Friday, February 6, 2009

Wrestling with Eros

Sidney Kingsley

This man lived from 1906 to 1995. He won the Pulitzer Prize at age 28 in 1934 for writing a Broadway play called Men in White which daringly handled the subject of abortion.

Today at the library I came across his final play, Night Life. He produced and directed it himself in New York in 1962, and as I glanced through the book's yellowing pages I was reminded how the High Fifties extended well into the Sixties. Scholars serenely talk about "the long Eighteenth Century" – a period that began as early as 1688 when James II was deposed, and ended as late as 1815 with the defeat of Napoleon. In the USA we had " the long 1950s" – from the end of World War II in 1945 to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Night Life is pure Fifties, and poignant in retrospect, since we know (as Sidney Kingsley at that time could not know) that his final work was staged on the edge of a precipice, when the era itself was about to become a joke. Here is what the author has to say about his

Cast of Characters

An assorted crowd of "night people" all types and degrees, including ...

Neil Bennett, lawyer in his later thirties, attractive, acutely sensitive, haunted. Has assumed the mask of cynicism in order to live in a world he cannot remake and cannot accept. His face is beginning to show signs of dissipation and self-devouring guilt.

Frenchy, Maitre D at the Key Club, a thin man in his middle forties with a pallid nightclub complexion and an oily, professional manner.

Ray, negro waiter, tall, dignified.

Baron, underworld character, middle-aged, thick set, wears glasses, immaculately dressed.

Nicky, middle-aged, Sicilian features and accent, nervous, restless, explosive, similarly well-tailored.

Sandy, cigarette girl and photographer, blonde, hard, blowzy, in a bunny costume.

Lew Bagatelle, 55, something of a "character" – a business man, a bourgeois, once handsome, his face has metamorphosed into a comic mask – a nose gone red and bulbous, triangular eyebrows that look pasted on, lips that go halfway around his face, darting little bird eyes, a Charley Chaplin mustache. He is a curiously touching man, in spite of his pretensions and his cliches.

Ceil Bagatelle, his wife, chic, slim, well gowned, jewelled, in her late forties, desperately fighting a losing battle against age and ennui.

Will Kazar, a labor leader, engaging, persuasive, a multi-personality who can switch in a flash from a charming man to a terrifying animal. He is a short-solidly-built, good-looking, virile, volatile man, with enormous dynamics. A "force."

Chinky, Kazar's alter ego, a huge hulking man. The bone has been removed from his nose, giving him a Mongolian look.

Jimmy, the piano player, colored, affects a beatnik beard and dark glasses, plays a wild piano.

Cowboy, tall, rangy, raw-boned, western "hood."

Young Man & Young Woman, customers of the club. An attractive young couple, wrestling with Eros.

Dowager, wrinkled, horse-faced, heavily rouged, over-dressed, covered with jewelry, slightly potted.

Her Escort, a young man, with effeminate voice and mannerisms.

Sonny Drake, "sick" comic. His large, somewhat pointed ears and his upturned eyebrows give him an "impish" appearance. A brash, fast talking sick comic, thin, with a "far out" routine.

Red, Sonny's companion, a hefty "broad" with a great mop of flowing red hair, huge wild green eyes and a chalky-white dead pan face.

Gia Marino, guitarist and folk singer, dark charming Italian girl with a gamin haircut, great soft brown eyes, heart-shaped face, rich sweet voice, serious and direct, but with a smile that lights up a room.

Anna Brenn, a beautiful film star, late thirties, just a hint of a foreign accent in her husky voice. She moves, conscious of her beautiful body, with the grace of a tigress. Her hair is a mass of burnished gold, wound up and held together by a jewelled clip. Prominent cheekbones, slanted slits of eyes, she wears dripping furs over a tight gold sheath of a dress and long silk gloves.

Iggy, her agent, a tiny, ugly, gnome-like, bald-headed man; his usual reservoir of self importance is completely punctured by the driving wilfulness of his client.

Ancient Judge, Showgirl, Fat Man and an assortment of other night people.

Sidney Kingsley (far right) in 1956 kissing Gloria Vanderbilt's cheek on the occasional of her marriage to film director Sidney Lumet (with champagne glass). Actress Carol Grace (far left) is not paying attention.