Procrastination is amazing – it motivates in the most mysterious ways. This morning, it got me revising a poem that I wrote years ago. Suddenly I had to revisit that poem. I don’t think I even like the poem that much anymore! Procrastination provided the impetus for me to drive to town to buy light bulbs, printer cartridges, and extra toothbrushes. It almost got me gardening this afternoon. I never garden.
I’m struggling to write programme notes for Candide. To follow the story line one must expect the improbable, embrace the absurd, be stung by satire, and still reserve a measure of genuine optimism. In the space of a scene or paragraph, a character (who may well have died in an earlier scene) may be miraculously reunited with a former lover, engage in a heated argument with a rival, and be killed all over again. All this even before the music has finished playing an introductory sequence to a song! Figuring out how to much explain and how much to leave the audience to follow – sometimes terribly tenuously – is a tricky calculus.
The musical show itself had an amazingly complex evolution to arrive at the form that Bernstein was finally happy with. It went through three major versions (and countless minor variations) over a span of 32 years. Like its major character, it wandered far and wide, travelling from Broadway, to an experimental theatre in Brooklyn, to the opera house, to the concert hall, each time redefining itself, but perhaps coming a bit closer to its truest version. How much does the average concertgoer want to read about the spats between producers and writers at various stages in the development? Is it important to know just which lyrics are attributed to Dorothy Parker (Venice Gavotte) and which to Stephen Sondhem (Life is Happiness Indeed) while recognizing that the majority of the witty words come from Richard Wilbur? While a nod is necessary to the original writer Lillian Hellman, do I also need to mention that almost none of her work remains in the final, most performed version?
It is so complicated! It’s so much easier to pull dead weeds that should have been pulled and composted last November. It might even be easier to learn about fluid dynamics, which I need to teach in two weeks and which I’ve never learned. ..
But, I’m getting there. Little by little, I’ve eked out a skeleton of a draft. This afternoon I’ve made a deal with the DVD devil – the kids get a movie and I will wrestle my notes for this funny show into something hopefully both readable and helpful. Handing everyone a 500 page biography of Bernstein to skim during the interval is not an option. Neither is gardening this afternoon, really. I’ll opt, instead, for metaphorical gardening. Picture me at the computer, chopping away at the words, weeding through the unnecessary, muttering (tunefully, of course) these lyrics from the finale:
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good; We’ll do the best we know. We’ll build our house, and chop our wood, And make our garden grow.
After I descale the kettle, of course.