United States: Essays 1952-1992


I am continuing my exploration of the oeuvre of Gore Vidal to the surprise and perhaps disappointment of some friends and family who do not necessarily consider him a fit topic for deep delves.

And essays are always a tricky thing. And Vidal’s (but it feels better to call him Gore, doesn’t it?)… Gore’s essays are often considered his finest work, but also his worst. The majority of his political essays, despite his clear eyed and strong understanding of politics up until perhaps Reagan, have not aged like fine wine. Or rather, they are fine wine that was improperly stored and turned sour or else flavorless.

The book is divided into three thematic sections. The first is on literature and is a joy. Both his acclamations and his eviscerations are delicious and the latter want to make me you chortle (that is the word). The second is on politics and while there is much that is good, there is more that is – not necessarily bad, but also not necessarily worth reading anymore. The third and final section is about “state of being,” which, while vague and unwholesomely metaphysical, is also a return to form. He dives into his childhood love of the Oz novels. He writes about himself and his work and life. Politics and literature touch on it and always in a fascinating way.

‘Love’s Labours Lost’ Or, A Child’s First Shakespeare


The little one saw her first Shakespeare play last night: Love’s Labours Lost.

If you have ever read this blog before (and ninety percent of you who have are my mother), then you know how much I love the edifice and institution that is the Folger Shakespeare Library and how unsurprising it is that her first experience of live theater (we are not including Frozen on Ice) would be there.

It is not his finest play, but there is some of Shakespeare’s most elegant language and some of his most arch sex jokes. While the more than usually high language passed her by, she loved watching the performances and madcap antics (and costumes).

Beatriz At Dinner


The movie had gotten great reviews and while it wasn’t absolutely at the top of my ‘if you’re going to see a movie that’s out right now, it’s definitely this one’ list, it was on that list, so when a friend suggested we all see Beatriz at Dinner, I was one hundred percent down with it.

And it’s a really good movie. It’s a little too cinematic, though, not trusting in its actors (Salma Hayek is great and plays Beatriz’s subtle, aggressive power very well and John Lithgow makes a truly horrible person three dimensional, yet also sympathetic because he is a real, three dimensional human being, without shying away from the fact that he is an awful blight). I feel like it could have been a more politically and ecologically minded My Dinner with Andre (one of my all time favorite movies), if the director had trusted the audience to be able find the clash of ideas in conversation to be riveting.

Also: Chekhov’s gun appears.

If you don’t know what that means, don’t just look it up online. Read a book. Go to the library.

Emmanuel Ax, Beethoven, Shakespeare


Last week, I cashed in one of my birthday presents – two tickets to see Emmanuel Ax play Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto at the Kennedy Center, followed by a Shakespearean themed program.

This was my second time hearing Ax play and, of course, he’s good; and he really seemed to enjoy playing such a youthful piece. I’m not a music expert and can’t even play the triangle, but it did seem to me that he had some rough moments during the first movement, but then really hit his stride, especially of the middle movement.

When they have stars like this, I wish they wouldn’t put them first, because, after hearing a great pianist play Beethoven, pretty much whatever follows is going to disappoint. I like Berlioz, but if one of his pieces immediately follows Bach’s Passion of Saint Matthew, well… it’s going to be a bit of a letdown, isn’t it?

The three pieces that followed were Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite, Richard Strauss’ Macbeth, and Antonin Dvorak’s Othello Overture. I liked Dvorak the best, but the Korngold was fun. Also, I found out that Korngold wrote the scores to two of my favorite Errol Flynn swashbucklers: Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood!

One of the cool things they did was have two actors who feature a lot locally come out and perform bits from the relevant Shakespeare. I lost the paper that told me who they were, but the man was someone I had seen in many, many plays at the Folger Shakespeare Library (off the top of my head, I’ve seen him in District MerchantsTwevlth NightRosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Mary Stuart. He got a great presence and a delicate comic touch that works even better, because he himself is such a big guy.

‘District Merchants’ At The Folger


DistrictWIDE2Written by frequent Folger production director, Aaron Posner, District Merchants is new take on The Merchant of Venice which seeks to tackle to elephant in the room: Shakespeare’s unforgiving and cruel and anti-semitic take on Shylock, the titular merchant.

Posner keeps the names, but shifts the action to Washington, DC and the time to the months just before and just after the Panic of 1873. He mostly keeps the original names, or else uses something very close (which sometimes seems jarring – especially the continued use of ‘Shylock’), but plays with race and ethnicity, making the majority of the non-Jewish characters black. This does create a more nuanced view of discrimination and prejudice (especially in the form of a young mixed race man who ‘passes’ as white), as does the addition of topics like the pogroms in Russia and war profiteering during the Civil War. Muddies the waters, those last two, though I’m not always sure to what end. I mean, I know to what end, but I guess that I’m not sure if it really succeeded.

But the play does succeed, sometimes, in spite of itself. But The Merchant of Venice, when it succeeds, does so in spite of itself, does it not? And, as a DC resident, references to places like Eastern Market made me smile with pride/recognition.