Overture/ Curtain, lights/ This is it/ The night of nights…

I saw tough son-of-a-bitch Ed Harris with his equally powerful real-life wife Amy Madigan in a creepy, funny, contemporary Southern Gothic horror-fest called The Jacksonian. It’s written by Beth Henley, she of the Pulitzer Prize. Also in the cast, Bill Pullman as a demented bartender with a ridiculous Elvis pompadour and Glenne Headly as a waitress looking for love.

Here’s a still from the production with Harris and Madigan. I stared at this thinking I’ve seen it somewhere before.


And then it came to me. This is an Edward Hopper painting.


Hopper painted lonely people trying to make an emotional connection with someone. Such was this case with The Jacksonian.

It’s performed in a small off-Broadway theater. (I don’t think it’d work in a mainstream house. The story is too dark.) Some of it is quite violent and uncomfortable to watch and the nearness of the stage and the actors ratchets-up the tension.

No happy ending here, kids. Harris plays a dentist slipping into a drug and alcohol-fueled meltdown. Headly’s character winds up permanently brain-addled from a nitrous oxide overdose. But it’s got loads of laughs! I don’t know how the actors can put themselves through this meat grinder of a play seven times a week. The show’s literature warns, “May be inappropriate for 14 and younger.” Now, THERE’S truth in advertising.

*     *     *

I needed a laugh and this still made me laugh so hard that I’ve temporarily turned it into my screen saver.


It’s from the brilliant and hysterical all-male British import of Twelfth Night. Here, Mark Ryalnce’s Olivia is mortified by the unwanted advances of Stephen Fry’s Malvolio. The look on Olivia’s face is priceless. I’ve seen that look many times while out on a date.

It’s a traditional staging and back then, women weren’t permitted to act, so the female roles are played by dudes. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. Before the play, as in Shakespeare’s day, the cast gets dressed on stage in front of the audience. There’s some seating on stage as well to simulate the groundlings at the original Globe Theater. At the performance I attended, someone in the on-stage gallery fell asleep in full view of the audience. It happens!

*     *     *

I saw Harold Pintner’s Betrayal with real-life husband/wife team Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. It’s a husband/wife epidemic! The toughest part of the play was trying to believe the Daniel Craig could be cuckolded. That’s the problem with seeing a named actor in a play. They arrive with a lot of preconceived notions and baggage. I enjoyed it but was confused because the audience was laughing riotously at things that I’m not entirely convinced were supposed to be funny. The run was completely sold out before it even opened, so they’re having the last laugh.

*     *     *

Orlando Bloom made a hell of a stage entrance as Romeo. He came roaring in on a motorcycle and screeched to a halt at the front of the stage. You can see skid marks on the boards from the previous performances. He was wearing a helmet with a faceplate and when he removed it and ran his hand through his curly brown locks, there was an audible swoon in the theater. It was like a slow-motion shampoo commercial.


The guy is good. He can handle Shakespearian dialogue. His co-star? Not so much. Condola Rashad, an otherwise fine actor, recited Juliet’s dialogue with little feeling or heart. Apparently, the ticket-buying public agrees because they’re closing the show in December, earlier than scheduled, on account of unenthusiastic ticket sales.

[Bonus material.]

I learned something new. “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” is NOT, Where are you, Romeo?, as I’d always assumed. Her intent is, it makes no difference if your name is Romeo or Montague, “The name of my enemy…”. I’d still love you. She follows this with:

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;”

She further extrapolates on the uselessness of names:

“So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.”

Old dog learns new trick. Woof.

31 thoughts on “Overture/ Curtain, lights/ This is it/ The night of nights…

  1. Twelfth Night with the women played by men in drag? Oh prithee! Shakespeare would have loved to use actresses if the law had permitted it. Authenticity for its own sake is silly. I’d still rather watch it than the Ed Harris play, though.

    • Don’t be too sure about that. Twelfth Night was written around 1600. I’m betting that women were second class citizens then. I doubt there was a thought given to allowing women to act. The Jacksonian was rough stuff. Not for everyone.

  2. I’ve worked in small groups where we had to reverse the old Elizabethan law – not enough men, so some of us had to wear the trousers. Not often me, as I was short and curvy!

  3. Love reading about your recent Theatre experiences….I had heard from a good fried that “Twelfth Night” was Fantastic….She particularly talked about the man who played Olivia and she raved about the actor that played Mariah….She said she had never seen an interpretation like that before and found it thrilling, as an actress herself. Are you going to see their “Richard III”, as well?
    One of the things that IS so fascinating about Shakespeare’s writings is how studying the text and discussing it always brings new insights—And I LOVE that!
    The Henley play sounds so very interesting….I would love to see that.

    A million years ago, when I was in Drama School, I had to learn the song, “When That I Was”, that Feste sings, and teach it to the actor (Who was my ‘soul mate’ and dear dear friend) who was playing him—-and then, I had to play the song in the wings at each performance, for him to sing to and pretend that he was playing on his pretend Lute….It was quite a challenge but great fun, too…!

    • The entire cast of Twelfth Night was pretty great, but Mark Rylance, who played Olivia, is freakishly gifted. I’ve seen him before and he always turns out an astonishing performance. I don’t know if I’ll get to Richard III. I’d like to but I have a limited budget. It’s running in repertory. One could see Twelfth Night at a matinee and then watch the exact same cast do Richard III that same evening. It’s a highlight of the fall season. Thanks for the drama school memory. Always nice to read something about what happens behind the scenes.

    • It’s great stuff but you’d be surprised how many people don’t bother. I doubt the sleeping audience member will ever attend a Shakespeare play again. It’s just not for everyone.

  4. Absolutely anything and everything in which Stephen Fry is involved in is tremendously entertaining. He is the epitome of witty intelligence and a master wordsmith of the highest calling. I cannot think of a single person on this planet who is better at his craft than Mr Fry.

    Bloody shame he’s an Englishman…

    • Fry has fantastic stage presence. He looms over the other actors and has a booming voice that projects well up to the rafters. He’s a talented, intelligent artist.

      Here’s a brief bit that’s a promotion to sell the DVD of a performance that was filmed at the Globe in London. In it, Fry, as Malvolio, is tricked into thinking the way to seduce Olivia is to wear yellow stockings, cross garters and a big stupid grin. She, of course, hates all three.

  5. Lots to comment on there, but I will confine myself to saying that I would be as surprised as you were that an audience found Betrayal that funny. I don’t think Pinter deliberately set out to be “funny”. Mordant, harsh, acidic–which can sometimes be blackly funny, yes, but I think sometimes audiences laugh because they can’t handle the truth of a play.

    • I’m not entirely convinced it was nervous laughter, which is what they’d have been expressing had they struggled with the truth of the play. I don’t know what the director’s intention was, but some of the lines were delivered in an exaggerated, comedic manner. Some of them over-enunciated and done with great flourishes. But I still don’t think it was supposed to be funny.

    • How do you think we pulled it off? Maybe we deserve it. Maybe we helped old ladies across the street in our past life.

  6. ooooh, baby! you know how to get to me, don’t you? Ed Harris? Small theatre? i’d watch that man paint the floor… my schedule for the rest of the year is a disaster, or i’d be on the next flight…

  7. Hey there! Been lurking around since I read your stuff on Carnie’s Corner – I too, lived in Manhattan forever, and am also exiled to suburban NJ. It’s brutal. But you, my friend, make a conscious effort to still partake of the culture NY affords one, while I – I go to Chile’s with my kid.
    I adore theatre – I would see Ed Harris in just about anything. Wish I’d been around to see him in Sam Shephard’s Fool For Love, but that predates me a bit.
    And why would Daniel Craig not be cuckolded? Please clarify?
    And finally – yes, a zillion years ago, when I studied theatre, I learned that “Wherefore” meant “Why”, as in “why the HELL are you Romeo, when that last name of yours will get us into so much freakin’ trouble?”
    Love your blog. I’ll be back.

    • Hi Samara. Welcome. Please wipe your feet. When I first studied meditating, I misheard my teacher when he said “samsara.” I thought he said “some sorrow,” which is in the ballpark.

      Yes, NJ is a tough slog after Manhattan. We should form a support group. We can call it Wherefore New Jersey, the meaning of which would not be Where is New Jersey but, rather, WHY New Jersey?

      I missed Harris in Fool for Love, too. Don’t get me started on what I missed out on. How about this one: James Earl Jones as Othello with Christopher Plumber as Iago. What was I thinking?

      Daniel Craig is so dashing and exudes so much masculinity that I can’t imagine any wife of his looking at another man and thinking, “Oh, I’ll have this other guy instead.” That’s exactly what happened in the context of the play but I just had a hard time making that leap.

      • Just for Daniel Craig clarification- long ago I walked into an elevator with my boyfriend and a ravishing model – which, as you know, happens in NY. When we exited, he read my mind, and said, “somewhere, someone is tired of THAT.”

        I am a newbie – is there a way I can automatically be jettisoned here from wordpress, or at least receive some notification that you have posted something new?
        What can I say, I’m a fan.

      • I was on Blogger for many years. About six months ago, I converted to a self-hosted site and it’s been pretty much a disaster. I lost a ton of readers and I don’t know if anyone is able to subscribe to this mess. You can add the URL to your feeder if you use one or click on the Email button at the bottom of a post and I *think* you’ll get a ping every time there’s a new post. But I’m not sure it works.

        I get your point about Daniel Craig. Christie Brinkley, who is about as beautiful as they come, has been married FIVE times and each time, her husband walked out on her. The last one resorted to schtuping the babysitter! You can be astonishingly beautiful/ handsome, but that does not guarantee longevity. You’d better have something going on under the hood.

      • I clicked. I’ll get a ping. Or I’ll just keep stopping by all the time. This blog is SO worth it.
        Your writing is fantastic. . Your stories are amazing.
        Thank you for reading my blog. Writers like you inspire new bloggers like me, and keep me going through my dark days.

  8. JEALOUS of your visit to Twelfth Night. Stephen Fry is a God, and I’ve heard nothing but fabulous reviews about it. And THANK YOU for the excellent knowledge about Romeo and Juliet. As an English Literature graduate I should have beaten you to it, but at least I now have an excellent fact with which to impress all my friends and be told to shut the hell up and go away. Thank you!

    • I have a confession to make. Stephen Fry and Mark Rylance turned in such revelatory performances that I went back and saw Twelfth Night a second time. I RARELY see the same show twice. If I get a night off and money for a ticket, I prefer to see something new. But those two guys have captured lightning in a bottle and these shows are ethereal. Once the run is over, it’s OVER. If you’re interested, the’ve released a DVD of one of the Globe performances. To see a hilarious clip, scroll up to my comment under Chef. There’s a link to a promo on YouTube.

      You’re welcome for the R&J clarification. You can probably win beers in a bar bet with that little tidbit.

  9. Impressed by the comparison to the Hopper painting. Very clever.
    Meanwhile, why am I not Speaking Words of Wisdom?????
    *Exits, stage left, in a huff of scarlet*

    • If you don’t mind my saying so, I think spotting that painting/photo similarity might have been my finest blogging hour, but you’re the first one to say anything about it so THANK YOU.

    • It’s so distinctive that it makes me wonder if was intentional. I should write an ask. The Harris play was pretty rough stuff. I don’t know that I would recommend it to everybody.

  10. I cannot get back onto your most recent post about Arlington….When I click on the link in my ‘reader’ it says something about they cannot find the link
    I’m looking for and then lists your last 10 posts or so…OY! Not sure if it is a problem with me and blogger or you and your host. Has anyone else had this problem?? HELP!

    • It’s not you! I was performing routing maintenance last night–updating my plug-ins, managing my media and posts–and my browser crashed. Either the post was lost in the ether or I accidentally deleted it. In any event, it seems to be gone. Gone! A valuable lesson in Zen detachment.

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