Tuesday, July 21, 2015

365 True Things: 114/Theater

When I was a teenager, my mom often took me to the theater in downtown Los Angeles. The Ahmanson Theater or the more intimate Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, usually. High-class stuff.

I remember one season of the Royal Shakespeare Company when we saw Much Ado about Nothing with Alan Howard (Leslie of Gone with the Wind's nephew) and Janet Suzman—dubbed by the Telegraph one of the top ten Benedick-and-Beatrice pairs in the history of theater. 

We also saw a RSC performance of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, with someone now well known—Judi Dench? Diana Rigg?--as Helen of Troy. I knew for a long time, but now I've forgotten. In any case, that production was revelatory for me: I was enthralled, both by the story and by the production, the acting, the stagecraft. The next year when I was in school in Germany, we read Goethe's Faust, and I was 100 percent motivated to understand. More so, I daresay, than when I read Shakespeare.

I wish I remembered all of the plays my mother and I went to see. I'm pretty sure we saw The Music Man (whose author attended our Congregational church) on stage. Cabaret, definitely, with Joel Grey. Equus. I can still envision the opening scene of Amadeus, where the entire cast, it seemed, was randomly moving about the stage whispering, "Salieri!" in overlapping syncopated rhythms. It was mesmerizing.

What's making me think about this today is the death of Theodore Bikel. Whom I never saw on stage, but when I read the news I immediately thought of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof. Which I did see, with Zero Mostel in the role of Tevye. (I am pretty sure this is true. Though now I'm doubting myself and wondering if it was Bikel I saw. Which would be why I associate him with the role of Tevye so strongly. Oy, memory, thou fickle friend.)

Not long after, I saw a German production of Fiddler, where I was so disappointed to hear the joke of "with one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down" translated into something that made no sense (because it actually made sense, when it shouldn't have). I've always loved that line. The words of someone who will never have what he dreams of, so he might as well dream.

Theodore Bikel was part of my youth for reasons that I also can't remember. I don't recognize any of the album titles in his discography. But I know I heard him sing, and I admired him. Beautiful voice, beautiful man.

RIP, Mr. Bikel.

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