Sunday, April 15, 2007

Shakespeare as a Birthday Treat

It's my birthday today. I turned 55 so I'm moving up an age group. I'm leaving behind people I can't beat, but joining others whom I also can't beat. Moving age groups just poses different problems, particularizes your poison. As the late Vonnegut said, So it goes.

There was a steady drumbeat of rain all day today, so I didn't go out to run today. This is the same system that is going to bedevil the runners at the Boston Marathon tomorrow. A few years ago I would have ventured out in the blustery raw conditions and run, but not today. So it goes.

A friend of mine gave me a birthday present of two tickets to anything I wanted to go see. I chose the Royal Shakespeare Company's presentation of Coriolanus at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.

Coriolanus is a play I haven't read nor had I ever seen it. I knew little about it other than that it takes place in Rome. We didn't study it or discuss it in my two semesters of Shakespeare in college.

It was pricey, $138 for two seats in the balcony. The accents of the English actors took a couple of acts to get used to. I grumbled to my companion that they should have learned American accents before they came over. I saw from the look of disbelief she gave me that she didn't realize I was kidding. She's originally from Long Island where they're much more cultured than us provincial kinds who hail from Staten Island.

The Eisenhower Theater, although it is a soaring arena, has a cozy seating area consisting of a main floor section and a balcony, with loge boxes in between. The stage is deepset with an apron that projects out into the audience. The sight lines are good and the sound is fantastic in the balcony.

The production was excellent. The sword fights were fast-moving and ringing. Larger battles were well depicted by noise and projecting giant shadows upon the wall from somewhere off-stage. William Houston as Caius Martin (Coriolanus) was very good. The aristocratic Coriolanus, a strong heroic character, a pure noble warrior, is the foil used to show the populace, the rabble, as either clownish, or dangerous, or properly wary of meglomaniacs, depending upon the era of the producers.

The lighting was superb. Scene changes were accomplished by focusing a spotlight upon a character as the set was changed, then suddenly the rest of the stage would be illuminated to show the complete scene. Until the denouement, the deep stage was always partitioned by curtains that limited the sweep of the presentation and channeled the action. The penulimate scene used the entire stage for the first time, lit with an erie dimpled effect to simulate night just before dawn. The hero, Coriolanus, a formidable warrior and past savior of Rome, is a proud, stubborn man, autocratic and unbending. He abhors the common people and makes known his contempt for them. He so despises them that he refuses to answer any of their questions about his actions or his deeds. He is a decider who owes no explanations to anyone.

But Coriolanus in his blindness and headstrong ways gets banished from Rome. He has turned treasonous in reaction to these personal slights by Romans and led an enemy army to the very gates of the defenseless city. However, Coriolanus' strong-willed mother, Volumnia, successfully implores him during a nighttime visit to act properly and give up the war and throw over his new allies in order to save Rome. The opening up of this proud man's narrowset and stubborn mind is eloquently symbolized by the scene's wide visual sweep.

Volumnia tells her rigid son: Thou know'st, great son, The end of war's uncertain, but this certain, That, if thou conquer Rome, the benefit Which thou shalt thereby reap is such a name, Whose repetition will be dogg'd with curses; Whose chronicle thus writ: 'The man was noble, But with his last attempt he wiped it out; Destroy'd his country, and his name remains To the ensuing age abhorr'd.' Speak to me, son: Thou hast affected the fine strains of honour, To imitate the graces of the gods; To tear with thunder the wide cheeks o' the air, And yet to charge thy sulphur with a bolt That should but rive an oak.

Thus moved, finally, the inflexible Coriolanus replies: O my mother, mother! O! You have won a happy victory to Rome; But, for your son,—believe it, O, believe it, Most dangerously you have with him prevail'd, If not most mortal to him. But, let it come. Aufidius, though I cannot make true wars, I'll frame convenient peace.

He suspends the unjust war and achieves peace. It costs him his life but he suffers his death nobly, inflicting it upon himself in order to right his wrong. Even his enemies mourn his passing.

The parallels of Coriolanus to the current Decider who owes us no explanations for anything are obvious. My sage theater-going companion said there's a reason that this production, about a rigidly autocratic leader subjecting his country to ruin through his misplaced hubris, was selected by a British ensemble to be presented a mere eight blocks from the White House.

At one point, in discussing whether to elevate the imperial Coriolanus to consul, the mob receives this caution from the tribunes appointed for them: Or let us stand to our authority, or let us lose it. Shakespeare is timeless. Echoes of this counsel can be heard in Benjamin Franklin's warning: Any society that would give up a little liberty to attain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

I think the key difference between Coriolanus and the current Decider is that Coriolanus was truly valorous and duty-bound, whereas I can't assign valor to the Decider (everybody saw him fly desperately around the country for hours on 9/11 looking for an ever deeper hole to hunker down in) and his sense of duty hasn't always been strong (nobody knows where he was during his duty days with the National Guard while Vietnam was raging) and now he seems more hidebound than dutybound (repeat after me-stay the course). Coriolanus in the end was able to own up to his mistaken ways which saves his county and restores his own honor and glory. However, we all remember the current Decider's knit brow as he tried to think of one single mistake he had made during his tenure (he was stumped). Coriolanus deserved at least to be heard out, this present Decider, not so much anymore.

The Kennedy Center is a wonderful place, situated on the Potomac with nice views from its broad outside veranda of Georgetown, the Watergate and Roosevelt Island. Inside are wonderful venues for the opera, music, the theater and other cultural mediums as well as historical exhibits.

I had a wonderful birthday. And thanks, Coriolanus was splendid! (Oh boy, Shakespeare at the Kennedy Center! That's a statue of Don Quijote in the background.)

And no, on my birthday I didn't hear from any of my three sons ages 18 to 21, the same as on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Father's Day, my last birthday (shall I go on?). They reside nearby with their Mother and I haven't seen them for years now, even though I always had full joint legal custody, have always supported them and have plain vanilla visitation. Running is a huge reason why I have been able to get through this.

Stop here if you don't want to be depressed by a bunch of divorce stuff. My children stopped seeing me on March 26, 2003. That was the day the court, after a full evidentiary hearing, termed a lawsuit "they" filed against me "harassment," tossed it out and sanctioned their Mother almost $9,000. The lads as minors had been made parties to a "fiduciary" suit which had brought them into the on-going divorce action five months earlier. (The then-13 year old was too young to be suing his father, so he was represented on the papers by his Mother as "next friend.") The court found the petition to be an attempt by their Mother to interfere with my relationship with my children and called it "unseemly, unconscionable, and totally uncalled for."

Litigation would go on for another two years when their Mother filed an appeal. The appellate court, labeling the appeal "procedurally barred or without merit," affirmed the sanction and remanded to the trial court for an award of my "reasonable expenses in defending this unjustified appeal." Although I can never get back the four wrenching years I spent ensnared in nuclear litigation, after another full evidentiary hearing on my costs, during which the court found my lawyer's fees to be "both fair and reasonable," I collected almost $40,000 more from their Mother in 2005.

In my opinion, the down-the-rabbit-hole world of domestic law was revealed when one of the lawyers, who signed the appellate brief that led to the extraordinary fee assessment, sent a letter to my lawyer afterwards calling his fees "a disgrace." My lawyer, who prevailed, charged $300 an hour and submitted his bills to me, an adult. The lawyer with the unbelievable chutzpah, who also mostly conducted the hearing that led immediately to the large sanction and largely argued the losing appeal as well, charged $425 an hour and submitted his bills of over $22,000 to my children.

The case, in my opinion, epitomized what the domestic law arena has become, at least in Arlington County, Virginia. A place where mere lip service is paid to best interests of the children while everyone lines up at the trough to extract money as rapidly as possible until the estate is utterly depleted and the family is utterly destroyed.

My children don't speak to me anymore, an absolute verification, in my opinion, of Parental Alienation Syndrome ("PAS"). So it goes.

As for me, I cope by running. As for my sons, unfortunately the Opinion is on-line and comes up on the very first page whenever anyone Googles the full name of any one of my children. Good luck with future dates, fellas.


jeanne said...

happy birthday again. sounds like you had a wonderful time at the play--very timely!

so sad about your kids, but give them time. you never know what will happen. they are still so young. At some point, they will start to think for themselves and will want to reunite with you.


Just12Finish said...

Happy Birthday Peter. Glad you had a good evening. I'm with Jeanne, time heals all wounds. Best wishes to you.