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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Monday, 5 May 2008

I've just discovered a 19th century British playwright, Arthur W. Pinero (1855-1934), who turned to plays after what he himself had sadly admitted to an average acting career. It doesn't perhaps do as much to speak for my lack of a stage education as it does quite happily for my treasured find.

One more dramatist to add to my happy clutter.

As it happens, Pinero turned out to be an illustrious playwright, with some of his works showing at the Globe Theatre. These included tantalizing titles like The Schoolmistress, The Magistrate, Daisy's Escape, The Squire and Sweet Lavender amongst others.

It's thrilling to contemplate a larger catalogue of plays this summer. This evening, I finished reading one of Pinero's finest works in 4 acts, called The Second Mrs Tanqueray, written in 1894.

The essential thing about play-reading is that you have to contend with the dialogue and not the prose. For a start, it's easier to recall quotes and the odd, bruised emotion. If you get the chance to catch the performance later on, a hushed awe may just shroud your gaze as you reflect on the exaggerated flamboyance of character and voice on stage. The imagination is not intruded upon but instead taken to an exhilarating ride on say, cabel cars, or otherwise, picture a mannequin come to life. That's the feeling from having applauded a resurrected play from the staid, written word.

This for me, personally differs with the novel. A novel so empowers my imagination with theories and philosophies that may stretch out subconsciously for the rest of my destiny, that a cinematic adaptation could only injure the prospect of watching the idea of fiction turn real. Characters on a visual reel seem far more inferior, uglier or weaker than what I may have conjured them up to be.

The Second Mrs. Tanqueray probes an upper-crust society engaged in the universal dilemma of jealousy, heartbreak, yearning, loss, acceptance and resignation. Scenes take place in a country manor while players discuss the Parisian party scene. The conventions of sophisticated living are never diminished even while surrounded with a simpler rustic backdrop.

This too, fringed by the fussy protocol that shapes the grace and elegance of everyday living complete with chandeliers and crystal glasses. In a society where class and status rule over an unmeasured, less cautious romance, a rich widower, Aubrey, marries a repentant lady Paula (Mrs. Tanqeray) once famous for her many past lovers. Unfortunately, she holds dark secrets and succeeds in turning his life upside down. In a cosmopolitan civilisation, happiness seems harder to strive for. Not one hair strand out of place. Not one rule invented from self-righteousnes to be broken.

At first, Paula is selfish and jealous of Aubrey's devoted attention to his 19-year old daughter, Elleen whom he perceives as saintly. Paula yearns for Aubrey's devotion in the same way but feels all she's left with is a secondhand respect. She often whines and is petulant. Yet in the face of jealousy, Paula reveals her softer side, showing vulnerability and gentleness. She is determined to be Elleen's friend and yearns for her company. In the face of selfishness, there may still exist goodness and Paula clearly wears her heart on her sleeve.

Yet the saintly Elleen, imbued with a Convent religion, shows distaste for Paula's sordid past and is cold. In the end, Paula's past works against her. The hypocrisy of the self and the darkly haunting way in which skeletons may suddenly jump out of the closet to create family disasters, form the theme of the play. When it is discovered that Mrs. Tanqueray has once shared Elleen new escort, tears reign.

If you're new to play-reading and would like to take up the challenge, Pinero is a good place to start. His scripts are lavish and expansive and his settings (props) rich and opulent. There appear to be grandeur everywhere and Pinero is extravagant with props. You could just feel you're reading a short story with instant high drama. Pinero's play reminds of an American classic with all the tempting house parties in an era close to the Civil War. Whereas one of my other favourites Henrik Ibsen manipulates his players like marionettes. Their movements and dialogue are stilted and robotic.


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