Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ron Reed, scenes from "A Bright Particular Star"

Henry Irving & His Wife

It was at the opening of “The Bells,” you will remember that, Henry Irving's first great triumph. Some three or four years after had married and retired from the stage. Mr. Irving arranged for his wife, Florence, to sit in a box with their friends, the Hain-Friswells I believe it must have been. After the ovation – there were several curtain calls, absolutely everyone knew it to be a smashing success, and Mr. Irving in particular – his wife waited outside in a carriage as he made his way back to her through a thicket of well-wishers. As they drove home, Irving was ecstatic – he was the toast of the London theater. “Florence, we shall soon have our own coach and a pair!” To which his wife replied, "are you going on making a fool of yourself like this all your life?" He did not reply, except to order the driver to stop as they passed Hyde Park corner. Mr. Irving got out of the carriage and walked away, never to return home or speak to his wife again.


Mark Twain on Junius Brutus Booth
(deleted scene)

Junius Brutus Booth. They say he left a tremendous theatrical legacy in this country prior to his triumphant return to the American stage. Fact is he fled to the States, at least that's how the story plays on my side of the pond. Traded his wife for Covent Garden flower girl, booked a pair of schooner tickets home to the United States of, and never looked back. Junius Brutus Booth and his offspring, the Booth boys, Edwin and John Wilkes, true blue native sons; braggarts, madmen, drunkards, and assassins – drunkards most of all. They do our nation proud.

Before his hasty departure from these sceptred shores, Junius toured England playing any theater that would have him, provided there was a pub within staggering distance of the stage door. Mr. Booth believed in the balanced life – excess in all things, including vanity and contempt for his audience. If he must interrupt his drinking to suffer the twin indignities of donning tights and a British accent, they were damn well going to listen, and he took it upon himself to do what ever he deemed necessary to encourage their rapt attention.

Do you know Manchester? Nothing but factories and, what was worse, factory workers – at least, that is how Booth saw it. Button factories. Booth was engaged to play the role of Hamlet as a visiting guest star for a Manchester company. At one particular performance it seems that Junius found the attentions of his working-class audience insufficient, to the point where, come the dueling scene, Mr. Booth saw fit to enliven the festivities for the enjoyment of his buccaneering spectators. He undertook to beat poor Laertes to a bloody pulp with his bare fists. The stunned audience fell silent. When at last the local actor laid bleeding and unconscious at his feet, Junius Brutus Booth turned to the crowd and said, "So what do you think of that, you bunch of damn button makers?" Oh, the life of the theater.

Do you ever have occasion to improvise in such a manner, Miss Ward?


Lilia Dreams

Charlie. I am in awe of the work you are doing amongst the poor.

Lilia. I’m no Octavia Hill! I visit with people who look like they want to talk, that's all. Most often I have to be at home. It's no hardship to sing a song or recite a poem.

Charlie. Not for you!

Lilia. No. That's just how I’m made.

Charlie. I like how you’re made.


Lilia. But this isn’t all, you know, all I'm meant to do. I feel it when I play in Shakespeare. I feel it when I can do something for one of the tenants, something that actually makes a difference. I have work to do, work the world has need of. Only – I am not doing it!

Charlie. Perhaps you are.

Lilia. I'm not! Otherwise, why this yearning? I'm made for something bigger, Charlie, something... Something I don't know.

Charlie. You need a larger stage, that's all.

Lilia. When my father speaks, people are enthralled. They say it is like listening to Jesus.

Charlie. You can sense it in his books.

Lilia. In Philadelphia, 3000 people crammed into a 2800 seat theater to hear him speak, about "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" if you can believe it. And they said it was better than any sermon they had ever heard! That God spoke through him.

Charlie. I believe that.

Lilia. What if I have that in me? And I do nothing but babysit my brothers and read poems to the poor people.

Charlie. Those sacrifices may be of more account than you know.

Lilia. And they may be of less! I think it lives in me, just as it does in my father. Sometimes it presses so hard inside me, I fear it will seep out through my skin if I don't find a way to let it out! That I will bleed from the eyes! (Beat) I'm sorry.

Charlie. No!

Lilia. I've never spoken of these things.

Charlie. No.

Lilia. Something takes hold when I'm on a stage, inside a character. And it could transform people, somehow. Why am I telling you all this? I don't even know you, and I pour my silly ideas in your ear! I feel embarrassed.

(Charlie looks in her eyes, then leans over and kisses her tentatively on the cheek.)

Lilia. Oh my. Charlie. Now I feel embarrassed.


George MacDonald on Theatre
(from an actual letter)

It has come to my recent attention that a number of your circle have expressed disapproval of the theatrical work carried out by my family. Let me say this. What society so called may say or do, I simply will not heed one straw! We are only taking up an art that has been unjustly undervalued and left too much to unfit representation, and I shall not hesitate to take my share with my children. The time is short, and there is none for humbug, whether social or ecclesiastical. There is time only for truth and justice and graciousness and lovingkindness, and we hope to learn and teach some of all these things. What God has put in us, we will let come out, and not be ashamed!

Yours, Dr. George MacDonald