May 27, 2004

Now Playing: The Cat in the Hat

Filed under: Art and About Literature — admin @ 3:53 pm

I am fascinated by Mike Myers portrayal of the Cat in the Hat. It’s a part I know very well. I have studied the role in depth and played it countless times. The Dr. Seuss classic is one of my son’s favorite stories and so that darned Cat plays in repertory at my house for bedtime performances.

I have watched other caregivers perform the Cat in their interpretation of the mischievous feline. Some believe he speaks very slowly and deliberately, luring the story’s children into his web of fun. Some hear the Cat with a silly giggle, and add that sound effect to the end of his lines. One of our relatives cannot simply read the Cat — he must pantomime as well.

I have culled from these various performances and determined that my definitive Cat is a playful authority figure with a confident exterior housing an easily bruised ego. He’s part Mary Poppins and part Robin Williams. For some lines, I do a dead-on impression of Kathy Najimy. I don’t know why, it just feels right. I’m sure there are infinite interpretations of the role by millions of method-acting amateurs around the globe who have played the Cat.

Long before the movie came out, “The Cat in the Hat” got me thinking about the work real actors have to do. I know the art of creating a living, breathing and believable character isn’t easy, and I’ve always appreciated that skill. The part that bamboozles me is how an actor can stay engaged with a part they are playing when they are in the middle of their eighth stage performance of the week, or their twenty-third take of a scene in a movie. Yul Brynner’s commitment to the role of the King of Siam astounds me. Although Sean Connery was certainly the best Bond, I completely understand why 007 and the actor had to go their separate ways.

I’ve done enough theater in my life to have heard the spiel about “keeping it fresh” from people who actually like the art of acting. Growing up, I was in a number of shows playing a variety of roles, big and small. I couldn’t muster enough interest as a performer to keep it fresh, keep it new, after the gazillionth run-through. I looked forward to the performances because that meant the ordeal would soon be over. Once we got to show time, I would mark big, red Xs on the calendar in celebration of one less time I would have to endure a particular show.

At the tender age of 18, I finally admitted that acting was boring to me and resigned myself to the fact that I was meant to enjoy acting from the other side of the stage line. I packed all my past acting opportunities away in the trunk of life experiences and labeled it “been there-done that.”

Then I had children and suddenly I had to read my son’s favorite book of the month umpteen times a week, if not a day. The feelings of boredom when approaching the text were eerily similar to my boredom on stage. But a show ends after only a few performances. My kids’ childhoods will play on for years. I had to come up with a solution to entertain myself while entertaining the small folks.

It was “The Cat in the Hat” that inspired me to approach reading children’s books as if I was an actor hired to keep it fresh, sincere and honest. And now, my performances are breaking box office records for smiles, hugs and kisses.

May 8, 2004

Meet My New Friend, Duncan Phillips

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:06 pm

I have never had an answer for the hypothetical question, if you could invite any three people from any period of history to a dinner party, who would they be? Then I saw “Renoir to Rothko: The Eye of Duncan Phillips” on PBS and now I know that at least one of the seats right next to me at the table would be saved for my new best friend Duncan.

There is a lot about Duncan Phillips that makes us soul mates. From the early 1920s until the mid-1960s, Phillips was a critic, collector and patron of the arts, and particularly a champion of modern art in America. He opened his Washington D.C. home to the public as the first museum devoted to modern art in the United States.

Although our artistic tastes are disparate, the core belief system to which Phillips committed his life makes me a great admirer. He believed art had the power to comfort, transform and redeem an imperfect world. He believed all works of art had this power, whether they came from major or minor sources, from a composer’s pen or a painter’s brush. He exhibited the art on his walls in a viewer-friendly manner, inviting people to sit in a comfortable chair and commune with the artist.

As I learned about Phillips in the documentary, and then continued my research about him on the Internet, I was continually whispering “yes, yes, yes.” But one of his tenets particularly struck me. He always bought local art because he thought it was an important marker of time and place.

Bells went off in my head as Phillips’ notion introduced me to this new approach to forging a relationship with art, no matter what a person’s personal definition of art may be. Seeing art as a marker of time and place appeals to both the history buff in me, and to the way I view everything in the world as potential fodder for a scrapbook. It is not, however, a concept that I have had in my conscious mind, although subconsciously is has been part of my modus operandi.

We already have a strict dictum in our house that nothing goes on the walls that doesn’t have meaning. And we call everything on the walls “art,” even though we may be the only ones calling it that. We find these objects to be beautiful, but more importantly, they are markers of time and place for us, and the people and experiences that go with those markers. We are surrounded by the scrapbook of our lives, we are enveloped by physical manifestations of our own personal history everyday. This explains why I have trouble taking down the small watercolor from San Juan, Puerto Rico, that we were given for our wedding by a friend. We have never been to Puerto Pico, but our friend grew up there and so while we are cohabiting with that watercolor, we are actually living our daily lives with our friend.

It makes so much sense now. When kids are growing up, the walls of their rooms are often the first place they post indicators of current passions – rock stars, movies, school events, photographs of friends. Siblings who share a room often bicker when their personal markers clash in the combined space. The artful reflection of ourselves on the walls makes a very powerful statement.

We may not all have Phillip’s eye or inclination for filling our homes with universally accepted works of art, but we are all founders of the (Your Name Here) Museum when we open our doors to the public.