Nine Day Wonder, I didn’t realize we don’t use that expression in the States, it’s part of my British English baggage. A flash in the pan, about sums it up. After reading Stephen Greenblatt’s superb Tyrant, I wanted to read the Henry VI plays, plus Richard III: the sign of a good critic/commentator, they make you want to the work they’re discussing. I came across this:
2 Henry VI, ii iv: Eleanor, a noblewoman, wife of Gloucester, Lord Protector and uncle to the king, has been foolish and trapped in her folly. Though her life is spared she is banished to the Isle of Man (!), but before she goes she must abase herself by parading the streets shoeless, dressed in a coarse shift, exposed to the mockery and insults of whoever passes by. Her husband comes to bid her farewell. He says:
I pray thee set thy heart to patience. These few days wonder will be quickly worn.
So a wonder was a kind of punishment, a period of public humiliation, like the stocks but moveable?
In 3Henry IV, iii ii, two of the princes are gossiping about the commoner Jack Cade whose rebellion has been put down, and he himself killed. They discuss what punishment he could have been given equal to his crimes had he lived.
Richard: That would be a ten day’s wonder at the least.
Clarence: That’s a day longer than a wonder lasts.
Richard: By so much is the Wonder in extremes.
In life, unlike my play, Kempe (as they spelled his name) danced away from London to Norwich. I have him doing the reverse, but my play is about ambition and his goal consequently must be London. But was he in fact being punished? Or did he take on the name of the punishment to mock himself?
Last night it seemed I was awake for hours having lucid dreams about performing the play. A first for me. Though I’ve had such dreams before they’ve been about writing, when a kind of fever grips you as you put together a story. At least that’s what happened with Songbook. I would have bouts of getting no sleep as the characters talked to each other, went here and there, and sometimes surprised me. Same with my acting dream last night. It wan’t the old actor’s dream of being trapped on the stage not knowing the lines, I ran through the whole play maybe one-and-a-half times, stopping to repeat moments I didn’t like, or changing what I’d done, and adding a line here and there. So my imagination is engaged. Either this is new for me or I’ve just forgotten it taking place in the past. For the most part you use such small scraps of your talent as you go about being in this play and that. Doesn’t take much to act Agatha Christie. Very few working actors get a chance to stretch out in a part and do something challenging.
Beginning in the middle, a good place to start. Not that I have a choice.
Since July, I’ve been memorizing my solo play, Nine Day Wonder, as I get ready to perform it over a long weekend in mid-October. I haven’t acted since 2007 so it’s interesting, pleasant because I don’t have to prove anything — what’s the point? I don’t want or need to get anything from it — disquieting because there’s no one around, unless I’m talking my rehearsals are perfectly quiet. There’s no director: the man who directed all my work died three years ago, so I’m doing it myself—with help from the theater’s artistic director, but I’m not working hands-on in the way I did in the past, he’s a two hour drive away. But I promised myself as I began to plan for it, as I began to rethink this web site and consider what this blog might be and if it was worth the time, and the other projects I have going forward, as I wrench my life around from being married to going solo. Let me explain; Vivian and I lived together for forty-eight years, lived together and worked together, he directed all my plays, we emigrated from London together, lived in New York among other places before ending here — though we didn’t know that when we bought it — where I live now in the Catskills, a hundred miles north of the city. After his death I remade the house, lost a good deal of weight, got myself in shape, brought a novel I’ve labored on for seven years to a readable state, took on this solo play, and somewhere in the middle of it all celebrated my seventieth birthday. Once Nine Day Wonder is completed and performed l will be caught up with the past and can begin to look forward.
Writing the novel of Songbook, a large, tightly-focused modern saga, about how we love each other, or how we try, forced me to confront the age-old problem of fiction, a problem I’d never been able to answer before, never been able to articulate: who is the reader, who is the writer, and who and why is writing this particular story. Writing plays, you can sidestep the question, Why am I writing this and who do I think will read it? Writing a play, the characters start talking and those questions go away. And if an actor asks why their character is doing or saying some particular thing, you can always find something to say. Though often it’s a mystery.
In Souvenir, Cosme says, ‘Singing is a kind of dreaming in public’. Which is kind of true of most of the performing arts; acting certainly is. It’s not a mystery, and it’s not difficult. To do it well, in my opinion, it’s necessary to get vanity out of the way. My ambition/plan/goal for Nine Day Wonder is to act it truthfully, to use my American training to connect with the life of the play. I’ll fill in the background as I go.
That’s where I’ll be performing Nine Day Wonder. In front of the Christmas Carol set. A drape will close it off, and legs will come in from the sides to close down the proscenium but still, it’s a big house to fill. The play is just me and a pile of junk. If that sounds Beckett-esque I did have Godot in mind as I began to write: my play is an opposite version; instead of five men waiting for one to arrive, my play is one man who never gets there. But it’s a sign of the times – or a condition of how we’re presently living our lives – that the studio theater, where I might more comfortably belong would have too few seats, what with social distancing, to make it possible to mount a play. So I’m in the big house, where, though not all the seats will be sold, they’ll have a chance to do some kind of business.
Knowing that I’ll have behind me the set for my adaptation of A Christmas Carol will be comforting. At least, that’s what I think know. We’ll find out if that’s true. I’m just beginning to write here, who knows if I’ll keep these posts – I sort of think I should if I’m going to do this properly I should do it and learn as I go along.
As Will says in Nine Days Wonder, ‘Tomorrow becomes yesterday, last week, last year.’ I figured I’d have all this figured out in a matter of hours. Still, not too bad. Not a WordPress master by any means but maybe an advanced amateur.
My time, apart from site issues, has mostly been spent learning lines and thinking through scenes as I get ready to move into a rehearsal room next week to spread out a little and work on what I’m going to refer to as ‘dancing’. I’ve deliberately kept this venture as hands-on and as hand-made as possible. The mechanization of even the simplest theatrical venture today depresses me. If I can’t quite get to ‘two planks and a passion’, I can give it a shot. The play has surprised me; I had no idea when I began that it would be quite so personal, revelatory even, if you know where to look.