Tag Archive: theatre

Each of the ten plays and musicals I saw in New York touched me in various ways and none, other than A Bronx Tale, disappointed me, but the one that stands in the forefront of my mind as the most personally influential has to be Sunday In The Park With George, or as my friends and I joke, Sunday in the Park With Jake Gyllenhaal.

A meditation on love, loss, disappointment, and the role of art in society, Sunday in the Park With George details the life and times of George Seurat, the painter who virtually invented pointillism and created a new, modern kind of impressionism, focusing on the importance of virtually every detail in a painting as it relates to the whole.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the moody painter George Seurat and Annaleigh Ashford backs him up as his love interest Dot, someone with whom he is ill-suited, but who captures his attention nonetheless. Jake deftly commands our attention, but I have to say that Annaleigh deftly backs him up, proving a formidable match. She loves George, but doesn’t love the artistic life and eventually a baker named Louis offers her a life of what seems to be a life of quiet contentment. Nevertheless, to the end of her life, she pines for the kind of vibrancy and artistic excitement that George Seurat offers her, and she wonders if she’s compromised herself beyond repair.

After Dot, George seems emotionally crippled. Through it all, Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics soar, painting a picture of people diminished without love in their life. His work emphasizes the compromises one makes to lead an artistic life, lessons I’m still learning. My only sadness: there probably won’t be a soundtrack to this revival, but if you happen to be in the New York area before April 23rd, catch this five star revival.


Liking the Unlikeable

Last night I went to see Tennessee Williams’ play Sweet Bird of Youth, written in the late 1950’s.  The basic plot is that a gigolo named Chance Wayne has latched onto a fading film star, played by Diane Lane.  He has great hopes to become a movie star himself, and seeks to rocket his longtime, estranged girlfriend into the spotlight as well.  Both main characters, Chance and Alexandra Del Lago, use each other to get what they want.  Alexandra repeatedly refers to the two of them as monsters, well over the edge of socially appropriate behavior.  These two people unabashedly use others, seeking first and foremost to get what they want out of life, damn anyone who gets in their way.

The story deals with issues not written about in the 1950’s, including sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol and drug abuse, the plight of sexual playboys who seek a better life for themselves as well as how we all deal with the inevitable ravages of aging, no longer as attractive as we were in youth when we took our appeal for granted.

As I got on the elevator after the show, two late middle-aged women were discussing the play, and one commented quite vociferously that she couldn’t relate to the main characters; she couldn’t find any redeeming qualities, and didn’t like Chance or the Princess Del Lago.  I suspect she didn’t relate to the seedier side of human nature, and I found myself thinking, “She was born on third base, and thought she had hit a home run.”  It’s all too easy to stay comfortable in what life has given us, especially if that gift is affluence.

As a writer, getting an MFA in creative writing, I have encountered several different attitudes about whether our protagonists should be likeable.  My first fiction course instructor stressed that we need not try too hard to plug in details simply to help us understand the plight of the narrator.  She felt we should strive to make our characters interesting, not necessarily likeable.  Then readers and audiences would automatically root for our main characters, looking to see how they change by the end of the story.  Other instructors stressed that it is helpful if we imbue those we write about with some redeeming qualities, or, at the very least, an ambivalence about how they go about ameliorating their circumstances.

I don’t know exactly which answer is right, but I’m certain the one task writers encounter is that they themselves must relate to those they write about. 

Emile Zola said it best:  “If you ask me what I came into this life to day, I will tell you:  I came to live out loud!”  Let us make our brief time here matter.