Friday, April 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Lawrence

It was the best of Lawrence's, and the worst of Lawrence's. Having rejoined the alleged Literary Community, I lunched yesterday at Michael's, which was peopled with the well-connected and the insidious, whom I shall not cite by name, as I have had enough of lawsuits. But also present were Jane Fonda,currently giving a searing performance in 33 Variations, playing a character who almost matches her own personal courage offstge, with dog on herlap(she can take it anywhere as she has a license that it's a therapy dog, which I will have to get for Mimi, who does not enjoy the small dimensions Happy did, and so cannot be concealed in a coat pocket), Gabriel Byrne, who is healing many of us along with his HBO patients on 'In Treatment' simply by watching, and there in the corner, what Ho, Peter O'Toole. He was close to unrecognizable, except for the ghosts of cheekbones past and a very fine nose, until he put on his sunglasses and became indisputably, as his first wife Sian Phillips said in her excellent memoir,"a movie star." I had had the quieting joy of seeing Lawrence of Arabia the other night, and truly they don't make them like that anymore, or Mr. O'Toole either.
Then last night, having lately fallen into a deep infatuation with the glorious work of the young Maggie Smith,(I loved her old, too, in Lady in a Van, too, as I have loved her in everything except the fiasco movie made from a clever script of mine, where I was humiliated for her that she had to be in such a piece of dreck, as rewritten and misdirected by the once gifted Bryan Forbes)I racked up my DVD the Olivier version of 'Othello,'in which she played Desdemona. I had read that Lord O was so outraged by how completely she diminished him, that he vowed never to work with her again. But watching that Laurence huff and puff, charcoaled as he was, overacting so badly that his epileptic seizure seemed no more over the top than any of the rest of his performance, I was forced to turn it off before he could kill Desdemona, as my friend who was watching with me had been droned into sleep by his incantations, more Voodoo than Moor. I will watch Maggie die another time, as she was clearly not a part of the same picture, and is entitled to her own screening.
I knew a few who knew and loved Olivier: my friend Louie Ramsay who was his protege at the National, Danny Kaye, but that was only gossip, and I, myself, with Wuthering Heights, and when I saw him do Shylock in the cancer-riddled flesh in London, where in spite of all his pain he got down on his haunches and danced his rage and hatred, pricked, did he not bleed?-- a shattering performance. But my God he was out of control as Othello, and I can only assume that the director, Stuart Burge, was so overcome at working with the great Sir Laurence (as he was only then, the Lord O came later) that he had not the nerve to tell him to take it down a notch, or 12.
Bu tonight I go to the theater for real, the Angela Lansbury Blithe Spirit, so will make my first Report as a Broadway blogger, about live theater. Everything I have seen thus far has been a great disappointment, from West Side Story, where crucial songs are sung in Spanish, a clever arrogance on the part of Arthur Laurents, but not fair to an audience that doesn't understand as the lyrics are plot advancers, but I can't tell that to my darling friend Tyne Daly as she loves him, to a few failed productions by the best friend I have made since I came to New York so I can't mention them as she is a wonderful woman and I long to be able to root for her, to the American Plan, predictable and overacted enough by Mercedes Ruehl that she could stand toe to toe even with Olivier's Othello. Exceptions to the disappointment were Forbidden Broadway which I loved, making fun as it did of all that is exaggerated affected and execrable about the last few seasons, a reasonably interesting 'Reasons to be Pretty,'something forgettably dreary at 59 E. 59th STreet theater, convenient to me but not so much so that I can endure boredom, 'Next to Normal' which hasn't opened yet but I found brilliant, and a downtown small-theater performance of a new translation of Antigone, 'Fire Throws' because it re-awakened my brain. For the rest, it's all Greek to me.