Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017

My people made up 1/3 of the Night Music house Saturday night. Tom and Laura motored down from Blacksburg; Linda and Jim were there, as well as James the political hotel employee whom I invited without ever anticipating he would come. Linda felt he was flirting with me. If so, it’s saddening that I don’t notice such things any more. I suppose they all liked it. I liked it better each night I watched. I appreciated Cleve’s skill and Phil’s naturalness, and Jesse’s beautiful eyes, the more. I even began to think it was a sort of masterpiece, a jewel of a play served up to, maybe, in all, sixty or seventy witnesses. What does that mean? I think it is not absurd to say no one in the theater is writing better than I, and few are more obscure. Am I paying for some forgotten karma? Am I neglecting the one thing I should do, the one door I must knock on, to turn this around? It is a beautiful play, as if it were not actually mine. I saw this once I got over my terror of boring the audience. But, so what? It’s a ring of infinite price on the hand of a dowager in a decaying mansion, where only a few retainers ever see it. Guessed my way out of Greensboro before dawn, drove home through constant rain.

T emails:
We had a tough drive home, in the dark and rain, but made it. A good bit of talking about the play, so that's good. It keeps on living that way. Would you mind sending me a copy? If it's easy to find. 
The last image was fascinating. As if it were possible to keep the whole flood of emotions set in play but not yet fully enacted there, in this space we all shared, unnamed. It seemed very intimate, a shared secret--the whole play. So Laura and I tried to talk about it some--the sadness under the always good at things feeling I've always had; the close unnamed relationships, outside of our marriage, even before it. I tried to talk about those years we wrote letters so intensely (at least it seemed that way to me) and how it changed my life, gave me a part of my life really. A part that's still there and alive, though obviously I didn't honor it properly by just drawing into my own little world of family and books and church. 

The one review that means something.

January 21, 2017

Last night’s performance was better than opening night, partially because my anxieties were calmed by success. Everyone thinks it’s a masterpiece and I am a genius. That tempers and colors all perception. Talk-back afterward, enlightening and gratifying. Lost my voice. They gave me framed posters of both Night Music and Saint Patrick’s Well. Dragged back to the hotel for a final drink and a discussion with James, a personable hotel employee who had checked my sister and brother-in-law in an hour before, who was homeless for a while, and who is very involved with state politics, and with Jesus, in proportions that led him into a certain degree of contradiction, but what the hell. The bar staff fed us bits of leftover chocolate.

Linda and Jim were here in the morning. We breakfasted and headed out into the streets, where we encountered the Women’s March, the Greensboro version of what was happening in every metropolis in America.  It was peaceful, civic-minded, good-humored, powerful and inspiring. We thanked our luck to have been in the right place at the right time. Later we had lunch at Blue Denim surrounded by women just down from the demonstration, still exultant, still with their placards at hand. I was fired up by the assembly in the public square by the theater. I kept thinking “this is America at its best.”  We are all afraid of the same thing, and it is the right thing to fear.

January 20, 2017

Big peachy-beige-y room in the downtown Marriott, Greensboro. I can’t say I arrived without incident, for I was so tired I fought off sleep second by second driving, until finally I stopped at a rest area and slept deep, hard, violently (I don’t know for how long), and was able to continue after that. I’m smack downtown, but the stroll from the hotel to the theater was one in which I was imperially alone. This is not Asheville. The streets are not thronged. My blood is so thin the least incline winded me. But, I got there. The Arts Center, however, is better than anything we have, big, full, vibrant. The play. . .  The first minute of it I thought, with resigned heaviness of heart, that it was miscast. The production can recover from almost anything but that. But as the evening went on my perception changed. I heard lines intended for other people coming out of these mouths, and at last it seemed dear and complicated and valiant. I felt like God, who had one thing in mind, and watched the multitudes of the world turn that to multiplicities of other things he had not thought of. These brave kids were saying difficult lines, doing their best, living up to lives they never anticipated, playing parts written for others, and it seemed to me so gallant, and I was, at last, so grateful. The entire human condition was laid bare. Here are our lines; here is the set; there are the other players– how can we make this work? I have never appreciated actors more, even at those times when they have been perfect. None of the handful there for the opening spoke to me about the play– the dreaded “talk-back” is tonight–so who knows how it struck an audience?  

Dreams of remarkable rhetorical richness, I think from my having heard my rhetorically rich (whatever else is going on) play. In one I was a detective pursuing a criminal who was practicing to be able to turn invisible. I was inclined to let him do so, though it would mean I couldn’t catch him, just to see if someone could learn to turn invisible. In another my housekeeper was trying to turn everything white. I caught on to it just as everything–books, shelves, walls, floors-- were a lovely pale manganese blue. I decided to let her go all the way.

Inauguration Day. Too horrible to think about. I will avert my eyes from every incidental TV screen.

Spent the day walking around Greensboro, seeing, at a tortoise pace, just about everything there is to see. The streets are empty at night and sparse by day. It isn’t Asheville. Visited the Civil Rights Museum, which houses the original Woolworth lunch counter that exploded into protest in 1960. It was a holy place. I felt the same emotion I felt at the 9/11 monument in New York. Our guide was charming but perhaps a little over-committed, working himself up into a foam of correct indignation. What amazed me was laborious inventiveness of Jim Crow, the effort people went to in order to make other people feel bad, the sheer commitment of time that goes into full-blown racism. You’d think that alone would snap people out of it.

The local review of Night Music is in. I heave a sigh of relief. I heave two sighs of relief:


It takes a certain aplomb for a playwright to open a play to the sound of crickets, but that’s what the masterful author does in “Night Music”, winner of the 2017 North Carolina New Play Project, sponsored by The Greensboro Playwright’s Forum.

The play is The Drama Center’s offering to the Greensboro Fringe Festival, and is directed by Todd Fisher, also Fringe Festival director.

The play is billed as a coming-of-age story about three better-than-average young people and opens in a forest with two boys on a camping trip with their trusty flashlights. James Downs is the precocious Cleve, obsessed with words and science and headed to a high school for gifted students. He strikes up a conversation with another camper, Jesse, played by UNCG theater student Joshua Johnson. The athletic Jesse is everything Cleve isn’t, minus the brains, and they forge an unlikely friendship that the playwright examines in vignettes that take us up to their freshman year in college.

Somewhat uneventful, perhaps, if it weren’t for the entrance of — yep — a girl. Phil (short for Philomela of Greek myth), played by Greensboro theater teacher Tori Sterns, is every bit Cleve’s equal in intelligence and ability, and he is taken with her. As they attend the academically-gifted high school together, they become sweethearts. Cleve resists efforts on both his friends’ parts to introduce them, driven by fears that he will lose one or both of them.

But the inevitable happens as Cleve and Jesse form a band, “Night Music,” and after one of their performances, Phil and Jesse meet. The play gets a second wind, and the air snaps with overt and ambiguous sexual tension as the friendship among these teens becomes more complicated, convoluted and, one might say, convivial.

There is no doubt a touch of autobiography in this powerful piece about young relationships. It is oh so believable that a boy who feels so isolated because of his arguably privileged circumstances would cling to the only two people he can connect with, despite the potential for real heartbreak. Kudos to James Downs for capturing teenage angst in a subtle yet thoroughly convincing way.

This is a cerebral play written by a cerebral playwright, Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-nominee (for his memoir "A Childhood in the Milky Way") and winner of numerous national awards as a poet as well as playwright. A stunning dossier.

But it is also a play that hits home.

There is an exhilaration of sorts knowing that you are watching a new creation, never seen before, written specifically for this venue — the Stephen D. Hyers Studio Theater in the Greensboro Cultural Center — and a Greensboro audience.

Do not miss out on that feeling.

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Lynn Jessup is a Greensboro-based reviewer.

This News & Record arts coverage is supported by contributions to ArtsGreensboro’s Arts & Theatre Media Fund.

Well, it wasn’t written for that venue, but if it wants to be, then so be it.  I am relieved by this. I have spent the whole day thinking I was ill, and perhaps I am, but most of the down and sad and cold feeling went away when I read the review. If the casting didn’t bother my audience, then I’ll shut up about it.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

January 19, 2017

S came to visit the first morning before my first class. I am to measure this against the vacancy, and I do.

The prayer plant is so called, I discover, because it folds its hands by night.

Sagging back into a darkness. I have to remember how I came out of it before. Still skating on the surface, but I hear the depths foaming out of my thoughts. Maybe Greensboro will help. Read Jarrell to my class yesterday; maybe I’ll make a Jarrell pilgrimage while I’m in his former neck of the woods.  Worried about staying awake through the drive, which will begin at about my nap time. The Night Music magazine article appeared. I am quoted accurately, though of course the most off-hand item transfigured into the headline.

I have been trying to write “Crossing Jesus Green” for fifty years. It needed to be epic, metaphysical, summarizing, glorious. Accomplished it two days ago. It is small, in some ways perfect, but in no way epic. Milton started at one end of the Green, Herrick walked out the other side.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

January 18, 2017

Woke very much earlier than I needed to, but I like that, the feeling of luxury lolling around in all that extra time, trying new positions in the bed, inviting the fantasies.

Trying for the third time to read through the Koran. Each time I’ve bogged down for the same reason. It’s just not stylistically engaging. No moments of dark majesty like the bible’s. It could be I have a flat-footed translation, or, as the Faithful would aver, it must be read in Arabic. In any case I fail to see how it inspired the sort of fanaticism it did and does. Maybe I’ve always stopped just short of the good parts.

Considering the gravel in my throat, and what if it’s not an anomaly but a permanent change, and how I’ll sound from now on. There goes singing and probably acting. Singing has been part of my self-image since the 7th grade, theater even longer. On the other hand, it will save me incalculable time, hours upon hours each week no longer at rehearsal.

Good first day of class. Eager mob in Enlightenment to Modern; eager mob of poets, a full class with some on the waiting list. My senior seminar is all women and all fiction writers.

Joyful morning turns into a watchful and restless night. I don’t know exactly why, except that the Signs from the Universe are all wrong just now.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 17, 2017

Hauled early to work to make syllabi and the like, was finished by the time the sun had fairly risen. Exhausted beforehand by the student questions that no forethought will prevent, questions too stupid to have been anticipated (yes, there are stupid questions), questions already addressed on the syllabus, questions that one should have left behind in high school. Maybe there will be one query tomorrow about something real. One waits for that. Rescued dying houseplants from various nurseries. One woman told me my prayer plant had too much water or too little, she couldn’t tell which. Heart-to-heart with the Almighty last night. You think that moments of such solemn intensity will change things overnight. If it did, I haven’t noticed. The Lord must be moved or He is not God, and yet He is not moved. One throws up one’s hands and goes about the business of the day.

Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16, 2017

In rough voice for Sunday service and Cantaria, but for the most part made it through. Perplexed that the bad throat seems to have neither end nor cause.

Woke during a surprising dream about zombies. They attacked while I was
leading a painting class in a huge open field, so we fought them
with the sharp ends of brushes. My hands still feel the sensation of blunt wood entering flesh.
Spring-like days. Went to the studio today and was almost deliriously happy. The painting went well, and the second floor was filled with convivial people. New fluidity now that I’ve decided my inner Bosch to shine through. My legs get devastated by standing on the concrete floor. It’s always something. Wanted to seduce R, almost thought I might, that he would respond. But in the end pulled back.

Edging toward the unthinkable inauguration. Trump’s rhetoric is more troubling and incautious than Hitler’s was at the stage of his career. Not one person in America supports him for reasons having to do with rationality or intelligence. Not a fraction of a percent of his support is based on thought or wisdom or compassion. And to say this to his supporters will not get so much as a denial, but only a shrug. What have we to do with intelligence? What have we to do with compassion? We do not see beyond our own imagined hurt. I have no idea what to do.

Somehow related to this is the recognition of one mistake I have not made: I have never sought authority or institutional power. I would be at least inept with it, at worst monstrous. It is a truth that has affected my career at the University, made it look a little disengaged, but in good conscience I should not have done otherwise.

Buying water at the Biltmore Gulf I ran into RD behind the register. Talk about a blast from the past.
One who would not be saved, but who seems content

Labors begin tomorrow, but they do not begin tonight, so I am at peace.