Other Arts:

The Importance of Being Oscar
by Michéal MacLiammóir
(Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St, NYC)

Gecko Suite, An Opera in Three Colors
by Edwin Torres
(The Kitchen, 512 West 19th St, NYC)

The Wilder Duck
by Maureen Holm

The stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but is also the return of art to life. -- Oscar Wilde

Wilde abandoned his native Ireland for London, which dealt him outlandish measures of fortune and scorn. He owes this enduring stage homage to actor Michéal MacLiammóir (1899-1978), who with fellow Englishman and lover, director Hilton Edwards (1903-1982), flourished where Wilde was stunted, and founded The Gate in Dublin with American Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) "one of the only truly great theatre companies Ireland ever had." (Sheridan Morley, Sunday Times, review of Christopher Fitz-Simon's The Boys, a dual biography of MacLiammóir and Edwards (Heinemann, 1996).) MacLiammóir played Hamlet to Welles's Claudius already in 1934, and Iago to his Othello in 1952, with Edwards contributing (as Desdemona's father) to a three-way bond which held through ten years of stop-start production and subsequent critical disunity, notwithstanding Grand Prize honors at Cannes.

Every night in the presence of our patrons we write our new creation, and every night it is blotted out forever. Of what use is it to say to audience or to critic, "Ah, but you should have seen me last Tuesday!"?-- Michéal MacLiammóir

MacLiammóir began his stage career at the age of ten in London. By 30, he was co-owner, with Edwards, of the world's only Gaelic-language theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in Galway, and producer of his own work, Diarmuid Agus Grainne. He wrote ten plays, three one-man shows and nine books on theatre, three of those in Gaelic. His two-hour reanimation of Wilde's excerpted stage plays (The Importance of Being Earnest et al.), novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray), letters (De Profundis), poetry ("The Ballad of Reading Gaol"), and epigrams had its debut in 1960 at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. For fifteen years thereafter, including hundreds of Tuesdays, a broad band of the international circuit applauded him applauding Wilde (1854-1900). English and Irish switched places, manner imitated personality, and -- despite the lack of physical resemblance -- methodology applied over time achieved perfection.

Lots of people act well, but few talk well. This shows that talking is the more difficult of the two. -- Oscar Wilde

Language dominates MacLiammóir's one-man show and veteran actor Niall Buggy, variously confined on the desk, chair or divan in his gentleman's library, explains and declaims Wilde's, now Ichabod schoolmaster, now Eckermann secretary, while the principal genius is off on his recess constitutional. The script ticks off Wilde's escape to lily-bearing flamboyance in London, his courtship of the married Lily Langtree ("Only shallow love lasts forever."), his lecture on 18th Century Florentine painting to the unsinkable, if deeply sleeping miners of Leadville (Colorado), his own marriage (at 34) to and consummation with Constance Mary Lloyd, the Fan (Lady Windemere's, 1892), the green carnation, Dorian and his Mephisto, Lord Douglas and his daddy. I love acting. It is so much more real than life. An uninvited blow to the head is battery. So is the verbal pounding in a small theatre from the vantage of the fourth row.

From the divan, Lady Bracknell is high-pitched and mega-mugged as though Cecily's mischievous sugar lumps had been slipped into her pedigree unmentionables ("to marry into a cloakroom, and form an alliance with a parcel!"). Excerpts from De Profundis are orated from a parchment-sized prop in a blubbering blunderbuss of rebuke (You forced your way into a life too large for you), self-aggrandizing epiphany (The gap between us was too wide . . . our friendship intellectually degrading to me) and self-pity: After my terrible sentence, when the prison dress was on me, and the prison house closed, I sat amidst the ruins of my wonderful life, crushed by anguish, bewildered with terror, dazed through pain.

Too little in evidence in this script is the change brought about in an artist once content to be highly styled and amusing: A man's very highest moment is when he kneels in the dust, and beats his breast, and tells all the sins of his life. . . . It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. . . . I now see that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. . . . Failure, disgrace, tears. As I had determined to know nothing of them, I was forced to taste each of them in turn. One might also add faith -- with no loss of imagination's sweet confections. Even the inventive devil-boy Peer Gynt, landed among the trolls, chooses his creed over rights to a kingdom.

But it was Ibsen's Wild Duck that kept coming to mind during Professor Buggy's oral interpretation of MacLiammóir's Cliff Notes, in which an exile's didactic exhortation of ordinary, God-fearing folk to idealistic principle combines with murky, illegitimate circumstances of birth to end in mortal self-sacrifice, its performance tragic or melodramatic -- depending on the day of the week. In this "Desire under the Firs," the younger man is cuckold and dupe of the conniving older; the late-revealed half-sibling "Fools for Love" are not wantons, but rather, a motherless celibate who by talking well seduces his virgin sister to shoot her crippled wild duck as an act of devotion to her once-putative father who means to save his soul by abandoning his family. She turns the pistol on herself. Husband and wife reunite to survive the loss. (Now she belongs to both of us.)

Gregers, the ideal-monger prescribes an epiphany for the indicated shock and grief:

Hedvig has not died in vain. Did you not see how sorrow set free what is noble in him?

Relling, the doctor, sometime drunkard and maker of daemonics of the bored, replies:

Most people are ennobled by the actual presence of death. You'll see how he'll be declaiming within the year. Oh, life would be quite tolerable if only we could be rid of those who plague us in our poverty with calls to the ideal.

Gregers: My destiny is to be the thirteenth at the table.

Relling: The devil it is.

With this "Yeah, sure," Ibsen returns us to a life where art is elsewhere.

Previews of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted for the stage by Joe O'Byrne, begin March 13. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, NY (212) 255-0270.

Other Arts:

Gecko Suite: An Opera in Three Colors
Written and directed by Edwin Torres
The Kitchen, 512 West 19th St, NYC
February 14 (preview) through 17, 2001

Poetic Review (Feb 17)
by Bill Kushner
Notes on the Preview (Feb 14)
by Nicholas Johnson

February 17:

A bird breathe. I bird ahh. I am a listener. A poem of 1 word
of a long ago honey alongside. You flash a light a moon of a
light. I see said a Gecko see I. Me, I am a Gecko, see? Gecko
is my tragedy Gecko. Says "I am my own sensation." Says is a
see a moon says. G is what she says if I a moon says. & in my
dream moon yr moo body is mine. O sing me a glacier of fortitude
unknown unbound. You step forward born. O Vision yr shadow is
makes a hole in my every new. G opens book. How said to read is
by no moon. Gecko born by noom moon. Noom flings. We lights is
we walking. Born of Vision I am Light. "Gecko says that echos/
are the gods that we all wanna be." "We were strangers in the same
sentence." O that every minute of you & my shoes were fat &
thirsty." O was "I was sent to ride on yr back." We have this figure
eight going on/Between us and we don't need/This tomorrow."

"Love is in my stare."

--Bill Kushner

* * *

February 14:

Gecko Suite is an image-based performance that uses the dramatic structure of opera to tell the story of a dreamer who doesn't fit into the world. -- (Program)

We see Gecko, played by Edwin Torres, shoot an arrow at the moon. We see him struck by Vision; he pulls a long red scarf out of his chest: obvious blood, a death. Vision dances encircled by lights on her arms and her long white veil. She seems to bring him back to life, then changes costumes, collapses on stage and transforms. There are layers of text and subtext. Amid primal sounds and fragmented utterances, "Gecko kisses me in places I've been lonely," is one refrain heard plainly.

The narrative line of this work, while not immediately recognizable in any conventional sense, is subliminally communicated in archetypal situations using dance, poetry, color, instrumental music, and song. As the symbolic actions resonate with the onlooker, he inhales meaning without knowing it, familiar actions, ripe for allegorical interpretation.

It became evident during the Q&A session with writer/director Edwin Torres which followed the Valentine's Day dress rehearsal that the spectators had followed experientially, more than they consciously realized, what had been happening in the opera. Through the articulation of their questions, they began to discover that knowledge.

Q: There seemed to be a struggle with language, towards ordinary language, getting the actual words out.

A: I'm concerned with how language gets across meaning, so this is part of my investigation. The title, "Gecko," originated with x's and o's. The invented language is centered on the sounds of Spanish vowels and its rhythms, though some who have seen the work have also heard French or Portuguese. What's heard will be different for every individual.

Q: Did the transparent texts, the clear tablets, have any religious significance? [The characters sometimes read from transparent sheets, books or scrolls, the text of which was visible to the audience.]

A: They were the poet's words, so there was no religious significance as such. I wanted the audience to be able to see the words held in the reader's hands. I thought people who go to readings might have imagined being able to do that sometimes, just as I have.

Q: Was there an Adam and Eve reference?

A: Yes. Gecko is born into darkness, experiences Vision; she offers him the moon (a Frisbee), and he shoots it. Later, she flings the moon at him and kills him. (It's an opera. We needed a death!) At times, Vision is Gecko's alter-ego.

Gina Bonati, who played Vision, had her own way of viewing the opera and her character's relationship to Gecko:

Vision gives birth to Gecko, loves him, kills him, brings him back to life. She is like mother and lover. In fact, to me, it sometimes feels like the world is a big woman, giving birth, making love, killing.

Wind is represented by the saxophone (played by Ladislav Czernek) and Ground by percussion instruments (Marc Dale). David Ovecamp designed the lighting and Gen Ken Montgomery did the sound.

The opera is visually imposing. The stark opposition of black and white and the added contrasting red contribute importantly to the drama and serve to light and order the five acts. That this color combination recalls Lorca is not surprising: Torres draws freely on his own Latino background (though when asked about it, he seemed to say that, for him, red was not a color).

More than just a 20-minute mood piece, the opera has strong lyrical components, and communicates an elemental, reverberating story, built upon sound fragments which hold together in a basic, mythic way, instinctually understood. Look for future performances.

Gecko Suite was followed by Ball, an abstract, improvisational work which "explores intention and the intention to be without intention" through the use of the motion and layered sound of balls which are caused to travel in and out of four indicated quadrants.

Bill Kushner attended the February 17 performance and conveys his impressions through a poetic review. Audience members received copies of the libretto.