Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Your Town

From time to time, you find yourself returning to Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, a place for you of resonant nostalgia.  In ways, Grover’s Corners is as real for you as Virginia city, Nevada, its characters fraught with analogy and meaning as the persons you knew—and the one you still know—from your times in the snowy Sierra.  The graveyard is a significant presence in Our Town; it is the entire setting of Act III.

Although you have visited the graveyard in Virginia City to pay your respects, no one you know is interred theThe dead to whom you pay respectful visit are historical, one in particular a prostitute of some repute.  But the cadre of the dead you have known in Virginia City shore your spirits, reminding you of them, of times and feelings you discovered on your journey through your own adventures.

On your first visit to Grover’s Corners, barely in your teens, you were touched by the romance between George and Emily to the point of envy.  These two characters made the idea of love and its evolution seem so tangible that you felt you could reach out and capture some of it in your hands—if you were quick enough.  You must have caught some, because they have remained with you over the years since your discovery of them and your occasional return visits, seeking in these returns the flashes of wisdom and understanding you caught in many of the things you read with, at the time, the belief you could ingest wisdom and insight in the first place by the mere act of being well read.  You were not well read then nor have you become so at this state of your adventure.  You were more likely naïve than you were anything else then.  You have been out and about long enough to have begun connecting seemingly disparate things, a condition that will have to pass for insightfulness. Although you admit to the goal of wishing you could read and decipher persons as though scanning some barcode on their forehead, you are willing to settle for what you have, which is the occasional occasion at which you can make connecting links.

In more recent revisits to Grover’s Corners and Mr. Wilder’s remarkable play, you have been drawn to the character of The Stage Manager, the modern equivalent of a chorus, who addresses the audience, breaks the fourth wall, addresses the characters, and seems to have a comfortable attitude toward the human condition.  So far as you know, the part of The Stage Manager was the last role played by one of your favorite actors, Paul Newman.  It is a role you would relish playing.  You find a strong sense of identity with that character, in particular because he could be portrayed by—in your vision, someone as young as late thirties and as old as Newman was at the time of his portrayal.  He could be of any race, any ethnicity, any attitude so long as he in some way made it clear he relished the job, enjoyed having a domain and a dramatis personae to keep believable.

You enjoy this opportunity for witnessing events, commenting on them, having some responsibility for keeping out any props or mannerisms that might detract from the sense of authenticity that inheres in Mr. Wilder’s drama.

At times, you are hard pressed to manage your own stage, which becomes now and then as though it were defined by yet another playwright, Samuel Beckett, wherein characters spend their times on stage buried up to their head in sand, stuck in a large jar, or taking refuge in white boxes.

Your intent is not to write such stories, rather absurdist stories of your own making, with characters more or less fully clothed—except when they are appropriately not—and in some setting with a past that might be light years away from what the present is now.  Every bit as curious as the characters in Mr. Wilder’s play or those denizens of Virginia City, where history and expectations hung in the afternoon breeze, your characters are trying to chart their way across a complex, pesky landscape.

Today, at lunch, your old plan and hero, the newsman Sandy Vanocer, was bemoaning the current state of the country and universe.  “But Sandy,” you reminded him, “the universe and this country have always been in a sad state.”

“True enough,” he said, “but we’re here now.”

And that is precisely the state of affairs you want your Stage Manager to have to cope with.

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