Saturday, August 12, 2006
When I was a kid, being a child of divorce had one advantage that set me apart from many of my peers: I had three sets of grandparents.
And as any kid knows, grandparents are for goodies.
Because of the particular mash-up of my family's breeding tendencies I can trace my heritage – and its peculiar influences on me -- to three inimitable communities: Sonoma County Catholics, Pacific Northwest Lutherans (with a sprinkling of lapsed Scots-Irish), and New York City Jewish.
My Grandpa Schufmann worked in the garment industry in New York, and I’m pretty sure my passion for textiles took root in the elaborate silk Parisian scarves that my stepmother received from him and wore, Rhoda style, through the 70s.
He also gave me Broadway.
Grandpa was a collector, and an avid Broadway attendee (who wasn’t in NYC in 40s and 50s?) and he saved every Playbill he ever received. After my grandmother died, he started the slow purge – he missed her terribly (“You have no better friend,” he told me when he was grieving, “than your spouse. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. No better friend.”) -- and I suspect at that point he knew he would be checking out soon.
During the purge he sent me some of those playbills. The covers read like a history of the American theatre: Anne Bancroft in the Miracle Worker, Ingrid Bergman as St. Joan, Dorothy Sarnoff and Yul Brynner in the King and I, Paul Muni in Inherit the Wind, and an ancient cover for Kizmet that I’m confident must have been drawn by Al Hirschfeld, but even the folks at Playbill.com can’t source its provenance (“our records don’t go back that far,” was their email reply).
There's also Ethel Merman in the premiere of Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy.
I think Grandpa S. would have dug Patti LaPone last night, turning it on in Gypsy at Ravinia. There was something raw and real about her performance. Some folks were grousing that her voice was weak in spots, but I didn’t hear any of that, probably because I don’t know her at full strength well enough to know when she’s tipping in the other direction.
I just know that she struck some kind of chord with her performance that ruined me. The way The World According to Garp ruined me to John Irving novels – the story, the tragic arc, the revelation were all too perfect, and all too horribly painful. It’s one of my favorite books ever, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to read Irving since. I can’t bear to go back there.
It’ll take me a while before I want to see musical theatre again. Already my diet was limited to Sondheim shows, and now he's like Irving to me. What I saw last night filled me up – it’s all I need for now.
Besides -- I don’t know how to process it or understand why it left me so deeply unsettled and so entirely satisfied.
So I’ll just give it time. I’m sure it’ll make more sense with time.
Because right now I'm a wreck.
(Here are some more write ups on the show from litwit and