Monday, February 05, 2007

the importance of being earnest


This last Saturday, with the evening reserved for Maestro Morricone, the afternoon was given over to David Hare’s Vertical Hour, directed by Sam Mendes, playing now at the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street in New York.

The Music Box is an older playhouse, built in the 1920s by Irving Berlin and a contemporary of his that I had never heard of, and immediately I'm happy walking through the door because the scale is just right, the furnishings were maybe spruced up in the 50s but have remained unchanged since then, and it carries the same name as the theatre my grandmother worked at back in Seattle when she was just out of the school -- the one in the photograph on opening day when she's working the box office under a new Leslie Howard picture (Pygmalion) and where the usher stands beside her in his little monkey grinder's hat.

Earlier in the day, in another context, the conversation had touched upon earnestness – the irritating prevalence of it in America – and the following morning it would arrive there again, as I’m trying to sum up the experience of the play, which I enjoyed very much (along with the inimitable company of litwit, recently moved to NY), and the presence of the two British stage actors – Bill Nighy, an old favorite, and Andrew Scott, a new love – both endearingly subtle in their conveyance of wide swings of emotion – contrasted with Julianne Moore, radiant, lovely to look at, but so one-note, so, I dunno… “Earnest?” my friend asks. Yes, that’s it. And he proceeds to recap the earlier conversation, which he wasn’t privy too, about the irritating prevalence of earnestness in America.

Poor Miss Moore had a load to carry in the play – a former war correspondent, now an academic consulting with the president on the war in Iraq. There was much to sort out, much to feel responsible for, much to – oh my god here we go again – go ON about. All in all the play was well played, the point came across, and I left shaky for reasons I still don’t entirely understand.

But the residue of it dovetailed into another conversation about the conversation that we are not having – not artistically, anyway. I suspect it’s different in Europe and elsewhere – but in America very few of us, and decidedly few artists, are having the conversation about Iraq.

What we’re doing there. How we’re doing it. What should be done.

Vertical Hour attempted to touch on it, and served up that single note that seems to prevail when the conversation swings in that direction: the earnest desire that we well, feel fully enraged and earnestly attempt to…

What?

No matter. Earnestness is all.

2 comments:

anniemcq said...

I'm so jealous! New York AND a play. What a great post - interesting take on things, as always. It's so hard when art takes us just that far but not far enough.
I too, have that thing about Julianne Moore. Even when she's acting really hard I still feel pretty unmoved. I think the only time it really worked for her was in "Vanya on 42nd Street". I would love to see Bill Nighy in action though. I'll bet that was something!

kari said...

Didn't I tell you just before the play that I didn't like earnest people? And then it goes all earnest! The more I think about it, the more both leads felt like "positions" to me, standing in for characters.

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