April 07, 2011
NEW YORK—I went to see a revival of Arcadia in the beautiful Ethel Barrymore Theatre last Saturday night, and it made my day. Tom Stoppard is our greatest playwright, and I think Arcadia is his best play, although a couple of his other gems come close. I was with Marine Major Michael Warring and Marine Major Chris Meyers (Ret) and their girls. Both officers saw action in Iraq, both are extremely well educated and well read, and both think that Tom Stoppard is the greatest thing since the Marine Corps. There’s nothing like Sir Tom’s intelligent wordplay and mind-boggling knowledge to put one in a great mood—until we exited the theater, that is. The warm glow of having witnessed something truly wonderful disappeared quicker than you can say “Gaddafi.” Broadway is no longer the Great White Way, but a Disneyised, bustling suburban shopping mall full of megastores selling junk, a mediagenic, illuminated blur of moving electric surfaces selling more junk, with thousands of junk people gawking, eating junk food, and listening to junk music blaring from their earphones. “Now that’s what I call romanticism versus classicism,” I told my Marine buddies, so we decided to go downtown and get loaded.
I don’t mean to be a stickler, an aggrieved social conservative standing against youth, minorities, and change, but living in today’s garbage culture tends to make one slightly grumpy. The Marines and I wondered what a person picked at random among the plebeian crowd would think of Arcadia had we paid him to attend. “That he had landed on an another planet” was the collective opinion. Mind you, we were looking at a Saturday-night crowd in Times Square, reality-show freaks being a dime a dozen, but still, I now know why the kitchen-sink crap became so popular just as the dreadful sixties were coming around. Personally, I always stuck with Noël Coward and Terence Rattigan and have not regretted it for a moment. Rattigan is having a comeback and I couldn’t be happier. Screw those filthy, smelly, cardigan-wearing critics with ugly shoes and furtive eyes who dismissed poor old Sir Terry. I’ll take the drawing room over the filthy kitchen any day, as most sensible and good people would. It is now considered tiresome and fusty to dress well, have good manners, and not use profanity, but again, I’ll take these anytime over the malodorous cesspit into which the celebrity mags and reality shows have dumped us.