Thomasina in Tom Stoppard's mind bending time warping play, ARCADIA, observes that when you stir rasberry jam into vanilla pudding it will first swirl in streaks but ultimately will turn the entire pudding pink. If you stir the pudding in the opposite direction, the jam will not separate back out again.
--LIFE MOVES ONLY FORWARD--NEVER BACK!--
When the events of
the world seem to be spiraling into a sewer, there is no greater calming factor
than a quick read novel by Andrew McCall Smith. In his 2016 The Bertie Project, he offers a lovely trip into and through the beguiling lives of the folks around 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Bertie's mother has
returned from her stay in a Middle
Eastern harem to
reassert her iron-fisted control
of Bertieand his father Stuart. Bertie is handling the
return to language lessons, yoga, and analysis with equanimity but Stuart has begun an extra-marital fling as a tiny little sign of independence. Meanwhile handsome Bruce is getting a
makeover from his new found Australian
Amazonian squeeze. Big Lou,
the local coffee house proprietor, finds that the MD she has met seems to want her to wear
a matron’s uniform to more than a costume party. And then to top it
all off Angus, the artist and
part-time poet gets defenestrated in his own home.
Domenica, his wife, handles the philosophical twist on all of these events
while the absurdity of the situations puts lip gloss on the faces of all.
Serious as it may be, we can’t but help laughing at the predicament of Angus
sailing out of a window and landing upside down in a tree for instance. In
another comical situation, we have Bruce and Aussie superwoman Clare in a tiny clothing
store changing room trying to stuff Bruce into too-tight “hipster” jeans. Meanwhile
Bertie moves calmly through the storm without telling a single fib and
proving once again that naïveté is charming when coming from total innocence
and a generous heart.
Of course it’s old hat for McCall-Smith, but it’s more like a a nice old Harris Tweed cap than a silk topper. The ending once again ties all up
and leads to a poem by Angus at one of Domenica's dinner parties. It continues to reinforce that
love in the small moments with your friends may be all there is to keep you
sane amidst the swirl of hatred and gratuitous violence of the world at large.
Read it if you need a bit of a lift from depression.
Some Additional Nuggets
p.106 We need people to wear their uniforms of
identity from policemen to head waiters.
It helps preserve order and confidence in the pillars of civilization.
p 134 We need rituals that make us members of
something. Once again they affirm the order of
the universe. "Acts make you pause for thought..
." but ritualistic
performance moves beyond you as an individual and into the corporate. There is
no immediate purpose to it other than binding you to others doing it and to the species as a whole.
p 197 The problem with doing the right
thing is that it spoils all the fun.
p. 240 The Winston Churchill martini. "Pour in gin and bow in the direction of
“Innocence glimpsed in others reminds us
Of the time when our
own consciences were clear.”
When we lose we
think we lose forever, but that is not true.
Think of love at those times because
it always returns to say that I was
always there but you just didn’t
hear me at the moment.
The beasts are abroad and they kill and maim with no regard.
The London Bridge/Southwark terrorist strike on London has come far too close
to my heart—even for a guy who was shepherding
students around the city years ago during ‘the troubles.” My heart goes out to the victims whether they
be British citizens, expats, immigrants, or tourists because this is a
signature route that I have taken at least a hundred times over the past fifty
years. It is to a theatre person about as sacred a walk as any in the artistic
Crossing London Bridge is a
part of the first chapter in my London Theatre Walks book, You are asked to pause in the middle of the (latest)
London Bridge and imagine the medieval bridge and its view upstream toward old
St. Pauls and downstream toward the Tower. You are asked to see the men of Will Shakespeare’s company
carting the timbers of their old Theatre across the river and using them to
assemble a new theatre on Bankside, which is now remembered as The Globe.
The walk then takes you into Southwark and past the Borough
Market and into Southwark Cathedral, where you might now feel obligated to
leave a prayer.
You will learn that
Shakespeare paid there for a funeral bell tolling for his dead brother and you will
also find there a handsome memorial to Shakespeare. You will leave the church and walk along the
shore for more views that the Bard would still remember.
And finally you would come
upon the re-constructed Globe itself.
We mourn the lives taken here by a slaughter in the name of
holiness and we mourn all destruction of human life and culture wherever it
might occur. William Shakespeare walked this
path and the killers have befouled his
I have been critical of some of the Goodman Theatre’s recent
offerings because of what I have deemed “over-producing.” They have
seemed to want to make a visual splash just because they have a big stage and
can afford fill it with lavish set pieces and rock and roll lighting.
It is with pleasure that I can report that the current
Goodman production of Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith (Not Chuck
Smith, who is the director) allays my fears.
Objects is a small show (only five cast members) that uses magnificent
but simple visuals to support and deepen its multiple meanings.
The plot is as old as the Bible and as current as today’s headlines.
A young Liberian refugee flees horrific violence and corruption, finds himself
much safer physically in Australia, but
still tormented as to his real home and his human identity. And therein lies the nub. The objects in the rear view mirror always
remain “closer than you think.” Your former
life cannot be erased by re-painting the foyer multiple times. ZaZa nee Shedric can still see the
original color even if his helpful
Aussie lawyer can’t.
The play pulsates with this conflict. The African finds a peaceful scenic vista of
sky, shore, and sand in his new home,
but also finds residual colonial racism.
The set design is spot on. Two
modern spare scenes glide in on wagons. A roof line descends from above. Behind them are two huge sliding panels that
are used for projections. When narrowed they serve as a central entrance; when
opened fully they expose a giant drop of shore and sea fronted by a narrow pit
of real sand. The views whether
interior or exterior expose brilliantly the small lonely soul adrift in sea of
modern sterility or a cosmos that offers vast hope but no real answers. Immigrants opines Smith, will always remain
immigrants. They cannot lose their
previous lives or paper over the violence of the journey. Integration, as the white western world like
to think it might be, is not simple and may indeed not even be possible. The objects in the mirror don’t go away and
are always closer to the surface than they seem. The motives of all the characters are
shifting as their stories shift and we cannot ever know which of their stories
is true. In the final image the sliding
panels open to full width as the roof rises leaving Shedric full back and alone
on the shore with arms raised to the sea.
Will Shedric stay in Australia or flee to another new place with his
uncle? As the curtain falls we don’t
know. What we do know is that this young
man will never be able to snuff out his past; it is a part of him for the rest
of his days.
The cast is superlative and so beautifully balanced that to
separate out any one of them would be unfair.