“With hey, ho, the wind and the rain”: Thoughts on Twelfth Night

Well, this is it. Twelfth Night. In Elizabethan England, Epiphany (6 January) marked the culmination of the winter revels, that topsy-turvy escape to the kingdom of Upsidedownia. For me, it is an apt time to return to this journal in earnest by looking back at my own follies, being that the first daft act of the year has me lying in bed with a cold. I am feeling—to borrow and immediately discard what unaccountably has been declared word of the year—decidedly subprime (wouldn’t below par or having peaked do just fine? Then again, it is a banking or business term and should therefore be ugly and subliterary). I had meant well, braving the wind and the rain, walking our dog after a three-week separation. Just a few days earlier I observed that 2007 has really been a wonderful year; in case yours has proven otherwise, I apologize for rubbing it in like so much VapoRub.

It was a year of traveling and theater-going that, a fall from a ladder notwithstanding (as a result of which my right pinky is now more likely to remain extended during high tea) was free of strife, hardship, and disappointment. Sure, there were those seemingly endless weeks without phone or wireless internet, there was a move into town that fell through, and there were a few minor upsets in my now sidelined teaching career. And then there was that summer that wasn’t. “For the rain it raineth every day.” Yes, it has been a wet year at that. It began in stormy Glasgow and ended in a drizzle on Waterloo Bridge in London, where the annual firework spectacular disappeared behind a thick curtain of sulphurous mist.

Perhaps my greatest folly was the attempt at maintaining this journal while away from home (as I was for about one fifth of the year). Much of what I did manage to convey, pressed for time or bereft of a reliable wireless signal, was—watch me resist neologian inanities—substandard. As I have proved conclusively, I am not cut out to be a post-postmodern Tintin, to mention the titular hero of one of the most engaging theatrical entertainments of 2007, a year filled with delights and sprinkled with duds. Among the duds, aforementioned, were a ballet version of Gone With the Wind, which we caught in Budapest, the Angela Lansbury vehicle Deuce, and the death sentence to musical theater, an art form done away with, rather than revived, in the guise of a cheap concert version of itself that is Spring Awakening.

Among the recent theatrical highlights numbered the New World Stages production of Charles Busch’s Die Mommie Die, with the 2003 film adaptation I have caught up since. It had been seven years, almost to the day, since I saw Busch’s rather more conservative Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, starring (opposite Linda Lavin and Tony Roberts) the wonderful Michele Lee. The star of Die Mommie Die, of course, is the playwright himself. Some unnecessary crudity aside, it is a brilliant evocation of the 1960s and the end of the Hollywood era. It is also a darn good mystery—a rather better mystery than Christie’s nonetheless charming Mousetrap.

I am not a lover of camp, which, according to my own definition, is a wilful act of misreading. Die is a careful reading of the state of the women’s picture in the 1960s, the schlock that reduced a number of silver screen A-listers to sideshow freaks.

The heroine of Die Mommie Die is washed up, all right; but Busch does not derive most of his laughs from strapping her into a ducking stool. His play is as much an homage as it is a send-up (catering to those familiar with the histrionics of Crawford, Davis, and Susan Hayward); and it is this careful balance that, despite some vulgar touches, makes his play succeed both as thriller and farce.

Yes, I am rather traditional when it comes to film and theater, but that is not why I did not care much for Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker (now playing at Sadler’s Wells)—having enjoyed his Car Man earlier this year—and sought refuge at the Prince Edward Theater to take in one of the final performances of Mary Poppins on New Year’s Day. I am not opposed to trying out something new; but I find more pleasure in finding the new in the supposedly out-of-date.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you everyday.

Yes, I am back, Monday through Friday. And not going on about the weather—until something well nigh catastrophic or at any rate sensational compels me to break this rule . . .

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