk, as in a junkyard, of which he is king. He owns 500 yards already, but now has his hungry eyes set upon claiming even more. Which is what brings him to our nation’s capital. The period is the late 1940s. The war is over and Eddie has cast his gaze across the Atlantic at the ruins of Europe and all of its scrap steel. He has already secured a senator in his pocket and with his aid all Eddie wants is for government to step aside and let him do what he does best in this world, make more money.

Following along in Eddie’s wake is first his shifty lawyer, who facilitates his dealings and Billie Dawn, Eddie’s platinum blonde showgirl-friend. Billie her baby doll voice and Jersey accent has become an impediment to Eddie’s ambitions. She lacks the social graces and intellectual acumen that Eddie needs, if she is going to circulate with him in capital high society. Enter a reporter, from the New Republic yet, who interviews Eddie. Eddie takes a shine to the reporter and enlists his help as a tutor for Billie. 

The preceding paragraphs summarize the first act of “Born Yesterday”, the final play on the main stage at The Rep for this season. This comedy has enjoyed many showings over the years, in both theater and on the screen. After seeing this show, it is obvious that this particular revival is a reaction to Donald Trump.

The play’s titled is derived from the phrase, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” In its second act, Billie attains an awakening and Eddie learns to rue his wicked ways. Not the least because he and his crooked lawyer have signed over many of his junkyards into Billie’s name in a tax scam. Also, Billie and the reporter/tutor have naturally fallen in love together.

The show is anachronistic is many ways. The prices are for one. Eddie brags about the exorbitant cost of his Capital Hill penthouse ($250 per night), which seems ridiculously cheap by today’s standards, unless of course you happen to be the head of the EPA. More glaringly out of sync with modern sensibilities and the #MeToo era is Eddie’s rude and often harsh treatment of Billie. But one thing that “Born Yesterday” does get right is its depiction of the corruption and graft that powerful and entitled men still practice to this day.

Last night’s performance was near the end of this play’s run and the house was less than full. Leavening the crowd last night were many students, both from local high schools and foreign exchange students from Webster. Two exchange students were seated behind us and it was interesting listening to them at intermission and after the show. Together they were trying to puzzle out this now seventy years old political satire and what it means today. 

Hurricane Colleen

Aquarium Starfish

Another day, another night, another play and this time the show was part of The Rep series, Ignite! Actually, more of a reading than a performance, this festival features new scripts out loud. Like the night before, this event was also in Grand Center, around the block from the Fox, at KWMU, the local NPR affiliate.

“Hurricane Colleen” was written by Tammy Ryan. Her previous work, “Molly’s Hammer”, was also an Ignite! reading, before graduating to The Rep stage. That play told the story of Molly Rush of the Ploughshares Eight and the events surrounding the 1980 attack on nuclear missile nose cones at the GE plant, in King of Prussia, PA. Since, we had attended both of those venues and with this evening that made us official Tammy Ryan groupies. After this reading, we spoke with Ms. Ryan. Anne was able to mention Carl Hiaasen, whose novels set in south Florida reminded us of Doyle, one of the characters in her current play.

Based upon Ryan’s own life experiences, “Hurricane Colleen” tells the story of two sisters meeting to bury a third. The setting is a beach house in Florida. Four equity actors comprised the cast and portray the two sisters, Maggie and Rosemary Lynch, Doyle, Maggie’s roommate and Ed, Rosemary’s husband. Ed and Rosemary are members of the 1%, while Maggie and Doyle are decidedly not. All of them though, each in their own way, are just barely scraping by. Colleen, the deceased sister, shares titular billing with an approaching hurricane. What could go wrong with a weekend at the beach?