Sunday, October 29, 2006

Roller coaster

It's been a segue-whiplash weekend, as I raced from one event to another.

Friday evening I went with Sean, Curtis, Norman, Lucy, Mary and Tricia to see Doubt at the Ahmanson. I wish I could tell everyone to rush out and see this play, but alas, it's closing today. I'm thrilled we snuck in under the wire. Doubt was on Broadway last year and won Tonys for best play, best direction, best actress in a drama, and best supporting actress. The production we saw was more or less the same as appeared on Broadway, with Cherry Jones absolutely phenomenal as the gruff, implacable Sister Aloysius. In case you don't know, the play is about a nun who accuses a priest of sexual misconduct with a 12-year-old boy, although to say that is like saying Citizen Kane is about a man who runs a newspaper -- it's so much richer and deeper than any one-sentence summary. All of the performances were excellent (particularly Jones', of course, and that of Chris McGarry, who played the priest) and I liked the set design a lot. There's a surprising amount of humor onstage, considering the plotline. We had an engaging conversation afterwards about "what really happened" -- there was no consensus, which I think is part of the play's strength. If you ever get the chance to see or read this play, grab it.

Yesterday I experienced a different form of entertainment altogether. Curtis, Norman, Lucy and I went to the lovely Alex Theatre in Glendale to see House on Haunted Hill, a Vincent Price camp classic. Price plays a millionaire who invites a bunch of strangers to spend the night in a haunted house, promising each $10,000 if he or she can last the night. None of us had ever seen the whole thing, and it was a hoot from start to finish. It was directed by William Castle, creator of the interactive movie gimmick: this movie was originally shown in Emerge-O, meaning that at the climactic moment, when a skeleton rises from an acid bath to terrorize a comely young negligee-clad ingenue, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton would emerge from the theatre's wings and soar over the audience, presumably to terrorize theatre patrons. The good folks at the Alex Film Society pulled the same trick on us, leading to lots of laughter and applause. What a dumb movie! But so much fun.

Then we all came back to our house and watched Frankenstein: The True Story, which wasn't nearly as gay as I'd remembered. It's three-hour running time proved to be an endurance test for us all, though the characters' various demises left us entertained. (Best line before death: James Mason screaming, "Lightning! I hate that!") I made some milk chocolate-peanut butter fondue to eat while we watched. It tasted all right, but the chocolate seized when I added some vanilla near the end of the cooking so we ended up with curdled fondue with a layer of peanut oil on top. Extremely not pretty.

Today was both wonderful and sad. Sean and I went to a memorial service for Jane Dibbell, who was a theatre professor at our alma mater where Sean now teaches. In fact, Sean has his job because of Jane: he was offered her position when she suddenly retired in August, due to illness. She'd lived with metastatic breast cancer since 1998; I guess she decided in August that the medical procedures keeping her alive were seriously affecting her quality of life, so she decided to exit on her own terms. It sounds strange and perhaps crass to say this, and probably no one else in the world feels as I do, but I believe Sean and I owe Jane a great deal of gratitude. Her death was, in essence, a gift to Sean, giving him the opportunity to pursue a career dream he has chased for over a decade. She was a funny, generous, warm and loving person; I think she'd give me permission to describe her death that way.

The memorial service was lovely, and Jane had a hand in planning it. It took place in the university's theatre. David, the head of the theatre department, read a quotation that captured both Jane's life and her contributions to the school (and which I fear I am just paraphrasing): "Leave in your art a record of what you loved in your life." Jane had asked one of her friends to perform a dance during the memorial. This woman is a dancer, so she wasn't shy about performing, but it was an emotionally wrenching experience for her. Near the end of the piece she danced offstage; as the music faded, we could hear her sobbing backstage. Jane's daughter sang a funny song she'd written for Jane on Mother's Day a few years ago, and her son read a poem he'd written about taking Jane to chemo. All of Jane's brothers and many of her friends and students spoke, relating funny stories about Jane's free-spiritedness and kindness and sense of humor. While all of this was going on, a slide show to the right of the stage pictured Jane throughout the years. I had a hard time relating to both the young, conventionally-attractive Jane of the 1960s and the older, frail-looking Jane of the past few years. But I grew teary when I saw photos of her taken around the time I was a student at the college -- the familiar long, graying brown hair, the gypsy-ish clothes, the huge smile. That smile was present in the most recent photos, too, so I knew that even though I hadn't seen her in a couple of years, she'd maintained that glorious sense of humor. I was never one of her students and I worked with her only one time, when I did the food styling for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest that she directed; she proved to be an exacting but reasonable boss. I would run into her at college productions over the years and she always had some interesting insight or story to share. She introduced me to the Spike Jones & His City Slickers version of "You Always Hurt the One You Love," and for that alone I will always be grateful to her.

After Jane's memorial, Sean took me to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. The fortune in my cookie reads, "Love is like war, easy to begin but hard to stop." Ain't that the truth.

1 comment:

Curtis said...

What a wonderful blog entree. I would however take issue with the description of the skeleton's journey as "soaring over the audience." Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun.