On Friday night, Joshua and I, along with my parents and my middle brother, went to Bloomington to attend Bloomington Civic Theatre’s recently-opened production of Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs”.
Bloomington Civic Theatre now has a second stage, the Black Box Theater. The Black Box Theater is reserved for drama productions while the main auditorium continues to be placed into exclusive service for musical productions.
Friday night was the first visit, for all of us, to the new Black Box Theater, which is more than serviceable for drama productions. Is there another civic theater company in the United States that employs the use of two new, state-of-the-art theater facilities year-round?
I have always thought that “Brighton Beach Memoirs” was Simon’s finest play. “Biloxi Blues”, by comparison, is boring, and “Lost In Yonkers” is irretrievably marred by the character of the crime-minded son, more dramatic device than genuine character.
“Brighton Beach Memoirs” successfully fuses comedy and drama, not an easy thing to do, and it presents well-formed characters caught up in serious family issues. I suspect “Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be the only Simon play still to be presented a century from now.
The Bloomington production was notable because the actors portraying brothers Eugene and Stanley are brothers in real life—and their father, an actor, portrayed Eugene in an early production of the play and went on to portray Stanley in a later production of the play. Portraying the Jerome brothers apparently has become the family industry.
We enjoyed the production of what must be acknowledged is a very over-produced play, perhaps the most over-produced play of our time. However, at no point were we suffering from the illusion that the production we were watching was a distinguished one.
My parents saw “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in its initial Broadway run (although my parents caught the production a couple of years into the run and did not see the original cast). They recall that production with fondness.
Friday night’s performance was a sign-language-interpreted performance. When we had purchased our tickets online, the calendar had specified that a different performance would be the sign-language-interpreted performance. As things turned out, the theater had changed the schedule for interpreted performances after we had purchased our tickets—and without informing patrons. It was only when we arrived at the theater that we learned that we would be sitting through a sign-language-interpreted performance.
We were slightly peeved, since we had attempted deliberately to avoid the sign-language-interpreted performance. The theater being so small, it was virtually impossible for us—or anyone else—to ignore the interpreter. The interpreter was so intrusive that the interpreter became an integral character in the drama. At times, it became difficult not to giggle.
Before the performance, we ate dinner at an Italian restaurant in Bloomington, but we did not order Italian food. Our waiter recommended the Chilean sea bass, and we accepted his recommendation. We were assured that the sea bass was “certifiable sustainable”—but we did not ask for an affidavit or other written certification. It is time for restaurants to cease providing such meaningless and unverifiable information on menus.
On Saturday, Minnesota played its third consecutive home football game—but Saturday’s game was an early evening game, so my father and my brothers were able to spend most of the day at home, playing with the kids, before it was time for them to head to the stadium.
Minnesota played lowly North Dakota State on Saturday—and Minnesota lost, 37-24. My father and my brothers returned home disgusted. In fact, I think everyone in the State Of Minnesota was disgusted after the game.
The announced crowd was 48,000, but my father and my brothers said there were 35,000 persons at the game, if that, at least one-quarter of which were North Dakota State fans.
Happily, Minnesota will be on the road the next two weekends, signifying that my father and my brothers will not have to waste seven hours each of the next two Saturdays driving to the stadium, sitting through a game, and driving home, all for the purpose of supporting an historically-bad football program.
On Saturday night, while my father and my brothers were at the game, Josh and I went downtown because there was a play we wanted to see.
We waited until the very last minute to leave home, both because we wanted to make sure that football traffic had died down and because we wanted to eat dinner with my mother, my sister-in-law and the kids.
We went to Minneapolis Theatre Garage to catch Torch Theater Company’s production of Sam Shepard’s “True West”.
Thirty years ago, Shepard’s plays were apparently performed with some frequency, but productions of Shepard plays are uncommon now, probably because the plays more or less reek of the 1970s. There is something vaguely and unpleasantly counter-cultural, even decadent, about Shepard’s work, and I suspect that his plays may be deemed “Carter-Era Plays”, rendered largely irrelevant by The Reagan Revolution. Shepard’s plays began falling from view in the early 1980s, just as the national attitude and national outlook brightened, and Shepard’s work has never subsequently returned to favor.
“True West” is not a bad play. Another tale of brothers dealing with assorted family issues, “True West” is an oddball play about oddball characters, but the play holds up in a good production—and the Torch Theater Company production was better than anyone had a right to expect, especially given the company’s budgetary limitations as well as the significant shortcomings of its performance space.
I thought the production was faultless, and the cast superb. In my limited exposure to the work of Torch Theater Company, “True West” was by far the best thing I had ever witnessed at the company. The production was fully worthy of the New York or London stage. It is regrettable that the production was seen by relatively few people in its one-month run and it is regrettable that the production will not live on. Saturday night’s performance was the final performance of the run, and the production will not tour or transfer.
Sunday was to be a family day, but we received distressing news early Sunday morning from my grandmother’s care facility: my grandmother had been unable to walk when she rose that morning.
My parents immediately went to the care facility, while I telephoned my brothers to give them the news. After consultation, we decided to gather at my older brother’s house to await communication from my parents.
When my parents arrived at the care facility, they found that a physician had already been called in and was in the process of examining my grandmother. Something had happened to my grandmother’s left knee, and she was unable to use it.
The physician and my parents decided that my grandmother needed to be transferred to the hospital, with the result that my grandmother was immediately transported by ambulance, with my parents in tow. My grandmother has been in the hospital ever since.
My parents stayed at the hospital all day Sunday. My brothers and I visited the hospital for an hour Sunday afternoon. It was very sad. My grandmother was completely disoriented—she suffers from dementia—and she had no clue why her environment had been changed.
My grandmother kept asking my mother questions, which almost suggested that my grandmother recognized my mother (very unusual, as my grandmother generally no longer recognizes anyone). However, twice my grandmother called my mother “Momma”.
Tests were administered on Monday, and the results suggested that my grandmother had somehow suffered a severe knee twist or sprain. Her knee is swollen, and apparently causes great pain. Medications have been issued to reduce swelling and to ease the pain.
It is our hope that medication and moderate physical therapy will allow my grandmother to regain use of her knee. My grandmother is 96 years old—and, if it became necessary, knee-replacement surgery would probably not be advisable.
My mother went to the hospital yesterday and again today in order to be with my grandmother, who remains greatly disoriented and greatly distressed.
We hope that my grandmother will be able to return to the care facility before the week is out, both for her sake and for my mother’s sake (as well as for my uncle’s sake and for my aunts’ sakes—they, too, have been loyal visitors to the hospital).