Yesterday, Saturday, a friend invited us to a National Theatre Live showing of FLEABAG—the stage production, not the TV series—at the downtown Sebastopol multiplex. A solo piece about the performer’s sex life, death of a close friend, death of a guinea pig, etc. Extremely funny and moving, especially so because so much of the performer’s mercurial persona reminded us of our long-long-long colleague Camilla in performance—Camilla, who died this past year.
Returning home after lunch and long talking with our old Milwaukee friend—he was my replacement in teaching at UW-M—I wasn’t in the mood for work, so I watched on Criterion Channel the 1967 Shirley Clarke documentary PORTRAIT OF JASON. Very similar in a sense: an hour and forty-five minutes of one person talking. It’s a gay black man, filmed over a 12-hour marathon, recounting his life, his hopes (never realized), his hustles and cons, with incessant hysterical laughter that tears your gut—not pleasant, yet intensely moving, a film that Ingmar Bergman described as the most extraordinary film he’d ever seen.
At the end of this day of personal testaments, now home with the cats and working on Chapter 25 of MASKS, I feel the tears welling up. It doesn’t have so much to do with the play and the film—both are brilliant, and yet my inner directorial dentist always probes for the flaws—but for the simple fact of mortality. The one is crafted, the other is improvised, yet both embody the bizarre contradictions that our lives embody. For me, they both evoke, in vastly different ways, that extraordinary final scene in Steinbeck’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH where the woman, bereft of her dead baby, gives her breast to the lips of the dying man.