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The Room where it won’t happen

One cannot escape the lengthy goings-on regarding Trump’s impeachment and truly, why would we? It was interesting to watch the measured thoughtful responses of Adam Schiff on Meet the Press last Sunday. And throughout the week, his skills as an advocate, calm, measured and intelligent, as he sought to prove his case for the inclusion of witnesses at the trial.

In contrast, an arrogant Trump behaves as if nothing of importance has occurred, continuing his slander and abrogation, language of humans debased in his tweets. Besides his revolting demeanour, his treatment, outright lies and narcissism, it is his retorts, his language that I find over the top so offensive. And by the end of the week, the spineless Republicans ensured Trump will not be made accountable. Yet again.

But if I try and restrain my remarks and examine his manner of loquation, many equivocate, as Lady MacBeth once instructed her hubby,” False face must hide what false face doth know.” No worry for that, for Trump has no finesse, no pretence to EVEN pretend. He lies with no remorse, no recrimination as if lying were the truth. And the despicable Alan Dershowitz upholds the odious actions of the power mad, as if the president is held accountable only to

“The divine right of kings, a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy that asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God”.

For Trump, God is the self same name as his own.

Years ago, someone told me that if you say a thing long enough, repeating it to yourself and others, you rearrange your synapses and even untruths are cemented into truths. Perhaps this is apocryphal, for we know people who do believe in their own lies, forgetting, omitting, rearranging to their heart’s content, doggedly yelling in your face, up close, this is the way it is. THE TRUTH! To a crowd of encouragers, Trump has audiences who cheer on his willful madness.

And although people of a certain age can stand back, look askance, measure, cogitate, consult their wisdom, research the facts( are there any facts anymore? ), kids go to the Internet and Wikipedia, believing that technology is giving them the goods. My own grandkids consult Google to do their French translation, not dictionaries, aghast, disbelieving it could be wrong. Words, phrases, definitions, transcribed, copied from where? By whom? Those perhaps with selected interests to mould, model, persuade a certain line of thinking? Am I revealing my cynicism? But then, have we begun to accept goggle as gospel,too?

And with Trump as a role model shouting his ignorance, one despairs for the youth of today, especially when parents too are consulting their cellphones for info, too busy to read newspapers, discuss the day’s events, or propose there is more than one way to interpret or look at an issue. After all, the Fake News is after all fake? So wherein can we discover the real, the true, the unbiased and fresh face of the news? Do parents even remember when meals were the opportunity to gather, converse, exchange and mull over the day?Most demure, they are too busy, too tired. Is there anything more annoying than dinner at a restaurant where each patron has their eyes glued on their cell, the only voices mumbling or reacting located deep in the technology securely cupped in their hands?

Chris Cuomo on Late Night with Stephen Colbert in a curious exchange lauded Kellyanne Conway for doing her job as a spokesperson for Trump, spinning his words and standing up to his critics. Yet the underside, I thought, was his suggestion that what she was saying in her appearances might actually not be “her ” truth, but like Lady Macbeth,

“Look[ing] like the innocent flower but be[ing] the serpent under it”( OK, very wilted, plastic flower in a Gucci jacket)

Eventually consumed by power, Macbeth utters,

I am settled, and bend up

Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.

Away, and mock the time with fairest show:

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

Shakespearean protagonists in their evil travails demonstrate the awareness of a conflict between reality and appearance. For Trump, there is no insight, no division, the only truth his own. In this, he is perhaps incapable of reflecting on other possibilities.Not even “ Svenjolly “as Elaine on an early Seinfeld once quipped. So Sadly the senators who could bring him to justice have demonstrated such weak moral fibre and self interest that one despairs he will receive his due. Practically signed, sealed delivered, Trump can continue in his rampage, John Bolton’s book title, The Room Where It Happened silencing even the memory of AlexanderHamilton’s Federalist Papers that promoted the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Could there be a more perfect denouement to this :

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth again

Growing up, I was constantly upbraided by my mother, “ Think before you speak, Pat”. Maybe that provided me an interest in understatement, irony, hyperbole: a way to express my thoughts after contemplating if my meagre words were worthy of uttering them and sharing them out loud. In deed, were they proper, too personal, too revealing, appropriate to the company, damaging or hurtful? Trump has proven he has no inner voice that whispers to him not to be cruel or fabricate.

For our grandchildren, a dearth of role models with back bones to do what is moral and right, not to mention, instill still values of personal integrity, honesty, responsibility. Above, a jumble of thoughts : on language, on Shakespeare, on Hamilton – beneath which I am seething with anger.

Shakespeare said it best,

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Cleaning Up and The Story of 9724020 

My art room is overwhelmed with paper and stuff. So thinking I would begin to declutter, I approached a shelf. I still need the paint and brushes and vases so my eyes just glazeover them but in a container I find an old essay, maybe written for McGill by my very grownup son. Rather than just trashing it, I began to read the three doublesided pages. Back I am thrown into his earliest memories, to grade school, his confirmation, friendships…  

He writes, “ Most of my earliest memories are not my own. By that I mean that I do not remember them myself, but rather, have reconstructed memories based on stories friends and family have told me…apparently my nursery school teacher confided that I told jokes that only an adult could appreciate…”Incorrectly he ascribes this anecdote to his father although I clearly recall his teacher pulling me aside to share it.

His well written, thoughtful, searching piece reminds me about what is best in him: that gentleness, creativity and even – very occasionally, the sardonic wit . In it, he reflects on hating to practice piano until he surmises that the piano might actually be fun to play popular songs.Eventually he embraces his musical soul with serious forays into the trumpet and the guitar. Will we ever forget his group , Jordan and the Jordans?

He ruminates on being sent to the principal’s office for chasing girls in the yard in Grade 2, being under-estimated by his best friend’s father, his love for the Blue Jays. Again he ponders “I had two goldfish. One was named Swimmy, and the other I never bothered to name because I assumed he would die shortly. Combined, the two fish lived for 15 years. Swimmy died first and we buried him in the backyard. The un- named fish lived alone for another three years, and then was flushed.”. A small snapshot of a boy now father, husband and man.

He delves into boyhood embarrassment .When at his bar mitzvah, recalling his loving relationship with his grandfather recently dead, he is overwhelmed by his tears and cannot finish his after lunch speech to the guests. He writes,”…the next week in school [I] withdraw from friends. Afraid they have seen too much of [me].” Too cognizant and sensitive to having exposed an inner life, he decides to” build a wall around himself so he will never again have to endure the humiliation of his thirteenth birthday.”
This is the way of  youth, hoping that a cool exterior will obscure the bounding emotions of adolescence.

Yet with the wisdom of age, he can eventually contribute in his essay that there were no lies in his speech. And “his tears said more than any words…The boy[ I was] does not know this, …it will take him years to figure it out.”

It gives one pause—and a reason to stop making order in my messy art room. How do we organize and make our lives tidy, to put into place what we deem unwanted at inauspicious times when we feel we have betrayed ourselves, but later realize what is truly important. How  long does this process take?Perhaps a lifetime.
He concludes his piece with “ I was happy and loved…”   

I’m not sure exactly who the audience was, or why he had written this, and if he was being careful to expunge any too personal details, but just the same, it was an overview of a life, a certain grappling with a sense of self and identity: that consisted of family, friends, being a middle child, being curious , funny, alert and observant as he saw himself caught in the crosshares of his mind.  It certainly caught me off guard and I was awash in feelings.What more does any parent want than to hear than his words at the conclusion?

 In a book on Mindfulness, the author, Dr.Mark Epstein, discourses on forgiving ourselves, to understand that we did the best we could do at the time, and to move on. For we are all human, exploring paths that we may regret along the way, our emotions occasionally overtaking reason. And yet, what makes us human, what touches us in a meaningful way is in deed significant and essential en route to self knowledge.

I think of myself too convulsed with emotions , grabbing away the words I would prefer to express calmly rather than with an outburst. But I suppose this is how I am, for the most part, wired more into emotions than rational thought. And although having attempted to modulate my expression, I value the truth which it connotes Accepting the uneasy combination, that what perhaps makes me most special also damns me. Yet in the end, I do prefer the intensity and honesty compared to superficiality and even blandness.
What comes to mind as I consider the alternative is written in Macbeth, ” False face  must hide what the false heart doth know.” So I prefer my sloppy emotional messiness, especially at my age. Still I hear Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning to follow the middle way- a balance. The Buddha, too, thought this best.
I think, at least, hope, my girls would agree with their brother, the middle child’s concluding sentiments. 
Howard and I tried to expose them to the beauty of the arts in music and museums. We travelled extensively with them, forays to Europe several summers and for one extended sabbatical, staying in gites and rambling in castles and churches and tasting the local cuisine, especially in open air markets. We loved hearing the kids switch into almost perfect French in Provence and Paris, dazzling merchants as we prompted them to ask prices or enquire for directions to a monument or street, knowing our bastardized accents would give us away as tourists. I think of the pizza on Sundays at Il Castillo outside Montbuono in Italy, but also swatting flies as huge as golf balls near the ponies by the fence nearby. And Erica wildly jumping up and down on her bed, yelling Jolliflex, only to dive beneath her covers so her sibs could take the blame on those hot impossible- to- sleep nights when all three shared a room. And the birthday cake almost all heaps of glorious crema and a glinting crocheted gold top given Ariel for the celebration of her birthday by Mrs. Joseph, ex- patriot builder of our small villa.
My memories leak out as I write this.
For the sake of my own reminiscing, I descend into Howard’s office and peruse the photobooks from that trip. Charter, Ambois, Lago di Garcia, Venice, Montecarlo. It is hard to consider how quickly time has flown as I view the pictures that document my children as sweet smiling faces with the backdrop of international landscape. They certainly look happy, relaxed enjoying the sun on their faces and the artistic and architectural diversions arranged by me but  thankfully for them punctuated by trips to the beach. Jordan wisely writes in his piece, “ Can you guess what happens next?” The boy he describes at his bar mitzvah cannot . Nor could we.

From the images could I guess what the future would hold? Unlikely. And although we planned for schools and lessons and family outings, we could not know what trials and triumphs lay ahead. That all three grew up to be successful, fulfilled( I hope) in their professions and contribute to society in a positive way is reassuring that the building blocks we attempted to put in place produced a solid foundation.
But as my wise mother used to annoyingly remind us in a crackle of voice, “ You never know.” You do never know where a stick will bend, what influences will mound, warp or redirect the sapling. You might water, feed and care for your bud, but sometimes the gods will alter your plans- no matter how carefully you have sown the seeds. So it is with our offsprings. 

When I was young, we all read Kahlil Gibran, most later scoffing at the vacuous platitudes, but I seem to recall a verse on wings and roots that stated “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings. …. “ And in the end, I agree.

Fates and Furies

It seemed that everywhere I turned, someone was reading or talking about Fates and Furies. So I too began the book, but was soon put off, feeling it resembled light porn – or what I imagined “ light porn” to be. I complained to my friend Anne who lectures to a book group in Rosedale . Anne my dearest friend whose earlier career demonstrated that she could enchant the dullest student with her classes in literature. So if Anne found merit in the book, I too would persevere, grin and bear it as the couplings continued- on sweaty breasts, on exposed bums in uncomfortable locales, in closets,well you get the idea. So I continued and admit in the end,I did enjoy it.

In a NPR interview with Terry Gross, critic Maureen Corrigan suggests that Lotto and Mathilde , the dual parts of the marriage in Fates and Furies are “ not fully realized”. And although I admit that I eventually found the book a page turner, I stood at the doorway, and detachedly observed them through a windowpane or a mirror perhaps, their liveliness refracted, distorted. Only when Anne sent me this quotation regarding the writing did I relax and NOT expect them to be“ real”.  

Anne wrote ,

            “….except from the NYTimes review which attracted me ( Anne) to the novel in the first place:

Groff — — displays an exquisite sense of how best to use literary (and other) traditions and ­predecessors. Not only does she prominently rely on the classical concepts of the Fates and the Furies…”

And so the romp with Lotto and Mathilde became something very differently than first anticipated from the initial encounters of flesh and blood characters . The story of the Satterwhite marriage from each member’s perspectives becomes a created piece where first, the husband, the golden boy , the quester, destined for greatness, even the presidency, has been foretold in the stars– or at least by his father, Gawain. He begins the narration in Fates. Eventually the wife, Mathilde, reveals her part in the relationship. Groff foreshadows that the marriage will be the real story here: 

 …He imagined a lifetime of making love on the beach until they were one of those ancient pairs speed-walking in the morning, skin like lacquered walnut meat…. Between his skin and hers, there was the smallest of spaces, barely enough for air, for the slick of sweat, now chilling. Even still, a third person, their marriage, had slid in.

Lotto’s thoughts of a future, love, sex and a sense of the romantic work towards understanding his idealized view, even as the couple will harden into little nuts intertwined in a marriage that will be more than a thought, but an actual living presence that maintains them as a couple for decades.Endowed with the stereotypical characteristics of the hero, Lotto, short for Lancelot, our Prince Charming, is taller exceeding 6 foot, and more charming than most mortals, heir to a fortune, excelling in sports and academics as an adolescent. He stands above the crowd, especially women,who are drawn to him like fireflies; he shines. 

He has the feel of Jay from The Great Gatsby, ripe for the American Dream to propel him into greatness .Made rich by his father bottling Florida’s water, even the metaphor works for Lotto himself who is perhaps more package than essence.Yet, soon he is disinherited by his mother who does not approve of his marriage. Riches to rags, Lotto is forced to find his own path to success. With the grand support of his wife, they live on barely nothing, church mice who make do with crumbs but are buoyed by their love, their marriage. 

Although mediocre as an actor and often depressed, Lotto apparently excels as a playwright, drawing on his own Tennessee Williams’ background of overstuffed “ Muvva” as fodder for his brilliance. Entitled The Springs, his first play connotes for images of freshness or beginnings along with hints from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, 

Hope springs eternal in the human breast; 

Man never is, but always to be blessed

 Cliché meets cliché. To the depiction of Lotto depicted as “ loud and full of light”, my response catapults to Macbeth’s line 

…a poor player upon the stage

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Although harsh in my reflections, nonetheless my mind sketches in the looming presence of the charismatic dramatist whose bright largeness hides gaps, particularly when he cannot actually substantiate the completion of his first ground- breaking play; as if the elves had come in the night to transform it, he acknowledges that he cannot remember, for dozing off from a drunken stupor. 

And yet, our boisterous hero rises.  

Supported by the startling Mathilde who appears to sacrifice herself for the brilliance of her hubby,washing, scrubbing toilets, supporting him in a very un- feminist manner, happy to be in love, she seems a cipher of self sacrifice. Much like Little Dorrit or Oliver Twist, Mathilde has an background of occluded abuse and alienation in society. Without explanation only a maudlin innuendo of a past and obscured by Lotto’s fame, Mathilde is merely backdrop. Occasionally, she retreats, appears passively aggressive as she sulks, but always returns to the side of her man. A tabula rasa, perhaps, but we let it pass because we don’t feel passionate enough about the so- called ice queen, often dressed in white, to stop and ponder. Besides which, Lotto drinks up all the light. 

However, throughout their telling of their tale, one feels caught in a fascinating web of narrative  much like the plot driven Iliad or the rise and fall of a Dickensian plot. Susanna Rustin calks Groff , “ a manipulator of information”. We silly mesmerized mortals trust and float on and above Lotto’s words, not questioning his manner of relating his triumphs because he is so obviously a narcissist, a man who does not ever cheat on his wife and who maintains loyalty to his friends.  

The story speeds on throughout his life, the reader barely able to remember the names, the places, even his well received plays that are responsible for his success. Throughout the trajectory of his good fortune, he remains unbelievably loyal to his gal, never straying. To him, she is the purest of the pure . To us, Mathilde is a pretty or interesting wallflower, easily overlooked. 

In the beginning of the novel, Mathilde is associated with sexual acts, a willing partners in the abundance of sex that becomes tedious: she, at first, remaining pure before actually committing to the act, prior to their marriage. Only when Lotto literally falls (or was he pushed?) from an airplane, does the book thankfully depart from that lightweight genre and veer into more interesting tracks. 

Although sex is pervasive throughout, it becomes more than one note after our hero’s plunge. Sex has been established as constant motif throughout Fates and Furies and naturally in marriage, its presence plays a major role. Lotto’s first real sexual encounter with Gwennie in the shadows of a fire! albeit overladen with drugs and alcohol is the reason he is dispatched to a cold New England boarding school where his life is made miserable. Even here, sexual comfort is provided by his drama teacher: a random act that perplexes our lad. 

Later with Mathilde when the continuous sex of the early days falters somewhat, the intimacy of their love continues to bolster and keeps them together much as glue that underpins badly matched parts. Their friends throughout take bets on whether the marriage will endure. It does. That the sex does not produce children wrinkles Lotto’s broad forehead, but Mathilde easily dismisses it. Explained away as a matter of luck and timing, we also accept Lotto’s buoyant delusions. 

Throughout we are aware of the meddling of gods, the Fates, who manipulate Lotto for their sport and he continues to claim the American Dream accoutrements of fame, fortune, personality cult. Hubris lays in wait. Inside the story Lotto himself commandeers the tragedies and mythologies of the Greeks, perhaps openly challenging them,even calling on Telegony and Telemachus, openly appropriating the names of the gods and their victims,and citing them as sources for his genius. His masterpiece based on Antigone will be called Antigonad. Leo, Lottos’s personal muse, and Lotto jokingly refer to their heroine as “Go”. 

Groff boldly juggles literary traditions both in and out of the narratives  and plot lines. Along with illusion, confusion, deception, disguise, misappropriation of identity that recall Shakespeare, she preloads the telling of her protagonists’ takes with the advent of irony. However, it is the stormy vacillating fickleness of the Fates that control the roller coaster ride.The presence as well of the Greek chorus in parentheses who comment for example when Lotto considers suicide, “[ True. It was not his time] “does not surprise as we have been attuned to the multiple voices, within and out  of this book. And much like the Greek chorus , we have been watchful of Lotto’s hamartia, blinding trust, awaiting the fall of our victims dangling from Groff’s pen.

And in deed, the serpents in the nest reveal themselves to be those closest and most trusted by Lotto: Chollie, brother of dead Gwennie; and the beloved wife, Mathilde. Lotto’s relationship with Chollie from Lotto’s early years stands as the gargoyle to the prince, we often wondering why the closeness endures once boys become men and the travesties of the past are quieted by Lotto’s brilliant life of international success. Consistently described in repulsive terms of behaviour, clothing, demeanour, Chollie might have slipped away to return later to deliver his horrifying revelations to Lotto. Instead he steadfastly  clings to Lotto’s side.  

The one other “ true” friend is Leo Sen, the young genius, compelling, but strange. He too will disillusion Lotto. Wounded by Sen’s misunderstanding of the music to be set to Lotto’s opera, Lotto retreats to drink and ponder. When Lotto reveals to Leo that the music is all wrong, Leo is shattered. He leaves. He dies. Lotto returns to the arms of Mathilde for comfort. When Chollie confides Mathilde’s terrible past, the Fates smile their terrible smiles and we, readers, await the final blow to their hero who purged of his illusions must comply with his fate and die. 

The second part of the book, Furies, gives us ‘Mathilde’s ( born Aurelie) life, truly an ugly fairytale. At her core, she is ice, responsible for inflicting pain and possibly death. I even wondered if she had wrecked vengeance on poor Leo for disappointing Lotto. Like Moll Flanders and many other hapless heroines such as Julia Roberts in Pretty woman before her, she prostitutes herself in order to go to Vasar. A witch, a siren, never an innocent, she is surprised by the true passion and love that wrench her heart for Lotto. She can rationalize that she has not lied to her love, just never filled in the holes of her entire story. 

Yet when Chollie reveals to her that he finally unburdened himself to Lotto about her position as sexual protégé with Ariel,  her twice over employer who funded her education, she is furious, vengeful. Lotto is dead but she hates that he has died, the blinders having been removed from his eyes, their dream of a perfect marriage dispelled. She has become a hermit, ragged, rude, only leaving the house to engage in sexual acts with strangers. Again pervasive sex is at the heart of the theme that winds in and out of this marriage. When Mathilde hires an attractive private detective to discern how Chollie has so quickly amassed his fortune so she can ruin him, Groff’s description foreshadows that a sexual encounter between them will occur. 

In a not very convincing manner, Mathilde’s desire to ruin Chollie for destroying Lotto’s sense of their perfect marriage dissipates: and again the Greek Oedipus fate of sleeping with both one’s spouse and child is evoked as the reason for appeasement. That the person’s name is Land feels about the same as someone whose name is lotto, all connotations begging to be acknowledged. 

For me, this book was obviously not believable, but fun to read. Like Romeo and Juliet, these “star- crossed lovers” have a marriage that was far from ideal. The disparity between reality and illusion is vast,yet isn’t that where love lives?:in our illusions ( likely and hopefully not as vast as in our protagonists’).Here it is the blindfold obscuring both fate and furies, allowing for a marriage that has endured and must have provided succour, keeping them together during the better and worse parts of their vows. Had our Lancelot lived, we wonder if the marriage would have endured now that his illusion of perfection had been pierced? And would discovering that he had a son made a difference? Unlikely . For the gods must have their due. Perhaps swallowed in a dreamy stupor, or afflicted with an( other) injury to his head, the story might have rambled into Lotto erecting a new castle.  

But Groff’s story  must culminate with the death of our hero.

It’s a fun read. Just get past the beginning sex! 


Truth be told, I always had a hard time understanding Shakespeare’s language. Although I would tell my own students, it was the rap music of the day, I could as much understand rap as the bard. In high school, I would hunt a copy of Coles’ notes to read the plot summary so in class the next day I would appear knowledgeable.

In grade 11, I was taught by a Mr. Thomas, an English man- at least that’s how I remember him, a slightly bent over man in tweeds. A kind personable fellow who cast me as Lady MacBeth in the class reading of the text. I recall the embarrassment of having to recite” Take my milk for gall… and come to my woman’s breasts ” out loud.Not finding anything whatsoever sexual about me, the class must not have even chortled as I was about as present as a saucer of milk to them. Eyes downcast, I do recall my voice shaking as I read the lines.

Poor kind Mr. Thomas, as he was killed on a highway up north by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. I recall him fondly and his attempts to enrich the class although his choice in casting was truly terrible.

Back in the 60’s we had “ PROVINCIAL EXAMS which meant that all students across the province wrote the same exams in every subject at the end of Grade 13 at the exact same time. Some department head must have misread the course calendar at the collegiate because we wound up studying Macbeth in both Grade 11 and Grade 13. Perhaps that is why some of the lines have stuck so strongly in my head: “False face must hide what false heart doth know…Look like the gentle flower but be the snake under’ t”. How smart was Shakespeare! When one actually thinks about the meaning of the lines, not just parroting them by rote, one appreciates the wisdom and insight based on thoughtful observation in multiple levels of society. How well did he know the human condiditon-even before Facebook and Iphone!

So much of his language comes to me unexpectedly . When I am hurt or angered by my children, it is Shakespeare’s voice that floats up into my ears. I hear poor old Lear refer to “nothing “…as painful as the sharp pangs of children as he feels abandoned by his daughters, but particularly his
heart’s delight, Cordelia. He moans, “Nothing will come of nothing”. And any parent’s pain of betrayal is best described as ” sharper than a viper’s tooth” as their child throws hurtful remarks at the cowed parent who has tried but perhaps failed to comprehend their child’s needs. So many venues for discussion, so many levels of interpretation and fantastic metaphors and similes to further expend meaning .

I took my daughter’s name Ariel from The Tempest. I loved that magical sprite, did not care what gender Ariel was, so plucky, so resilient. The name suggested to me “ airiness”, lightness and mischief and she is all that and much more. I love Miranda at the end, her mouth hanging open as she murmurs in delight “Brave new world” anticipating a new future, a bright new beginning. Huxley also put his spin on that phrase, twisting it into a frightening view of a distorted society, but Miranda’s awe and wonderment at the possibilities for a strange fresh world remain. The Tempest is a shining play about so many things: freedom, colonialism, repression, silliness, parental relations, outcasts, magic! and especially hope.

I taught Measure for Measure to my senior students at Northern Secondary and loved the politics of love and power, particularly as the antagonist Angelo tempts and taunts saintly Isabella, but she a worthy opponent, a 21st Century woman who challenges his deceit. What I loved best -and was no surprise for me- the paradox of how Angelo might be spinning out his role or Isabella w(holily) into herself, ignorant or not of Angelo’s manipulations. Last year at Stratford, the play was catapaulted into the 40’s and it stood its ground perfectly.

It is the timelessness of Shakespeare, from the 16th century ,whether the sonnets ( think of sans teeth …sans everything) and the plays and the language that have persisted and speak to every time, every person, every situation reveal such acute observation of people’s fears, contemplations, interactions, relationships and foibles, especially in pusuit of their coveted desires in the bed or boardroom. And not surprisingly, interest even today has not waned when a portrait resurfaces or the debate over authorship is raised by a disbeliever regarding Shakespeare’s brilliance.

If it is true that I did not comprehend the prose until I pondered it later, now I grasp the meaning deeply and darkly. And although Angels in America is a triumph, a force that grips you to your core, I wonder if it will have the enduring effect that Shakespeare’s plays have and what of our days will be put into revivals once we are long gone? I’m sure Shakespear had something to say about that too.

Sound and Fury American style -albeit no longer on the big screen

It seems that Leonardo di Caprio has a talent for playing the icons of the American dream: Gatsby and not too long ago Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street. Let me begin by saying that he is great, well as great as a one-trick pony can be. Sadly the depiction is a symbol of America in the 20th and 21st centuries- all hype, glitter and excess in a film that runs excessively long with excessively obnoxious characters, again sadly based on real people in real situations.

He is the Willy Loman salesman in extreme born with a talent to sell, dazzle and make money- lots of money. He is the motivational speaker who hypnotizes. And like Blaise Pascal in Les Pensees (17th Century) who expiated the penchant for the quest, Belfort screams the passion of the hunt and all the perks that accompany that rush into adventure. Unlike Loman however, the glittering journey suffices more than nicely. Maybe the drugs keep Belfort from falling into self-awareness when plans go askew. Disparaging the failed FBI agent who hounds him, Belfort mocks the agent’s “sweaty balls” on his lonely subway ride, representative of the life the man is doomed to lead because of his desire for justice, not flamboyance. Belfort earns a mere 3 years in an exclusive tennis-playing jail facility, triumphing that he has been able to screw the system, maintain his dishonesty, and demonstrate his lack of remorse. Great lessons for the youth of today.

American Hustle contrasts Wolf nicely as it is a slower film, one for the boomers with stories reminiscent of the tales our parents once retold and affectionately ruminated on: the Damon Runyon-types that dwelled in humorous and sentimental gamblers, hustlers, actors, and gangsters in a variety of dicey situations, spouting colorful dialog with names such as Benny Southstreet, Big Jule, Harry the Horse. In American Hustle, Di Niro’s mobster is a study in tension. A look can pierce any façade.

Both Bale, the protagonist in Hustle, and di Caprio have mistresses on the side, lavishing them with material goods, both doublecrossing their arch government nemeses, and both attempting a loyalty to friends. Bale is no angel, in spite of a quieter and more thoughtful performance, perhaps appealing more-only in contrast to the more obnoxious out there di Caprio. Superficially the films are incredibly similar, yet the times only several decades apart are truly night and day. The underpinning is the same; both men are deplorable guys whom society should disparage, yet both wind up being heroes to the young: guys who are smart enough to get away with bad things and succeed.

Years ago when I taught Grade 9’s I would always ask who their heroes were: inevitably it was their moms or sports figures, usually baseball stars who made obscene amounts of money. My generation would have responded to the same question with John F. Kennedy, who at least was admired for his leadership and Peace Corps innovations. In truth, he was also an icon of good looks, aristocratic demeanor, Harvard smarts. But the money-thing that he tried to play down was not the reason he was lauded. And yes, there were mobster-links and women and the Ratpack. But to us kids in the 60’s , there was a message beyond greed. Pierre Trudeau also offered this optimism and sophistication even as we chortled at “fuddle-duddle” and gasped at the Pierre Laporte situation in Quebec. Both Kennedy and Trudeau stood for something.

With Nelson Mandela now gone, the last shimmer of goodness feels dissolved in the golden temptation of goods and naughtily provocative hijinks, leaving the poor, the garbage men and firefighters as in their portrayal in Wolf of Wall street as easy marks, schlemiels who trust in telephone solicitors, 419 schemes and easily gamble their pensions away to Nigerian conmen and Madoffs of the world-who was at caught-. The working class is decried as fools for trusting, given the finger and shown as deserving of being bilked of retirement funds, Belfort and his cronies dance, cajole, engage in sexual hijinks that speak to adolescent immaturity. Alas, the working stiffs of the world deserve being played by the smoother, classier and cleverer of the world. We are Elmer Fudd for fodder.

Belfort has the power, but the people who buy his line, thumping their chests as primordial savages are worse than the duped working folk. They allow themselves to be lead- no conscience, no thought, only the throb and shriek , the noise that follows charismatic men like Hitler, the Swengalis of the world, the uncaring and driven of the world who play with the people’s hearts and minds, rendering them victims to victimizers. Sadly, these are reality truths, short of morality. Theirs is

“… a tale/Told by an idiot full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene v, 17-28.)

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