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Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday in the Park With George

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

I saw the Sondheim revival by Signature Theater yesterday with a friend. We started talking about how some of the music is intended to imitate George Seurat's pointillism, ie, using "dot dot dot" in his paintings. Since we had been discussing choreography in figure skating before the show, my friend and I began to bounce around ideas about how one would do a "dot dot dot" impression on ice with skates. Quick turns on one or both feet, maybe, like Scott Hamilton used to do. I suggested a series of little hops, perhaps on toe picks. Most humans have a bit of synesthesia, which allows us to mix media (visual, auditory, and movement) and use symbols. (BTW, the female lead character's name is Dot, clearly not an accident.)

It is something only Sondheim can pull off --- A musical with almost no story, which is essentially a meditation and dissertation on the creative process, composed with a pile of dots and points and a collection of little anecdotes and episodes. Nevertheless there are bits of character details, which makes me suspect that he and James Lapine wrote up a whole other book on all the characters and their relationships and a full profile for each one with all their complexes ... and 99% of that has been left out of the musical. Note how Sondheim refuses to paint George Seurat as a stereotypical misunderstood genius who was wronged by people around him. No no no. The two Georges in the show both have their flaws and strengths, opposite as they are. Sondheim treats them both with compassion and tenderness, but never indulgence or victimization. While he is sympathetic to Seurat's inability to express his feelings, he does not diminish the humanity in the ordinary people around the genius, like the long-suffering model/lover Dot ("There is someone in this dress!"). So good. So good!

The theme song "Sunday" is, according to Sondheim, written as one big, circular sentence.

["Order, design, tension, balance, harmony"]

Sunday, by the blue purple yellow red water
On the green purple yellow red grass
Let us pass through our perfect park
Pausing on a Sunday

By the cool blue triangular water
On the soft green elliptical grass
As we pass through arrangements of shadow
Toward the verticals of trees

By the blue purple yellow red water
On the green orange violet mass of the grass
In our perfect park

Made of flecks of light
And dark
And parasols

People strolling through the trees
Of a small suburban park
On an island in the river
On an ordinary Sunday

And yes, the songs in the musical are all damned un-hummable.

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