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Stateside With Rosalea: Tragedy At Ford's Theatre

Stateside With Rosalea

Tragedy at Ford's Theatre, Washington DC

A couple of Saturdays ago, ABC-D (for Disney, the parent company) aired what seemed to be George II's version of a royal command performance. Ford's is, of course, the theatre from which Abraham Lincoln was carried unconscious after an actor shot him in the back of the head as he sat in the presidential box watching a comedy called 'Our American Cousin'. The theatre is now owned by the federal government and was restored to its original condition 100 years after the assassination, but the presidential box has never again been used.

So it was that George and Laura, having made a grand entrance at the totally un-grand entrance under the balcony, sat in front row seats, essentially at the same level as the stage. The host was that most awful of the Sunday morning political show hosts, Sam Donaldson, and the first performer was a pre-pubescent boy country singer who hasn't yet learned that the best way to hit a high note is to imagine you're coming down to it from an even higher one, not to squawk up at it. Thank heaven for the first commercial break, whereupon I left and never returned.

The most off-putting thing wasn't the talent, or lack of it, but the big screen at the back of the stage which kept showing cutaways of the audience, who were mainly members of Congress and their partners. Just who do these pollies think they are - Cruisier and Cruzier on Oscar night? My dears, it was ghastly, I tell you, just ghastly, and your normally fearless reviewer was quite unable to go back to it after the commercial break for fear of being overcome with embarrassment for our "American" cousins.

There is one show that should be seen at Ford's Theatre and that is Puccini's opera 'Madama Butterfly'. In the ideal production, Goro, the marriage broker, would be played by John Wilkes Booth and just before he goes on some public-minded citizen could thrust a pistol in his hand and whisper in his ear that Lt. B.F. Pinkerton, USN, didn't arrive ON the Abraham Lincoln, he IS Abraham Lincoln. The whole thing could thus be ended - with the requisite operatic gore - in the very first scene, saving us from all the dreadful caterwauling that follows.

If you're not familiar with the plot of 'Butterfly' it is this: Pinkerton, a powerful man some distance from home, uses his money and contacts to provide himself with a young woman. Said girl foolishly mistakes his inch-worm for a heart, and even after he abandons her, when she is with child, to go back home and get a 'real' wife, she fantasises that he loves her and will continue to support and care for her. One fine day, she believes, he will return.

One fine day he does. With his wife. Scumbag coward that he is, he can't bring himself to face Butterfly and take away the child, so he gets his wife to break the bad news. OK, so he admits that he's a coward and a man with flaws, but that doesn't make him any less of a scumbag and a coward - it just makes *him* more pathetic and everyone watching less sympathetic. Except for Butterfly, caterwauling fool that she is. She kills herself.

'One Fine Day' is one of the most beautiful and well-known arias ever written, but every time I hear it I want to hear a quite different one - Brecht and Weill's 'Pirate Jenny' from 'Threepenny Opera'. That too is the fantasy of a young woman rejected by the man she loves and that too involves a ship sailing into a harbour. Only Low-Dive Jenny's ship isn't going to bring some saviour to her - she will be the pirate captain and she will lay waste to the town and all in it who have disrespected her.

Which is probably why I can't wait to see ABCD's new fall series 'Alias'. It's about a college-age girl who becomes a secret agent. I'm curious how she does it - does she just leave all her things in her apartment one day and disappear off the face of the earth, getting a new identity and the exciting life she'd fantasised she might have in the FBI, CIA or NSA? Too damned bad if, in so doing, she blows somebody else's ship right out of the water.

Speaking of which, the term "that woman" (as in "I did not have sex with that woman") took on a whole new aspect during the Gary Condit interview on Thursday night. "I've been married 34 years," he said, "and I intend to stay with that woman as long as she'll have me." There is something deeply creepy about someone who'd refer to his wife on national television as "that woman". Condit, of course, is the congressman who is linked to the disappearance of a Californian college student interning in Washington.

But even more creepy was the way the local Fox channel - which has its evening news bulletin at the same time ABCD aired its exclusive Condit interview - led the bulletin with an analysis of the interview by a political commentator who'd been given an audio feed from the East Coast via telephone three hours earlier. Actually, since Fox had that analysis in the first segment - before the commercial break - while ABCD was still bragging about how it got the exclusive interview and dribbling out teasers - I hardly needed to watch the thing itself.

And by the time the local CBS news bulletin was on air at 11pm its reporters had had time to put together a very tidy piece, thank you very much, about the comments in the chat rooms. They particularly liked to show the screen of the CNN chat room, where several people were writing that Connie Chung was an awful interviewer. I agree. She should have asked more about the intern's disappearance, not tried to find out whether Condit was having an affair with her. All that that line of questioning elicited - not once, but four times - was a comment to the effect that "out of respect for my family and out of a request from her family" he declined to answer. The "request from her family" turned out to be something he'd seen on a television show.

So much for trying to start a third, "middle ground" political movement in the United States.

lea_barker@hotmail.com - Lea Barker
California
Saturday August 25, 2001

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