Tag Archives: history


Pulse Racing Events

Just when I thought the season was dull come some pulse racing events:
August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON, Ivo van Hove’s ROMAN TRAGEDIES, Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN and Joe Wright’s ANNA KARENINA.

Classics all, at least two, and possibly three of them are based on classics, Wilson’s play having achieved, with this fine production, that rank too. A play that illustrates Toni Morrison’s principles in PLAYING IN THE DARK, the Signature production features fine ensemble acting, a ghost or two as actors, and the stunning family collaboration of Berenice and Boy Willie in exorcizing the past.

ROMAN TRAGEDIES is a once in a lifetime event: 6 hours of Shakespeare, in Dutch that manages to lucidly present CORIOLANUS, JULIUS CAESAR, and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, defamiliarizing them through the necessary (it’s in Dutch!) use of ample video screens and audiences on the set to the tune of hundreds who come and go, as characters do, as the histories unroll.

One can only second widespread admiration for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln: the role of a lifetime in a history lesson that comes alive through Tony Kushner’s lucid and affecting screenplay. ANNA KARENINA got some bad reviews but trust this Tolstoy lover when she says that this a great, visually stunning adaptation of a big baggy monster of a novel that allows the complexity of the male characters to come through, though it opts to make Anna a woman in love for whom love means self-immolation; she’s a woman who breaks the rules, knowingly and willingly but then lacks the strength to face the consequences.

Sub theme throughout: strong women, not least of whom are Cleopatra, Mary Todd Lincoln (I know her problems… but she’s a power), and Doris Kearns Goodwin who toughed out a minor scandal to inspire LINCOLN, the triumphant film.


Witnessing History

Saw a movie and am reading two books that take very different approaches to witnessing history and raise questions about claiming famous ancestors.  First up, the movie.

It’s 14-17 July 1789:  the Bastille falls amidst cries that Louis XVI, his Queen, and most of their friends lose their heads.  Does the day seem portentous at Versailles?  Not really for Sidonie, the Queen’s reader, nor for the other courtiers, nor for Marie herself.  Disturbing whispers circulate, to be sure.  But the Court’s normal business of gossip and flirtation basically proceeds.  By the 17th, all that will change and we witness it along with Sidonie, who has her part to play by then.

Whether she’s a servant or an aristocrat, she’s clearly in danger.  So much so that one woman said to me as we were leaving:  “Do you think she lives?”  Well… in 2012, surely not.  But that kind of reaction tells you that Director Benoit Jacquot gets us to feel like we are witnessing history in FAREWELL MY QUEEN though it’s history remained for 21st-century tastes.

I am only 15% of the way into DREAMING IN FRENCH and note here how easily the % gets rendered rather than the # of pages for e-book users like me.  Alice Kaplan, a friend and colleague, is a terrific writer and this book is a fun read that includes lots of research about post WW II France that is draped over true story of three famous women who studied abroad:  Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis.  I’m only up to Jackie and find myself wondering:  If Jacqueline Bouvier had not become Jackie Kennedy would the book have been written and read? Not so sure about that.  I’ll be reading on to see how the famous ancestor gets claimed here.

Final, light read:  Alan Furst’s MISSION TO PARIS.  The Furst hero has already appeared.  He’s a fictional movie actor in this case and not yet playing James Bond, though he will, he will.  As in most Furst novels, there’s a wonderful feeling of historical background here:  right now, Munich is about to happen and halt the momentum in Paris towards war.

Fiction and history; fact and history:  a curious and ongoing interplay for which I am always a sucker.