people RAVED about the opening scene of the musicalsunset boulevard
on broadway. it ran in the mid 90’s (when i was having all those babies and singing more lullabies than broadway tomes) and so i never saw it live. sunset boulevard is based on a 1950‘s movie about a washed up silent film diva living alone in her crumbling mansion. a young reporter stumbles upon her mansion and she employs him to edit a script for her to use as a comeback vehicle. she falls in love with him (perhaps she is the original cougar). he falls in love with someone else (who is younger, poorer, cuter, and not so crazy). you see where this is going to end (or begin).
the show opened with the ending. in what appeared to be a swimming pool ON THE STAGE with a body floating in it (is it too late to say that this might be a spoiler? it was the opening scene. it that a spoiler?) audience members couldn’t believe their eyes. not about the body. dead bodies show up in broadway musicals all the time... but FULL SWIMMING POOLS? those are more rare on the broadway stage. one viewer’s review ... “It really was a phenomenal effect. It made the audience feel like they were at the bottom of the pool looking up at the body floating over them. Joe Gillis entered with a group of reporters and photographers snapping pictures like they just left OJ's crime scene, and Gillis was left alone onstage beginning the narrative.”
the play includes this great line (and great advice...) “Nothing's wrong with being 50 unless you're acting 20!” true dat.
the role was played by some of the GREATEST woman on broadway... glenn close, patti lapone, betty buckley, elaine page. it was funny reading the reviews of each performer because there was always someone saying that that person was the BEST norma desmond EVER and everyone else was inferior.
which brings me to something that my friend, dina, said yesterday when i was talking about how i thought there would be musicals in heaven and that we would star in them. she offered some Scriptural support with this verse...
Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
which she takes to mean that all the broadway greats will sit in the audience in heaven and watch US (the former audience members) take our turns on stage. they will clap and cheer, laugh and cry as we play the roles perfectly. yes, i am sure that is in the message version somewhere.
and speaking of GREAT ROLES for women on stage... let’s revisit my favorite play, w;tr . which starred the incomparableemma thompson. it was actually back off broadway earlier this year starring cynthia nixon. and i missed it again. it was written by a kindergarten teacher from atlanta, margaret edson. maybe that is one reason why i like it. no one expects a kindergarten teach to write a play merging the themes of cancer, the poetry of john donne, the ramifications of extreme chemotherapy, PLUS include a reading of “the runaway bunny” that ties it all together philosophically.
this is the scene that explains why the semicolon is used in the title...
PROFESSOR ASHFORD: Your essay on Holy Sonnet Six, Miss Bearing, is a melodrama, with a veneer of scholarship unworthy of you -- to say nothing of Donne. Do it again.
VIVIAN BEARING: I, ah . . .
PROFESSOR: You must begin with a text, Miss Bearing, not with a feeling.
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so.
You have entirely missed the point of the poem, because, I must tell you, you have used an edition of the text that is inauthentically punctuated. In the Gardner edition of the text -
VIVIAN: That edition was checked out of the library --
PROFESSOR: Miss Bearing!
PROFESSOR: You take this too lightly, Miss Bearing. This is Metaphysical Poetry, not the Modern Novel. The standards of scholarship and critical reading which one would apply to any other text are simply insufficient. The effort must be total for the results to be meaningful. Do you think the punctuation of the last line of this sonnet is merely an insignificant detail?
The sonnet begins with a valiant struggle with death, calling on all the forces of intellect and drama to vanquish the enemy. But it is ultimately about life, death, and eternal life: overcoming these seemingly insuperable barriers.
In the edition you chose, this profoundly simple meaning is sacrificed to hysterical punctuation:
And Death -- capital D -- shall be no more -- semi-colon!
Death -- capital D -- comma -- thou shalt die -- exclamation point!
If you go in for this sort of thing, I suggest you take up Shakespeare.
Gardner's edition of the Holy Sonnets returns to the Westmoreland manuscript source of 1610 -- not for sentimental reasons, I assure you, but because Dame Helen Gardner was a scholar. It reads:
And death shall be no more, comma, Death thou shalt die.
Nothing but a breath -- a comma -- separates life from life everlasting. It is very simple really. With the original punctuation restored, death is no longer something to act out on a stage, with exclamation points. It's a comma, a pause. This way, the uncompromising way, one learns something from this poem, wouldn't you say? Life, death. Soul, God. Past, present. Not insuperable barriers, not semicolons, just a comma.
VIVIAN: Life, death . . . I see. It's a metaphysical conceit. It's wit! I'll go back to the library and rewrite the paper --
PROFESSOR: It is not wit, Miss Bearing. It is truth.
The paper's not the point.
VIVIAN: It isn't?
PROFESSOR: Vivian. You're a bright young woman. Use your intelligence. Don't go back to the library. Go out. Enjoy yourself with your friends. Hmm?
VIVIAN (to the audience): I, ah, went outside. The sun was very bright. I, ah, walked around, past the . . . There were students on the lawn, talking about nothing, laughing. The insuperable barrier between one thing and another is . . . just a comma? Simple human truth, uncompromising scholarly standards? They're connected?
that professor would be the one who years later would visit vivian in the hospital (her only visitor that we ever see) at a time close to vivian’s death (i am full of spoilers today.) she came to cheer her up. to discuss poetry. vivian is so far gone that the professor ends up reading her the book she bought for her grandchild, the runaway bunny. and offers this commentary...
ASHFORD: A little allegory of the soul. No matter where it hides. God will find it.
that might be my favorite scene. the most hopeful line of the movie. of any movie. souls hide in all kind of places. in all kinds of schemes. and dreams. even in studies of metaphysical poets. or blogs about broadway plays. but God finds them. and makes sense of them all.
death be not proud... and death shall be no more, (comma), death thou shalt die.
at least i stayed constant with this blog post. it started and ended with death. just like sunset boulevard.