A later update this week because my friend Penny and I just got back from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s wonderful going to the theater with a good friend who’s also a writer. Between performances we walked, shopped, lingered over meals at favorite restaurants, and analyzed the plays.
We saw a wonderful mix of plays. One favorite was Equivocation, a world premiere by Bill Cain in which William Shakespeare is commissioned (or rather commanded by King James’s right-hand man Robert Cecil) to write a play about the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot. A brilliant, layered play about politics, writing, family–and theater. Another surprise favorite was Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. When Penny and I first heard OSF was doing The Music Man, we were a bit skeptical about a Broadway musical mixed in with OSF’s usual blend of Shakespeare, modern and older classics, and edgy new plays. We left the theater completely entranced. It was a wonderful, clever production that brought out how River City, Iowa, is changed by musical con man Harold Hill and how Harold Hill is equally changed by River City and its inhabitants.
Particularly Marian Paroo, the town librarian. The romance at the heart of The Music Man is delicate and heart warming. Con man Harold Hill who is looking for a “sadder but wiser girl” and librarian Marian Paroo who is waiting for her “white knight” seem complete opposites and yet you root for them to get together. More than that, you believe in their happy ending. Perhaps because, as Penny and I discussed, while Marian and Harold are both misjudged by those round them, they see each other with surprising clarity. Marian falls in love with Harold knowing he’s lied about his past. Harold sees past Marian’s frosty demeanor. Meredith Wilson’s clever lyrics point to the fact that this seemingly mismatched couple may have more in common than one thinks. In the song “The Sadder but Wiser Girl,” Harold refers to The Scarlet Letter and the goddess Diana. He may be the most well-read person in River City next to Marian, who shocks the town by reading Chaucer, Rabelais, and Balzac. And musically, their two signature solos, “Goodnight My Someone” and “Seventy-six Trombones” have the same melody.
This got me thinking about other favorite mismatched literary couples who are soulmates under the skin. Such as Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing (which OSF is doing later this year). Despite their war of words Benedick believes Beatrice without question when she swears to her cousin Hero’s innocence. Or Mulder and Scully who begin as skeptic and believer but become each other’s touchstone. Or in a different way Arthur Clenham and Amy Dorrit (I came home to watch the last episode of Little Dorrit). In their case the apparent mismatch isn’t personality it’s age and circumstance, which prevent Arthur from seeing Amy’s feelings for him or acknowledging his own for her.
Mélanie goes into her marriage to Charles knowing they are an impossible mismatch in ideology, loyalties, background, and life experiences. Yet when she realizes she loves him it’s because “though he might not know her true name or any details of her life, he understand her as no one else ever had”.
Do you like stories about mismatched couples? What does it take for you to believe they have a chance to be happy? Did you find Little Dorrit as engrossing as I did?
Inspired by fabulous theater, and particularly the scenes among the acting company in Equivocation, I wrote this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition as Simon’s update to David on the production he’s staging in Edinburgh.