Tag Archives: Robert Penn Warren

Earnest Words

Importance 06
1980’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the Guignol with Eric Johnson on the right and some duffer in spats on the left.

Janie and I had a lovely night at the theater Saturday night. We watched a crisp and energetic cast perform Oscar Wilde’s brilliant “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Athens West Theatre. If you can make it for their last weekend, it will be one of your happiest nights for the year.

I admired the efforts of Shayne Brakefield as a sometimes befuddled, often pompous local reverend (think Robert Morley in African Queen with a pencil-thin mustache), Janet Scott in full sail as Lady Bracknell, and Paul Thomas as the butler(s); mysterious, disheveled, inscrutable, vaguely obedient, barely competent, and clearly the mind behind every scene……not.

I have worked with all these actors before.
I know their gifts…and cherish them.
I know their habits and peccadilloes…and cherish them as well.

Last night I participated in a reading of Robert Penn Warren’s ALL THE KING’S MEN on the Carrick Theater stage at Transylvania with Joe Gatton, Sherman Fracher, Ellie Clark, Tom Phillips, Mark Mozingo, and Geoffrey Cobb Nelson.

I have worked with Joe, Sherman, Ellie, and Tom before.

Joe, Sherman, Ellie, Tom, Shayne, Janet, and Paul…
Together we’ve been to Dracula’s Transylvania, New Jersey, New York, a Midwest Mega-Church, Agincourt, Aquitaine, Deep South Mississippi, the magical forests of Shakespeare, Deep South Alabama, Upper-Peninsula Michigan, Russia, London, Pennsyvania, Scotland. We’ve been husbands and wives and daughters and sons and kings and vassals and brothers and sisters to each other.

We have history.

We have vocabulary.

When we step on stage with each other we have a big head-start to share with an audience; a dialogue that, in some cases, has been going on for decades.

These two recent stage experiences prompted me into a memory (what doesn’t these days?) of an early 80’s Guignol production of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. This was, in retrospect, a wonderful cast for me; Eric Johnson, Martha Campbell, Walter Tunis, Lisa Thomas, Georgia Ferrell, Tim McClure, Ann Dalzell, and Paul Thomas (once more playing the butler – murderous, scheming, ever-expanding……not).

This production was directed by Dr. James Rodgers, and he created an atmosphere playful, quick, and creative, but fierce in language…a happy culture in which Wilde’s mots, bon et rapide, could fly.

And fly they did. At the first table read, our Lady Bracknell encountered the word “indecorous” in the script. She paused and inquired; “Is that pronounced; ‘IN-DUH-COH-RUS’?” To which another cast member replied; “No, and if you say it that way, that’s where you’ll be.”

I suspect Oscar would’ve been proud.

Vocabulary matters.

A Literary Lady

A Literary Lady

I love Southern literature.

Unabashedly.

Robert Penn Warren, Zora Neale Hurston, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Lee Burke, Sharyn McCrumb, William Faulkner, Manly Wade Wellman, Anne Rice, Davis Grubb, — you list ‘em, I probably like ‘em.

What is it?

As usual, I overthink it a lot. But I suspect it’s simple; they’re good writers that lack winter.

Wandering in the sensual and furtive Appalachian hills of McCrumb, Warren, and Grubb. Exploring the night-time potential of New Orleans alleys and courts after a rainstorm with Williams, Burke, and Rice. Scanning the critter-filled wetlands with Hurston and Rawlings. Cataloguing the Behinders, Frogfathers, Shonikens, and Gardinels of the Smokies with Wellman.

None of these reading experiences require snow and that’s just hunky-dory with me.
Maybe the best of them all for me is Carson McCullers. Her MEMBER OF THE WEDDING, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, and REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE are winter-less crucibles, in which individual human ingredients are combined with passion, and striving, and sweat, amidst leaves that never fall. Then those ingredients are swirled and re-separated back into their original human shells as changed people. Rarely are the changes clearly for good or ill…even death. Some are changed forever. Some revert to old paths and patterns and expectations.

In a land of no winter closing doors behind you is not necessary for comfort or survival, only for privacy. In a land of no winter, leave the door ajar. Going backward is always an option…an option too often and too quickly employed by too many…to too much disappointment.

I have a new Southern author to suggest…at least, she’s new to me.

I met Judy Higgins at a meeting of an arts-related board on which we both serve. When I learned she was a published author, I obtained a copy of her first novel; THE LADY, and asked her to sign it. I read it this week.

There are many echoes of McCullers in this novel.

It is a coming of age story, set in rural Georgia in the late 50’s. Television reception is painful, if it exists at all. Entertainment mostly consists of conversations in the kitchen, a grand piano, conversations on the veranda, high school proms, conversations over dinner, visits from neighbors…you get the idea; no texts, no emails, no Netflix…no screens……faces instead. Class/race inequalities and privileges abound. Human strivings, some for more, some for any, abound. Winter threatens no one’s existence, but what will that existence be?

Ms. Higgins seems to endorse the advice of Joseph Campbell.

“Follow your bliss.”

For Ms. Higgins’ young protagonist, music is her bliss.

In her struggles Chopin, Schubert, and Mozart are her weapons and her solace.

Her aunt’s advice?

Don’t let anyone come between you and your music.

Excellent advice from another fine southern writer.

Olympic Thoughts in the Bluegrass

Olympic thoughts for my friends in Frankfort.

Arirang.

Korea’s historic anthem.

Very cool and mightily moving.

But…

In Kentucky, we have artists as well, and they have things to say.

We have Jean Ritchie…and Zoey Speaks…and Dwight Yoakum…and Everett McCorvey.

We have Michael Shannon…and Ashley Judd…and Joe Montgomery…and Jennifer Lawrence.

We have Frank X. Walker… Robert Penn Warren …Charles Edward Pogue…and George Ella Lyon.

We have storytellers…and stories…and dreams…and hopes……and more than a few suggestions.

Throw them away, ignore them if you will. Discard them, and discard a path to success – a path to wonder.

Yes, it’s useful and good to pursue and master the employable skills of today.

But why?

In the theatre, we consider the whence, the whither, and the why; whence have we come, whither are we going, and why are we making the journey. These questions match up remarkably with Kentucky’s historic place in the life-arc of our nation. Great questions and great possibilities have flowed through Kentucky, why should today be different?

…only if we continue to choose to be small…

The arts can provide the “why”.

There is a saying;

“If you have two pennies, spend one for bread and one for wine; the bread so you can live, and the wine so you will want to.”

The arts are the second penny.

Spend it.