The Masquerade is Lermontov’s four act-play written in verse and set in the 1830s St. Petersburg. This very Shakespearean drama centres on Yevgeny Arbenin, once an immoral gambler and womaniser without scruples, but now it seems a decent man respected by society, especially since his marriage to a kind and beautiful young woman Nina. One day, however, Arbenin’s desire to rescue a man from financial disaster at a gambling table, malicious rumours, as well as his wife losing a bracelet during a masquerade ball set in motion a series of events that culminate in an unthinkable tragedy, as Arbenin’s jealous predisposition and his propensity to seek revenge overpower common sense, love and basic human considerations.
How Green Was My Valley  by Richard Llewellyn – ★★★★★
“Beautiful were the days that are gone, and O, for them to be back. The mountain was green, and proud with a good covering of oak and ash, and washing his feet in a streaming river clear as the eyes of God” [Richard Llewellyn, Penguin Books, 1939/2001: 153].
This absorbing story is told through the perspective of a small boy and then a young man living in a close-knit mining community in Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria. Huw Morgan grows up in changing times and in a family of many other children and plenty of role models. The Morgan family experiences both good and bad times, enduring their daily struggles with their coal employers and the rise of labour unions, but still finds happiness of living so united, peacefully abiding by the laws of the Church and being surrounded by the primordial beauty of nature. Huw makes enemies and friends, both in school and in a wider community, and finds out about friendship, duty, shame, guilt and justice, as well as, later, the value of honest work, and torments and confusion of first love. Permeated with much emotion and with that quiet, poetic and resolute conviction, How Green Was My Value is a heart-felt, bitter-sweet and nostalgic literary masterpiece, a one-of-kind homage to innocence lost and to Wales that is no more.
I. The Visit  by Friedrich Dürrenmatt– ★★★★★
“A story is not finished, until it has taken the worst turn” (Friedrich Dürrenmatt).
“…feeling[s] for humanity…is cut for the purse of an ordinary millionaire; with financial resources like mine, [one] can afford a new world order” [Claire Zachanassian in Dürrenmatt’s The Visit, Grove Press, 1956/94: 67].
Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921 – 1990) was a Swiss author and dramatist, and his play The Visit is considered one of his best works. The play is set in a small, poverty-stricken town of no importance Guellen. Its forgotten-by-everyone people can barely make their ends meet, and it is to this scene comes Claire Zachanassian, an elderly multi-millionairess who owns Armenian Oil and Western Railways, among other things. Guellen is her home town, and she brought with her for this visit an unbelievably large amount of money, as well as her husband, her future husband, her sedan-bearers, who are actually convicted gangsters, a panther and…a coffin, because…”she may need it”. It seems that everyone in town reckons that Claire would want to become a much needed benefactor to the town and its desperate community. However, the millionairess makes one shocking proposition: she wants justice for money, and the matter has something to do with her past and with her childhood sweetheart, Alfred Ill, now the town’s most esteemed citizen.
Six Characters in Search of an Author  – ★★★★
Luigi Pirandello’s plays are considered precursors to the Theatre of the Absurd and this play in three acts I read is one thought-provoking work that satirises the staging of a play, while muddling up such concepts as creation and performance, and an objective viewpoint and its subjective counterpart. In the play, a number of Characters come and gate-crash the rehearsal of a play “Mixing It Up”: the Father, the Mother, the Step-Daughter, the Son, the Boy and the Child. The Manager and the Actors are amazed to suddenly find on stage this group of Character-people, abandoned by their Author and eager to act out the drama of their lives. What then can the Manager do, but allow the Characters to try their hand at staging their performances? This play about a play is also an illusion within an illusion and a triple drama, of a book we read as play, of a stage to be set for a real drama, and, finally, of a play to come to “life” through an artistic vision gone haywire.
I watched Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s celebrated play Uncle Vanya , filmed at Harold Pinter Theatre in London in 2020. Directed by Ian Rickson and starring such names as Toby Jones (The Painted Veil (2006)), Roger Allam (V for Vendetta (2005)) and Richard Armitage (Hobbit (2012)), the story concerns an aging Professor Serebryakov, his young wife Yelena, his brother-in-law Uncle Vanya (by Serebryakov’s first wife), Serebryakov’s daughter Sonya, his mother-in-law Mariya (also by Serebryakov’s first wife) and a local doctor Astrov, who all try to come to terms with their different stations and situations in life. Uncle Vanya is living comfortably on Serebryakov’s estate, which belongs legally to Sonya, and “does nothing”, but the situation takes a turn for the worse when Professor suddenly announces that he would like to sell the house and the land. The situation is even more complicating because almost all men in the story are infatuated with Serebryakov’s beautiful wife Yelena and tensions soon reach a boiling point. This is a play which hinges on great performances and the cast delivers. This is a stylish and considerate adaptation of the play which has a very human drama at its centre.
Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire ) published his partly-autobiographical play The Glass Menagerie in 1944 and this debut became an instant theatrical success. The play has only a handful of main characters, and centres on Amanda, a domineering mother to her two grown-up children – quietly rebellious Tom and completely submissive and “hopeless” Laura who “lives in a world of her own”. When Tom arranges for “a young gentleman caller” to come over for dinner so that he can meet Laura, the family’s hidden neurosesand insecurities come to the surface. Still reliving her years as a southern belle (probably as a way to cope with the Depression era realities), Amanda “overpowers” each individual around her, and her children devised special strategies to deal with their mother’s encroachment, and general isolation and loneliness. If Tom “goes to the movies” and drinks, Amanda’s unmarried and disabled daughter Laura retreats in her own imaginary world of glass figurines (which stand for the fragile world of dreams that is about to be shattered by brutal reality).
I thought The Way of Zen was a great introduction to the concept of Zen and its origins. The book does not just talk of hard-to-grasp notions within Zen, but also explains the application of Zen to such arts as poetry, painting and gardening.
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West  by Dee Brown – ★★★★1/2
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one: they promised to take our land, and they took it“. Brown wrote a detailed and engaging book showing the history of the American West from the point of view of the Native American population. From Columbus who described native people as “so tractable, so peaceful” [1970: 1] to the battle of Black Rock, Brown’s account is an important read even though emotional as the story is filled with all kinds of injustice that have been committed against the native population. The book shows the bravery of individual American Indian leaders who simply tried to defend their people and land against the onslaught of white settlers and numerous unfair treaties. Native people were caught in the senselessness, savagery and greed of white settlers who were after more productive land and precious metals and who wanted either to convert Native Americans to their own ways, leave them to die in hostile conditions or simply eliminate them leading to hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed through hunger, combat, murder or plagues only in one broad region of the Americas. Continue reading “March 2020 Wrap-Up”→