Monday, March 21, 2011
Leonard Bernstein and something Mass(ive)
One wonders from where certain turns of phrase came. Take that charming idiom “butthead.” I shall wonder no more, for Friday night, the meaning was made clear as fine crystal. What is less clear is this, why do such things happen to me?
Being a trifle ignorant of musical theatre in general, I had never heard of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass”, which I note from the program is a theatre piece for singers, players, and dancers. (My companion and I were there to see one singer in particular in the bass section, and he did a fine job. I wish I could say as much for a few of the soloists. As Bart Simpson says “ay, caramba!”)
Two items before I dive into the aforementioned figure of speech. One, when attending religious performances, it helps to have a good idea of meanings or symbols or traditions to prevent one’s companion (or self) from muttering “what the heck is going on?” I needed a Catholic to guide me here, as my knowledge of that religion stems from “Father Dowling Mysteries” and “Sister Act”. (The last Mass I attended was Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” which was no aid. I didn’t understand that one, either.) How would I know when the SECOND INTROIT or CREDO started? What about the MEDITATION No.3 and the OFFERTORY De Profundis, part 2? And what was that little sash thing-y hanging around the priest’s neck? Hollywood just doesn’t get into enough detail…drat!
Second, when foreign languages are involved and supertitles are not, abandon all hope ye who speak not the language. Latin for example. My botanical Latin did nothing for me. “Domine, audi vocem meam!” I can’t recall any plants with those epithets attached to them, but luckily, my handy translation in the bulletin tells me this means “Lord, hear my voice!” I was somewhat thwarted in my attempt (OK, all the way thwarted) to read the translation as we went along because THEATRES TEND TO BE DARK. Yes, I was upset about it, too, but that didn’t stop the elderly gent a few rows ahead. He popped out a pen light and followed along. The warm, friendly glow was not quite as irritating as the cool blue light of a texting screen. I try to make the best of things, you know.
I am used to the peppier Leonard Bernstein (or “LB”, as he’s known to posh crowds) sets. When all the ragtag/street chorus came on to stage, for one bright,hopeful moment I thought it was the Sharks and the Jets and someone was going to belt out “Maria! I just met a girl named Maria!”
No such luck, for then the modern dancers leapt across and writhed around. Did I mention the large choir on scaffolding in the background and the children’s choir in the foreground? At one point, my companion hissed to me “What is he doing?!” It was a rather loud hiss and I felt compelled to shush him, but in fairness, a dancer was either dancing with or dragging the music stand of the oboe soloist across the stage in tortured spurts, so my fellow theatre goer shall be forgiven for the outburst.
At halftime, I mean intermission, I met one couple who decided to leave while the getting was good. “This is either the most reverent or the most irreverent thing I’ve seen,” one said on the way out the door, “I just don’t feel good about it.” When I think of all the constructive things I could have accomplished during the last two hours of the performance (organize my blouses by color, devote more time to writing a coherent string of thought for my blog, read the newspaper) I conclude they were the wise ones. This was three different musicals mashed into one, and perhaps the composer intended it to be discordant and indecipherable. He was the musical genius, not me, but I give it the thumbs down.
To cleanse my inner vessel (you see I am capable of understanding some religious imagery, Mr. Bernstein), I must share this first and only time I had the bad fortune to be millimeters from the tookus of a stranger. An unidentified person in the row behind (wink, wink), kept bumping me with what I thought was a purse or coat. After the tenth bump or so, I hazarded a peek to see what seizures/unruly child/unpacking a suitcase situation was occurring to occasion the assault on the back of my head. Then, without warning, the black polyester-clad beam was in my face. Way, way over the back of my chair and in my face. (And now a moment of silence as you ponder just how glad you are that you are not me.)
For a prolonged period of time after I whipped my stunned head back around, I kept getting bumped with said trunk junk. I do have a stubborn streak, and I gave it full reign. I leaned back and kept my space and the buttocks remained firmly pressed against me for the space of a full minute, which in due reverence to the situation, was probably long enough in “horror minutes” for me to get my hair cut and colored. Finally (and probably because they heard my partner struggle to stifle a guffaw at my predicament), the offender gave what sounded like a sincere “oh, sorry” and removed the offending caboose. I might need to shave my head.
Any theatre lately? Horrors with strangers?
Labels: high culture