Yesterday’s Ruling

I’m feeling very ambivalent about the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the passing of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

On the one hand, by far the likeliest outcome is that a new proposition to overturn the ban will be on the ballot in less than two years, and it will pass. I don’t think out-of-state religious groups are going to keep throwing huge amounts of money at the issue election after election, nor is the same scare campaign going to work a second time. Without everyone’s attention riveted on the presidential campaign, we’ll have time to prepare better to counter the false arguments and to put on a better campaign than we did the last time.

(We can hardly put on a worse one. As a friend of mine said, there are two things we need to remember about the people who ran the No on 8 campaign. We mustn’t forget to be grateful for their enormous effort. And we must never let them run a campaign for us ever again.)

And I know that in the long run this will be a securer step forward if it’s accomplished by popular vote than by a court ruling.

But dammit, the decision still pisses me off. For a court to say that it’s okay to put it in the freaking state constitution that some people are barred from getting privileges that everybody else gets — that’s just flat-out wrong.

Plus, My Dog Ate My CIA Briefing

If I’m getting this all straight, the official Republican position on interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and slamming someone against a wall is

  1. It’s not torture.
  2. Okay, so it’s torture, but torture isn’t wrong.
  3. Okay, so it’s wrong, but the Democrats didn’t stop us.

The Matchmaker

On Saturday night Dave and I watched the movie of Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker. Kickass cast: Shirley Booth as Dolly Levi, Paul Ford as Horace Vandergelder, a young and endearing Tony Perkins as Cornelius Hackl, Shirley MacLaine as Irene Molloy, and Robert Morse as Barnaby Tucker.

I’ve never seen the play or movie before, only read it once many years ago. It was a surprise to me to see how different the character of Dolly Levi is in the movie from what it is in the musical. The Dolly of Hello, Dolly! is a confident if not entirely scrupulous businesswoman, one who dominates any situation she’s in, and an important part of Yonkers society; what’s more, she used to live the high life in New York City while her husband was alive. The Dolly of The Matchmaker is quite different, much weaker and at the same time much more human, a woman who is struggling to get by any way she can, who is all too well aware of her failings and her lack of social position in Yonkers, though she puts up a good front and conceals her desperation. Her claim of familiarity with New York City is all pretense, and she’s never seen the inside of the Harmonia Gardens restaurant before, let alone been enough of a regular there that the staff would ever break into a ten-minute Gower Champion production number on hearing that she was returning after a long absence.

Hello, Dolly! is a fun show, certainly, and that is all the justification it needs, but it’s still very strange to watch this movie and wonder how Jerry Herman got from here to the character that he wrote his songs for. He’s said in interviews that he wrote the score with Ethel Merman in mind, and maybe that’s it. Merman as the Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker would have been a monumental piece of miscasting, so you’d have to do some serious reinterpretation to make the character suit her. But The Matchmaker‘s Dolly is a more complicated and more interesting character.

The movie is delightful, and Shirley Booth is absolutely brilliant — gestures, timing, inflections, all wonderfully revealing and surprising and funny and right on target. The device of having characters face the camera occasionally and address the audience is too precious by half; I imagine it worked a bit better on stage and was only too precious by a quarter or so.

Show Boat in Concert

Friday night Dave and I went to hear Michael Morgan conduct a concert of selections from Show Boat. It was actually a bit of a disappointment, as we had expected from the advertising something closer to the full score, as with last year’s Follies concert, but it turned out to be the overture and only about ten numbers performed after the intermission, with a selection of other Jerome Kern standards making up the first half of the program.

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation, which controls the rights to Show Boat, has a thing about not authorizing concert productions of full scores under their control; generally you can do a limited number of “selections” from the show or you can do a fully staged production, nothing in between. A note in the program said that until a few weeks before the performance, they’d expected to be getting permission to do a full-length concert version that had been done in New York City, but that R&H had decided they weren’t satisfied with the NYC performance and were back to only giving permission for the usual truncated concert version.

A shame, because a lot of the staggering power of Show Boat is in the way the score and the story work together. The songs by themselves are just songs, some of them great songs but also a bit quaint and old-fashioned in style. You can’t completely get how brilliant the whole score is unless you put it all together and see how the songs and the dialogue portions work together to tell the story.

Many of the Show Boat numbers were preceded by snatches of the dialogue that leads into them, which helped. But it wasn’t the full-length concert version that we’d been looking forward to. The first half of the program was entirely made up of standards with music by Kern, very nicely performed but all familiar stuff.

Robert Sims, a young man with an appealing baritone voice, had the least to sing, just “Pick Yourself Up” in the first half and “Ol’ Man River” in the second, but he was terrific in both. Ben Jones, who had been memorably good in the Follies concert last year, was excellent and dashing singing Gaylord Ravenal’s part in the Show Boat selections, though I was sorry not to get to hear him sing “Till Good Luck Comes My Way”, one of my favorites from the score and not used in the concert. Debbie de Coudreaux’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill” were both highlights. Tami Dahbura’s “Life upon the Wicked Stage” was terrific, I thought, but didn’t get much of a reaction from the audience, which puzzled me; however, the song is one of the less familiar ones in the show and the chorus’s part of the back-and-forth in the verses was lost due to the chorus’s poor diction and the echoey acoustics of the Paramount Theater, so maybe people weren’t getting enough of the words to enjoy the humor.


Dave and I saw Disney’s Earth last night. Thumbnail review: Photography is absolutely stunning. Musical score is intrusive and frequently corny or sentimental. Narration is thick with pathetic fallacy. If you made a game out of it and took a drink every time James Earl Jones says that the whale is “celebrating” or the polar bear is “desperate” or the elephant is “lonely”, the entire frat would be passed out within 45 minutes.

A Strange Eventful History

I’ve been reading A Strange Eventful History, Michael Holroyd’s recent biography of Henry Irving, Ellen Terry, and their families. I read Ellen Terry’s autobiography many, many years ago, and I’ve read chunks of Laurence Irving’s biography of Henry Irving, so I’m familiar with the broad outlines, but I guess I must have forgotten a lot of the particulars, especially as Terry’s autobiography, at least, must have been a major source. Maybe it’s time for a reread of both the other two books.

The emphasis is more on personal matters than professional ones, which is often less interesting to me — I’m interested to learn about Irving’s unhappy marriage, for example, but I tend to skim more quickly through the details of who moved out when and who complained to whom about what. I’d have been interested in as much detail as one could get about the Lyceum productions, on the other hand, but Mr. Holroyd has much less about that than, say, the Laurence Irving book. I suppose his interest was in the personal matters where mine is in learning about the theater of the period.

So we don’t get, for example, the often-told description of how Irving made a powerful theatrical moment out of the act of quietly lacing up his boots in The Bells. On the other hand, there are some wonderful anecdotes like this:

To avoid extra worries at the last minute, Ellen got on with her dresses and had them all finished early: a pink one for her first scene, one of pale gold and amber for the nunnery scene, and for the mad scene, one of midnight black. Irving solemnly asked her to put on these dresses. He was, she found, “very diplomatic when he meant to have his own way”. His eyes hardly flickered when he was the black dress. Later he called out to one of the old stagers, Walter Lacy, who was helping out with the production, and asked Ellen to describe her dresses to him . “Pink. Yellow. Black.” At the word black Lacy gave a gasp and began to expostulate. But Irving interrupted him. “Ophelias generally wear white, he explained. “I believe so,” Ellen answered. “But black is more interesting.”

“I should have thought you would look much better in white,” Irving persisted. Then he dropped the subject and walked away.

Next day Walter Lacy came up to Ellen. “You didn’t really mean that you are going to wear black in the mad scene?”

“Yes, I did. Why not?”

“Why not! My God! Madam, there must be only one black figure in this play, and that’s Hamlet!”

So she changed to a white costume, though later remarking: “I could have gone mad much more comfortably in black.”