Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hitch on Yates

Frank and April Wheeler are the reverse of the unhappy family in Chekhov's Cherry Orchard. They have already tasted the fruits and sweets of the big city, and qualified as urban -- perhaps better say urbane -- sophisticates. But you know how it is. Pregnancy comes to April a teeny bit earlier than had been anticipated (or desired), and the distressing need to earn some actual money is then imposed upon Frank, who must martyr his aestheticism to the brute requirements of "the firm." Soon enough the days become regulated by the commute and, of course, by the needs of the children.

Even so, the lost Bohemia of their Greenwich Village period will not be denied, and before too long Frank and April are smilingly condescending to help out a local troupe called, with brilliant ominousness, the Laurel Players. They decide to build up the spirit of community theater with a production of "The Petrified Forest." I shall simply say that I don't remember ever feeling so sorry for a set of fictional characters. If Yates had one talent above all, it was for conveying the feeling of disappointment and anticlimax, heavily infused with the sort of embarrassment that amounts to humiliation. As the full horror of the first night, and the full catastrophe of April's own performance, become apparent, Yates catches the ghastly moment by writing, "The virus of calamity, dormant and threatening all these weeks, had erupted now."

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