Monday, June 27, 2011

Youth Stage Performance

”There has been a comet come near to the earth of late and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy and all those things that are divine in man, such as benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance, and song, have faded and died and have not been replenished by the gods.”

- from The Gods of the Mountain by Lord Dunsany


“Popcorn, 15 cents!” My son was rehearsing proudly his play script with all his might. It was his first stage appearance at a kindergarten in Forest Hills, New York. It was just a few months after his arrival in the U.S. He was unable to express himself fully yet but he was thrilled that he got a part in the play and was very proud. My involvement in school acting came much later in youth than my son. During World War II, there were almost no arts related extra-curricular activities. Prevailing then were martial arts, such as Japanese Kendo or Judo. I practiced Kendo and have participated in the intra-city competition, boys section. There were no school classes when the war was going on. We were either in the rice paddies irrigating or harvesting, or in the factory as worker trainees.

The university I attended held an annual Art Festival day, when 20+ Language Departments each performed plays in their respective language of study. Usually juniors get the assignment, since seniors were too busy getting ready for job placement interviews. For some reason, our class got assigned two years in a row both as juniors and seniors. I found an old album with photos from the two plays we performed.

The first was The Gods of the Mountain, the other, Golden Doom, both written by the same Anglo-Irish romance author, Lord Dunsany (1878-1957). I asked recently one of my classmates why he picked Dunsany. His answer was to the point. Our class had no woman. He went to the SCAP (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers) Library for the search. Dunsany’s plays were perfect under the circumstances. The parts for The Gods of the Mountain required an all males cast.

On both plays, I was lucky to play key roles - Agmar, the old beggar, in The Gods of the Mountain that has three acts, and the chamberlain serving the Babylonian King, in the shorter play Golden Doom.

Agmar, per author Dunsany, is an ‘imperious’ but cunning strategist. Organizing a bandit of beggars, he marched into the city of Kongros disguised as a deity, modeled after the seven gods of Mt. Marma in green raiment. Each beggar flashed a piece of green garment underneath his rags and was treated with more hospitality than expected, even being offered a valuable Woldery wine. Fearing suspicious eyes of citizens, Agmar never touched the food and spilled the special wine while being served, but began devouring voraciously after the citizens left. Their trickery was short-lived. The Marma gods struck them down and turned all seven beggars into stone and left. The people found the stone figures and became convinced they were true gods all along. The story could be both a tragedy and a comedy.

On the other hand, Golden Doom is a comedy. The King and his entourage are whooping it up around an innocent scribbling of a poem by a child by the guarded King’s door while the guards have an unauthorized break for the bash. The cause of trouble is that the boy claims the scribbling was written with a lump of gold found in the river Gyshon. The King and the chamberlain find the scribbling and send for a prophet to decipher. The country is doomed, says the Chief Prophet, and recommends to the King to make a sacrifice to the stars that envy the King’s pride. The King seems so humble and has never displayed hubris.

“I inherited a rocky land, and windy, ill-nurtured, and nursed it to prosperity by years of peace and spread it’s boundaries by years of war. I have brought harvests up out of barren acres and given good laws into naughty towns, and my people are happy, and lo! the stars are angry.”

I haven't acted ever since.

In retrospect, acting in Dunsany’s plays was almost like being in a Japanese Noh play. I had to wear archaic English and classic robes. I did not discover Noh until much later in my mid-thirties.

1 comment:

Paul Dion, STL said...

Your recounting of your son's participation in a play while struggling with the language brought back memories of my own struggles with language as well as that of my sons'. Fortunately, we move on ad we don't suffer from the difficulty that we've overcome. In fact, we celebrate the victory by writing a little bit every day. It is a pleasure to read you.