Friday, April 24, 2009

Birthday Party at The Mermaid

4/24/09. Birthday party at The Mermaid, where everyone who was anyone gathers round a cake in the shape of the Globe Theatre. There are actually 545 candles on it, and Will Kemp makes a couple of Globe Fire jokes which I ignore, as I ignore him. The good thing about being the guest of honor is that all I have to do is stand still and everyone will come to me. The bad thing is that everyone comes to me. There is no escape from people like Kemp and Burbage, who continue to act as if all is forgiven when everyone knows it never will be. This is their way of making me the problem. They’ve moved past it, they have achieved closure, whereas poor Will, he’s still stuck in the past, still rankled over old wounds, no wonder they don’t heal, the man picks at them every morning when he wakes up. Closure. I’d like to close a coffin lid on the two of them. But I do not, because I am a gentleman. Even if I did have to pay for the privilege.

The party is not memorable, but these gathering never really are. It’s the usual people with their usual followers saying all the usual things to each other. Byron is there with a boy, Burbage is there with a chorus girl, Shaw is there with a chip on his shoulder, and as for my own personal entourage, Anne is hanging on my arm like a shoulderbag, the Dark Lady is shooting verbal arrows from a corner banquette, and the Butterfly is flitting into the reach of every other man in the room but always just out of reach of me. Think of sunshine peeking out from behind a cloud. Oh look –- there’s light! There’s warmth! Oops -- sorry -- you noticed me, so I have to slip behind a cloud again. I mention this to Dante and he comes up with a new circle in Hell just for her.

It is a typical theatre party, in its typical five-act format, to wit:

Act One: Who’s Coming?
Act Two: Who’s Here?
Act Three: Who’s Not Here?
Act Four: Who’s Leaving With Who?
Act Five: Where Are We Going Next?

We do my cake during the intermission between Acts Three and Four. As the candles are lit, Clerrihew works the room repeating his latest gems to the drunken amusement of everyone but the people he is lampooning.

Here lies the Body of Samuel Shepard.
Of characters his plays are peppered.
They speak like Utah in October
(At least they did when Sam was sober.)
But as for storylines, this glade
Has the only plot he ever made.

The so-called plays of Suzan-Lori Parks
Should all be used for fertilizing parks.
Look on her works, good writers, and despair!
But wonder not why they’re done everywhere:
It needs but nine small words to tell the tale:
She’s black, a woman, and she went to Yale.

Then, just before I blow out my candles, he gets to me:

Here lies the corpse of Billy Shakes,
A guy who always got the breaks:
Kit Marlowe knifed before his time,
Bob Greene a stroke while in his prime,
Tom Nashe the plague, Tom Kyd the rack.
This is the way you raise a hack
From last place to the top position –-
Just murder all the competition.

This gets universal laughter, the loudest of which come from me. It is always wise to laugh at jokes which come perilously close to the truth. I wonder how much Clerrihew knows. He is phenomenally perceptive when it comes to chinks in a man's armor, but I cannot believe he knows the truth behind Marlowe's death or why Tom Kyd was really tortured on the rack. No one does. Well, that's not true. I do. And Chekhov. But then Chekhov knows everything.

By the time Act Five is done, the Dark Lady has left in a huff, the Butterfly has flapped off with Ethan Hawke, and Anne has waited for the two other women in my life to leave before disengaging her arm from mine with all the care of a doctor removing an IV line, kissing me on the cheek with her dry-as-paper lips, and bidding me good night with the pleased smile of a farmer who has protected his chickens from a couple of hungry raccoons. Now only the usual diehards are left, doing their usual shtick. Auden argues politics, Shelley argues religion, and Byron argues the necessity of publishing as much as possible, an argument that becomes moot the moment Emily Dickinson opens her mouth. Keats blushes at Mina Loy, Ted Hughes leaves the room when his two ex-wives start sharing suicide stories, and Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick throw drinks at each other, kiss and make up, throw dishes at each other, have make-up sex on the bar, and beat each other over the head with wine bottles till their car arrives. By the time I leave, I see Ginsberg and Whitman fighting over Chatterton, Brecht trying to make a point to an empty room, and Neruda weeping.

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