Saturday, October 21, 2017

Photo of the Day: ‘Christ the Lord’ Statue, Pittsfield, MA

I took the picture accompanying this post at the end of August, when I was on vacation in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. This statue of Christ the Lord greets visitors to St. Joseph Church on North Street in downtown Pittsfield. (The original space on Melville Street could no longer hold its growing congregation by the 1860s.)

On Christmas last year, this “Mother Church of the Berkshires,” the first Roman Catholic church in the county, celebrated its 150th anniversary. Patrick Charles Keely, a prolific Irish-born ecclesiastic architect, designed this striking house of worship in the Light Gothic style. In a county seat undergoing considerable change, this remains a lovely, tangible link to the past.

Quote of the Day (Walter Lippmann, on the ‘Final Test of a Leader’)

"The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on….The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully. "— American writer, reporter, and political commentator Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), "Roosevelt Has Gone" in The New York Herald Tribune (April 14, 1945).

Lippmann, longtime dean of American newspaper columnists, wrote these lines right after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who, after three full terms in office and part of a fourth, seemed like an irreplaceable figure in American politics. I leave it to you, Faithful Reader, to figure out whether the current occupant of the Oval Office will pass the test that FDR aced. Or if he’s capable of it.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Quote of the Day (Joe Queenan, on a Backpack Worn With Office Attire)

“A backpack worn with office attire makes you look like a little kid. It makes it look like you're carrying Intermediate Spanish or ‘The Scarlet Letter’ inside your book bag. It makes you look dumpy. It makes you look like a big goof. It makes you look like your mommy dressed you and said, ‘Look both ways before crossing the busy street, sweetie.’” —Joe Queenan, “Moving Targets: Please Don’t Leave Me Holding This Bag,” The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2014

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Theater Review: Teresa Deevy’s ‘The Suitcase Under the Bed,’ From the Mint Theater

Although its mandate to rediscover long-neglected works has primarily covered the U.S. and Great Britain, the Mint Theater has also brought welcomed renewed attention to notable past Irish playwrights, such as Lennox Robinson (Is Life Worth Living?, reviewed here), Hazel Ellis (Women Without Men), and today’s case in point, Teresa Deevy (1894-1963). 

It is one of the anomalies of the theater world that Deevy, a playwright with such an acute ear for characters’ speech, struggled for virtually her entire adult life with the burden of deafness.

Remarkably, Deevy succeeded in getting six of her plays produced in the 1930s by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. But by the middle of that decade, with the company leaving the orbit of founders Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats, she ran afoul of the literary politics of the time and could no longer get her work performed there.  For most of the rest of her productive working life, then, she turned to the radio, producing a dozen original works for the B.B.C. and Radio Éireann, in addition to adapting some of her other works for broadcasting.

After being elected to the Irish Academy of Letters, Ireland’s highest literary honor, Deevy went pretty much from here to obscurity. Then, seven years ago, the Mint Theater made her an object of serious re-evaluation with its production of Wife to James Whelan, the play rejected by the Abbey in 1936.

The title The Suitcase Under the Bed refers to where all of Teresa Deevy’s writing was stored for decades. Deevy’s grandniece showed them to the Mint Theater’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Bank, who ended up staging the world premiere of three of them—Strange Birth, Holiday House, and In the Cellar of My Friend—along with her best-known one-act, The King of Spain’s Daughter, staged by the Abbey in 1935.

Not all the plays work effectively, but collectively they testify to Deevy’s willingness to try new forms—and to the Mint acting company’s versatility in playing different characters in the same evening.

The most impressive of the discoveries, Holiday House, is the kind of light-as-air comedy that Noel Coward might have tried if he had ever spent substantial time in Ireland. A family gathers at their mother’s seaside home for a late summer holiday. Derek, married for a few years, finds his carefully cultivated savoir-faire sorely tested as he copes with unsettled business involving ex-fiancee Doris (Ellen Adair); her haughty, jealous husband, Derek’s brother (Aidan Redmond); and Derek’s rattled wife Jil (Gina Costigan). Witty repartee flies back and forth, as the quartet try to remain civilized even as they veer inevitably toward verbal sniping.

Redmond had other opportunities to shine, too. In The King of Spain’s Daughter, he masterfully depicted an authoritarian patriarchal figure who gave his daughter Annie a choice: wed his younger coworker, Jim (A.J. Shively), or work in a factory. (The play evoked a time when women—particularly high-spirited rebels like Annie (played with willful, headlong romanticism by Sarah Nicole Denver) —had few choices in life.) And, in Strange Birth, Redmond played a thoughtful middle-aged postman proposing marriage to a skittish maid (the estimable Ellen Adair).

Holiday House and The King of Spain’s Daughter were more memorable than Strange Birth and the remaining one-act play, In the Cellar of My Friend. But the Mint troupe managed to spin multiple subtle variations on the theme of marriage, and the distinctive voice of Deevy was heard once again—and now, one hopes, it will continue to reverberate in rediscovery mode.

The Suitcase Under the Bed closed at the end of September. But I couldn’t let the opportunity go to review it before The Mint Theater starts another season.

Quote of the Day (Thomas Mann, on Why Speech is ‘Civilization Itself’)

“Speech is civilization itself. The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact — it is silence which isolates.”— German novelist and Nobel Literature laureate Thomas Mann (1875-1955), The Magic Mountain (1924)