— From CB —

Being in rehearsal to play Lear in our staging of King Lear, I was enormously pleased to get an email from our friend Fred Curchack saying that he’s going to be playing Lear in a Dallas production this summer. Startling too, as I realize I’ve been modeling elements of my Lear on Fred, or at least on my imagining of Fred.

He’s an extraordinarily polymorphous actor, and I can see him so vividly making those instantaneous transitions from feeble to vicious, charming to sour, pathetic to mad, that mark Lear’s journey — a clown’s capacity to be sly and stupid, mean and tragic, in a perpetual search for firm footing as the feet skid in all directions. Certainly as a performer he’s brilliantly unpredictable, so his interpretation may differ vastly from what I imagine, but what I imagine interfaces very closely with what I’m attempting myself.

His daughter says, “He hath ever but slenderly known himself,” and indeed, he’s blinder in that sense than the blinded Gloucester. And yet he’s been a very effective autocrat, he’s inspired intense love and loyalty — in my view only a man of great intelligence could deceive himself so totally. His disastrous decisions in the opening scene aren’t the result of simple misjudgment but of self-entrapment — Br’er Rabbit’s encounter with the Tar Baby. And no comedy writer could match the wild incongruity in Lear’s cursing of his daughter Goneril:

—thou art a boil,
A plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle,
In my corrupted blood. But I’ll not chide thee—

Not chide thee, indeed. Everywhere he turns he gets a pie in the face, and even at the end, stripped of every illusion, he fools himself into hope.

One of Fred’s landmark shows was a solo rendering of The Tempest. Having myself played Prospero a couple of years ago, I see these two plays as yin-yang. Like Lear, Prospero has made a grave error of judgment and suffers loss of power and dignity. He is consumed with lust for revenge. But he summons magic rather than madness, finds his footing, comes to forgiveness. And ironically, at the height of his power, he relinquishes power: renounces magic, goes back to being the run-of-the-mill Duke of Milan, a father, and an aging mortal man. Through magic, Prospero is all-seeing, and what he sees changes him. Prospero’s enchanted island is a counter-vision to Lear’s shattered kingdom, and the two men are half-brothers (like Edgar and Edmund) who take the same path to very different ends.

Playing Lear is like scaling Everest, and would we could see each other’s attempts at it, though of course so much is dependent on your team. Mine’s much smaller though more in my control, and my stage is only six feet by four. But for me, it’s the same feeling as a long-distance runner must feel when he has another world-class rival in the race. Competition between them is secondary; they’re both in tandem to outfox the gods.

 — From the Fool — 

I saw a fellow fool on YouTube. He was good.

What he did, he said stuff about the fall of Rome while taking off all his clothes, down to a little dangle cover. Then he poured honey all over himself. Then he sprinkled feathers on top of it. That doesn’t seem like much but you had to be there. It was funny.

Then I saw another guy. He just made speeches. If he’d stripped and poured honey and sprinkled feathers I might have taken him seriously. But he got elected.

What bugs me is a fool who don’t know he’s one.

 — From EF —

My friend Valerie brought some beans to a potluck. She’d grown them herself in her back yard, and they were just about the best thing I ever tasted: Scarlet Runners. Bigger than a navy bean, smaller than a lima, and nearly jet black.   Wow, I wanted that.

Hers grew in a festive disarray tangled in with wisteria and morning glories, and seemed to require no tending. Perennials. I got some seeds. I couldn’t find anything with exactly the same name, but they looked and tasted the same. I saved some of mine for seed, in case these didn’t over-winter, and then I got some more from Valerie as insurance. Seven of them are still sitting on my kitchen table, because I’m a strange housekeeper, and because I like looking at them.

Today at the Farmers’ Market I saw another spectacular bean, a variety called Orca. You look at them and know exactly how they got that name. I might plant some of those too, just to see them grow.

I look at the seven Scarlet Runners and marvel. They are each keeping a secret and can keep it for years. On my kitchen table, they are mute, motionless, and beautiful. Give them moist darkness, and they will begin to move. Give them warmth and sun, and they will engulf a wall.

We lost two friends recently to cancer, and a third has had a hideous diagnosis. Where was the original cell, and what did it look like? Seen under a microscope, who knows — it might have been beautiful.

In our families, in our country, in our world, how many seeds, how many cells have been sown? Which ones will grow to be delicious and fruitful, and which ones will slowly mangle lives? Which ones need tending, and which need knife and poison? And how do we know?


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014


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