Joe Mabel > Travel writing > Letters from Romania 2001-2002 > A Funny Thing Happened...

A Funny Thing Happened...

15 Apr 2002

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Broadway musical, 1962, originally starring Zero Mostel, the first ever with both music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I saw it in a 1972 Broadway revival starring Phil Silvers and I just saw it again, rather strangely, at the Teatrul Nottara, in Romanian, starring one George Alexandru, a good comic actor (and, I've read, a good dramatic actor as well, with quite a bit of film experience) but even less of a singer than Phil Silvers, if that is possible. Part of what was weird about this for me is that, of course, from my point of view Romanian is halfway back to Plautus's Latin. That includes in terms of how much of it I can understand.

In general, the Nottara production had good actors and good choreography, but the only good singing voices were in the chorus. A relatively small production, as well, which, I'm afraid gave some of the production numbers the air of a well-done amateur theatrical: recorded small orchestra (not bad, but inevitably not as energetic as live musicians), radio mikes on the principal players for their singing numbers, and a chorus of 6 singer/dancers of each sex (including one young woman who recently had an ingenue role in the film Filantropica). I guess anything more than that would have been a bit much for Nottara's stage: the seating capacity is about the same as the aforementioned Odeon, but the stage is rather smaller. Likewise, the seats were narrow and approximately one tiny bit more comfortable than wooden benches.

As some of you may remember, there is a very "queer" subplot in this where the slave Erroneous has to impersonate the corpse of a dead virgin and the great General continues to effuse over this (male) beauty. I guess this probably now plays in Bucharest about like it did in NYC in 1962: attitudes toward homosexuality are about the same as that era. (Bucharest has one openly gay bar, one other that "everyone" knows about but which does not publicize itself, and the city just got its first regularly scheduled drag show, at a generally straight bar, which people here seem to think of as very decadent.)


A funny thing happened on the way out the door the other day: real life, 2002, starring me, lyrics improvised. At 7:45 am, a shoulder-shrugging moocher was at my door trying to bum beer money. The short version (reality took 10 minutes): he was the husband of the femei de servici (sort of a cleaning lady) who hauls out garbage, etc., for a lot of people in my building. Since I do not even have her take care of my garbage (I variously haul it myself or it is handled by the woman who cleans my apartment), and because as far as I can tell all this guy does in life is freeload off his wife, I did not give it to him. Also because I don't like encouraging someone to ring my bell early in the morning to cadge money. Anyway, it was kind of strange: on the one hand, he was acknowledging that I wasn't obligated to give him the money, on the other hand, he had come through my door, was on my terasa smoking a cigarette, and wasn't going away just because I said no.

The fact that I ultimately could deal with this does mean my Romanian has gotten pretty good, I guess. Last fall, I would have had no idea who he was, whether he might be collecting some legitimate building fee, etc.


A funny thing happened... Enough of that.

Friday night, rainy, cold, I decide to go for a walk anyway (umbrella, leather jacket, wool sweater: wasn't it supposed to be spring?), wander up through a pleasant residential neighborhood east of the center. On my wayback in I hear loud music and see strobe lights. At first I think there must be a nightclub or disco in and unlikely location right near me, but ultimately it proves to be outdoors and four blocks away: the British Council has sponsored a multimedia performance by some young men from Manchester (names not known to me). They are on a covered stage, but playing to an audience who are standing In the pouring rain (Manchester weather, I guess, part of the show), for which they are in varying degrees appropriately and inappropriately dressed.

Unsurprisingly, under the circumstances, a young crowd, median age certainly below 20. The performers are really good: a firstrate turntablist; a very good jazz/classical bass player with an upright electric that he variously bows or plays by hand; a small video crew, mixing live footage of the performance, pre-shot performance footage of the same performers, pre-shot dramatic footage, stock footage, and animation by one or two animators (quite good, presumably young and from Manchester judging by the style). Very rave or neo-rave, or something like that, quite danceable, the bassist was a first rate musician and the turntablist was one of the ones who reminds you that two turntables and a collection of disks can be a very valid "instrument". Very Manchester. Very wet. Good enough that I stayed for the rest of the performance (about an hour) despite the miserable weather.

[21 April 02: I found out who the performers were: Fingathing, part of Sensurround Manchester, who have been getting grants from the British Council to tour everywhere from South Africa to Hong Kong. Not the most likely recipients of arts grants, but certainly deserving.]


I saw Verdi's Aida at the opera on Saturday, musically excellent but very static in terms of its staging, tableaux rather than acting, especially noticeable after some of the very well-staged productions I've seen here. Definitely not ensemble work, definitely big opera egos at work. That sort of thing really leaves me a little cold, like when rock guitarists take self-indulgent solos. But then, I liked Jimi Hendrix. And Maria Callas. I guess if you are good enough, I don't find it self-indulgent, but if you are even one step below that, can't you please be a team player?

After the opera, making a very long night of it, I met up with a bunch of my co-workers at the dance club Impaler, where we hung out, danced, and drank. Most of the music was a little too Latin for my dancing tastes (a lot of rather generic salsa), and the people at the next table looked like you did not want to know where their money came from, but all were had by a good time and vice versa.

Pe curind...


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Originally written: April 15, 2002
Last modified: April 21, 2002

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