Most of the time, when I read some play, from some playwright who is supposed to be a genius, I get bored. I sense the large themes, but am too lazy, dense or self-involved to grasp what is there. If I am lucky (and I often am), once in the rehearsal room the director unpacks the brilliance and I sit wowed.
We are doing Peer Gynt at East 15. The play is by Ibsen. It is a scrambling sort of epic—scrambling in that the protagonist, Peer, scrambles his way through life. We follow his escapades from youth, as he lies, contrives and goes roundabout one confrontation to the next. He has an insecure and genial heart—though he can be an asshole—and he means well. He has ambition. He wants to be Emperor of the world. He loves his mother. He has flings with girls whom disappoint him (or for whom he disappoints) and he never stays in the same place for long: leaving his home country of Norway as a young man and eventually returning (after having made and lost several fortunes) alone, facing death and, what he probably considers worse, lack of recognition. He is our hero. He thinks he is special.
I am enjoying the play. I think it is very good. I think the themes are relevant and deep. Peer lives a life of ego—but also of a search some would consider noble. He leaves places via discontent. He wants something more—a self-actualization. This contrasted with the peasant of the play: toiling, sometimes suffering, sometimes happy, but present.
I just returned to England from America, where (can you guess?) I attended another wedding.
I’ve been working on this post for some time, actually, as Peer has been bugging me since we began three weeks ago. It is easy to see why. I write blog posts. I left a normal and wonderful life in America to be an actor. I think I am special. Most of us—or those reading or writing their own blogs, updating Twitter or Facebook accounts—probably think they are too.
I was the best man at the wedding. As mentioned in previous posts, I returned to America five times last year (this was my sixth), and three of those times were for weddings. This wedding was the last of my core friend group—the group I went to Norway with, the group I think of as family. The wedding was small: 24 of only the closest family and friends in a snow encased cabin in rural New Hampshire. It was beautiful. The rooms and the remoteness—the very sparse non-pomp of the event—felt at once timeless, but strangely sad. My friend has never had a Facebook account. His phone is almost always off and, in college, during his free time on weekends or weekdays, he would drive his truck alone to a Greyhound rescue center miles away and walk dogs for a few hours. I was his best friend for four years before he invited me along and then told me what we were doing. So this wedding—planned without flare in snow beaten New England—was special.
Together with Peer Gynt I am chewing on East of Eden by John Steinbeck. My favorite character, in regards to the power men yield through choice, has a sort of revelation before he dies. He says: “I do not believe all men are destroyed.”
When I was a kid I had the best Christmas Eve parties imaginable.
I have many brothers and sisters and with 6 aunts and uncles and grandparents from the “greatest generation” whom hosted in a house built by them on a hill in the woods, our yearly gathering was nothing short of magical. Santa even showed up. The family has outgrown the house. My grandfather, an actual war hero, died last year. My grandmother is left with something like 30 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. We celebrate Christmas Eve in the basement of a local church near where most of the family still lives. It is nice, but the fluorescent lighting brings out the age. We are a strict Catholic family and there has been divorce, and there has been bitterness, and not just in those older, like aunts and uncles, but in cousins, many younger than me.
My grandmother is one of the few who still seem young. It makes me wonder if there was something in the soft colored lighting and warm carpets of her place. Because all I ever used to sense was something closer to love.
Peer Gynt meets several incarnations of death at the end of the play.
He meets several because he refuses to accept his fate: to be melted down with the rest of the useless souls of non-merit—and he runs from judgment to judgment declaring his exceptionalism. At last death allows him (in what seems nonchalance in the face of pointless defiance) to run into the lap of the women who has waited faithfully, happily, since he left her decades earlier. Peer cries and wishes to hide there, in her love, like a child. It is an opaque ending, but not happy.
I am not sure how East of Eden is going to end.
During the wedding reception of this weekend, dancing and drinking, I went outside where the ceremony was held—(yes, a winter outdoor wedding)—to stand in the snow, clear air and 10 degree temperatures. A core friend or two joined me. We were all mostly quiet—wandering around, kicking the snow, more than half drunk—and maybe all felt the same sense: that things would be different the next time we were together, and we didn’t know when that would be. I suppose this post has been about me chewing on what sort of Peer Gynt I am, and me supposing I have a choice.
Latest posts by Matt Clark (see all)
- Matt: Things would be different the next time we were together, and we didn’t know when that would be - February 6, 2015
- Matt: Right now I live in a corner outside a kitchen in a house with a few of my classmates. Still, I have a path. - December 28, 2014
- Matt: My commitment grew to something formerly inconceivable, all only possible due to a cycle of caring and failing - December 5, 2014