Monday, October 6, 2008

All The King's Men

The fringe benefit of not attending or playing Seattle Symphony concerts, nor visiting Pacific Northwest Ballet these days, is that I'm open for new performance experiences. That being said, I treated myself to an afternoon at the Intiman Theatre for All The King's Men, after being introduced to the novel by my spirited book club. What splendid timing. Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-honored novel is as relevant in America today as during the Great Depression era; a tale of politics and power, lust and greed, tracing the rise and fall of Willie Stark, a character loosely based on the life of idealist-turned-opportunist Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long. I think Artistic Director Bartlett Sher must be an Oracle for featuring All The King's Men at Intiman prior to our Presidential election. I loved every facet of the production including the rollicking, folksy songs by Randy Newman. You can be sure, I'll be attending more Intiman Theatre events in the future.

I've been soaking up phrase after phrase of Robert Penn Warren's novel. Not only does All The King's Men resonate with the present political landscape and our rickety economy, but Penn Warren's prose is so musical that I find myself reading passages aloud before copying them into a notebook: Dirt's a funny thing. Come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except what's under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and made me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt.

During the performance of Adrian Hall's stage adaptation at Intiman, directed by Pam MacKinnon, I sat front row, enchanted by Willy Stark, played by actor John Procaccino. I found myself completely caught in his clutches. Stark's metamorphosis from a demure, impoverished hick to an emboldened, tough-guy leader of social reform swept me away—away to the Deep South, during that place in time with likker running through my veins. Stark's initial political speeches for Governor are filled with facts and figures; specifics for creating a better economy with the creation of job opportunities. But Jack Burden, a journalist assigned the task of following and chronicling Willy Stark's campaign sets him straight about public speaking: Maybe you try to tell 'em too much. It breaks down their brain cells. Just tell 'em you're gonna soak the fat boys, and forget the rest of the tax stuff. That line, by the way, received an explosion of laughter. I witnessed Willy Stark triumph, once the oratory techniques were fine-tuned, and his opponents were disposed of: You can't make omelettes without breaking a few eggs. But I came back to my own reality in the final, heart-throbbing scene, when Jack Burden, the journalist who became Stark's trusted right hand man, reflected on his newly acquired picture of life after chronicling Willy Stark's rise and fall. All the pieces fit together, and it's Jack Burden (played convincingly by charismatic Leo Marks) who is responsible for illuminating the picture which is my own life. Jack Burden ruminates: I can now accept the past which I had before felt was tainted and horrible. And I thought, characters move in and out of my life also, filling in the blank space which has been my picture of the world.

Burden responds to his revelations by promising to write a book; the unburdening of his tale.
Time will bring all things to light. The truth shall make you free.

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