So we had our tech rehearsal last night. Apart from the fact that I forgot to rehearse what is perhaps our most important sound cue–never mind, we’ll get it tonight–it really went much better than I had feared. The set changes are going very well. Also, Irish playwrights love language so much that they don’t put in a lot of other bells and whistles; so there aren’t that many sound cues, and lighting is fairly straightforward. I mean if you wanted to get fancy with it, you could get fancier; but it’s not really necessary.
Because we were rehearsing the set changes so much, we spent a lot of time listening to the music. I know I go on about the music a lot; I don’t want people to think that the play itself doesn’t matter to me. It’s just that the music seems magical to me because I don’t know how to do what Bill and the singers and Shelley are doing. The words and language and talking part, you know, I have a PhD. in that. No, for real, I do.
I have noticed that many of my fellow-English professors approach drama as if it is poetry. Which, genealogically speaking, it is; but for me, drama is about more than the poetry, and I care about that part of it in what appears to be an unusual way. Music has always been part of that. Every show I’ve directed has had original music in it. When Paul and I did On Baile’s Strand, Bill introduced us to Jenne Lennon, who wrote some original music for the prologue and performed it live, with Bill and Corinna accompanying her. With Antigone and Rhinoceros, Jenne recorded the music and we played it back during performance. Paul and I used the music in those shows much the same way we’re using it in An Ideal Husband: during the prologue and the transitions between scenes. Just thinking about that, I realized that actually in this show, there is in a way less music than in the last two that I worked on with Paul, because in both of those shows the music was used as underscoring, to heighten an emotional point or create some sort of atmospheric effect.
I talked to Bill early on in the process about writing some vocal undescoring (without lyrics) for some of the big speeches; we used music that way during the Creon/Antigone dialogue and during Act III of Rhinoceros. But it became pretty clear to me pretty fast that we shouldn’t go that route. The actors are doing all the emotional intensity on their own, and I didn’t want anything competing with them.
The term “melodrama,” if we go back to its origins, means “drama with music.” In melodrama, music was used to make certain scenes more effective sensationally or emotionally. Melodrama was all the rage on the popular stage in the 19th century, and Elin Diamond and others have argued that even though realism claims to be defining itself against melodrama, in fact realism incorporates melodrama and just presents it in a different way. (Back in 1998 when I was on the market I had a job interview with Rutgers. Elin Diamond was on the committee. I was, alas, at that point so immersed in Irish Studies that I had no idea who she was. It was the worst interview I’ve ever done. I revealed my comparative lack of knowledge of American drama within minutes and was quickly demolished. Years later I read Diamond’s Unmaking Mimesis and it changed my life. Elin Diamond, if you’re out there, I hope it brightens your day just a tiny bit to know that I cite you all the time now. But I digress.) Music was one of the things that carried over from melodrama. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, for instance, which is one of the paradigmatic texts of theatrical realism, gives Nora a dance number (the famous “tarantella”).
Anyway, all this is to say that I finally completed the pre-show playlist. This is music that you play in the theater before the show starts, while people are milling around and settling into their seats. This is actually a thing I stole from my assistant director, Corinna, who created a great pre-show playlist for Picasso at the Lapin Agile which walked us backward through the 20th century to reach 1904, the date of the play. I had originally intended to do something similar for the Green Carnations; but I just don’t know enough about music from the earlier eras to do it, and so in the end I decided just to use music I knew and do it thematically. I played this list for Zoe this morning at breakfast. For each song, she said, “Why did you put this one in?” So in case anyone cares, here are my answers to those questions:
The first few songs are related to the main themes of the production: “Marry You” (the Glee Cast version, because Carnations), “Would I Lie To You?” (Annie Lennox & The Eurythmics), “Money Money” (from the film soundtrack of Cabaret). All of these songs are also associated with Sir Robert, at least in my head. Then there are songs that relate to specific characters (again, in my head): “Love Over Gold” for Lord Goring, Eliza’s song “Burn” from Hamilton for Gertrude; Madonna’s “Vogue” for Mabel, Basildon and Marchmont; and of course, for Mrs. Cheveley, Queen’s “Killer Queen.”
Also, I put Bananarama’s cover of “Venus” in there. Because Venus.
That’s all for before the house even opens. Once people start walking in, there’s Jacques Brel’s “Le tango funebre” (it’s been covered in English as “The Funeral Tango”), which I fondly hope will help establish the Pere-Lachaise setting, and it also about a guy who imagines all the hypocritical bullshit that will go on at his own funeral, which is appropriate in many ways. Then Hozier’s “Take me to Church,” which, I could do a close reading of those lyrics that would go on for days so let me just skip to the songs that introduce Your Green Carnations:
Dar Williams, “As Cool as I Am,” for Helen (2016). This song has a nice contemporary feel and takes a kind of lighthearted approach to coming out which I think evokes all the positive changes we’ve been through in the past 15 years or so.
“Once In A Lifetime” by the Talking Heads for Gyuri (1950s). I thought about “Heartbreak Hotel” because it would be period. But the lyrics to this song mostly seem to be about discovering yourself in the middle of a conformist, suburban, materially comfortable but spiritually empty existence and asking yourself, “Well? How did I get here?”, and I thought that would do a reasonably good job of evoking the special kind of despair and restlessness experienced by people who were trying so hard to conform to expectations.
“Go” by the Indigo Girls, for Amelia (1970s). Look; I’m a lesbian who came out in 1988; there was going to be an Indigo Girls song in this playlist. “Go” works for the Stonewall generation because it’s about encouraging the youth of today to keep protesting and keep fighting. It is also, as Zoe said, “noisy,” or as I like to think of it, invigorating.
“Freedom ’90″ by George Michael for Jake (1990s). I spent a lot of time looking for stuff from the 1990s that would work and eventually wound up deciding between this and Cher’s “Believe.” I like this better, partly because it picks up the lying theme (“All we have to do/Is take these lies and make them true”).
“Hey Rose” by Girlyman for Leslie (1920s). Girlyman was a trio who opened for the Indigo Girls when we saw them in Joliet years ago. “Hey Rose,” which is sung by a woman to the girl she has a crush on, seemed to me to evoke some of the poignancy of the invert’s situation: everyone’s aware of the speaker’s homosexuality and everyone thinks they get it, but what they can never understand is why a woman like Rose, who can pass as conventionally feminine, might go for a woman like the speaker.
“I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor. Because you have to. It’s the law.
Anyway, tonight it will be about the words again, and I am really looking forward to that. I love the way the actors perform this dialogue, and the great thing about this part of the process is that I get to see them do it, over and over again. I feel bad for the spectators, who only get to see them act this show once. They’re all so good; and it’s all so fabulous.