part of the story
Yes. It’s true. Here’s how that went down. So, in Asia, my dog Piper, all six and a half pounds of her, would be food. We in the US are horrified of this, but in many Asian cultures, eating dogs has no taboo. In China, my two cats, Tompa and Mowgli, could end up in a stir fry. All over Europe, not just the much-maligned France, people eat horses. Shock, outrage, on this side of the Atlantic. Everyone knows cows aren’t eaten in India, and most people know that many Africans dine on monkeys and chimps, with the charming appellation of “bush meat.” And the Aussies love their kangaroo burgers. Yum.
So, what to eat and what is forbidden is entirely culturally determined. There is nothing absolute about it. We need protein, yes, but that is often obtainable without killing our fellow creatures. I love my dog. A lot. This has made me reflect on the illogic of what animals are “sacred” and what are OK to slaughter.
And I love meat, don’t get me wrong. I love BBQ, I love to cook, I love hot dogs (gross, really) and all of it. But I can no longer support the killing and cooking of my fellow sentient beings when the whole thing just doesn’t make sense.
I just look into those beautiful loving eyes of my little mutt and think about her feeding a Korean family, and that’s all the motivation I need to grab a salad and a hard-boiled egg.
I wrote this as a monologue for myself. Haven’t performed it, not sure I will. It does express my sorrow and despair and disgust, really, at the increasingly militaristic direction things have taken. Really, isn’t there a better way? Really?
I admire the carrion eaters. I respect them. The ones that pick the bones of the dead. They do us all a great service, do they not? Imagine what the world would be if there weren’t the buzzards and the maggots and the carrion crows and all the little microbes that feed on death. Would there be any open ground left to stand on? Would we be walking on top of, I don’t know, a mile high pile of corpses? Just take the war dead, just that, everybody dies a natural death, their bodies go poof, gone, like Catholic Mary, zippo, straight off to heaven. But your war dead, the millions upon millions of soldiers and sailors, and babies and mothers and grandmothers, old men, young men, women of all ages, all the dead. Think about that pile getting higher and more staggeringly obscene by the second.
I think that would be a good thing. Really, I do. As a reminder, as a stark reminder. This is who we are, this is what we do. This is what we worship. You think not? You think this is too harsh? Then you, you, are deluded. You’re blindfolded. That’s why we need this pile, this statue of the uneaten dead so that you, and the millions like you, can see what you love, what you revere with your nationalisms and your closed borders and your voracious appetites for resources and your desire for control, control. This mounting avalanche of the dead is the idol you bow down to but never see because we have the cleaners to make it all sanitary for us. The cleaners and the gleaners to make it all go away. What was that that happened? That was for honor, that was for territorial integrity, that was for democracy, Islam, communism, a greater Russia, racial purity, a Crusade, a Holy War, not ever recognizing the oxymoron that that is.
The pile of dead would show you who you are. What we are, what we do. If we had to wade through these torn and twisted and shattered bodies on our way to work, grab a coffee, a hot date, maybe the going would be so tough it would slow us down enough to notice, hey, look at all the dead, all the lives cut short so I can gas my car, eat a cheap banana, get my dividend check.
Yeah. I admire the carrion eaters. They take care of us, they protect us from ourselves. Pity.
So the next class was with Johnny Cash, you know, The Man in Black, AP English. We were supposed to make little presentations on this book by Kate Chopin, The Awakening. Good book, actually, part of this teacher’s “radical” curriculum this year: only women authors. So we got Aphra Behn instead of Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay instead of T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, etc. He got busted for putting Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love on the curriculum and had to withdraw it. But I read it. Best book ever.
But the buzz was on about the big event in the hallway. Mr. T (what we called him, that or just T) tried to suss us out, and of course a couple of girls said that Becky had assaulted school legend super jock Scott. No one spoke up for her, and not missing her cue, in walks Becky, about ten minutes late to class. She never said a word as the hush descended like night in the tropics (that’s kinda from the Chopin book). Taking her seat as sweet as you please., Mr. T said, “Well Miss Severidge, you are quite the topic of discussion here today.”
She said nothing.
“I understand there was an some sort of altercation before class. Is that right?” T wanted to seem cool, non-confrontational, understanding.
“An altercation? No, Mr. Townshend, I wouldn’t describe it as such.” Wow. So steady, so relaxed, it was amazing.
“And, I’m curious Becky, how would you describe what took place? My ears are burning.” Long pause. “”I’d like to hear from you really, before you have to go to the office and get this straightened out. I think we all would.” Somebody murmured to leave him out of it and this ticked off T. “Enough!” Cool lost, but the chill in the air was palpable.
In the silence, Becky slowly rose, took her sweet time adjusting the ever-present scarf, “To try and satisfy your curiosity, yours and I’m sure others, I would describe what took place as, well, as garbage disposal, to put it in simple terms. And I’m very sorry for the disruption Mr. Townsend, perhaps I should just go along to the office now?”
“That’s probably a good idea, you go do that. We’ll try to carry on without you.”
She was already on the move when she said “I’m sure you’ll all do just fine exploring the semiotics in Chopin’s exquisite symbology. I so wanted to discus the heroine’s existential crisis as seen from the point of view of her parrot.”
And the door closed. Nobody said anything. We all looked at T, who said, “Well, I am certainly sorry to miss Miss Severidge’s discourse. All right then, to work.”
The Vice Principal, the V.P. or Veep as he was known, was an ex-football coach who handled school discipline. The hierarchy of favoritism that he employed was widely understood and held by those at the top of the food chain, who benefited greatly from the Veep’s largesse, to be just, fair, a privilege they had somehow earned. They loved him. The rest of us, the plebes, who got no breaks, whose word meant shit, well, many hated him. But me, and people like me (there’s no one like me) couldn’t be bothered to bring the energy needed to despise the guy. He was a joke, a laughable, predictable joke. I couldn’t think of him without busting up.
So Becky left and I ignored all the smart talk about Creole culture and feminism and censorship. I was worried about her, and then, there she was, back in class as though nothing had happened. Later at lunch I overheard the chatter between a couple socialite girls who had reported to The Office as witnesses. Of course, they had it in for Becky, being all rah rah. As I’ve said, I’m invisible to these people, so the eavesdrop is a snap; it’s the actual listening to their “I’m all” and “She’s like” and their “Whatever”s that’s the hard part. I’ve done my best to translate their semi-literate command of the language, with maybe a little embellishment.
Becky had apparently demanded from the Veep. that she be confronted face to face by these two. From what I put together, what went down was something like this:
Veep: “Becky, you know that Scott is on his way to the hospital right now?”
Becky: “Oh, why?’
The two girls did the eye roll and the OMG thing apparently, only to get The Look from the Veep.
Veep: “I believe you know why young lady!”
Becky: “I wish to make very clear the fact that I have suffered continual and unwanted sexual advances since I arrived at this school. I have been victimized, verbally raped if you will, my reputation has been slandered, and my dignity besmirched in plain view of students and staff. Now, what have you and the other administrators done about this appalling and illegal situation? I’ll tell you, the school administration has chosen to turn a blind eye to these criminal assaults which have placed me in no small psychological distress as well as physical danger.”
Apparently there was a long silence here.
Veep: “I’ve heard nothing of this. Did you report these assaults as you call them?”
Becky: “And why has nothing been done? Could it be, just saying, that the perpetrator of these crimes is a major athlete at this school?’
Veep: “Come now, that is quite an accusation little lady, and most unfair, and I repeat, the school cannot act to protect its students if they don’t come forward and report!”
Becky: “Little lady? Really? I’m so sorry that your sense of fair play is injured, but are you sooo out of touch with the climate here that you are completely unaware that this boy, this star athlete on his way to the hospital, is a stalker, someone who brags of his sexual conquests, real or imagined, and who, today, attempted to violate me on campus?”
Witness girl #1: “Like it wasn’t that way at all!”
Becky: “With all due respect, why don’t you ask this witness about her own sexual history with my harasser?”
Veep: “Is that relevant to this incident?”
Becky: “So, in addition to failing to provide a safe environment for your students you don’t question the veracity of so-called witnesses? You know, I have been planning to attend the school board meeting, when is it, next Thursday at the District Office at 6, yes? To ask them why I am being denied the very basic rights due to me by District policy, state and federal law, and just plain human decency. Perhaps my speaking out about how I am being treated for protecting my person, when I have acted purely in self-defense, will spur a larger debate in the community. You know, it is just possible that some members of the Board and the greater community might conclude that you are enabling my attacker and blaming me as the victim.”
I gather there was a longer silence here, really long. The two girls were dismissed, and like I said Becky was back in English even before the end of class. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to hear her presentation on parrots and Edna Pontellier. A couple weeks later there was an all-school assembly dealing with sexual harassment and a “Respect One Another Day” where students were encouraged to “Share.” Like, whatever.
Scottie Boy went into hiding, was placed on a home school contract and missed spring athletics. Later it got around that he’d had a ruptured testicle and needed surgery. Ouch.
Thomas Tallis in the air as reinterpreted by A kindly looking portly Welshman. Wood stove, cats warming, dog finds a cozy spot. I can’t escape meditations on loss. What I have lost. What have I lost? Wonder, magic, joy, the capacity for contentment. The seventh decade concluding soon, and to all appearances life is good. I ghostwalk mainly, and the effort that takes exhausts. Somehow things get done, and the appearances are upheld. Hollowed out, unable to escape regret, trapped in the life of my creation, I let the Welshman’s sonorous warmth remind me of the loss of that early time of discovery, excitement, hope. The dog stirs, wants attention. I am immobile, detached, stuck in this place. Dante had it; we awaken suddenly into a darkened wood. But he had his Virgil. Fortunate.
Being a fragment of a larger piece. I wasn’t a high school teacher for nothing.
I’m the guy sits at the rear of the class, hoodie up, head down. You think I’m oblivious, tuned out, maybe stoned, but it’s not true. I pay attention, I watch, I observe. This “education” thing is so freaking boring it’s the thing I do to entertain myself, watching. The other kids come in, laughing, talking loud, especially the girls, on their phones, phones are always out, texting, YouTubing, whatever, comparing notes, talking some school rah rah stuff, and like that. I just watch. The information on the board is like, what? I do what I can to get by in school; I don’t care that much. They say it’s important, but who are “they” anyway? People invested to have your butt in a seat. Quoting the least ridiculous of the teachers, “The paradigm has shifted; the necessity of a college education is less imperative than it used to be.” He admits this is a minority point of view, but I’m prone to favor minority points of view. Suits me. So as I said, I watch. The girls are all like “whatever.” I would never say “like whatever.” Never. I do say “like,” but I hate myself for it.
It all changed the day we buried the Flicker. That was the day it all changed. I was with my sister. We buried the Flicker – that’s a bird, you know, a beautiful bird, a kind of woodpecker, amazing patterns on this bird, beautiful colors. Anyway one flew into the window, cracked its head or something, and anyway, it died. We got to it before the cats did. We buried it, and I came to school. That experience seemed to mark the whole day; in fact, it marked everything that came after, including why I’m telling this story. Everything died with the Flicker, and the irony is, things weren’t buried with the Flicker, they were unburied.
No wait, that’s tacky, that’s too soap opera. Let me just start with Becky Severidge, when she walked in the classroom. I’m telling you, it was instant hard on, and I wasn’t the only one. She moved slow, careful. She was clearly aware of the effect she had on everybody. New transfer from somewhere else, but no one, no one new or familiar has ever claimed this much attention just by making an entrance. What a look, big black boots, loose skirt with what looked like some native print, Clash t-shirt, and what had to be a very expensive silk scarf with pinks and golds. A walking fashion mixed metaphor that somehow worked crazy good. Girls whispered, of course, instant jealousy. Guys were shifting in their seats, adjusting their dicks. It was unprecedented, that’s the word, unprecedented. It didn’t take long for the cool kids to stake their claim to her. Cool kids, in crowd, freaking bullshit. Ever noticed how all these kids with their newish cars and their stylish clothes in their fake-ass hip-hop attitudes and their school spirit and all that bullshit are self-appointed? No one says “Wow you guys are so cool you’re the in crowd I want to be just like you.” No, these kids just assume the mantle, as in “to the manor born.” I read that phrase somewhere.
I read. A lot.
Cool guys, big jocks, small cocks, salivating, staking their claims. It must be the same out there in the so-called civilized world, same shit: we are better than you because we say we are. That’s it, that’s all it takes. Why else would people run for Congress or be a Judge and stuff like that? We are better than you, we know it, and you know it., and you’d better get in line. That’s how it is.
Becky. She was something else. That first day, even the teacher was rocked, I could tell. Same guy I quoted, “Advanced Placement English.” He got me placed in there, over some objections from the higher ups. I didn’t qualify, my grades sucked, but he argued for my potential. I think I was meant to be a “project” of his, a rescue job. That didn’t last long. I can be a turn off when I want to be. This guy, this teacher, he liked to swear a lot in class, like it made him cool with the kids, like he was daring, bad, he could relate, ooh. Dressed in Black always, little stud earring, Dylan, Lennon, Samuel Beckett pictures on the walls and little Day of the Dead sculptures in his office, patronizing I am wise and know what’s best for you attitude. It was just dumb. I got tired of his routine. It revealed that he was super needy, like he had to be seen as happening, cool, whatever. If you are so whacked out that your self-esteem depends the approval of a bunch of high school students, then you are freaking pathetic. Yes, and the sad truth is, this 60s refugee was probably the best of a very sad bunch of faculty rejects. HE, at least, I listened to, sometimes.
Becky became an object of status acquisition. Those cool kids, the preppies, the stars, were in heat, and in competition. I heard them talking in class, in the halls, at P.E. The thing about me is that I made myself invisible. Guys, and girls, talked around me as if I wasn’t there. It was incredible. I could sit between two of them and they would lean forward and talk about the most personal shit like they were alone. I freaking loved that, loved it. I heard about the fight in the locker room between Jockerama A and Jockerama B about who had the rights to go out with Becky. The rights, like this is a thing? I have the rights to this person, and you don’t? They hadn’t consulted her about it, this I know, because Jockerama A started talking some shit about Becky, like he had gone out with her, made out with her, had sex with her, his story escalated over the first few weeks after her arrival. Of course, no one had seen them together outside of school, or even in school. When she saw him he would sort of slink over near her as she just smoothly glided by, scarcely even noticing his presence. That’s how she was with everybody. The guy, Jockerama A, had this story about her apparent disregard, like their relationship was this big secret between them that no one could know about because her dad was strict and blah blah blah. He said that Becky liked to “suck my beverage,” and so for a while, Becky Severidge became “Suck me beverage” among the clever Neanderthals around campus. That didn’t last long, not long at all.
I was so glad I got to witness the termination of that initial chapter in the lore of Becky. It happened like this: the bragging supposed boyfriend, Jockerama A, I’ll tell you his name was Scott, aren’t all pricks named Scott, or Robbie, or Craig, or something equally vanilla? Scott was hanging with his acolytes between classes doing the nudge nudge wink wink as she came sliding down the hall. They’re standing there, clone-like, all knowing in their dumbass school colors red and green baggy basketball shorts and their backwards baseball caps looking like they escaped from some factory of Bro-Love cookie cutter assembly line manufacture. Scott nodded at her, all cocky like, and Becky did what she always did, the unexpected. She stopped. She said “Hello Scott.”
Scott, being as bad an actor as he was a liar, tried the ultra-hip in response: “Becks, babe, how nice.”
She said, very sweetly, “I know you’ve told people that you fucked me and that I sucked your cock.” Whoa, now heads were turning, and the herd was beginning to gather ‘round.
“Whoa Becks, that’s personal for right here, ya know?” the big man on campus stammered with his fake grin starting to quiver.
“So fuck me now. Right here, in the hallway, let me see that thing.” Man, the herd was riveted now man. Even I felt part of the crowd as we stared at this. The outcome was never in doubt
“Wha-what?” was all doofus could manage. Becky then put her hands on his belt and started to undo it.
“Come on big man, show me what you got,” she was smiling, talking softly, cool as could be. Scott backed away.
“Hey bitch, what’s your game?” he busted out. Mistake. She had that belt out and whipped him across the face so fast he never saw it coming. His hands went up as he screamed “Fuck!” Becky flew one heavy boot in a well-aimed and highly predictable kick to his nether region that buckled this bad boy’s knees. Everybody, of course, loved all this, even his “pals.” Some kid shouted out that this was “better than effing UFC.”
His hands having migrated swiftly to where the major pain now was left his face open for another belt swipe. Down he went, all the way down, fetal style. Scott was a big guy, you understand, and Becky was maybe half his body weight, if that. She tossed the belt onto his writhing ass and said to him, still in that ultra-cool, softly measured tone, “Make sure you never lie about me again, you asshole. I would rather drop dead than have you within a hundred yards of me, you stupid shit. And I am someone who loves life. I love it. Don’t you ever mention my name again, ever.” She walked away like nothing had happened, calm and serene. I doubt her pulse even elevated a tick. It was so cool.
Wrote this a few years back as a dramatic monologue. I performed it at The Sierra Storytelling Festival where it was modestly received. It should be performed by a woman, obviously, and has been done that way a couple of times.
I like it still.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.
King Lear, III. iv. 36.
I write in advance of the arrival of your shade here below in the underworld, the nether regions, Hades. I am told you are expected shortly. I wish so much that you should receive this epistle while the spirit of life still breathes in that body I briefly called husband to mine. Yes, Orpheus, it is Eurydice, your bride of a single afternoon. Your bride, snatched from your embrace by the serpent’s sting on the day of our wedding. Your bride, Euriyice, whom you followed into hell with your song and your . . . lyre. Eurydice, the dead.
With the dead, here I arrived, having awakened from the sleep of life. After a time, you followed, to free me, to walk me once again into the light of the sun, so that like you, I should feel Helios’ warmth caress my cheek. O Orpheus, your song echoes in the vast vaults of hell still, still the shades residing here forever speak in hushed tones of Orpheus, the Divine musician, Orpheus, who braved death to free his love from Hades’ icy grip, Orpheus, whose anguished song of sorrow moved even the indifferent gods to tears.
What did you think you were doing? I was and am dead, doomed to haunt these vaults in waking sleep and then there you are with your seven-stringed-toy and your sweet song of supplication that sways the boatman to sleep and caresses the teats of the triple-headed beast Cerberus. So you charm your way here, even here, the first undead to do so, and you bring all that hope, all that certainty, Euridyce will be free, unthinkable, to live again, into the warmth, all that hope, to live again, it must be destiny, the charmer, the gods have willed it, the charmer, his immortal lyre.
What did you think you were doing? There was one condition, one condition only, don’t look back. Up we climbed, the long long walk through eternity, you leading, singing, charming, parting the way, I following, clutching hope, approaching life, climbing, upward, there, standing, the shore, you are standing there, in the light, the warmth, the hope, you, there, turning, smiling, rapt, entranced with your song, smiling, singing, turning, No! Turning. No! Stop! No!
No one has died twice but me. Eurydice, the twice dead. Eurydice, beloved of Orpheus. Orpheus, fool of the gods.
I wrap myself close in the blanket of my hatred for you. It is the only thing that warms me against the cold. The heat of my hate is my last connection to the sun; I clutch it closer even as the warmth of it ebbs away into that cool forgetfulness we dead awaken into for the remainder of our days.
Orpheus, I have seen your end. When the Thracian women tear that ringleted head off those terrified shoulders your mouth will still shape the song of your lamenting, and as your bobbing head floats downstream toward Apollo’s temple your broken lips will bleat for mercy. I want you then to listen for my voice crying out that you deserve none.
Charmer, singer of false hope, I, Eurydice, want to say, want, want to. I, Eurydice, grow colder, cold. Cold. No more sun. The halls of Hades, searching, I, Eurydice, walk, twice dead, I, I, forget . . .
Yes, I share my life with a dog, and she is prone to getting these nasty little creatures attached to her. I probably have been thinking about them too much.
With apologies to Eugène Ionesco and Franz Kafka
The tick seems to be growing larger. I mean the tick in general terms, the tick as a species, not a particular, individual tick. Isn’t it really a dazzling multiplicity of species? Many, many differing kinds of ticks? I don’t know if all of them are getting bigger, or if it’s just the ones I see. Maybe they are a specific type, I’m not sure. But I see them getting really big, whatever they are. But the problem, the problem as I see it is I think I may be the only one who has noticed, noticed the great swelling of the tick. How these things can be, the growth of the tick and my apparently isolated observation of this phenomenon, I couldn’t possibly say.
The other day I pulled a tick from inside my dog’s ear. Nothing unusual in that; she gets ticks regularly. I pay attention, you know, because of tick born diseases and such. But this one was different. This tick. Did I say “the other day”? No, this particular event was some time ago. I don’t know, months maybe. I must have said “the other day” as it still seems so fresh, so pertinent, and it was, as I’ve said different. Larger. And not just because it was engorged with my dog’s blood, it was big. Fat, ugly, grayish brown.
They have always repulsed me, ticks, and yet they fascinate as well. I have had a horror of finding them on myself. Fortunately, I live alone, well, just me and the dog. I think I said my dog before but I reject that construction. No animal can be “mine” or anyone else’s. These animals share our lives and we assume a certain degree of responsibility for their well-being. That’s why I check her for ticks many, many times a day, even if we haven’t gone out. Better for her, better for me. This one day sometime ago was a bit of a shock. It was the largest tick I had ever seen, up to that point at least. Fat repulsive thing. It seemed to stare back at me as I tweezered it from inside her ear. Do ticks even have eyes? I don’t know, but I think this one did. It put up even more than the usual struggle, due to its size. At least it didn’t burst and spray me with dog blood as some of them have done. I nearly vomited as I watched it swirl around in the flushing bowl and vanish from our lives.
Nothing much happened for a few days and then I saw my first tick on a human other than myself. This was an even bigger shock, as you might well imagine. We were on line at the pet store getting dog food when I saw the woman just ahead of me adjust her neck scarf and there it was. Huge, bloated, the largest tick I had ever seen. I was too stunned to speak: what does one say, “Madam, there is a monstrously large thing on the back of your neck just below the hairline”? Anyway, I couldn’t say a thing; I turned away and put the food back on the shelf and left as surreptitiously as I could. I would share my food with the dog for a while.
I don’t work, that is to say I don’t have a job. Checks arrive, I cash them and I live. When I cashed my next check I saw another one. How the teller didn’t notice the thing attached to her cheek astounded me. Against my usual bent I spoke up, this time. I said, “How are you today?” She said, “Fine sir,” as she handed me my bills with the briefest of nods. I left.
I thought about this for some time. I thought about perception, visual stimuli, and sensory experience. I would have thought about evolution and entomology but I know nothing about those subjects. I read St. Augustine on consciousness but he was no help. What was happening? I fell into restless sleep after searching the dog for vermin. Fortunately, nothing.
I didn’t go out for a while after that, being afraid of what I might see. Eventually hunger put of both out the door of the flat. I could see the dog had lost weight and that wasn’t good. I have no mirrors so I couldn’t tell about my own state. As soon as we hit the street I knew it was a mistake. The vertigo nearly put me down but what is one to do? You have to eat to live, and I am responsible for the dog. But I could see what was happening. Everyone, but everyone, had a tick, a really big tick, about the size of a backpack, and in about the same location. People were walking around with a giant, living, blood sack attached to them and that either didn’t notice or didn’t care. The world was spinning I was spinning the dog was barking and no one, but no one seemed to think anything about any of it.
It was then I noticed that the people were looking at me. At me, as if there were something wrong with me, not them! Some of them were so rude even as to point. A little girl in a red dress with a bulging tick on her shoulder started to cry as her mother turned her gaze from me and they moved off. I looked at the dog and the dog was still barking but barking at me, at ME! Ungrateful bitch, what have I done but care for you I thought I could suck the life out of you but the sense of falling increased and then I really was down, all the way down, on my belly, as my several thin legs with some difficulty hauled my bulk in the direction of the screaming running people and I was overwhelmed with a powerful and seemingly unquenchable thirst.
Written February 2015 trying to lure people to The Met Opera Live in HD broadcast. Opera goers will pack the house for something they may have seen and/or heard dozens of times; getting them to attend less familiar but brilliant works can be tough.
These are rather bold and extraordinary programming choices for Valentine’s Day: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta features a blind princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess and isn’t aware that everyone around her can see; she just has a feeling that she might be missing out on something! Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle concerns a mysterious polygamist, lots of locked doors, and a current wife who suspects her husband is a serial killer! But all may not be what it seems, in spite of the blood. Whoa! Not your usual romantic date material. However, each of these operas is magnificent in quite different ways.
Iolanta was Tchaikovsky’s final opera. Reluctant to begin the work, the composer felt he had written himself out. Posterity has proved him wrong, however. Though not often performed, the work always dazzles. Iolanta is full of rich, gorgeous music. Evocative and romantic, its fairy tale quality suggests Tchaikovsky’s great ballet scores. Indeed, at the 1892 premier, the work was resented with The Nutcracker, the artist’s final ballet. There is an arranged marriage, an interloping suitor, and a death sentence for a transgressor. Of course, love wins out. Interesting to note is the Muslim hero of the piece, Ibn-Hakia, who engineers the cure of the heroine’s blindness. If all you know of Tchaikovsky is his ballets, symphonies, or the 1812 Overture, you owe it to yourself to experience his operas. They are truly his best works, where his gifts were fully realized.
Bluebeard’s Castle amazes and confounds. The composer’s only opera is heavy with psycho-sexual symbolism and marks a profound shift in 20th century opera. After nearly 100 years, it remains edge-of-the-seat compelling, one of the most dramatically riveting of all operas. With only two main characters, Bartók creates and sustains an almost unbearable tension. You think you know where this is going, but it doesn’t go there. It goes, well, to an even stranger place. Bartók’s sound palette is absolutely original, his harmonic system idiosyncratic. Polytonal rather than atonal, the music’s combination of consonance and dissonance achieves what all of opera pretends to do: it moves you.
Don’t miss either of these rarities.
John Deaderick is a local theater instructor, director, actor, and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at Amazon.com.
I wrote this in 2006 as an acting exercise. Samuel Beckett is my favorite playwright; this obvious parody (with apologies to his Act Without Words) was my somewhat awkward way of introducing the simple magic of his work to high school students. I produced two Beckett festivals while teaching there. I think this would make a great little film. That Beckett guy, he is on to something.
The stage is a big dark blue box. Atmospheric music plays. Suddenly, a man appears. He is dressed in work clothing. He looks confused. He wanders around within the box. He touches the walls. Suddenly, a voice.
The man is startled. He looks around quickly. He appears frightened. The voice repeats.
The man jumps. He looks as though he wants to hide. He is desperate. He crouches in a corner. The voice returns.
The man looks out. The voice repeats. The man shrieks and jumps at each command.
Back! Back! Back! It! It!
The man moves with deliberate caution. He investigates the corners, the walls, the floor: he finds the fourth wall and explores this. The voice speaks.
It! It! Back! Back! It! It!
The man tumbles. He looks frantically for a way to escape. He lies on the floor. He covers his head. He seems to want to sleep. He tosses and turns. He puts his hands near his groin. The voice speaks.
The man covers his face with his hands. He weeps. The Voice laughs. The man looks up. A bright light shines from above, very bright. The man slowly stands, raises his arms, stands on his toes, and waits. There is a long pause. Nothing happens. The man jumps up and down with increasing violence. He stomps about the stage. He hugs himself. He collapses. The voice laughs again. The bright light is extinguished. From a seated posture, the man gazes upward. The blue light slowly fades, and the play is over.