Thursday, 11 February 2010

Musical: Oliver in London

The Thrill of the Flight
February 9, 2010-02-09

I didn’t feel the surge of excitement about this trip until I went to the garage to bring in a large suitcase and its matching carry-on, at which point. Not thinking about a trip is a survival technique – keep my mind focused on what has to be done before the trip and don’t let a hint of anticipatory pleasure enter my consciousness. When I cracked the seal of that bubble by bringing in the luggage, my heart just started pounding and I was wondering if I was going to make a trip to the hospital instead over a heart attack. By the time Wyona and Charise picked me up, I was packed and calmed down. 

I couldn’t find Zoe in the car because she was in the back of the station wagon, surrounded by suitcases – one to the left of her, two to the right and one on her lap, perpendicular. Obstructing her view to the front and my view to the back (and her) as well. I only heard a small high voice, “Hi, Arta.”

On the drive out to the airport Wyona called back to her, “How are you doing back there, suitcase girl.” She didn’t answer, which was later to cause us our first problem. Charise and I unpacked the car at the unloading zone, yanking out the 8 suitcases and Wyona putting them on three trolleys. Zoe was still in the back seat when that was all over. I couldn’t coax her out of the car. Neither could Charise.

“She called me names,” she said, head down and pointing to Wyona. 

“Oh no,” I thought. “She is mad at her mother, this woman who is taking her to London and we haven’t even entered the airport. And all of this after her counting down, first the days and then the hours until we were to leave.” 

Wyona and I are hoping this doesn’t portend a difficult holiday for us and on occasion we say to each other, “Where is suit case,girl?” but we never say it loud enough for her to hear. 

Zoe made her displeasure visible, pouting, pushing the cart with one hand, pushing it sideways at a 45 degree angle, scratching at her scar -- and all of this was happening when we were in the elite line. I watch Wyona’s coping skill: eye contact to lay down the law, and then, appear to not notice until Zoe’s own mechanisms find equilibrium. The clerk checking us in followed Wyona’s suit.

When Zoe is not her usual self she sometimes needs food. Wyona headed to that most glorious of food facilities, an airport fast food court. Fries and chicken strips are Zoe’s ambrosia – or at least she that feast helped her to talk to us without pouting. 

Having some time on our hands, and being curious, Wyona checked out the Elite Lounge. She has a new status on her Auroplan mile card, upgraded from prestige to elite. The Lounge was just to the left after we got through security. Wyona could take in one guest and the second one would cost $25. Zoe doesn’t really eat or drink anything that was in the lounge: the soup, the salad, the vegetables, the wine. They had no fries and chicken strips in there.

And to continue speaking of food, we had 3 choices for meals and between us we ordered them all. The vegetarian meal was a shot in the dark, an upgrade from a child’s meal for Zoe – and was delivered as rice and a dahl curry. The bun that had seen better days but was the choice Zoe made of what was before her. The beef -- an Ethiopian stew. I ordered the chicken which came with microwave pasta – a crime punishable wth a fine, if not a prison sentence. The salad was stone-cold peas and icy cubed squash fushion – not a piece of lettuce in it. 

I can’t believe my kids used to complain about the food I would feed them. If only I could have known I could strike terror to their hearts, I would have threatened them, “Be nice to me or I will feed you flight food.”

The Coke was good. That is what kept me awake for the nine hour flight. I asked for red wine with my meal. I like to tuck it in my purse, to keep it for Janet when she joins us in London. Unfortunately the steward cracked the seal for me. He must have spotted that my arthritic fingers wouldn’t do it on their own. I hope the wine is still good when Janet gets here April 24th.

I was wide awake, long into the flight. In fact, I was the only passenger on the plane still awake. Me and a few crying babies, those poor little things who make visible the discomfort all of us feel when packed into a plane. The rest of the passengers had spread out over the empty seats and were sound asleep.

I was glued to the movies on the screen in front of me. I didn’t feel up to any dramas: this was a holiday after all. I looked through the menu for the comedies. Because I am an avid reader of reviews, I knew exactly what I would be seeing in the movies, even knew the spoilers and whether the movie had been reviewed as a good one or a bad one. New York, I love You (2009); The Graduation (2009) and A Serious Man (2009). 

I didn’t know the last comedy was written by Joel and Ethan Cohen until I saw the credits roll by. Have you seen the movie. It opens with the most curious of Jewish folktales. Roger Ebert says 
[b]eginning with a darkly comic prologue in Yiddish, A Serious Man inhabits a Jewish community where the rational (physics) is rendered irrelevant by the mystical (fate). Gopnik can fill all the blackboards he wants, and it won't do him any good. Maybe because an ancestor invited a dybbuk to cross his threshold, Larry is cursed. A dybbuk is the wandering soul of a dead person. You don't want to make the mistake of inviting one into your home. You don't have to be Jewish to figure that out.

Ebert’s is right about one thing – the prologue is a fabulous hook to the movie, and the reason I didn’t turn off the film and go to sleep.

Only one piece of luggage was leaking by the time we got to the elevator in the flat – not bad for the bumps they had taken along the way. I laughed outloud when I was at the top of entrance to the Picadilly Underground and Wyona was at the bottom. An elegantly suited man brought up a piece of luggage, left it at the top of the stairs, got eye contact with me and said, “The woman at the bottom of the stairs said to just leave this at the top of the stairs,” and off he marched to his board meeting.

We left the luggage at 96/100 New Cavendish Street, London and went to get evening performance tickets for Oliver. One short nap later, we were in the theatre – beautiful box seat tickets at same-day discounted prices. We have never been in the theatre with such an amazing view of the proscenium arch. Zoe got nervous quite a few times, starting with the boys in the orphanage not having enough food. Tears as sliding down her cheeks when Mrs. Sowerberry, the co-owner of the mortuary business sings, “It’s your funeral”. And when Bill Sykes kills Nancy, Zoe’s distress is manifest by sitting straight up, rocking back and forth -- with her hands shaking. Wyona knows to sit by her and squeeze her whole body when she sits up straight and and then takes her hand and squeezing them. Zoe responds by squeezing back with her beautifully manicured hands. And then by choosing the Oliver CD as the set of songs she wants to hear the next day.

At one point in the dialogue of the show, Fagan turns to the people sitting in the expensive seats in the audience and says, “There are the rich people who come to the theatre”, and he stretches his arm all across the length of the theatre where the costly seats are found. 

“And then there are the poor”, he says, pointing to the second and third balconies, and again he stretches his arm along the length of the theatre to the people in the gods, the highest, cheapest seats in the theatre, occupied by the poorest of the poor.

He continues, “Then there are the ostentatious people who sit in the boxes. They are the bankers, ... the ones who got bonuses this year. They can afford to bring their families.” And he points to us. We are pleased that he cannot see through our disguise.

There are 48 children in the cast – a lot of children to manage on stage. And in that final scene, where Fagan, now penniless, retreats, the street urchins are still following him, the youthful actors at their best – loving the stage work and hamming up their parts to the last possible moment. Hard to let them go.

Wyona and I have been talking about the themes of the musicals we have been seeing – asking why some of them capture such dark moments of history – Oliver mirroring Dickens story of orphanages and poor houses; Les Mis with Victor Hugo’s view of the French revolution. And then at yesterday’s matinee we saw Wicked, Gregory Maguires’ alternate reading of an American piece of fiction. We wonder why it has the same attraction, since it doesn’t originate in a dark European past, or out of our collective histories. 

Do you think its charm comes from thinking about untold histories? Like the movie, A Serious Person, do we go to the theatre to see what happens when we invite the wandering soul of a dead person over our thresholds. 

I can’t put my finger on it, yet.


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