Monday, May 16, 2005

Ben is NOT here

One week gone, and now Ben is, too.

I was sick, my flu turning into a cold that settled into my chest like an anvil. Been coughing and weak pretty much since last Tuesday, and I need a doctor. Called NHS Direct for advice on how to deal with getting medical care with US health coverage (to summarize: good bloody luck,) and I think if things go my way I can get to the doctor tomorrow.

In spite of my health, we still had fun...just mellower than expected. And since Ben is a 39-year-old med student who's been working 16 hour days in a research lab for the last month, he didn't much complain when I demanded we get some sleep. He had a nice visit to his retired minister friends in Cromer. (Folks he met when he was living in Eritrea, who've since retired and moved home. They live in a nice little town on the North Sea coast.) Since I missed work with the flu I had to work some on Thursday, so we ended up taking the train to London in the afternoon instead of heading to Scotland right away.

We had our hearts set on theatre so we spent the train ride narrowing down our list. It was pretty easy to rule out some basics...Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were right out, what since they admit one kid free with each adult ticket. Fine if you have kids, not great if you're childless thirty-somethings. Most of the other musicals right now are lame...with the exception of Billy Elliott, The Producers, and the soon-to-open Guys and Dolls with that dishy Ewan McGregor, it's all Andrew Lloyd Weber and remakes getting panned by even the soft touch critics.

So we focused on serious thee-uh-tah. There's a bang-up brilliant version of Hecuba that's all the rage. The Birthday Party is getting good reviews (though I have to plan ahead for Pinter because he works my last nerve with all that allegorically existential hooha.) And they're doing the Henries IV, which I haven't seen since I went to a day of Shakepeare history plays at the Guthrie on a sunny Saturday in...could it have been 1990 (?!). Yikes. (Back then they were treated as one, bookended by Richard II and Henry V in a 12-hour Shakespeare-a-thon. Veritably a Wagner's Ring Cycle in sore-butt-fidgeting, by the way.)

But nothing was grabbing our attention. Then on the escalator to the Tube at Euston we saw the adverts for Death of a Salesman with Brian Dennehy. We were sold. We made a lame attempt at bargain ,but ended up going straight to the theatre box office for tickets. We got nose-bleed balconies at a relatively reasonable price. Killed some time at Fortum and Mason shopping for gifts, and then had a cup of coffee before we headed to our seats for a prompt 730 curtain.

The play was amazing. You forget that DoaS is, in fact, a perfect play. Willie is a complex analogy for all of the failures and memories that make up our lives, and Brian Dennehy inhabited the role like you wouldn't believe. He did a mix of insecure bravado/braggadocio and kind old man that made you feel like you'd sat next to him on an airplane or met him at some sales conference.

Ben is a logistics guy, so he thought that once you got beyond Dennehy the cast and the directing kind of fell off into nothingness...a satisfying production, but not a whole one. I, on the other hand, am all about the words and feelings. It hit me head on and I thought it rocked. The guy who played Biff (last seen on Midsommer Murders just days ago!), did a fine job of illustrating the struggle to be honest about one's life, and Linda made me weep with her devotion to her sad, flawed husband. But even more so, now that I'm older I understand this play on a level I didn't back in the Olaf days when I first saw it. I know more about the compromises and the distractions that keep us from living our dreams, and I understand how easy it is to avoid addressing the less pleasant realities with which we are faced. Willie is no longer just a pathetic, sad man. He's a guy who did the best he could with what he was given, and he let himself forget the sad things so that he could keep on living.

Arm chair criticism aside, though, we both enjoyed the show. Our knees were stiff from sitting in the narrow seating row for three hours, and I almost had a row with a cheeky woman who was whining about us sitting in her seat during the first part of the show, but all in all it was well worth the time and money.

We finished the night with a post-theatre curry at a nice little place around the corner. Delicious, and we were thrilled to be someplace with restaurants that stay open past 11. Caught the 0034 train to MK, possibly the most local train you can find, FYI. I swear they added stops just to piss me off. Slept in on Friday, and made a noon-time start for Scotland.

Will add pictures and talk about Edinburgh soon. Must go to bed and focus on health.

Oh. And if I don't get to it by Wednesday, I'll then be silent for another week. I'm in Oman for work W - Sun.

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