Saturday, April 19, 2008

You can dance on a chair

“You can dance on a chair” – I just heard venerable UK actress, Vanessa Redgrave, say that during an interview about her performance in the New York production of ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’. If I was a biography writer I’d contact her and tell her she’s just coined the title of her next memoir.

Of course, she was actually referring to the fact that most of her ninety minute performance is spent seated, with her talking directly to the audience. Despite this, she says she actually moves her body a lot. The week before last I was supposed to get up to Sydney for the day to see the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of this play. I loved Joan Didion’s book, a memoir of the period where her husband died and her daughter, in an unconnected series of events, slipped into a coma that eventually led to her death.

I know it sounds SO depressing but this woman is such a wonderful writer that I found myself enthralled, despite occasional tears. Years ago I remember reading Paula by Isabel Allende, once again a book written by an accomplished author, about the loss of her daughter. Maybe because I was going through a familial loss around the same time I just couldn’t get into that book but I think it’s more because I prefer Didion’s writing. This is the woman of Play It As It Lays, a book that inspired me to to do a few writing exercises to mimic her tone which manages to be both laid back and searing at the same time: difficult to define.

Anyhoo, I didn’t get to Sydney because of work commitments but my mother-in-law (God bless her) stepped into the breach for me so the ticket didn’t go to waste. I regret not seeing it, though I have heard Didion do a live reading just from the book and that was special enough for me for now.

Redgrave, in the same interview, also spoke about a film she made recently, directed by her son, called 'The Fever' (script by Wallace Shawn). Once again this work involved much direct-to-camera acting from Redgrave. Shawn would be familiar to pop culture buffs for roles in films like ‘Clueless’ but he has a hefty theatre and ‘serious’ dramatic background and, interestingly, has written a number of very heavy plays. My ears pricked up when I heard his name because his father was William Shawn one of the New Yorker’s most famous editors for more than 30 years. I once read a book called Remembering Mr Shawn – about the “invisible art of editing” as its subtitle says - which absolutely intrigued me. Shawn was the epitome of the civilised, artistic, visionary man of letters that seem thin of the ground these days. He nurtured the careers of writers like J D Salinger and Truman Capote and was famous for allowing various individuals to keep offices in the New Yorker’s HQ even though they didn’t seem to be producing anything. The book was full of tales of sophisticated cocktail parties in New York apartments and behind-the-scenes remembrances of influential writers and thinkers. Ah, another time, another world!

The odd link:


She picked up a piece of the chocolate cake and pressed it hard against his closed mouth.

"I hope you fucking choke on it," she said.

"You're a nasty piece of work Hannah. You better get out of here before I fucking belt you. You've gone too far this time."

In another room, the phone rang. He went to it.

"Matt speaking" she heard him say as she grabbed her keys and handbag. Her hands shook as she started the car. The radio and the aircon were blaring from her last drive. Where was she going?

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