Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘play’

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

I was delighted when I spun The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde for The Classics Club’s most recent spin. I expected fun and frivolity and that’s what I got.

Straight up, I’m going to expose my ignorance by admitting that I was surprised to learn that this story was written as a play. I had expected it to be a short story.

I expect that most people are familiar with the story of Jack Worthing, an orphan who was adopted as a baby by a wealthy man after being found in a handbag at a train station. For those of you who aren’t, picture Jack as a young Colin Firth.

Jack is mad about a pretty young thing, Gwendolen, who feels as if she could only love a man named Ernest, so of course Jack calls himself Ernest to win her heart. When Gwendolen’s cousin Algernon wants to know why ‘Ernest’ also goes by the name of Jack, Jack admits that he is called Jack by his young ward, Cecily, in the country. Cecily, on the other hand, believes that Jack has a good-for-nothing brother called Ernest, who lives in London.

Gwendolen accepted Jack’s proposal, believing that his name was Ernest, but Gwendolen’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, refused to give her permission because Jack has no known relations.

Filled with curiosity about Jack/Ernest, Algernon went to Jack’s country estate and met Jack’s ward, Cecily, with whom he fell in love. She believed him to be her Uncle Jack’s brother Ernest and fell in love with him, much to Jack’s irritation. To further complicate things, Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell also turn up at Jack’s estate, where Jack and Algernon are both planning to be christened later that day as ‘Ernest.’

The story is untangled to everyone’s satisfaction by the end of the story, which finishes with three very happy couples. Read this for yourself to find out who the third happy couple are!

The Importance of Being Earnest was book nine for my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.

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Five Plays by Anton Chekhov

I spun Anton Chekhov’s Five Plays for The Classics Club’s most recent spin from a selection of twenty books which scared me. Five Plays was number one on my list because of my fear of not understanding the plays – Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, and possibly this affected my reading because I didn’t enjoy any of these plays.

The plots of each were similar in that they were about people who were in love with the wrong person, generally unhappy and bored with their lives. Most of the characters were lazy, fickle and irritatingly melodramatic. Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters all finished with one particularly unhappy character attempting to shoot themselves or someone else.

Ivanov. Ivanov and Sarah were married, but after five years he became infatuated with their neighbour’s daughter. After Sarah became sick and died, the doctor nagged Ivanov about ignoring Sarah’s needs until Ivanov got the guilts and shot himself. When I finished this I immediately wished that Ivanov had done it on the first page to have saved me the reading time.

The Seagull. Constantine wanted to be a famous playwright, but his mother, Irina, a famous actress, didn’t rate his work. Neither did her lover, who was a famous writer or anyone else in the play. All of the characters were in love with the wrong person. Constantine shot a seagull for the woman he loved, and later he shot himself. As per Ivanov, I wish he’d done it sooner. Each of this play’s characters were bored with their stupid, pointless lives and so was I. If anyone ever presented me with a seagull they had shot I’d arrange to have them locked up.

Uncle Vanya. Uncle Vanya was in love with Helen, who is married to Uncle Vanya’s former brother-in-law, Alexander. Their household also included Uncle Vanya’s mother (Alexander’s former mother-in-law), Alexander’s daughter Sonya from his first marriage and a swag of household servants. Sonya was in love with the doctor, but the doctor was in love with Helen, who was young and beautiful. Uncle Vanya tried to shoot Alexander and missed, so stole drugs from the doctor with the intention of killing himself, except the doctor begged Uncle Vanya to shoot himself in the forest instead of taking his drugs so he (the doctor) wouldn’t have to fill out any paperwork about his death. (I sympathised here with the doctor, nobody likes doing paperwork). All of the characters in Uncle Vanya were also bored stupid with themselves.

The highpoint for me from Uncle Vanya was the doctor’s environmental stance. Unlike anyone else in the story who was unhappy about something, he acted on his worries in a more practical way than just shooting himself or someone else. The doctor’s concern that recent forest destruction was affecting animals, rivers and flora led him to make passionate speeches which the other characters ignored, but also to replant forests on his own land.

Three Sisters. A story of three sisters, their brother, plus various husbands, wives and the sister’s friends from the military, who were stationed in their small Russian town. This story had the usual mess of unhappy characters who were dissatisfied with their lot in life, along with husbands and wives in love with other people. Unsurprisingly, one of the characters was killed at the end of the play, however I don’t know if the character was shot or died in another way, because this time the death was the result of a duel and the action happened off stage.

The following excerpt from Three Sisters is typical of a Chekhov character’s pity party for themselves:

Irina (trying to console herself). Oh, I’m so miserable. I can’t, I won’t, I will not work. I’ve had enough. I used to be at the post office and now I work for the town council, and I loathe and despise everything they give me to do. I’m twenty-three, I’ve been working all this time and my brain’s shrivelled up. I’ve grown thin and ugly and old and I’ve nothing to show for it, nothing, no satisfaction of any kind, while time passes by and I feel I’m losing touch with everything fine and genuine in life. It’s like sinking down, down into a bottomless pit. I’m desperate. Why am I still alive, why haven’t I done away with myself? I don’t know.

See what I mean? Irina is 23 and sick of herself. 23! I feel like smacking her.

The Cherry Orchard. Mrs Ranevsky owned an estate with a cherry orchard which was to be sold to cover her debts, which affected the lifestyles of her family members, servants and the local community. Mrs Ranevsky was a silly, middle-aged woman who foolishly fell in love with a young man who only wanted her money. What little money she had left she gave away, even though she couldn’t afford to feed her servants. A neighbour, a former serf, advised Mrs Ranevsky to cut the trees down and build summer cottages, but she wouldn’t, and in the end he bought the property and the play ended with the sound of the cherry trees being cut down. For Mrs Ranevsky’s loyal and forgotten servants, I felt this play was more of a tragedy, but at least no one got shot. I also felt sad about the loss of the cherry orchard, but in terms of business, at least somebody (the former serf) had a clue.

This play is supposed to be a comedy, but I didn’t think it was funny. On the plus side, though, nobody shot themselves or anyone else, although one character threated to…

Yepikhodov. I’m a cultured sort of person and read all kinds of remarkable books, but I just can’t get a line on what it is I’m really after. Shall I go on living or shall I shoot myself, I mean? But anyway, I always carry a revolver. Here is it. (Shows them his revolver).

I cannot express how glad I am to have finished these plays. Had they not been a Classics Club spin, I probably would have stopped reading after Ivanov. I’ve come away from these plays feeling as if Chekhov was reflecting his world back at his audience, then the Russian people from this time and place were the most melodramatic, despairing and unhappiest people on earth.

I do recognise that my reading of Five Plays would be enhanced by a better knowledge of Russia during this time. The foreword suggests that these plays represent the country being on the edge of the enormous change that occurred soon after. No doubt I would also gain from watching the plays performed, but I can’t see that happening…

Five Plays was book six for my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.

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Ideal by Ayn Rand

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The edition of Ideal by Ayn Rand which I read included the previously unpublished novel followed by the play. I read them one after the other.

The story tells of a beautiful, tormented and elusive Hollywood actress, Kay Gonda, whose character was inspired by Greta Garbo. Kay Gonda is presumed to be a murderess (I’m using the term ‘murderess’ because the story was written in the 1930s) after a man with whom she dined was found dead and she couldn’t be found. While the police, studio bosses. movie producers, scriptwriters, publicists and journalists are looking for her, Kay Gonda visits six fans who have written a fan letter to her. Each of the letters writers tell Kay Gonda that she represents an ideal to them.

The first fan, George S. Perkins is a middle-aged married man willing to hide Kay Gonda until his wife tells him that she will pack her bags and take the children if George doesn’t tell the actress to get out of their home. George complies with his wife and Kay Gonda leaves.

In the second fan letter, Jeremiah Sliney tells Kay Gonda that he and his wife wish she was their daughter and they willingly offer her shelter when she arrives at their home. The Slineys are about to lose their home because they can’t pay their mortgage and when Kay Gonda hears them whispering that they would earn a monetary reward if they were to turn her in to the police, she sneaks out of their home.

The third fan is an artist who recreates Kay Gonda’s face and figure in every artwork he creates, but he does not recognise her when she comes to him in person. He turns her away when she asks him for help.

The fourth fan is a failed minister of religion who tries to convince Kay Gonda to turn herself in, knowing that the glory of her seeing the error of her ways will reflect well on him.

The fifth fan is a playboy, a failed dreamer who says he will protect her, then tries to rape her.

The sixth fan is Johnnie Dawes. He is the only fan whose behaviour is true to his fan letter to Kay Gonda. Johnnie believes he has a purpose in life, but he does not know what it is, but realises it when he believes Kay Gonda is in danger and he acts to protect her.

Ideal is a terribly cynical story. I couldn’t understand why Kay Gonda’s fans both loved and hated her, and since this idea is so central to the book, felt that another rewrite or two might have made a massive difference to the story.

The play is different to the novel in that several of the character’s storylines were altered or condensed. Reading them together was interesting. I haven’t read anything else yet by this author, but if it turns out that I love her better-known works, I won’t have to come back to Ideal and be disappointed…

Away by Michael Gow

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Miss S has been studying the play Away by Australian author Michael Gow at school and recently went on a school excursion to the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne to see the play performed.

I took the opportunity to read Miss S’s copy of the play too.

Away is set in Australia in 1967 and starts with the end of year school play being performed, in this case, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The performance ends with the school principal making a very ockerish speech, thanking the local supermarket for supplying cordial at half-time, someone’s mother for making the cakes, and ending with a request for everyone to be careful of the flower beds when they leave the school hall. Later, talking with one of the parents, the principal comments “It’s a pity they weren’t selling something a bit stronger than cordial,” as they would have made a killing. Agreed. School plays, dance recitals and prize-giving ceremonies could all be improved by alcohol. And I don’t drink.

After the play there is a gorgeously awkward scene between Tom and Meg, two teenagers who have gotten to know each other during play rehearsals. Tom is chatting Meg up before they are interrupted by Meg’s parents who are ready to go home. (Isn’t ‘chatting up’ a gorgeous expression? I can remember wearing my bubblegum jeans and blue mascara to a school social and being chatted up by a boy, oh, about 40 years ago now, but the memory makes me very happy still).

Meg’s mother is hard work, whinging about having being unable to see the stage during the play, complaining about her head hurting and carrying on because she still has to pack for the family’s annual holiday when they get home. It is clear that Meg and her father chip in, but Meg’ mother is someone who doesn’t give much credit to anyone else.

Tom and his parents are also going on a camping holiday the next day. Meg’s mother brags that her family are staying in a motel a little bit further up the coast and is rude about Tom’s family staying a tent. When they leave, Tom, who played Puck in the play, curses Meg’s mother and her holiday.

As it turns out, the school principal and his wife are also holidaying on the coast, although they are staying in a resort. He and his wife are grieving their son’s death in Vietnam the year before. His wife is on the edge of madness, bailing strangers up for weird conversations and staring at people in a way that discomposes them.

After a series of storms and other incidents, all of the families end up in the same holiday spot and spend time together. They each have complications or tragedies in their family life to resolve or to come to terms with.

The story is deceptively simple, suitable for teenagers to read and study, but with enough going on in the background to keep teenagers and adults interested. Miss S said she and her group discussed the play and the themes all of the way back to school in the bus, which is a sure sign of this play’s success. I enjoyed reading the play, and would dearly love the opportunity to see it performed.

 

The Club by David Williamson

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I bought Australian playwright David Williamson’s The Club from an opportunity shop for 50 cents. Back in the day, this play was studied by high school students, which means that these days, every op shop in Australia always has at least three copies for sale.

The play was set in the clubrooms of an Australian Rules football club in Melbourne during the 1970’s, with the action taking place over a single evening. There are only six characters, all male, in the play; the coach, the Club President, the go-getting young administrator, a high flying new recruit, the ageing team captain and a board member who was a former player and coach.

The politics and backstabbing going on in the club’s board room is ridiculously over the top, but probably typical of many sporting clubs at the time. The board members have been angling to have the coach sacked but the team captain is threatening a player’s strike if that happens. The coach wants to drop the non-performing star recruit back to the reserves to straighten him out, and to cap things off, the Club President has assaulted a stripper at a boy’s night and is desperately trying to keep the incident out of the press. Other board members see this as an opportunity to oust the old President and bring in fresh money in the form of a new President.

Violence against women is a theme in The Club. The characters disparage other men who hurt women, but they try and buy off the stripper with $20, and in another exchange which left my jaw on the ground, one of the older characters said he once played a bad game, went home and hit his wife after she said, “I think you met your match today.” He then complained about the harm done to his playing psyche; She apologised later but by that time the damage (to him) was done.

The themes in The Club are very familiar to me, as a child during the 1970’s in a country area where the local football club was the centre of the community. Everybody knew which club members, ‘good’ blokes who would do anything for the club, went home and belted their wives. Wives and girlfriends, who turned a blind eye to regular club fundraisers in the form of stripper’s nights, tirelessly ran the canteen and washed the jumpers. The centre-half forward had his pick of local girls who all wanted the associated glamour of going out with the team’s biggest hero, and even in the under-7’s, the father’s had to drink with the coach and selection committee for their kid to get a game. Kids learned the words to Up There Cazaly at school and imagined taking a screamer in front of the crowd.

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But back to the play.

The story is set at a time when football clubs where just starting to play their players, and the club’s coach, Laurie and other players resent the club President and board members paying $90,000 for Geoff Hayward. Geoff has under-performed since joining the team and at one point during the last week’s game, was day-dreaming and completely oblivious to the ball going past him. Later Geoff owned up to Laurie that he was stoned and was watching a seagull instead of the ball, because he was afraid of failing. Laurie eventually found a way to connect with and motivate Geoff, and the reader got the sense that Geoff will play like a star again in the future.

These days, Australian Rules football is big business and the themes in The Club are still relevant. The ‘boy’s club’ mentality still exists up to a point, although women now have places on the highest-level boards and work with the players on their fitness and injuries. The media speculate on the likelihood of under-performing coaches being sacked and on ageing players being traded. The women’s league has just started and is proving to be very popular, although old men are yet to be convinced of the merits of women playing football. The biggest change however is that these days the only people who are loyal to their club are the fans. Go the Cats…

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David Williamson is best known in Australia for writing the screenplays for Gallipoli (starring a very young Mel Gibson), Phar Lap, and The Year of Living Dangerously, although Don’s Party, a play based on the 1969 Australian Federal Election, was the work which kick-started his career.

I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch a performance of The Club, but David Williamson has captured the boys club mentality perfectly.  And as a spectator, I’m a bit jaded with business of Australian Rules Football at the highest level, but I am quite happy to stand on the fence at the ground down the road and cheer on my local team team.

 

 

 

 

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