this play, or theatre piece, the term its creator (also the main actor) prefers as more accurately describing the nature of the constantly evolving work. It was extremely well-done - a tour-de-force performance inspired by, and largely based on, Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Self-Reliance. There were two actors but it was a de facto one-man show - the nameless character "Man" prolifically quoting Emerson almost exclusively throughout (with a whisper-thin framework as the set-up to the Man's impassioned soliloquies). I'm very glad I saw it, I'd never seen anything done by this tiny area theater group, and I was very impressed. They are very much on my radar now, and am sorry they weren't sooner, because a season or two ago, they devised a theater piece based on love letters between Anton Chekhov and his wife.
So my writers block stems from a light, loose agreement my acquaintance and I made upon leaving the theatre - let's write of our responses to the play, to the Emerson. And darling - now I feel almost as though I have an assigned paper due! Which I know is the very last thing either my friend nor I wished to put on ourselves... yet I'm not sure I'm going to be able to come up with anything, or anything that I really feel like writing. I like Emerson - his ideas, I think, more than his prose. I liked the piece yesterday - the young Man's eloquently expressed existential journey. At its best - and this actor was that good - the character put me in mind of Hamlet, with his endless astonishing constantly revolving, constantly being built-upon soliloquizing. In another light, I could imagine Woody Allen himself working with the very same material, to very high navel-gazing comic effect, with perhaps a Scarlet Johannsen type - practical, worldly-wise, sexy, and at once wiser than Woody for all his erudite handwringing - sizing him up, stating his problem ("just spend one minute a day - no more - on that stuff"), and making him order something off the damned diner menu. (The "Man" never does! Isn't a menu proffered in a diner by a waitress tantamount to Chekhov's loaded gun making an appearance in Act 1? By the end of the play that gun is bound to go off. Order a sandwich already!)
Darling, you don't know what I'm talking about, I'm sure. The plot was just as thin as that - a guy comes into a diner, and hems and haws for an hour or more at his table, mostly ignoring but occasionally perusing the menu - content all the while instead to hold forth ringingly on his Emersonian soul-searching.
Which is exquisite, and exquisitely done. Emerson really does have "it." There is nothing "sideways" about him. He catches that trout, or whale, and grapples with it. He tames water. I admire that. I caught glimpses of myself in his words, his admonition to resist conformity. As I experienced the performance, in the small darkened space, on the top floor of a townhouse building on Warren Street, in an audience of I would guess twenty-five or thirty tops, I found myself thinking about my blog. I felt glad, proud even, at that moment, that I write it (my secret, in a crowd - no declaiming there). It's my way of trying to capture water with my hands.
(I miss you, and I miss 1.0. I think the combination had something - maybe a lot - to do with my palpable sense of unease.)
(And who is it who thinks of me as "woodstock the bird?" Is it 1.0? It doesn't seem like him. He's usually more open than that, it seems to me. But is it? Is it you? It doesn't seem your style either. I think it's 1.0 but I can never be sure. And so such water slips out of my hands.)
I think of how E.D. had an opportunity, had she so chosen, to meet Emerson himself, when he came to visit at her brother and sister-in-law's house, Austin and Susan's. I don't have a scholarly sense (or any whatever really) of E.D.'s response to Emerson's writings - he was certainly pre-eminent at the time, a celebrity on that occasion in Amherst. E.D. chose to stay in the Homestead, not take the path over to the Evergreens where she might have - in what today would be a photo-op moment - briefly shaken his hand. Perhaps she had a notion too that the Man - brilliant and necessary as he was - was rather too strong stuff for her rather less direct, yet no less penetrating way? I don't know, this idea itself is a bit like trying to catch water, or a bird. Emerson admonishes that that's what the "self-reliant" (a misleading term I think, in what it conjures to me - pull yourself up by your bootstraps, don't be dependent on anything outside yourself) - must do. Self-Reliance is less about "self-reliance" than it is an exhortation to discard the shackles of conformist forms....
Sometimes people, stuck in those conformist forms, seem to think that history ended with them, that they're at the apex and culmination.
It's against that type that someone like Emerson, in his day, writes.
(Witold Gombrowicz writes of this particularly well, in his Diary - his detailing of his personal particulars achieving (sideways, seemingly, a collateral benefit) a transcendent political import - this idea of constricting "forms" outserving their time, their purpose. History does not end. It goes forward - whether one believes in evolution or not.)
I liked the character of the waitress in yesterday's theater piece. What she had to say, in her few brief but wry, self-possessed appearances - her character truly - in the face of her cerebral customer's unremitting monologizing - "self-reliant." I can picture her as an E.D., if E.D. had had the notion to make an appearance at the Evergreens that night. Emerson possibly delivers a few resounding words to the raptly assembled guests, declines proffered food & drink, sherry, canapes.
E.D. (in her imagination, in her room as the event takes place) appears, regards him. He's smilingly polite to her, but he (like all others in the room) has no idea who she is.
Here, she says, offering him a plate - have a sandwich.