Sunday, August 26, 2012

An Afternoon with Charlotte Brontë

She walked down the center aisle of the theater in a floor-length black cape, with the hood pulled over her head.  I didn't hear her footsteps until she was inches away from my aisle seat.  I was startled.  My eyes had been on the stage, the dimly lit sitting room, empty, waiting for Charlotte to arrive. I expected her to be in another part of the "house," to enter and welcome the fifty or so visitors gathered to hear her story. But she had been in London at her youngest sister, Anne's, funeral. Charlotte was just returning to her family home in Haworth.  She climbed the stairs and removed her cape.
Charlotte Brontë from a 1854 photo
(source Wikipedia)
For the next 2 hours, with a brief 10-minute intermission, Maxine Linehan, was Charlotte Brontë.

Maxine Linehan as Charlotte
(photo by Ronnie Wright)
The author of one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre, seemed to walk into the theater from the mid-1800s, rather than an actress playing a part.  The two hours spanned one day in Charlotte's life, but felt like a lifetime.  As if she needed to tell her story to a room of strangers, perhaps for clarity or catharsis, Charlotte shared her joys of collaborating with fellow writers and sisters Emily (Wuthering Heights) and Anne (Agnes Grey), her pride in Jane Eyre, the heartbreak of loving a married man, the anguish of her sisters' death - along with her mother, brother and two older sisters - her need for love, for quiet.  So real was Ms. Linehan's portrayal of Charlotte that I often wished to console and reassure this woman whose life was so filled with tragedy and feelings of inadequacy.

It seemed appropriate that Brontë, A Portrait of Charlotte, would be performed in a small, unassuming venue like the Actors' Temple Theater on West 47th Street.  It is, in fact, a Jewish synagogue.

"In today's world where theater and film often veer towards glitz and glam, alloy theater company believes in telling powerful stores in the truest, purest way. Sure Brontë isn't flashy.  It is, instead a story evocative and haunting in its simplicity."
   ----alloy theater company (message on program)

Charlotte's life was one of courage, strength, and much-needed inspiration  to women writers who followed her. When she was twenty, she wrote to poet laureate, Robert Southey, about writing.  He replied, "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be."

I imagine her comeback, through Maxine Linehan's heated Irish delivery, "What does he know about the business of a woman's life?"  



Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Bigness and Smallness of Things

Two children,  daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren (ages 5, 4, 3 and 2) visited us recently. Maneuvering the little ones' bodies up and down steep flights of steps, through (and under) subway turnstiles, and among skyscrapers which made them look like fleas, started me thinking about size and perception. What must it feel like to walk around Manhattan and see no higher than the next person's knees?

I wasn't aware of being in a contemplative mood as we entered the American Museum of Natural History last Sunday; the day was all about  fun! Up to the fourth floor dinosaurs, down to the basement food court, up to the African Mammals, pit stop at the bathrooms. However, as I sat with 2-year-old Anna asleep in my lap in the darkened Hayden Planetarium, stillness triggered thoughtfulness.

The immense dome transformed into a world beyond ourselves, and we were traveling through space in "Journey to the Stars."(video). We whizzed out of our galaxy into unknown territory, with music and vibration propelling us onward.
"Who are we in the bigness of time?"  I pondered.  
But it was four-year-old Nate's question which erased any preconceived notion that size has anything to do with insight.
"Is that God?" he whispered, as the light of thousands of stars reflected in his eyes.

Exiting the planetarium, Luke's question sent us in search of the truly important, the "tyrant lizard" that every soon-to-be-kindergartner has known since toddlerhood.
"Where is T-Rex?" he said.

I knew that Rex would be fiercely gigantic, that his skull alone could measure five feet long, and serrated teeth up to 12 inches.  Here's an animal who became extinct 65 million years ago, who's nothing but bones, but in whose presence I took a deep breath and a few steps backwards.  It wasn't until I knelt down beside granddaughter Ruby and looked at T-Rex from her perspective, though, that I felt the full magnitude of the discrepancy, the power of intimidating size.

                                                Ruby (in foreground) with T-Rex

There was one animal, larger by far than T-Rex, that I wanted to see before we left. . . the Blue Whale. At around 100 feet long, it is the largest known animal ever to have lived on earth, and thankfully, continues to live, although endangered.  As I entered the Hall of Ocean Life, the model seemed to smile as she hung suspended from the ceiling.

I immediately felt her peacefulness, her gentleness, rather than her size.

She invited me to come closer, so I descended the steps and sat on the floor beneath her.  

As I looked up at the contours of her smooth, lined skin, I felt joyful, marveled at her greatness.

Greatness, significance,
which had
to do with





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