Violent Images

Last night Chris and I saw the play Tamburlaine. At the 30-minute intermission, I told Chris, "This is the best production of Tamburlaine that I will ever see. And the worst." I said that about Cymbeline too. Glad I saw it. Don't need to see it again. 

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John Douglas Thompson (photo courtesy of Nigel Parry and NYMag)

It has my favorite actor, the Marlon Brando of our time, John Douglas Thompson, in it. Tamburlaine reveled in his own psychosis and had such a lusty love of blood-letting.

Thompson, in fact, is a gentle man, a bit of a friend. He played MacBeth when Chris played the porter in the Scottish play. Chris says of him, “He doesn’t shy away from the big parts.” (Othello, Emperor Jones, Julius Caesar). He is all in. So good. Exciting to see such commitment. And the whole stage rocks with turmoil.

But to what end? The play is loaded with buckets of blood and plenty of gore, including a scene where a tongue is cut out. Eeeeew! The play by Christopher Marlowe was first staged in 1587.

I overheard an audience member say, “This hasn’t been done since 1957 on Broadway.” And with good reason. It’s just an endless parade of marauding death.

On the way to the beautiful Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, Chris realized he forgot his medicine.

“Do we go back home?” I asked.

“No.”

“I will just be slow.” Chris’s Parkinson’s medicine helps him move. Without it, he freezes. After the play, I put a hand on his back. On the way home, I pushed him along.

He was extremely slow walking to the subway, heading back to the Upper West Side. Then we got home and I had to tell Catherine she could not watch Django Unchained.

“It’s not a problem,” H. said. “She looks away during the violent parts.” He loves having a companion with whom to watch movies.

“I’m sorry. No,” I said.

“You’re too protective.”

“Yes,” I said. Believing that they secretly like that. Even thinking maybe Catherine wanted to be told not to watch that.

“Why? Why can’t she watch it?”

“I don’t want her to have those images in her head — of such violence.” I’ve never seen the movie, but I’ve heard. And yet, Tamburlaine filled my head with violence too. I don’t think I’m worse for it. Maybe it would’ve been okay. I don’t know. We live vicariously. But plays are different. The cast comes out for a curtain call.

We know it’s fake. We love the artifice.

We go slowly home.

Cherry Orchard

Turturro lets the stuffing out of the chair. (photo by Richard Termine for the New York Times.)

My husband’s translation of ‘Cherry Orchard’ was so naturalistic. A few minutes into John Turturro’s opening scene, I squeezed Chris’s arm and whispered, “So good. Genius.”

Chris (John Christopher Jones) did a brilliant job of situating the audience right there with the family at the grand Russian estate as it falls into disrepair and bankruptcy, sold to the local boor — or is he a self-made man? — played by Turturro.

An actor at the cast party told me it was the only of Chekhov’s place that the author considered a comedy. (Actors can be so smart — like real artists, not just empty-headed celebs!)

Chris worked hard of this translation, obsessed by it for months. He spent a lot time sitting in front of the computer. I know how hard it is to write.  It is mostly about keeping your seat in the chair.

I have seen Chris in a number of Chekhov plays. From those plays, I can see what life was like back in the day before people realized you should work out to lift your spirits. Or perhaps, people, try some anti-depressants?

In Chekhov’s plays my heart always breaks for the way the characters ridicule the intellectual, the perpetual student. Ugh.

This production is not depressing. I loved the party scene where the family, led by Dianne Wiest, and the guests wait to hear about the fate of the estate. The party goers’ spirits were as light as the stuffing from the chair that flew around the stage when Turturro ripped open the furniture.

For some reason, I always imagine the cherry orchard bathed in late afternoon light, like in the Van Gogh painting of the olive orchard. The cherry orchard never appears on stage yet it is a character in the play, once great and now parceled away — like so many nations, families and nature itself. 

On the cab ride home from the opening night party, I read Chris the The New York Times Review of ‘Cherry Orchard’ off of my smart phone, hitting bumps and speeding up Third Avenue. It was a triumph for Chris.