Thursday, August 16, 2007

The City Watched by God

I’m taking a weekend excursion to Providence tomorrow, so I’m blogging earlier than usual. It’s not as easy to get to as it should be- for my entire adult life there’s been construction on I-95, and the train is always, always late.

I lived in Providence for part of the 1980s- first as a student at the Trinity Rep Conservatory, and then as the playwright-in-residence and tour booker for The Perishable Theatre. It was kind of a strange place in those days. The mayor, Buddy Cianci, had recently been convicted of having one of his thugs beat up his ex-wife’s boyfriend. On my way to school each day, I’d walk past Patriarca Vending Machines, which was the headquarters of the New England mob. Equally strange was the fact that Trinity Rep’s artistic director, Adrian Hall, was simultaneously artistic director of the Dallas Theatre Center. Which meant he was rarely in Providence, he was usually in Texas.

But that was long ago. Cianci did time in federal prison, the FBI cleaned up the mob, Trinity’s on its fourth artistic director since then. The reason I’m going to Providence is not to relive my misspent youth, but to see my friend James, who’s one of the smartest directors I know, and has done a lot of great work on plays of mine. He’s also one of those friends you can always rely on to tell you the truth, whether you want to hear it or not.

I spent a year of my life in law school in the 1990s, and while I was by no means friendless there, it was nothing like going to drama school. I still keep in touch with one classmate, who’s a corporate patent lawyer in New York. But the whole nature of the school (maybe the nature of the law?) was cold and competitive. There really was someone who hid a book on library reserve so the rest of us couldn’t do an assignment- like something out of “The Paper Chase.” There was certainly implicit and explicit competition at the Conservatory, but the equivalent of book-hiding never would have happened.

I guess I felt sorry for my George Gund School of Law classmates, that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to build the working relationships and the friendships that we took for granted in school. They certainly never had the opportunity to work on the “nightingale/lark” scene from “Romeo and Juliet,” and to hear James tell them: “It’s just like the ‘horse/mule’ scene from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’!”

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