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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Brother/Sister Plays


So I have a friend working on a show at the Public, which is a theater started by Joseph Papp, who also started Shakespeare in the Park, which is a series of plays (not always Shakespeare plays) held in Central Park each summer, for free. For free, of course, if you want to stand in line at four in the morning for tickets--otherwise, you either pay a homeless guy to stand for you, or become a patron of the Public.

As a nice gesture, Jon, the friend, offered Greg and I two comp tickets to The Brother/Sister Plays. The plays form a trilogy set in the brackish backwater of Louisiana pre-Katrina. The trilogy is performed in repertory--part one by itself and parts two and three together--and are all more or less self-contained parts, with themes and characters spilling into each other like, I guess, the water of a Louisiana swamp.

Greg and I went to the second and third plays first. And we enjoyed the hell out of them. I was surprised Greg liked them, frankly--he grouses whenever I come up with tickets for shows, but usually ends up enjoying himself (the two notable exceptions are "Wonderful Town," when we left at intermission because both of us were bored, and "Sweeney Todd," which he'd never before seen and so didn't understand the revival's bare-bones, abstracted take on a story as familiar to theater geeks as Star Wars or The Matrix). After the second and third parts of The Bro/Sis Plays, Greg wanted to see the first.

Jon gave us tickets to the first part, I thanked him, informed Greg (who winced less than usual, and agreed to go, rather than his traditional concession to attend), and we went.

The thing about free tickets is, you must show up to claim your tickets early--in this case, a half-hour before curtain--or they release them for general sale. Which meant I did my usual panic over time and travel, and we showed up nearly an hour early. Claimed the tickets. Then walked around the neighborhood for a while to kill time, played with the Cube, dodged kids on bikes, talked, whatever. Didn't see any NYU students leaping to their deaths, which is their normal state: bodies in motion, then at eternal rest.

Greg and I were really disappointed in the first part, and during the cab back home--we took a cab because Greg had to be at work at 5AM, and didn't feel like negotiating the public transit system so late--we talked it all over, working out our opinions.

Riding in a cab at night along the FDR, along the east side of Manhattan, is both relaxing and terrifying. To your right is the East River, and Roosevelt Island, and Brooklyn or Queens, and there are all the lights despite the persistent darkness. Night in Manhattan, unless you're in Times Square, can be very dark. We don't have stars, but we do have apartment windows, and street lights, and the Chrysler Building, which is sort of the moon over the FDR.

When the cab pulled up to our building, I hopped out to check on Waffles, and Greg remained behind to pay the fare. Josie, the old woman who haunts the lobby, was standing at the door, and buzzed me in though I doubt she recognized me. It was a late hour, and she's not too sharp even at early times.

"Irish Irish night," she said to me, in her voice that sounds like a needle rubbing back and forth across a record.

"Yes," I screamed into her deafness. "It is night!"

"Just getting back?" she asked, still with her indecipherable Irish brogue, but a bit more clearly. I think she's as tired as I am of my not understanding a damn thing she says.

"Yes," I screamed again. "We! Went! Out!"

Josie removed her hands from her pockets, where they usually lived, and clasped them in front of her, waist-level. "Oh Irish! Irish did you do Irish?"

"We! Went! To! A! Play!" My stomach muscles were hurting from shouting, and I'm certain everyone on the first and second floors were happy to hear that I'd gone out to a show.

"Ah, I used to do that," Josie said, with some sadness in her voice. "Irish Irish Irish now. Irish."

So I gathered that Josie once went out, and now doesn't, and misses going out. Now she roams the staircases and lobby of a single building in Inwood, in upper Manhattan, and scares the shit out of all the inhabitants. Never occurred to me before that she'd had a life, let alone a nightlife, before she became a decaying wraith.

I did my usual, awkward, "Well! See! You!" accompanied by a lame wave of one hand and a flick of a smile, then dashed upstairs to see if Waffles had managed to kill himself in some dreadful and dramatic way (I spend way too much time away from home imagining Waffles pulling a speaker over on himself, or jumping out of an open window, or choking on his food), and instead was ankle-attacked by a very spazzed-out Dachshund. A few minutes later, Greg came in, and... whatever.

And Greg and I decided the reason we liked the second and third parts of The Brother/Sister Plays is because they were unexpected. The reason we didn't like the first part is because we knew what to expect.

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