Day Six – And a Fond Farewell from London

Day 6

Well, this part of the party is just about over, sadly. It’s Sunday and I’ve just dropped Kate off at Victoria Station for her train back to Gatwick. I’ll be taking the train up to Cambridge University this afternoon to prepare for a meeting tomorrow at the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations run by Dr. Amineh Hoti. More on that in my posting tomorrow.

This morning, it’s time to reflect back on the wonderful night that was; on the wonderful trip that’s just concluded. We drew close as a group. We grew more learned about theater; British theatrical culture specifically. We were exhilarated by new work. We’ve cultivated a new group of theater-goers and potentially patrons for Theater J who will have a depth of feeling for us based on this shared experience together.

It’s been a funny experience, alternately blogging this trip and then wondering why one writes publicly about such things; or similarly, how much to write about this trip? How much detail? Blogging, according to some reading this, is a medium that likes its write-ups short. So the self-censorship impulse kicks in, really one of the worst afflictions to beset a writer. And I thought blogging would have been the perfect medium to avoid self-censoring. Well, it’s the challenge to all writers, whatever the medium; imagine your readership/audience, and then forget every mitigating, critiquing, appraising voice that might be out there and just follow your rhythm and hone in on your bliss. Commenters be damned.

So let me work up a head of morning steam and attempt to tell you quickly about last night. First the critical round up. With Patricia Nicole from the Sunday Times Arts section. The revelation, of the morning is that the play we all loved so much on Friday night, THE REPORTER by Nicholas Wright, actually received mixed reviews – some excellent—like from her paper–some not so. Some were disappointed by the ending. Some felt the figure of James Mossman was too obscure a cultural icon from the early 70s to truly mean anything today; a repressed homosexual from a time when nobody was gay; haunted by the suicide of his gay lover; that aspect of his character is a bit, well, shopworn and uninteresting. What was fascinating was what a brilliant journalist he was. Really fierce and fearless in his PANORAMA/BBC interview with Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Here are some excerpts of this interview, clearly the most scintillating sustained bit of playwriting we encountered on our trip, as taken from the published playtext:

JIM: Do you deplore the war? …Then why are we supporting the Americans? …Do you have plans to send British troops into Vietnam? As a show of support? They might be very welcome, isn’t that so? Have not the Americans asked for British troops?

Wilson blathers on about a moral show of force. But that one must wait to withdraw from Vietnam until there’s an agreement on all sides.

JIM: Can one postpone one’s moral concerns? Aren’t they something one ought to act on at once, whether or not the timing happens to be convenient? May I suggest that our support for American isn’t based on morality at all but on expedience? You spoke earlier of the economic downturn. Wouldn’t that downturn spiral into chaos if the Americans withdrew their support for the British economy? Don’t we have to support them, whether we like it or not? Why can’t we admit that?

Jim goes on later

JIM: If one is burning to death under a layer of napalm, one’s not going to be very happy about being told that it’s all for the sake of free choice and democracy. Where do we stand in relation to the killing? …Isn’t it morally more appropriate to deplore the killing on the side where you claim to have influence? That’s if you have influence. Or else to admit that you’re supporting a war that you know to be immoral and foolish out of sheer, abject subservience to the United States?

With Wilson fumbling and the other BBC co-anchor aghast at Jim’s attack dog behavior, the audience in the theater is electrified by this sustained prosecution. It’s a scene that will cost Jim his job but, in a real way, be his finest hour, a clairvoyant voice of outrage and logic and one that pointed to the promise of journalism. The play become, in many ways, the portrait of an underachiever. Mossman would never rise to the level he should have as a journalist – no Edward R. Murrow role for him in British society, and he was a man who underachieved personally, and romantically as well. And the play never quite addresses why, or recovers in the second act to top the jolting confrontation in act one.

So our group asks, “What will happed with The Reporter?” And the Arts editor answers, “Probably, sadly, nothing.”
And that’s the story of most productions.
Even ones we love.

What will happen with BILLY ELLIOT? That’s the next big question.

The Big British musical, based on the film directed by Stephen Daldry who was making his filmmaking debut at the time after serving as artistic director of the Royal Court for over 100 productions, is once again directed by Daldry with music by Sir Elton John. It’s a fascinating blend of British class warfare labor strife which attempts to summon the revolutionary spirit of LES MIZ, with the Rank, Hyped Up, Eager To Please, Nouvelle Music Hall Commercialism of British razzle dazzle musical theater, which is quite a tiresome form of theater to cool American eyes indeed. There was our own big, tour group drama right before the show began for. After our final group dinner held at Axis Restaurant in the 5 Star Aldwych Hotel, we were ferried in taxis to the Royal Palace Theatre. We all got in and were excited about seat locations, row B in the lower mezzanine, really a perfect view of the action, closer to the stage than you might think for a mezzanine. And then pair after pair of ticket holders come to the same row B and ask to sit in our seats. And we each look down at our tickets and discover… We all are holding tickets for the 17th… of February!

55 pound tickets. That were good a month ago! It’s 5 minutes before curtain. It’s imperative we end on a high note, right? Ushers descend. They ask our group to go up to the top of the mezzanine section. I tell people to stay. I’ll go deal with this. Jim Ryan is to arrive in the next cab over. The house manager for our section tells me our tickets are no good for this performance and that we’ll have to leave. I tell her we’re not leaving. That I’m with patrons from Washington DC and we’ve paid a lot of money for these tickets and that the group that delivered the tickets to our Act IV events planning group (that’s made all on the ground arrangements for Insider Cultural Tours) made a mistake and we’re not going to miss out. She tells me I’ll have to go downstairs and speak to the theater manager. I know from the tickets that there is no late seating for this show “LATECOMERS WILL NOT BE ADMITTED” so I tell her that the theater manager is going to have to come upstairs and meet with me. I’m not going down to meet with her. We have 11 people to get reseated and it’s her job to do it, not mine to leave. She looks at me kind of funny. I tell her I run a theater and I know how these things happen but it’s our last night and there’s no way we’re leaving. I see Marcella Brenner and Monty Combs slowly coming up the steps and I think, “Right, we’re going to put Marcella out in the cold? I don’t think so.”

“But we’re sold and I haven’t any seats for your group,” the floor manager tells me.

“What about standing room?” I ask, though there isn’t a snowball’s chance that Marcella is going to be put in standing room. I see Jim Ryan finally come down – he’d been upstairs in his seat unaware of what was going on – Katie had to go and get him which was great, as she calmed our travelers saying. “This happens all the time at Theater J; Ari will know how to deal.” Well, no, it doesn’t really happen all the time at Theater J – people don’t show up with tickets for a month before hand on a sold out Saturday night all that often, but her assuring our group that everything’s going to be fine is a very critical intervention. Because, my how the tide can turn on a trip, or on a collective frame of mind in heart beat. When people have been a little unhappy about one thing and one thing only on an other wise superior trip and that’s the ticket location, this snafu threatens to sink our finale. What are we going to do instead? Watch a movie?

How could this happen? Jim can’t believe it. No one’s noticed the wrong date at any of ten steps along the way. Act IV got the tickets directly from the BILLY ELIOT production company at the Old Vic offices. So their own company made the gaffe. But no one noticed from Act IV as they were putting everyone’s ticket pouches together for the tour. And none of the ushers at the theater noticed either! So it’s pretty incredible.

“You’re going to have to leave, sir,” says the floor manager.
“We’re not leaving. Get your manager.”

Oh, forget it. This blow by blow. It’s too painful. Guess what? It all worked out. There were 8 scattered pairs of seats throughout the orchestra; superb house seats for press and VIP as it turned out, much better than the Mezzanine. But as it turned out, 6 from our group stayed right where they were in Row B (and the other ticket holders moved) and I got to watch the musical from ten rows away from the stage. The perfect seats. Kate joined my at intermission. Jim Ryan worked it out the Theater Manager – he had to pay all over again for the re-seats – lots and lots of money – money that he’d have to get refunded after this tour’s all over from the BILLY ELIOT production office. Again, it all worked out. The musical itself, almost not worth all the fuss. Though you’d think from the musical’s website that you were watching the Second Coming of Christ. And if you wanna audition to BE Christ when BILLY ELIOT comes to Broadway in 2008, just go here and you can be in your very own American Idol Star Search with the a Broadway starring role as the prize if you win. I’ll let that website do the talking for the show.

Now it’s time for me to board a train to Cambridge University and think elevated thoughts and read more great drama as I travel. This trip WAS A BONANZA when it came to book buying – so many great works of drama and about drama in print here – I found it all quite exciting.

I’ll do a bibliographical summation in another posting – because our group wants to have a list of all the different titles that were referred to in the many great discussions during this trip – and not just drama titles – lots of fiction – we’ll get to all that.

And we’ll still recapitulate highlights from the Walking Tour of Jewish East End and the superior thumbnail history of the Jews in Great Britain from the 10th Century on; I found that incredibly helpful.

So more more more to come. From Cambridge and then Vienna.

For now, as I did last night at our farewell dinner toast, I want to thank the people who came on this trip, Linda and Chuck Morfield, Hannah Wasserkrug, Bonnie Hammershlag, Patti Sowalsky, Patty Andringa, Marcella Brenner, Montrose Combs, my dear Kate Schecter and Jim Ryan, for making this incredibly rich dramatic first trip such a success. I thank them for the great and generous spirits; for being so appreciative of the art that they saw; for being superior discussants and appreciating every speaker who came; and for being great walkers with incredibly stamina. The trip was as fun as it was because these people loved theater, and they loved learning and talking about theater, from 9 in the morning until well past 11 at night.

We see ourselves taking another trip in about 18 months – perhaps, we’re thinking, to Israel on a Theater and High Culture trip as part of our 6 @ 60 Festival events during 2008 as we recognize the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

More on that… Some other posting.

That’s it for now. See you again after Cambridge. And then again, in Vienna!

One thought on “Day Six – And a Fond Farewell from London

  1. Hey Ari. Good to hear your voice broadcast from another continent–it’s coming in loud and clear here in Marin County. I feel like I was right there next to you, or in your shoes, as you resisted all the pressure being put on your group to clear out of the Billy Elliott show.

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