me + richard armitage at the theater: more headcanon, anyone?

•November 12, 2019 • 12 Comments

Sort of like this. Or like this. It will take me a few paragraphs to get there. Start at the prompt for more direct Armitage ruminations.

Last spring, I fell deeply into the rabbit hole of NT Live and Stratford Festival theater transmissions — they are now 200 miles from home round-trip, but going to work already takes me 50 miles in that direction anyway, and I (thought I) had the support of the dadsitter. I saw several things I loved, but I didn’t write about most of them. This was the last one; I also saw Coriolanus, All about Eve, The Tempest, The Lehman Trilogy, and The Audience, and ideally I’d have written at least about Lehman and the Stratford productions.

Fast forward through the summer, and my options became more limited. I learned that the dadsitter was drinking with dad while I was away, and the doctor told us dad needed 24 hour supervision. We introduced the senior helpers into our lives, and dad was resistant. So although I bought two tickets for transmissions earlier this fall (One Man, Two Guv’nors and Midsummer Night’s Dream), I no longer felt comfortable leaving dad alone for more than twelve hours, even with senior helper support, and so I returned them. A month later, with the washing machine drama behind us, however, the GCM pointed out to me that we need to practice separations and following plans for days that deviate from the norm. Although dad’s been beyond prickly about the senior helper, the GCM pointed out that in the spring, if he does not move into assisted living, he’ll have to accommodate to even more of their presence, as I’ll be working five days a week.

So I decided to try to go to a transmission again and last week I saw Hansard via NT Live. It’s ostensibly a play about 1988 (Thatcher’s third term, unemployment, coal miners, AIDS, Section 28), viewed through the conflicted private lives of a Tory MP and his more liberal wife. (I also felt it was as much about Brexit as about 1988). The play has one act, is only 90 minutes long and has very little plot. The MP (Alex Jennings) returns to his cottage in the Cotswolds for a weekend during which we learn that his wife (Lindsay Duncan) tried to reach him that week on an important day, couldn’t, and concluded that he was having an affair. From there, they tear at (the remains of) their marriage like vultures clawing the meat from a corpse. By the middle of the play, it seems as if there will be nothing left. It’s been compared to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and that’s not far-fetched. As the manner in which the plot moves to the play’s end is apparently controversial, I’ll end the plot summary there. The consensus of the reviews seems to be: excellent performances (both the actors are Olivier winners), mediocre but promising play by a debut playwright.

Armitage ruminations

Richard Armitage (backstage somewhere?), Marie Claire, 2005.

What I thought of the play made me wonder again what Armitage is like as a theatergoer. And what it would be like to go to the theater with him. And what he really likes in plays. He’s said something about plays he’d like to do (Macbeth, Oedipus, Coriolanus, Pinter), and he’s expressed enjoyment over a few plays over the years (the main one I remember is the Mike Bartlett play, Wild, but there have been others). He seems to appreciate Mamet.

I concluded that he might not have liked this play much — mainly because of the script. Armitage, like many actors, has regularly praised “truthfulness” (it’s not quite fair to equate this idea with “truth” but I won’t get into the philosophical dimensions). Although the conflict at the heart of the play was probably real for many couples of the 80s, this play doesn’t have much to do with how real people talk or conduct their conversations, let alone their relationships. The script was very taut and said a lot, but more in the style of a Platonic dialogue than an account of an argument between marital partners or lovers — most of whom probably couldn’t maintain such a cutting debate for an hour and a half without a break of some kind. (On that level: kudos to Jennings and Duncan as this play must be simply exhausting to perform.) And most people who are emotionally involved in an argument just aren’t this articulate (not even upper-class Brits); most people who are really angry are left speechless at times, grasping for words or drowning in their rage at what’s being said to them. So the very sophistication of the script contributed to the feeling of irreality in the characters’ speech and emotions. Seen from the standpoint of classical dialogue, it was also clear who was winning this argument; the script tries to make the MP and his positions sympathetic, but not, in my opinion, with very much success. What I do think the script did extremely well, however, was to weave the political positions of the couple into a meta-discussion of their relationship and particularly the question of how they had come to terms with the path and events of their family life. They had a son together and 1988 was the year of Act 28, a measure supported by the Conservative government at the time. Most of the reviewers seemed to feel this problem was not set up very well by the script, but I thought it was obvious and interesting, and I admired the artistry of the script (even if I can imagine that it wouldn’t be easily accessible or attractive to the average critic).

I tend to think about Armitage as preferring plays that are either more openly visceral — The Crucible — or with epic themesOedipus. Vanya speaks both to his appreciation of modernism (Bulgakov), his love for mood (the whole question about method acting that he dances around all the time), and perhaps to an appreciation for the openly, emotionally philosophical. I suspect — despite the fact that this play to some extent deals with the failure of the characters to confront their feelings — that Armitage would see this play as somewhat too heavily cerebral. This play tells us a lot but it doesn’t show us much, and given Armitage’s interest in the movement of characters, I suspect he would have found it unsatisfying. I wonder, though, what he thinks about Act 28, and how the play handled that theme. He would have turned seventeen in 1988.

So many questions. There are other details in my Armitage theatre-going headcanon. I’m guessing he’d try to get his tickets comped if he knew anyone in the production and that sitting in the best seats is not particularly important to him. I’m guessing he maybe has a glass of sparkling wine in the interval but not an ice cream. I’m guessing he prefers to go to the theater alone. I also hypothesize that he would prefer to let the feeling of the play linger than talk about it in a lot of depth, at least in the immediate aftermath of the curtain fall. Maybe he’d want to talk about it more the next day, but I’m guessing that in the short term he would prefer to linger in the feeling.

At the same time, I secretly hope that I’m wrong about that. My wondering about this stuff always comes in the atmosphere of the 100 mi drive I’ve got in front of me when I leave the cinema, in the dark, which I’ve always found especially conducive to fantasy and brainstorming. In the days when I regularly drove 1500 mi I did a lot of that. Now it’s a bit more curtailed. But this spring, I found myself imagining Armitage in the passenger seat and wondering what he’d have thought of the Stratford Coriolanus — I found it a triumph, particularly the bravura performance of André Sills — what would Armitage have thought of Sills? Of the staging, which actively incorporated news broadcasts, the Internet, and text messaging? What would he have thought of the movement strategy in Lehmann? I loved it, even though I didn’t buy Simon Russell Beale as a Jew in the least and enjoyed him somewhat more in the comic phases of the characters he played. Would Armitage have approved of the gender swap in The Tempest? This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and Prospero is a role I’d wish for Armitage someday, but I felt that some of the cultural and political implications of the play were swept aside by casting a female Prospero.

In any case, I’ll have another opportunity to play this headcanon game again soon. I’ve got a ticket for the NT Live transmission of Present Laughter, and the senior helper is already scheduled.

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All those places aren’t home

•November 11, 2019 • 19 Comments

October was a rough month here. The main issue was the drama over the clothes washer, which threatened to blow up our living arrangements. After a year of being abused, the poor thing gave up the ghost. The replacement was an inch deeper than the space built for it; dad’s insistence on curing this problem himself led to unnecessary punctures in the drywall of the laundry room, the tearup of the platform the washer and dyer were on, and the destabilization of the dryer (important to know: it vents to the outside of the house). He also refused to have a finish carpenter friend of ours help him when it became clear he was in over his head. We were three weeks without a washer and everything I tried to do to ameliorate the situation just intensified his fixation, until Heavy Lifter lost it (rare for him) and intervened. This problem was coupled with a knockdown, drag out fight over the coming of the senior helper at 6 a.m. on every day I left for work. At the end of it all, the stress was enough to move me onto the “maybe he should go to assisted living” and HL onto the “he definitely should go to assisted living” pages. The GCM has thought this for a while already. She pointed out that if I am going to work every weekday in spring, dad’s inability to accommodate himself to the senior helper will more than double the stress of leaving the house, and she pointed out that not being able to stop dad from doing things could become deadly, if, for instance, the thing he got fixated on was snow removal (no joke in this part of the world).

We did get a washer with a child lock. Should have done this months ago. And that same week, I went to a workshop on responding to people with dementia, and the speaker‘s slogan was “people living with dementia are doing the best they can.” OK, she also apparently thinks there’s something beautiful about dementia, which I frankly think is a ridiculous thing to say to caregivers. However, I took her point about the sufferer not being able to change their behavior. Which made me think that this wasn’t (just) stubbornness or a power struggle — that maybe dad genuinely sees our this situation in positive or at least acceptable terms.

The GCM came and we had a meeting to discuss assisted living with dad. It was revealing. I realized while listening to dad talk about his perception of our situation that I’ve been trying to avoid a crisis of the sort we had on the day he sliced his arm up — that he would eventually hurt himself badly if left unsupervised, and we could set up safeguards against this. But that may not be the crisis coming our way: it may in fact be that his behaviors create a situation that is emotionally intolerable for me — for instance, because I have to leave, don’t have backup, and can’t control what house renovations he will decided are absolutely necessary, and both dread coming home and have to come home — and that this problem may be the trigger for assisted living. During the meeting, he seemed wholly oblivious to that possibility. He agreed that we had been fighting a lot, but he did not appear to see my emotional state as a factor that needed to be considered in decisionmaking. Which confirmed both what the neuropsych eval had said (lowered empathy) and what the dementia speaker had been saying (he believes he is doing his best).

One of our non-negotiables from that meeting (besides: no snowplowing) was that dad visit a few assisted living places (scouted for him by the GCM — she also took him to look) and getting on a waiting list for at least one of them. So he did that. And then HL and I visited them together, afterwards.

It’s probably clear (to US readers at least) from the way I’ve been dealing with dad’s problems that dad is not poor. He has money to pay the GCM, the senior helpers, for a new washer when the old one breaks, for more expensive blood thinners, and so on. Given how rough this has been for us, and given things I’ve heard in the support group I’ve been going to, I sometimes can’t imagine how people with fewer resources deal. I’m grateful, in retrospect, for dad’s good job, for my mother’s frugality and for the bull markets that persisted during most of my parents’ lives (it won’t be this way for me, when I’m asking the same questions). But in any case, when we look at the assisted living facilities and the possibilities open to him, while we’re not ignoring price, it’s also not the primary factor in the decision.

All of the places have spacious, accessible, safety-oriented and well-appointed apartments or rooms with a desirable level of privacy. Dad could move in some of his own furniture. They’re clean. The apartments have up to date appliances (as a friend pointed out to me recently, dad could regain control of his own washer and fixing it would be someone else’s problem). They are all pleasantly situated; in some of them, we could plant dad’s favorite weathervane right outside his window for him to see. They are beautifully landscaped with plenty of opportunity for strolling; one of them even has a pond for fishing. They all have well-organized activity programs and daily group transportation to let people get out and/or run errands (library, shopping, restaurants, etc.). None of them show up on the websites that track health and safety violations. They are owned and run by nursing professionals, not by large corporations. All of them have scratch kitchens and they also all request “favorite family recipes” of new residents and offer to add up to three of them to their regular rotation. This offer is probably less onerous around here than it would be in a more ethnically diverse part of the country — I’d guess that the top three favorite dishes of most people at these facilities are Wisconsin chili, fried fish, and bratwurst. (And anything with cheese on it.) All of them also have more intensive facilities attached for if / when dad needed more attention.

I’d be totally okay with him moving into any of these places from a wellness and safety standpoint. It’s also somewhat possible that his eating would improve with a nutritionist looking out for him full time, and I think quite likely that his mood might improve with all the additional sociability that he doesn’t have at home. It’s clear that these are not the “nursing homes” of our youth; the facility smell that I remember from childhood is absent and the residents seem alert and engaged with the world. No elderly people dozing in wheelchairs, waiting to die — the way it seemed to me when I was a girl — although those people must be somewhere.

But if it’s true that all these places are irreproachable, at the same time, as HL said to me after the last visit, with a certain anguish in his tone, none of them are home. None have dad’s workshop, none have our fifty years of tree planting, none have the deer that have been sheltered in the northwest corner of the lot, or the lawn or the view. None have the corner bedroom where the sun wakes him up, none have the wild turkeys that come right up to the window of the breakfast nook.

HL — who had been a much stronger proponent of assisted living than I was — asked me if I could hack it a little longer. I said on the days when everything is fine, I think there’ll be no problem. It’s just that there’s so much disruption and so much anxiety associated with it and so much power struggle. So much responsibility and so little autonomy. HL pledged to me that he will work to get everyone on the plan (including himself, but especially dad). For the last ten days, we have had Nemenda in our lives. I don’t know if it’s the cause (especially because, if I understand correctly, dad doesn’t belong to the diagnostic target audience), but there have been no arguments about me working or leaving since he’s been taking it.

It’s always a question of what you can take, right? Our family’s socialization was always to act as if no emotional burden was too large to bear where a family member is concerned. Everyone keeps saying he should go to assisted living to avert a crisis. Rationally that is what I want, too. Emotionally, though, I don’t know if either NL or I have made it there, yet. I’m still torn. I don’t know if I can take a spring semester when every morning starts off with a fight. Or maybe it’s that I know that I can’t. What emotional burden is too much to bear? Or do we just wait until dad’s misuse of a power tool becomes his undoing, or until he gets hypothermia from trying to plow snow when he shouldn’t? But I continue to be convinced by the point that this is dad’s home, and he shouldn’t have to leave it if there is any other workable solution. So I guess that’s where we are. Right now.

Manifestos are dangerous

•November 8, 2019 • 72 Comments

First: thanks to everyone who still comes here and reads and comments. I’m really grateful for all of you even if I haven’t been able to show it consistently in the last eighteen months.

The actual topic: I’ve been thinking for months, really, about if and what I want to be blogging. This post is probably most owing to a comment SueBC made here and my thoughts about a response. Why don’t I blog that way anymore? This is a very abbreviated form of what I’ve been thinking about. (Hopefully it’s also as neutral as I can make it, insofar as the point isn’t to anger anyone.) The danger is first that I articulate all this stuff and somehow still can’t find the time and energy to blog, and then second, that I don’t live up to what I’m saying here. But nonetheless, this piece seems to belong here now.

1. I am drastically out of synch with most of the fandom as I perceive it (at least the Armitage-oriented pieces of it – I don’t experience issues with the stuff that occurs apart from that).

1a. There are some discussions I am no longer willing to participate in, in the form in which they repeat themselves year after year. I have said all I have to say about certain topics, in some cases long ago. It seems pedantic either to repeat myself or to link to things I wrote years earlier, particularly if I’m not interested in continuing or developing the discussion.

1b. There are things I’d like to discuss but don’t (for reasons like not having time to articulate a point, fear of being misunderstood or creating anger, thinking I am the only one who cares anyway).

2. The more active conversations occur on Twitter, but apart from private conversations, I have grown to view Twitter as largely a vile soup of marketing, kitsch and aggravation. (Two months spent largely away from it have revealed to me just how paralyzed as a writer multiple exposures daily were making me feel.)

2a. Richard Armitage is not doing himself any favors with his social media. While I seem to have survived the realization of my worst fears about him, Twitter has given rise to a new one: the possibility that Armitage is frighteningly conventional. I think this is not so much a product of Armitage himself as it is of the medium, which itself seems to push participants in the direction of increasingly conventional, unnuanced expression, perhaps because so little can be said (see point 2).

3. The process of following Armitage news is increasingly one of consuming and responding marketing, as there is practically no actual news.

4. At the same time, there’s so little quality work on the horizon that the surfeit of marketing means all discussion more or less amounts to the production of even more marketing (“buzz”), something for which I’ve expressed my distaste many times. The level of discourse spirals to the bottom (see point 2). As someone said to me recently, as a fandom, we used to have a lot of creativity and periodic disagreement. My own take in response: in the face of fear of (or fatigue due to) disagreement, we have primarily “safe” creativity and almost no discussion around it. This is as much my fault as anyone else’s.

5. And as fodder for a more creative discourse goes, I’m weary of consuming bad art and explaining why it’s bad. (At least when I grade, someone pays me for it, and there’s the hope that someone might be listening.) This difficulty is particularly acute for me in terms of Armitage’s audiobooks. (Add to that the fact that Amazon is clearly an unethical, abusive employer and my feeling that giving money to Audible is putting my wages in the hands of thieves only increases.) Of (I believe) seventeen audiobooks in the last two years, in my opinion, only two (or perhaps three) projects were worth doing artistically, and one (maybe two) of these I can’t access in any format that’s really convenient for me. I can’t bring myself to spend any more time on my reactions to the Joy Ellis novels (poor quality) or Armitage’s reading of them (big misstep, imo). The badness of much of Berlin Station did have a certain humor quotient, but it became ever smaller as time went on and the show became more frustrating. There are also the increasingly hard-to-see movies that may be worthwhile but just aren’t available without significant effort and/or to most fans (Urban & the Shed Crew; The Lodge; My Zoe; Arden’s Wake; the Korean project). And I hate feeling like Armitage’s projects aren’t worth my time, money or attention.

5a. The project most likely to be artistically significant this year is yet again something with restricted access, determined by fans’ abilities to make the trip to London.

6. There isn’t going to be another actor for me after Richard Armitage (or at least it doesn’t look like it now). KellyDS wrote an excellent description of how celebrity fangirling works for her that I find exemplary, and I think will make a lot of people nod, but that even as I read it, made me think, this is not the path I am on.

6a. In fact, I think I’ve already had / am having my post-Armitage crush, generated by the movie, Rocketman. But it’s not a crush on Elton John, just as the Armitage infatuation was only tangentially about Armitage.

7. The continued observation of the news / marketing stream (“Richard Armitage tangentially related”) has become odious to me. In addition to my lengthily articulated views about the destructiveness of focusing on marketing, this development may be occurring because Armitage is no longer an “organizing hunger” for me (referencing a paragraph below from an excellent recent novel, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts):

Despite (8),

9. I continue to appreciate and be provoked and stimulated by Armitage’s work, when the project is worth my time. The artistic crush is still alive, despite the flood of mediocre projects of the last years.

10. I continue to be interested in Armitage the person and the way that he makes his creativity work. The personal crush is still alive, despite the haze that social media have blown over it.

11. I still have an active fantasy life as relates to both the actor and the characters and as my reaction to SueBC’s recent post reminded me, I don’t see them as substitutes for each other. They are intertwined in my mind.

12. I am still immersed in various pieces of Armitage-related fan fiction.

13. In the current season of my life I have practically no time at all for creativity outside the classroom, but all the non-educational creative impulses I have had recently were owing to some aspect of my Armitage infatuation.

14. The initial purpose of the blog, when I thought I was writing for myself, to clarify my reactions, and for a very few other people, was self-exploration. That rationale persisted for a long time, but I practically never write posts like that any more. I know why I don’t write them. I wouldn’t say the reasons don’t matter — because they have almost silenced me — but it’s not worth enumerating them here. I need to change. if I am to continue blogging I need to go back to that level of curiosity, honesty, and openness, cultivating it in myself and to the extent that there continue to be readers here, in the audience as well.

Be it therefore resolved:

In future, I will try:

–to blog only “news” (or marketing) that interests me for some reason and to stop absorbing the various ill humors exuded by social media;

–to return to the theme of my Armitage crush as the opportunity for fantasy as a source of creativity, and critical analysis as a source of self-exploration and self-understanding;

–not to waste my time (or feelings of obligation) on responding to projects that don’t give me anything;

–to post only about things I feel strongly about, and to write about them only honestly.

[If you read all this: thanks for reading.]

Times change, people change

•November 7, 2019 • 2 Comments

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Are they still filming?

•October 28, 2019 • 7 Comments

I thought it was in the can. Uch. See here.

Is Richard Armitage coordinating his costumes with the hospital rooms on set?

•October 27, 2019 • 17 Comments

Here’s some more about My Zoe — a report on ZDF — with scenes we haven’t seen before. Here. This film looks truly horrid, I’m afraid. A new low. I hope it’s better than the glimpses we’ve been allowed.

Still alive

•October 21, 2019 • 22 Comments

I apologize for the long disappearance here. There’d be a lot to say but no time to write at the moment. Basically (a) the Yom Kippur synagogue shooting kicked me in the solar plexus (b) US politics and (c) UK politics and (d) more drama with dad, this time around the clothes washer. Today we had our first conversation with him about conditions for staying in the house / reasons to move to assisted living. It could have gone worse I suppose. Anyway, I promise I will be back. For now I have 300 pp of essays to grade by Tuesday, so. Hopping to it. What’s up with y’all?

 
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