Thursday, March 30, 2006

Don't talk about our son, Martha.

Millennium Bridge
A week before we left I visited a specialist, someone who treats migraines. Her entire staff was wonderful - the nurse, the doctor. Really put me at ease.

When I was in sixth grade I suffered from recurrent headaches. I went to a doctor, a man. He interviewed me, ran some tests, and concluded that there was nothing wrong with me, that I pretended to be ill because I wanted to be home with my mommy. He told my mom this.

Last week I received two migraine meds, was instructed to keep track of my headaches, how they come, my diet, etc. I have used each now - they are miracle drugs. Coming home from the theater last night I developed a pain over my right eye which moved into my right eye. Unlike most cases, the pain was not too intense before I started feeling nauseated. I didn't help there was someone on the train eating a really rank hamburger. Since Sunday I have been really susceptible to odors for some reason, especially at night. Dinner hasn't been too fun this week.

Phoning ahead (I thought cellphones were prevalent in the States, there's so many more of them here - and iPods, that's another story) Toni had a bed prepared for me in the t.v. room, away from the kids, away from everyone. I took the migraine medication - and it went away.

A migraine. Went away. I would have cried for joy, only I was asleep.

The day was lovely, though I will admit I was a little disappointed. I need to get over that. We had three things on our list - the London Eye, a boat ride down the Thames and possibly, if there were time, a tour of the Globe for Zelda, just the basic one, to see the inside.

We saw the Eye. That's it. Well, that isn't entirely it, we also had a great lunch at a noodle soup chain called Wagamama, and that led to a big little girl taking a serious nap in the stroller while we had coffee in the Globe cafe ... and then it was time to get home. Oh well. I guess what's important is that we're having a great, relaxed time - after all the weariness that's been passed around, it was best to take it easy. And there are worse things to do than take a long walk along the south bank of the Thames.

After a quick meal of fish and chips, Henrik and I took off to see the recent revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner at the Apollo. Okay, not British, not the playwright, not the actors, but who cares? Couldn't see it in New York, thrilled to be able to see it in London. Besides, Henrik has never seen or read it, ever, so I knew it would be a kick for him.

Martha & George
It is as good as they say. I was on my guard for an "understudy" notice to be up when we arrived, but it wasn't - I knew the entire cast had gotten nominated for Tonys. Henrik tells me Ms. Turner missed a few performances a month ago, and when she opened her mouth last night I almost wished for her sake she'd taken the night off, her classic, dusky voice just sounded very, very tired. Big, but tired.

The event began a bit symbolically, as we took our seats, the folks from Chicago sitting next to us were being harangued by a red-headed drunk. Apparently he had been sitting on one side of them, and then the actual owner of that seat arrived, and then he had been in our seat, on the other side. He started talking to them politely, and then got loud and insulting, "You Americans think you're big shots, but your just f***ing middle class," and like that. There were about a dozen people gesticulating wildly at the ushers and he was eventually escorted out.

Our aisle mates and we chatted for a bit, Henrik reporting that was the first time he had ever seen something like that happen in a dozen years of British theater-going. We concluded being verbally assaulted by an alcoholic wasn't exactly an inappropriate way to begin that night's performance.

SPOILER: You haven't read or seen Virginia Woolf? Maybe you don't want to continue. Secrets will be revealed.

I was probably supposed to read Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in college, but I didn't. I know I haven't seen the Mike Nichols film, and some say that's for the best. In any case, the only other time I've seen it was (surprise) at Great Lakes Theater Festival, about ten years ago. I really enjoyed that production. In fact, having never even read it before, I was shocked at how great the first act was, and equally amused to hear another audience member heading for the lobby during the first intermission saying loudly, "This is terrible - there's nothing to like about any of these people!" Great drama, very funny, and it was still pissing people off after 35 years! That's theater.

What I did not get ten years ago was the whole "no son" thing. Thought it was symbolic. Maybe there was a son, but he's gay or something so they don't want to talk about him. Or it was just a game. The kind of game that people don't want to have children play, those kinds of people. Intellectuals.

Except it's stated pretty clearly at the end, they cannot have children. Cannot. In the days of my ignorance, the idea that people cannot have children was a very simple concept. Intercourse, but no conception. You cannot have children.

What I did not know was that means trying to have children. A lot. Hoping for children. Having miscarriages, maybe a lot of them. Stillbirths. Not so simple.

Honey & Nick
The play takes place on the advent of the 21st birthday of this "imaginary" son. A private ritual, George and Martha make up a life for their son, and on this night she breaks the rules and tells someone else. And on this night, George kills him. It's over. He's dead.

So he was never imaginary. Was there a boy? A small boy, a stillborn boy, or a boy who died shortly after birth? He was real.

"There's nothing to like about any of these people." Maybe not. It's ugly in its hysterical-ness. It's a play about failure, so many different kinds of failure, for everyone in the room. The younger couple have much in common with the older one. Nick and Honey can't have children, either. Hmn. Another take on the word "hysterical."

The performances were uniformly brilliant, but I simply adored Bill Irwin. A monument to passive aggression. But I was also struck by Mireille Enos' Honey. Never gave her character much notice before, I think I had the least sympathy for her in the past. But she was heartbreaking. Oh yes, mousy and yet so, so sympathetic. So vulnerable.

It was a great show. Capped by a migraine. Ah well.


laura said...

amazing how little stupid things someone said when we were six can shape so much of our adult lives. congrats on breaking free of the bs and getting the relief you deserve.

but please, please stop discussing brit misperceptions of americans. justin can't stop ranting about it. i've had enough, dammit.

pengo said...

I didn't say anything about Brit misconceptions of Americans. I said they said the show didn't sound American, and that I came off as British to them.

I think we did have a long and amusing discussion about how defensive and obsessive American men are, but I don't think I put it in the blog.

pengo said...

Oh, wait - now he's been out of shape over the ravings of a drunk, I forgot I mentioned him.

But Justin is so f***ing middle class, we all settled that a long time ago, why does he keep getting upset when people mention it?

Anonymous said...

"Virginia Woolf" is an awesome play. I also read it in uni.. I think I did "get it" strictly speaking, but i know I didn't "GET IT" in terms of the things that made the two of them sooo bitter and twisted.. A great post :)

justinian said...

you rascal, you...