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08/17/2002 Archived Entry: "J.M. Barrie"

Happy Saturday to all.

Brad and I have just returned from a stint of theatre-going with friends in Niagara-on-the-Lake's Shaw Festival, which we attend every year, seeing 5 to 10 plays like the gluttons we are. Live theatre is one of my unabashed vices and my husband -- at first, merely indulgent -- has become addicted as well. Among the most predictably happiest moments of my life are those last ticking minutes when I wait for a curtain to rise...even on a play about which I am not enthusiastic. It is magic.

I remember a performance of Othello -- this one at Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival -- in which the actor playing Iago was so powerful that Brad & I recoiled, pressing ourselves into our seats, feeling almost dazed by the hatred and jealousy flowing off the stage. Or the first Moliere we attended, "School for Wives"...during which a geezer from centuries past spoke through a translator to express something so true about human nature that my Linux-crusading husband laughed his ass off at the twists and turns, and became an unshakeable fan of Moliere and French farces. What does that say about the power of live theatre?

On this trip to Shaw, we saw four plays: "The Detective" by Kingsley (well acted, solid material, compelling, our friends' favorite); "Candide" by Shaw (excellent production, creating great discussion over dinner re: its misandry); "Hayfever" by Coward (to date, my favorite by Noel and a charmer of a production); "The Old Lady Shows Her Medals" by J.M. Barrie. The last play was the triumph of the season: Brad and lingered for five minutes outside the theatre to recover our emotional composure before joining our friends at a restaurant -- the play/production was *that* compelling. It was the best one-act play I have ever seen; one of the best all-around plays I have ever witnessed. (BTW...we are not uncritical play-goers. The last play we saw the month before at Shaw -- "His Majesty" by Granville-Barker -- promoted us to walk out in the middle.)

I thought "The Old Lady" was a throw-away. By which I mean: it was the last play of the Shaw season for us; it was a one-act "luncheon" play -- the sort used as an opening act in decades past; we'd had a wonderful time so everything else was gravy; our friends weren't interested so we saw the play alone; I picked it as my "experiment." Every year, I pick one play from our Shaw and Stratford schedule as a "toss of the coin"...well, not quite so arbitrary. I *love* J.M. Barrie as the creator of Peter Pan. (After all, my father was so charmed by the work that he named me after one of its main characters.)

There are things I did not know about J.M. Barrie -- and I quote here from the Shaw Festival program -- "At the turn of the last century Barrie was possibly the most highly regarded playwright in England -- certainly he was (and still is) the only dramatist honoured with a hereditary title, being made a Baronet in 1913 -- and his more realistic plays attracted a glittering cast of almost all the leading actresses of the period..."

In discussions afterward, I learned the history of Peter Pan. For example, "the Lost Boys" were the five orphans that Barrie adopted when their parents (his close friends) died suddenly. Peter Pan evolved from the bedtime stories he told to his new children, his new five boys. His play "The Old Lady" evolved after one of his "boys" was killed in WWI. And this is the theme of the play: war, human loneliness, human connection, death, the nobility of continuing. The play is one of the most passionate anti-war statements I have ever encountered and just writing about it here makes my eyes well with tears.

And YET...Brad asked an intriguing question. Would a pro-war person be able to walk away thinking "The Old Lady" had re-enforced his/her position? Maybe. Arguably. I don't think so. But maybe. The play was that complex.

Well...back to real life, back to work. Wouldn't be wonderful if it was always one minute before curtain time?

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