Scene4-Internal Magazine of Arts and Culture
Claudine Jones-Scene4 Magazine

Claudine Jones

A Perfectly Innocent Attack

How am I any different than a hen? Scratching & clucking, dropping orders of magnitude more eggs than offspring, making way for the rooster when he struts through the enclosure sure that he's bound toward that great escape any day now—yet, city ordinances being what they are, been banished for more than a year. 

That last part isn't the same; my rooster neither struts nor has he been banned—although just on the decibel level of his sudden sneezes, he ought to be—& he has no intention of escaping except to the recesses of his mind upon occasion.

No, I'm talking about the possibility that we're all pretty much the same: animals all chasing down some ephemera. My girls out in the back get freaked out by the neighbor's tiny barking dog & her daughters' shrieks at play. The tumult dies down & it's back to laying—maybe—it could be time for moulting & pouting, & then back to providing protein for humans. I can't tell if they are truly bored; their tails are up so they're healthy. I do suspect there's not quite enough octane in those birdie brains to summon any memory of the free-range, pre-coop days. Surely these two survivors have blissfully erased the trauma of losing half the tribe.

The ephemera consists of wisps of aggression, proclivities, urges: the sun's out; time for worms. it's raining; time for worms. the rain's stopped; time for worms.. Could be they reckon on other stuff, too. Nonetheless, the regularity settles in; sometime in the dim future they'll dry up & be useless, replaced by the next generation of hatchlings, however today is today.

I have plenty to do; ma's rebounding from the vodka she knows does not go down well with les medicaments. If she's dog-paddling like mad to keep head above water it's not exactly the time to organize her home-care status paperwork. I've got the forms, it's just a matter of timing. Not during intense rehearsal prep, not when brother's in hospital, not the week we've got the grand-kid on spring break...sigh. It's a circle, I know. We're running in little circles.

My scarf is on the sixth color, added in round & round, cast-on 360 stitches, with luminous soft tiny strands. fuzzyscarf-crThe pattern is way cool: think giant sock-ankle which you just clip, unravel a bit & make fringe. Presto! I can do it almost by feel since the yarn is so skinny & separate on the needle. After that, I think...the green pulse goes up a tick at the contemplation of tackling it.

Of course I didn't audition for sweaters & scarves. It's entirely no-pressure.

I've had a look at the substance of the proposed next gig; it is an unusual one-act treatment of a true crime story from 10 years ago. The absurd fact that it involved a choir is continually surprising, since those of us who troll for work in theater don't typically get offered chances that mesh so clearly with our skill-set. We—meaning a subset of the larger group—already performed this same play two years ago in SF & a fine time was had by all. Truly. So I'm chuffed that it's come around again. But it's a different troupe. That's why I'm also miffed. I'm a chicken on a mission.

Until I really get into it—once again, left in the dark about most everything involved until it's almost too late to back out—I won't really know what I think. My old trigger teacher Bob used to advise us if it didn't pass the smell test, just walk away. Damn, that's hard. The ratio of theater-sluts to parts is thin enough without having to turn shit down, but point taken. You do not want can I put this?...encourage substandard misguided haphazard lopsided miscast sloppy theater.

For some reason though, in this past go-round, I had jumped at a chance to read for one of our guest conductors. He wanted the English translation of the Neruda poem to be read out loud before we sang the Spanish. Kind of a dumb idea. I signed up with not a flicker of hesitation.

The evening I left home a skosh late for my assigned ten minute slot I ended up having to jog the usual 2 miles to the Hall, thus making my reading a leetle intense; the heart-rate was just coming back down. Apparently I did okay cause when I got home late after the full rehearsal, a short email said the part was mine.   Oh, & would I mind having a meeting to work on making it even better?

Now combine my artistic temperament, a Guatemalan electrician, the internet & a grieving widower.

Through the next month before the scheduled recital, these elements were put to the Test.  My experience was already being hauled out, dusted off & polished to a high gleam by the in-house poet who pointed out the beats, rhythms & rhymes that would do the poem justice.  Our advance teamwork put me in a confident mood. I discovered that my long dormant university language intensive circa '72 was having trouble making it past the conflict in the first line of the poem—indicative vs. subjunctive—and I thought not to battle this head-on even though I was on the higher ground.

The internet not only confirmed my conclusion that the language was being abused by the composer, it also turned up a comment in an online Neruda discussion group that was so recently posted that it seemed like a grotesque joke: Visited Neruda's eclectic house in Santiago with my wife last year during a memorable holiday in Chile. She passed away recently and we shared this beautiful poem at her funeral as part of our tribute to her. A very moving piece.

How could this not be our conductor? It explained so much: his reticence in front of us, the tortured way he tried to infuse us with a sense of inherent tragedy in the sonnet, the way he attempted to draw me away from Neruda toward the musical setting which was gradually (I think) pulling him into its spell. When we met to go over my reading privately, he was kind & thoughtful & persistent & opinionated & ultimately stuck in his version. I had convinced him that I was able to do it; now he needed to me do it his way. I asked him, after a bit of back & forth, whether he wasn't perhaps asking me to read not only the translation, but read it in the way that it had been adapted to the music. Was this not, I suggested, doing a disservice to our audience so that in effect we were two times removed from the music of Neruda himself. 

This is an honest question, I said. He responded that he felt an urgency to make sure that the folks out there in the dark understood the meaning. (That was an insult to me, of course, but I don't think he saw it that way.) We needed to end our session to get to the main rehearsal; we left, making assurances, agreeing to give it our best shot, etc. I thought what did my old teacher Lillian used to say? Never argue, just nod & smile, & then do your own thing—as long as you know your shit & back it the hell up.

I couldn't let the language go, meanwhile. I mean why was I on the internet in the first place if I didn't give a crap? No, the mis -translation was crawling in my gut. I had confirmed that Neruda used the correct subjunctive, now I just needed to understand why the composer had gone on record saying the opposite. Gaaaahhhh!!! Every time I ran across someone with a Spanish surname or accent I felt compelled to open a discussion except something stopped me. Inappropriate to assume that just because somebody spoke Spanish he/she would be interested or maybe shamed into feigning interest but clueless on points of grammar—that would be awkward. By the time the in-house poet had become truly sick of this subject that had been starting to interrupt my sleep, a miracle occurred: two outlets in our kitchen stopped functioning.

These are a couple of plugs that get a lot of use, so a solution was not back-burnered by more than a week or so as things go. We dug through the files on who does what around here & came up with our resource, who, being out of town, pointed us to another resource, who said that J would come out on Monday, which he did & woke us up at 8:30. In-house was off to work with K, his regular poetry pal, & I was in the kitchen in my bathrobe with none other than, as it turns out, the Guatemalan grandnephew of that country's poet laureate. Not that the electrical work was by-passed, no, we had working outlets at the end of this, but that wasn't the kernel of our interest: as soon as J sussed out that poetry lived in this household, his eyes burned with literary fervor. 

The Neruda issue came & went, as smooth as applesauce to this man, whose own oeuvre was tidily accessible on his smartphone. I learned of the history behind some of his favorite creations; we stumbled through the original while he did his best to approximate translations & I scrambled to remember my Spanish (so much worse than his English). In-house came back home & sat & traded more poetry with him. I took a shower & they were still at it.   When at last it seemed the repair of his truck would have finally to be addressed, he got up to leave. With moist eyes, we embraced & he said to me you know, you don't mess with Neruda. It's like...well, you don't change the Bible, you know?

At the final rehearsal in the hall our guy was nervous, he motioned to me Face the singers so they can hear you.  I stood up at long last to recite; my thorough vindication tucked in a back pocket of my artist's soul. I looked at him kindly.

O,  they'll hear me alright. They'll hear me just fine.

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Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades.
She writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2017 Claudine Jones
©2017 Publication Scene4 Magazine




May 2017

Volume 17 Issue 12

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