— From EF —

 Constellations. What a concept: connecting dots. Your mind imagines shapes and turns them into stories, and then you tell those stories. Eventually you get a whole lot of folks who can see a Great Bear or a Dipper or a hunter named Orion (never mind that I used to think this was an Irish constellation named O’Brien.)

Now we have hyperactive media who tell us a lot about how we should connect dots. Myths used to take a long time to create, but we’ve improved things, and there’s a temptation to imagine TV pundits signing off with “You want fries with that?”

I prefer my own dots. Today we visited Eli (son) and Meg (wife). In a little more than a week I will be with Johanna (daughter) and Fra (beloved Italian consort) in their glorious Tuscan mill house. Not long ago, in Cleveland, we visited Joyce Brabner (widow of Harvey Pekar), the first time since Harvey’s death four years ago. (The Independent Eye did the first theatrical staging of American Splendor in 1985.) And on the way home, we visited Flora Coker (South Carolina, 1966). When I leave Italy, I’ll spend a couple of days with Erica Haenssler (NYC 1979 and many Zurich visits thereafter), and then go wander among my family of stones in Carnac (decades and counting).

I could connect different dots. Chernobyl and Fukushima. The innumerable deaths of young men of color at the hands of white police. Koch money pushing yet more extraction/burning of fossil fuels. Monsanto’s tsunamis of GMO crops. Put together, that would scribe a brutal myth.

Not that dots of pain are wrong to connect. When Robin Williams made his curtain call, the world exploded with connection. I battle depression, and it was stunning to read so many vulnerable testaments from those who are part of that fraught family.

If only we all could choose to connect our own dots, guided by love.

— From CB —

If you’re doing a conventional production of King Lear, you can just depend on the casting director to make the families look like families. If you’re doing it with puppets, and most of the voices are coming out of one dude, you need to pay a bit more attention to “family resemblance.”

Gloucester, Edmund, Edgar in Acts 1 & 2: I came very quickly to Gloucester’s voice: querulous pitch shifts, ingratiating, jokingly ironic — a cowardly man who comes to one fatal blurt of courage. The bastard Edmund’s voice came out of his: the same pitch-shifting irony, but turned to a razor edge, almost a mockery of his father’s. (How to do that without going weirdly nasal? Well, that’s why we have another six months.) What about Edgar?

Shakespeare’s dramaturgy here is odd. We only meet Edgar when he’s being hoodwinked by his brother; his first soliloquy is during flight and on the verge of entering into disguise; and then he plunges deeper and deeper into the soul of a madman. “Edgar I nothing am,” he says, but who was he ever?

I’ve seen productions where Edgar is a more bookish Hamlet-type at the outset, making him seem more the underdog in his duel with an aggressive Edmund. But he’s his father’s heir and would have had a thorough military education. The Hamlet analogy is interesting in one sense, though. He’s an undefined soul who is suddenly thrust into crisis, disguises himself as mad, then finds himself entrapped in the quicksand of madness. He comes out the other side, but horribly damaged.

How damaged? There are eight deaths in  Lear; Edgar is responsible for three of them, the killings of Oswald and Edmund, and the shock that kills his father on recognizing him. He deeply regrets all three, and at the end, as the kingship devolves upon him, he has no words of hope to give us cheer. Only endurance.

So I’m looking for a voice with the same sliding pitch but breathier, more held in, shorter phrases, a man who relies on his status in a world that he knows is shifting. When he takes on his disguise, the puppet Edgar #1 speaks as he stares in the face of Edgar #2, who only comes face-on to us as he tries out his first Mad Tom words, “Poor Turlygod! Poor Tom!” As the newly minted madman says, “Edgar I nothing am,” he hands the limp Edgar #1 away to the Fool.

Where it goes from there? Into the storm, and into the next rehearsals.

— From the Fool —

If you’re a big shot, they expect you to say something. Guys do bad stuff in Syria or Missouri or Santa Rosa, and you’re supposed to issue a statement. You can’t just walk down the street and get tackled by a reporter who asks what you, a typical man-on-the-street, says about it, then you say something stupid and watch yourself on TV that night and try to live it down.

No, if you’re a big shot, you have to issue a statement, the way your mommy said, “Make a doo-doo.” So you huddle with your advisors to come up with something that won’t get you in trouble.

You have to sound like you’re right on top of stuff. You have to sound deeply concerned. You have to sound sad but wise. You have to sound superior to all the other schmucks even though at heart you’re just a regular schmuck. And you have to give yourself wiggle room to do a one-eighty if the wind shifts.

Some useful lines: “Our hearts go out to all the loved ones…” “This demands a thorough and exhaustive investigation…” “We’ll be watching the situation closely….”

Or else, “Well, this just goes to show…” and then say whatever you want it to just go and show.

Main thing is you have to make a statement — call a press conference or just tweet — and point at it to show Mommy what you did. Otherwise they’ll take away your big-shot badge.


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© Bishop & Fuller 2014




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