Thursday, April 23, 2009

Christmas Stories

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday; old enough, I think, to no longer be carded when picking up a six-pack at Albertsons. As it happens, my book club is honoring his 445 years by watching KING LEAR this Sunday.

Last month we finished CRIME & PUNISHMENT. What is interesting in that little story is that we don’t get to Punishment until the epilogue.

If you want to be literal, that is. The majority of the book speaks to the nature of private punishment, rather than state punishment.

What is the cost of our sins, regardless of whether we get “caught?

For companion pieces, I recommend two Christmas stories: the film FROZEN RIVER and the play THE SEAFARER. The movie explores crime; the play, Dostoevsky style punishment.

In FROZEN RIVER, single mother Ray is driven by circumstances beyond her control, and falls into an unlikely partnership smuggling people across the Canadian border.

Her fall into crime is understandable; but, as we learn, not excusable.

Unlike the murder in CRIME & PUNISHMENT, Ray’s crime is in no way prompted by superiority, nor does it seem as dastardly.

It is only a little sin.

But there are no little sins, are there?

Ray’s minor participation in wrong-doing is a growing menace within her own soul – and showcased with a decision where she tries to avert a major crime, and instead commits a far deeper personal travesty.

The beauty of the movie is in its humanity; it treats its characters with respect, while allowing warts to be warts.

THE SEAFARER is a play about a bunch of Irish guys getting drunk, playing cards and swearing a lot. I guess I could have stopped at “a bunch of Irish guys;” the rest seems kinda obvious.

The play is more than that, but it is hard to discuss without giving away too much. Let’s just say that the first act feels like it is about a whole lot of nothing; then there is a reveal shortly before the intermission curtain.

And that reveal shows that the whole lot of nothing was a whole lot of something.

For this conversation, the important thing is realizing that the lives of our central characters are as pathetic as they seem because they have been living out the unexamined consequences of past transgressions.

There were crimes committed that they were never punished for, and never faced; and this Christmas is the time of reckoning.

The press materials for the play call it a “play about redemption.”

It isn’t. There is no redemption – just a long night of getting to a point where there is finally a chance at redemption.

FROZEN RIVER and THE SEAFARERS carry these commonalities:

They both take place at Christmas.

They both hinge in character development on a decision to face their crimes.

They are both set in an uglier landscape of the human condition.

They both have plots where G-d intervenes in a significant way. (Although neither could be accused of being religious works.)

Oh, and I liked ‘em both.

Just my thoughts,



Bob said...

I find it interesting that the BOOK club is WATCHING King Lear. LOL

Gaffney said...

Okay, here's the defense: Shakespeare clearly has had an incredible effect on literature, hence his work qualifies for book club. BUT his work was never meant to be "read" -- only to be performed and watched. Typically we would go to a theatre to watch live actors, but as this is a seminal performance, and only available to us on DVD, our book club is watching King Lear. That said, we often watch adaptations -- but only after having read the original.