Tag Archives: poetry

THE LITTLE FOXES

Over the past few months I’ve learned a few things about an American playwright named Lillian Hellman:

 

hellman

“I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions” – L. Hellman.

 

When I read those words I ponder… who says something like that? Or, more importantly, when she looked out through her own lenses at the world around her, based on what she saw, heard, tasted, felt, smelled and sensed… why did she make a statement like that?

 

I traced Austin Pendleton to a scene study class at HB Studio this spring to study a concentrated workshop called Lillian Hellman Scene Study. I can say through my experience of narrowing in on the tragedy of Martha Dobie in her first play called The Children’s Hour that Hellman plays are little mysteries; the best kind – there are little truths hidden like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered by a group of relaxed and present actors. For example… how do you cut a conscience? Why would you need to? Hellman’s autobiographies tend to give a little insight – but also tend to have a significantly controversial history attached to them. I borrowed my copies of her autobiographies as they sit on a shelf at the New York Library for Performing Arts .

 

Fun fact: I’m sitting on my sofa in New York right now listening to a YouTube recording of Ocean Waves wondering if any of the same insight that Hellman thought will run through the tide of my consciousness in this blog post.

 

That’s the thing about plays though – when brought to life they can’t but help to carry you through the playwright’s reflection of her time. You can’t (or maybe you can) imagine how nerding out with her plays on down time at my day job while New Yorkers stroll in and out to say hello all morning has inspired me. I’ve been looking up to find faces and voices talking to me with her plays fresh on the tip of my tongue. I can’t be quite sure if I’ve been grasping at a little something of what she saw – but residually – an undercurrent of life.

 

The best part about studying acting in New York – the very plays I’m reading and studying find their ways to Broadway stages! And sometimes they inspire groundbreaking endeavors; two talented female actresses alternating roles. The Little Foxes is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on 47th Street and is directed by Daniel Sullivan.

 

foxes

 

The Manhattan Theatre Club production has Laura Linney and Cynthia Nixon alternating the lead of power-hungry REGINA HUBBARD GIDDENS and her careful sister-in-law BIRDIE HUBBARD given the “blue” or “green” nights listed on their website. My imagination is mulling over what it might be like to do that – alternate roles within the same production. I just might attempt to one day after seeing these ladies lead the cast through the switch.

 

floating troubles

atop my

sea of hopes

stack full

pressure

against

my chest’s

rise and fall…

 

The emotional rises of REGINA and the emotional falls of BIRDIE are fascinating to witness. In this play, set in the South, the Hubbard family schemes and quarrels over pieces of their pie i.e. the distribution of money among each other. Regina likes to join in on the competitive schemes with her brothers; while Birdie escapes from any pain as much as she can. There doesn’t seem to be a medium among the two; they are either slowly lurking in charge, as Regina does, or lightly asking power to please step away, as in Birdie’s case.

 

…I feel

the barge

passing

parting

liquid thoughts

again…

 
What struck me the most in this play was an examination of getting more. There is raw, gritty desire for more shares, more information, more time with a loved one, or more opportunity to banter about any of the above desires. Some desires seem to overshadow others when in competition – and some desires conveniently find symbiosis when necessary. An example being the scheme to arrange a marriage between Regina’s daughter ALEXANDRA GIDDENS and her gullable cousin LEO HUBBARD in order to ‘keep money in the family”. What a thought – who needs to sell shares when you can marry them? Or something along those lines.

 

…soft landings

brim my eyes

closing

to feel the waves

opening

to feel the waves

roll under…

 

Over time – as the play progresses into the Act III I started to see undercurrents that carried the characters along. There are colorful, hand-painted Easter eggs hidden underneath each character’s learned and necessary ability to cut a larger piece of a whole. These mysteries were tugged along and pushed to the surface every so often – memories of Birdie’s kind mother, Birdie’s ability to hide abuse, Alexandra’s piano duets with Birdie, Regina’s revelations of her true feelings to her husband even when they’re ugly, Birdie and HORACE GIDDENS’ opposition to his daughter Alexandra’s marriage, Leo’s subtle wishes to gain approval from his father and grandfather, and the final moments of the play which open up Alexandra’s mourning of her father. These mysteries, to name a few, seem foreign when they peak because they are only allowed every so often when the characters can’t help but notice a competing humanity.

 

…foreign mechanics

tug my mind

through the

natural rhythm…

 “Sea Of Hopes” in A Collection of Thoughts: Poems By Carrie Robinson.

 

WHAT IF Birdie and Regina were literally foxes? My wager is below. Respectively:

 

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UGLY LIES THE BONE

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In the Roundabout Theatre‘s Ugly Lies the Bone a war veteran, Jess (Mamie Gummer), uses virtual reality therapy to recover from trauma and to manage her residual physical and emotional pain. In the process Jess leans on her older sister Kacie (Karron Graves), takes her anger out on her sister’s boyfriend Kelvin (Haynes Thigpen), searches for recollection of her beauty from a past flame Stevie (Chris Stack), and yearns for love from her aging mother (Caitlin O’Connell). Jess’ search for love and recollection of her former beauty is a heart-breaking task given the fact that she has become unrecognizable and is covered in physical scars from battle.

This play about the resilient relationship that is ‘sisterhood’ inevitably had me pondering. All of my siblings would agree that we have the ultimate big sister. A ten-year gap in age difference resulted in her taking me under her wing quite a lot. To the effect that when she first trekked off to university and left this kid sister behind… I wrote my very first poem. (It was also the first delightful time I can recollect being able to shock and dismay my parents with an inner life behind my pig-tailed, doll-like exterior – muhahahaha!). The simple sentiment was written:

My sister Jenn has gone away and I feel like a flower dying.

dying-flower 

I didn’t think much about the poem until recently although Jenn has it tucked away in some cupboard somewhere. I’ve since had ample opportunity to experience leaving my family to pursue my own dreams. Luckily my sister is so busy with her own children now that, save a few tears at the airport, there are no more depressing poems about parting. However, my life has a funny way of letting the meaning of my relationships sink in casually and intermittingly. I get caught up in the moments and sifting through the meaning of life’s moments tends to happen on nights like tonight. Tonight the meaning of sisterhood sunk in by virtue of watching a play about what & who helps a woman recover from pain and trauma.

Life can be quite painful at times and even normal occurrences, like parting with a sister from time to time, can produce poems and images of a six year old drooping over ‘like a flower dying’. In this play Jess’ pain is not only internal, but severely visible on the outside… all the time. The struggle to stand on one’s own becomes physicalized in Jess’ struggle to recover. I saw the right side of her body crumple inwards leaving the left side to pick up all the slack. This play begs the question if learning to stand on one’s own is a necessary skill – or if finding life’s compensation, like somebody to lean on, is actually more important?

In watching Jess’ physical beauty stripped from her due to skin burns I was forced to reconstruct my idea of the relationship between ‘ugly’ and ‘beauty’. The core of Jess’ humanity surfaced in a way that it might not have had she continued to stand on her own in her previously ‘beautiful’ state. The fading of her physical beauty forced her to face her fear and discover that the people she loved most in the world remember her for her true beauty. The letting go of her anger opens her up to the imperfect love that her sister and friends still have to offer. Leave it to Meryl Streep’s daughter (Gummer) to bring great vulnerability to a role such that I reflected on my own relationships and truly appreciate them. She contributed to a lifelong journey of mine to deconstruct the relationship between beautiful & ugly, dark & light, new & old, beginning & ending.

At times – and often in beginnings – we love the beauty that covers up the ugly, but at other times life asks us to love the ugly as it covers up true beauty – especially as we get closer and closer to endings.

Beauty is but skin deep, ugly lies the bone.

Beauty dies and fades away, but ugly holds its own.

By the way – now I feel like a flower thriving:

photo-9

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PERCHES IN THE SOUL

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The first time I saw the one-woman play, The Belle of Amherst, by William Luce I left with an ‘artgasm’ a.k.a (also known as) the jello-like feeling that can overtake a person after experiencing delightful work and art. The second time I took the performance in was tonight and I felt, instead, acceptance of great work; rather than the initial “un-belief” of something too good to be true. A play about a favorite poetess… Emily Dickinson.

It is rare that I scrounge around, by that I mean wait tables, to pay for two performances of a show. I couldn’t, however, get this one at the Westside Theatre off my mind. After all, if you were invited into the home of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson once… wouldn’t you return? That is how I feel too – that I’ve finally met E. Dickinson in the flesh after years of merely admiring our meeting of the minds.

Joely Richardson laid the foundation of her character by looking through the eyes, and speaking the speech, of an American (she is actually from the U.K.).  I can imagine that taking on such a different rhythm must have been a way into the life of this 19th century poet for Richardson. What impressed me best was Richardson’s specific personalization of the language. I could see the people and the images that Richardson was referring to because every word and relationship she referred to meant something real to her.  Lesson learned for me… IF your character actually says, “Now there’s a word to lift your hat to?” and gets ‘artgasms’ from words like “Massachusetts” or “circumference” THEN it is likely she is in the practice of preparing the language escaping her lips carefully and with passion and love.

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day

A concern of mine in reflecting on this play was that I couldn’t have seen the play when it originated with Julie Harris in 1976.  Of course I would have liked to compare the productions.  I did overhear a patron walking out of the theatre in front of me state that he had seen the original production with Harris and he found Richardson’s performance to be enjoyable and “great”.  This is about as close as I’ll get to the comparison and I believe him!*

It is a difficult task to be the only actor on stage and to keep a play moving for approximately 100 minutes. The variation between Dickinson’s speaking directly to the audience and delving into imaginative role-playing and reliving of experiences with people in her life led me to be quite moved when the times came for her to actually recite her own poems. According to her environment, I witnessed the poems arise from Dickinson’s mind and words begin to dance in her view.  It was the representation of the movement of time, or the stopping of it, on the clock in her living room that spoke to her.  It was the way that people speculated on her choice to wear white clothing all the time that sparked her clever curiosity.  It was the way the birds drank water in her garden that lived in her chest.  It was the attachment to her nephew calling the place of ‘Aunt Emily’ home that moved her.

Dickinson’s recognition of her ability to separate her observance of life and her living of it also surfaced in her poems. The hundreds of poems tucked away in a wooden chest were compelled by a life and inspired by the people’s lives that she observed around her. Dickinson may have been considered to have ‘hid’ from the world more than is average but it seems to me that she made the most of her time in it.  I hope that it would have comforted Dickinson to know that it was her observance of life and her living of it together that resonates with people like me today.  I too have lost loved ones, I too have kept secrets locked in chest, I too have exploded with emotion as well as hid from it, I too can hear music in the wind invisibly lifting my soul, and I too have been given hope by words carefully chosen to lift Dickinson’s soul through time towards my own.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—



And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—



I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

(*It turns out you CAN see the Julie Harris production, which is available on Netflix, and it’s brilliant!)

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