I remember sleeping well on the ferry, but waking up and having no room at all between the seats and the back wall. It gave me a claustrophobic feeling. I made my way from the ferry to train. The ride to London Liverpool Street seemed short. I still was reading my novel. I had fish and chips at St. Pancras Rail Station, and caught the train to Nottingham. The Gomersals said I could stay in the Luther flat if I cleaned it up a bit more. That night I went to the University and saw Illiana. She invited me to a dance for the international students. Not many people showed up on time. It was at THE ZONE downtown. I had a good time, but was tired. I walked home.
How are you? I hope I’m reaching everyone during a light, happy moment; carefree, jovial, and full. I’m writing from my family farmhouse, built in 1902 on a farm started by my family in 1852. My family just had a reunion last weekend at the farm, a sesquicentennial, or a centennial for the house. It was the sesquicentennial of Spring Grove, my hometown, and my niece, Christina, won the 19 and under category for a 5k race. She has fingernails and braces that match her ribbon, which was red white and blue. I’ve enjoyed spending this summer in Spring Grove and Decorah with my family, which was possible because I’m directing the summer musical for Ye Olde Opera House in the Olde Gray Barn just a block east of Spring Grove. It is quite a nice place, in many ways, to spend a summer. With horses prancing around, the trees hushing in the wind, and as most of my rehearsals run until night, the stars in the great pincushion of the night. So I thought I would be foolish not to share this with as many of you as I could. We usually get very good audiences for these shows. I used to act or play sax in them each summer when I was in high school, but directed one three years ago between my move from Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro to Iowa City. Most of the time, when I go to YOOH musicals, I just bring a blanket or a chair and sit out on the hill for the show and get the discount tickets. But we have just added 50 new reserve seats, and I’ve brought most of the reserved seats a little closer to the stage by expanding the seating down front. ( I turned in the seating chart last night) Food is served before the show, and during the rather long intermission, and it should be, as always, very tasty and related to the show, which is set in New Orleans. I’m including my director’s notes in this letter, so you can get a little information about the show to tempt you to come to it. I hope many of you do. I rarely have enough foresight while directing a play to do mass-mailings to invite people. But since I haven’t talked to many of you, I also wanted to let you know what I am up to in my life. The music is the reason I love this show. I have four bluegrass musicians from Decorah playing these wonderful songs. I hope to share that with you outside on a beautiful star-filled night, with the echoes of horses neighing in the background. Maybe that annoying black cat who bothered me while I built the set or while holding late rehearsals will come and purr at you too, sitting out on the lawn.
If you need a place to stay, I’ve got a 24 foot Airstream trailer from 1963 that can fit four, and plenty of room for tents on my 150 year old farm. The following weekend is Nordic fest, in Decorah, IA, in case you come from the area and are going to that event as well. Hope you enjoy getting mailings that are part advertising, part diary. If you didn’t pick up on it early, sesquicentennial, thought I’m not sure I spelled it correctly, means 150 years, or the time it took you to complete this letter, but there is more, related to the show, so read on.
Director’s Notes on ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ Very rarely is the definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ so closely wedded in a folktale. The story of ‘the Robber Bridegroom’ has been passed down in many different variations from its early English origins, but is known to most as a Grimm's Brothers tale. You will not see their version tonight, and if indeed we tried to serve that up at a dinner theater, most audiences would quickly lose their stomachs for it. Eudora Welty created her molasses-sweet and lemon-tart re-telling of the same wives-tale that was written to keep young girls from leaving the nest too soon. This tale is so syrupy, though, that it might send girls packing like a similar fairytale heroine, Snow White. Rosamund is a girl just testing her wings, rebelling against a classicly evil stepmother (who seems closer in this musical to Mona from "Who's the Boss" than a stepmother begotten by the Brother’s Grimm.) Rosamund’s father Clement Musgrove is a pushover to his daughter, his wife, and the whole of the area known as the Natchez Trace. That is, until a gentleman robber saves his life in a hotel room. The title character of Welty's book, The Robber Bridegroom, has a personality disorder that borders on Dr. Jeckle and Mr. T. My own favorite comparison of his two faces is to the swank Louisiana troubadour Hank Williams Sr. and his son, best known for being "ready for some football," who has at times stolen all of his father's debonair songs while retaining his very own rough and ready attitude and looks. Both faces of Robber and Bridegroom are loved by the richest family on the Natchez Trace, as well as their modern descendents in Rodney, Mississippi who open our show. Rodney’s Landing is at the opposite end of the Old Miss from us, and is probably about as far from its banks by now since the river moved away from them. Rodney was about a day-trip by riverboat from New Orleans (portrayed in the script like a garden of earthly and ethereal delights.) This 1970’s-inspired musical is about the thrill of falling in love with someone you shouldn’t, and the freedom to be whatever you wish. It shows many times that if you set your love (or your Raven) free and they choose to come back, you have found a good one. As a musical, it is a product of the seventies as much as it is of Eudora Welty's early twentieth century Southern style, with hot bluegrass songs and square-dancing. But it is also about dreaming, lying, stealing, and killing. Vive la Brothers Grimm! Walt Disney has shown us many times that you can’t fire the butcher and still expect the story to have any meat. This musical has criminals just too tough to die, planters too simple to grow anything but rich, step-wives too ugly to trust their husbands, and a boy aptly named Goat. If we could only communicate in the language of folk-tales, I'd say Eudora Welty’s The Robber Bridegroom is a Cinderella Story with a smattering of ‘Snow White’, a cry from ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, a morsel of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and just the ring finger from Grimm’s ‘The Robber Bridegroom.’ The musical “The Robber Bridegroom” is a steal, many times over, but a very creative one. If the story were the diamond, the music would be the band of gold, creating its ideal setting. The characters emerge amidst a macramé of banjo plucking, guitar strumming, and fiddle strains that echo as nicely from a barn in Minnesota as they would from a Mississippi plantation. We get a chance to travel back in time to experience life as it might have been before the seventies, and you get your choice of centuries. Whatever you do, come along for the ride. Don't heed the advise of our Raven inside, who may call "Turn back, my bonny, turn away home" as ominously as another raven quoth "Nevermore.” You‘d miss much more than a Grimm refrain, you'd miss the steamboat to Lake Pontchatrain.
After work, I rode the motorcycle to the barn to give Rachel a kiss, then went to the Opera House to borrow the ladder to clean my gutters. They were quite full of water and decaying leaves, so when I cleaned them out, they flowed very noisily. I also cut down many branches in my yard that were causing problems with the house, or that were rotten and needed to come down, leaving a large pile of debris in my front drive. I went to "Alice in Wonderland", our YOOH Youth production. It was very memorable, and colorful, and quite wonderful. I took the cash home and counted it and waited for Rachel to arrive home after rehearsal.