Wednesday, December 07, 2005

It Is Margaret You Mourn For

On Sunday, R. and I saw the play "Orson's Shadow" at the Barrow Street Theater in Greenwich Village. It's closing December 31 and if it is at all within your power to go see it, I highly recommend that you do so. If it isn't, I'm sorry. Please note at this time that there will be spoilers below the asterisk row.

"Orson's Shadow" is playwright Austin Pendleton's version of what might have happened when Orson Welles directed Laurence Olivier in a production of "Rhinoceros" at the dawn of the British National Theatre. Kenneth Tynan narrates and Vivien Leigh and Joan Plowright, outgoing and incoming Ladies Olivier, take part.

As you might imagine, the play is uproarious, with witty banter and backstage gossip flying furiously. Artistic temperament is definitely on display. One feels a frisson of guilt, of inadvertent voyeurism when Vivien Leigh breaks down. But the truly moving moment is at the very end. SPOILERS (of a sort) BELOW:


The play ends with Welles and Olivier onstage. Joan Plowright walks on and says "Since I'm the only character in this play who's still alive, why don't I wrap things up." She tells of Tynan's death at 53 of emphysema, Leigh's death at 53 of tuberculosis. She describes her life with Olivier and the remainder of his career--ten years of triumphs with the National Theatre followed by movies to provide for his children's future. Then Welles asks eagerly, "What about me?"

"You lived for 25 more years, but only completed one more movie," Plowright says somewhat hesitantly.
"What was it?"
"'Chimes At Midnight,'" she answers with some relief, since his obsession throughout the play has been to finance a film of "Chimes."
She also tells him that despite bad sound caused by a tight budget, "Chimes" is a masterpiece.

She adds that despite the studios' editing butchery, "The Magnificent Ambersons" and "Touch of Evil" are classics.
"Did anything I did ever eclipse the memory of 'Citizen Kane'?" he asks, since that achievement has been his other obsession.

R. and I had tears running down our cheeks. And while readers of this blog know that MomVee's cheeks are not an unfamiliar path for tears, it's considerably less usual for R. to be moved to tears in a crowded theater. It made me think, again, of "Spring and Fall."

I think, too, that it has something to do with Ergo's recent post:

It is a tension of contradictions that life is to be lived in each moment as if every day was your last and also as if you are going to live forever.

What can we do to ensure that our lives will end with minimal regret? Will disappointment, perfectionism, self-loathing, make us give up prematurely? Will we fail to appreciate our own greatest achievements?

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