Monday, May 4, 2009

Sunday at the Play with George

A. does not use his first name, which actually is George. I've always assumed that this was because it is also his father's name and, at least from the time his father and mother separated, when A. was all of nine years old, my husband has had little to do with his father. They still speak. Their adult relationship is cordial enough, but that is all it will ever be. From the time he was nine, A. assumed an adult's role in his family, in effect becoming something more than an older brother to his siblings, taking care of his mother until her death some years ago, maintaining the connections with his extended family even now as something like a patriarch, though he would find that term overstated. Yet I've seen the way not only his family but his friends tend to come to him, as they would to a respected elder, even before his hair was gray, even when he still had hair. When I met him he was still a young man, just thirty five, but then I was a kid and thirty five seemed a terribly substantial age to me then. If, as is often said of couples long together, we have come to be more alike, in age as in most other things, I can not help but still see him as the senior partner in our life together. He is a better man than me, kinder, more forgiving, gentler, but he is also stronger, far more practical, his character admirably settled and honest, his nature less intemperate, even placid. A friend once made a sketch of us that I'm sorry to say has since been lost. In the sketch, A. was a large bear and I was a buzzing bee, circling near his ear. In the drawing, as in our life together, he has resisted any urge to swat me away, however much I may have disturbed his meditations. I feel confident in saying he has even come to find my buzzing pleasant enough, or at least a natural part of the environment. But then, I've tried very hard to resist stinging, even unintentionally. And truth be told, I tend less to buzzing than I used to.

A few years ago, we were amused to be asked to speak to a gathering of younger GLBTQ people about the success of our relationship. We were asked to describe our "strategies" for staying together; what we had in common, how we had "negotiated" our differences, etc. We agreed, or rather I agreed on our behalf, and A. consented, as I knew he would, but nothing ever came of it. I think the rather earnest lesbian who had asked us to speak was nonplussed when my response to her first question, "What's the secret of your relationship's longevity?" was "lethargy." Likewise she seemed genuinely distressed to learn that A. and I both found any attempt to winkle out our "secret" as hilarious as it was impertinent. Who the hell knows why we love each other? We do love each other, and that's enough, in fact,that's more than a little miraculous, considering.

He does not read what I read. We do not often like the same music. I could offer up endless lists of differences in taste. Imagine my delight and surprise then when, having informed my husband that I'd bought tickets with two dear friends to go see the revival of Sunday in the Park with George, A. told me he rather wanted to see that show himself. This simply does not happen, you understand. A. is not a musical theater sort. He generally subscribes to the notion that anytime people cease to behave naturally and instead decide to express themselves in song and dance, there must be something lacking in the storytelling. This despite the fact that in the privacy of our home, A. himself regularly breaks into song, though not usually of the Broadway kind, and has been known to almost daily shake, rattle and roll about the place, often as not holding the hem of his nightshirt like a Spanish gypsy, whatever the tune he's humming. I suspect he just finds this sort of thing unseemly in public. Still, to the 5th Avenue Theater with us he was this time determined to go.

And so, we all went. The production was rather spectacular, the show having benefited from the advances in technology over the decades since its original production, so that various elements of the story, once dependent on somewhat clumsy mechanical stage properties being made to glide and jitter on and off, now could be magically projected onto the set itself: drawings appearing and being erased, colors being "painted" before our eyes, the changes of scene achieved with light, color and composition, echoing perfectly the themes of the show, which is all about an artist and the act of creation, its mystery and its consequences. So now, a drape becomes a tree, a frame recreates a tableau from a famous painting, but the famous painting can now also be reproduced as part of the background, or, in perhaps the most dazzling small moment, a drawing of a dog can be made to not just appear on a blank pad, but the dog can be made to move as a dog. It was wonderful.

The notoriously difficult second act of the show, when the story moves forward in time from the 1880s of Georges Seurat and his magnificent painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" to the 1980s -- the original "now" of the first production -- works considerably more smoothly than it ever did before, allowing the invented descendant of Seaurat, the second George in the show, to become an animated figure at his own opening, appearing in conversation all over the stage, simultaneously schmoozing here there and everywhere. If the art created by this Second Act George still suffers by comparison with the real masterpiece reproduced in the First, now at least, with the further passage of time, it seems quaint rather than just silly.

There is one song and bit of business in the first act that worked better with the inanimate cut-outs that used to populate the painting and the production. A soldier, however crudely animated, still seems too animated for the joke of a girl being stuck with him on a double-date to be as funny as it used to be when he was obviously inert and two dimensional. Otherwise, the whole show was quite wonderful.

Naturally, I and my regular theater pals all teared up at the finale, still my favorite Sondheim chorus. For this show, we were determined to sit down in the good seats with the middle classes, and so we all splurged on the highest priced tickets. It was well worth it, for once, not to be lost up in the Gods. And there was my own beloved A., on my left, genuinely enjoying himself, from all I could tell, though a little embarrassed I think when I had to repeatedly blow my honker during the curtain-calls.

Not long ago, A. even expressed an interest in the new documentary that follows the auditions for the revival of A Chorus Line. Imagine. Now I think it is fair to say I may have had at least a little influence on my partner, but I have no more explanation for this, than I had for his unexpected appreciation for the score of the Sondheim show. I'm afraid we would still confound earnest enquiries into the "secret" of us.

Just today, for instance, he spent a good part of the morning watching "Gun for Hire" on his new computer while I dozed in bed, reading the new novel by Ismail Kadare, with an endless loop of "The Golden Girls" running all the time. I'm just damned lucky, is what it is.


  1. That is "A" to a "T" - no, not Mr. T - among other things A doesn't go in for the bling. But really the man is rock-solid, generous to a fault, and willing to put up with me, and we should all envy their happy home. I used to wonder what held them together, because as Brad says they seem to have so little in common. Peter and I would discuss this, as Peter and I were both bachelors. It's simple. It's love - and what Brad calls lethargy, I call a very strong inclination to nest that they share.

    But as for this, "A. even expressed an interest in the new documentary that follows the auditions for the revival of A Chorus Line. Imagine. Now I think it is fair to say I may have had at least a little influence on my partner, but I have no more explanation for this" - I think I have one. He hopes some of the cuties will take their shirts off. Sorry to make such a low comment on such a literary blog, but...

  2. Sometimes the obvious escapes me. Thanks, Edna darlin.' Now you I, of course, bein' intellectuals, never consider such filthy things, but we can indulge the poor man, yes?