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the genius of Frank Loesser and Oscar Wilde

Two recommendations for you today. I’ve just finished reading “The Book of my Lives,” by Aleksandar Hemon, a Bosnian writer who’s been a resident for some years of Chicago and who now writes in English. In beautiful English. His first non-fiction book, this is listed as a memoir, though it’s really a series of non-fiction articles he has written through the years that, put together, detail a life. He writes with precision, depth and dark humour – his description of the feelings of a child shunted aside by the birth of a sibling are priceless. There’s a chapter about his early time in Chicago, when he was lost and alone, and what happened when he found a group of fellow immigrants who played soccer. It’s the best of memoir – a small story of a small group of men playing soccer in Chicago, which is really the universal story of the stranger in a strange land finding a foothold, a way to feel at home. Beautifully done.

The last chapter, about the mortal illness of his ten month-old daughter Isabel, I had read in the “New Yorker,” but reading it here meant much more because I felt I’d had come to know him. Devastating.

And … spent yesterday at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. My student Tanya is the costume mistress there and got me and my friends Annie and Jim comps for two shows. We drove down, had a sunny picnic in the grass outside the Festival Theatre, saw “Guys and Dolls” in the afternoon, had dinner with Tanya and costume designer Sue Lepage, an old friend of the 3 of us, and then went back to see “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde. Got home at 1 a.m.

“Guys and Dolls,” for those of you who live not too far and love musicals, is a must. Glorious. Paradise. Beautifully directed and acted, and that music – well, just the best musical music of all time, every song a finger-snapping winner. I sat at the end of our row so I could bounce and hum and not disturb anyone. The director says in the program that they have not cut a single word, which is amazing – this show appeared the same year as my decrepit self, 1950. It’s dated, sure, and has some flaws that you’d think would be fatal, most particularly the role of Sky Masterson, played by Brando in the movie. Sky is supposed to be the savviest gambler of all, a roaming ladies’ man, and yet to fall madly in love with the Salvation Army doll. The character can either be a realistic gambler, like Brando, in which case the love story is fun but nonsense. Or he is believable as a lover, in which case he just could not be the cold-blooded gambler described by his peers. Yesterday’s Sky was a lover. And that’s okay.

Here’s one of Sky’s best speeches. (As my friend Jim said, just take out the contractions, and you have Damon Runyon.)
Sky Masterson: When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this… “Son,” the old guy says, “I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which (Sky snaps fingers) the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of that deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, you do not take this bet, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider.”

I sang my way into the Oscar Wilde, where promptly my voice was replaced by Rufus Wainwright’s, not an obvious choice for the soundtrack of a Wilde play, though in fact, Wainwright is the sort of gay dandy Wilde would have adored. It’s a good production, as solid as we expect productions at this fine festival to be, though not the groundbreaking wonder Richard Ouzonian described it as in the “Star.” But then, I almost never agree with Ouzonian. It’s a good evening of theatre with gorgeous painterly scenes out of Whistler and Mary Cassatt – a very good play full of some of Wilde’s most famous aphorisms.
I can resist anything except temptation.
In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
And this Oscarly thought:
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

A toast to you, Oscar; would you could have lived to read the story in the paper today, about a gay man who donated sperm to a lesbian couple, fell in love on sight with the baby boy they produced, and now is completely involved in the life of his child, a dad to their two mothers. 

How times change. And sometimes, that is a good thing. And sometimes, you end up with an ear full of cider.


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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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