Ah, Wilderness!

We saw Peter Atkinson in “Ah, Wilderness!” yesterday at the Black Box Theater at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture on Bleeker Street, where he played the part of Richard Miller:

Ah, Wilderness! is a classic American comedy about the trials and tribulations of a young man and his loving family in a small Connecticut town on July 4, 1906. Playwright Eugene O’Neill described it as, “A nostalgic comedy of the ancient days when youth was young, and the right was right, and life was a wicked opportunity.” Presented by Blackfriars Repertory Theatre and The Storm Theatre. Peter Dobbins, Director.

Peter is at Columbia working on his MFA, and it was great to see him on the stage. Never would have predicted I’d have the pleasure after meeting him years ago outside The Bean in Ave Maria, Florida. Here’s Terry Teachout on the production:

“Ah, Wilderness!” hit big on Broadway in 1933, was promptly turned into an equally successful movie, and has been a community-theater standby ever since. In addition, it gets done with modest regularity by regional companies that can afford to produce a play that calls for four sets and a 15-person cast. But it hasn’t been seen on Broadway since Lincoln Center Theater’s 1998 revival, and there haven’t been any off-Broadway stagings since then, either. …

The best thing about “Ah, Wilderness!” is the way in which it mixes sweetness with sorrow. It stands to reason that O’Neill, who subtitled the play “A Comedy of Recollection in Three Acts,” would have been inclined to mix these two strong flavors. “Ah, Wilderness!” is the theatrical equivalent of a reverse image of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” the tragedy in which he dwelled at length on the horrific shortcomings of his real- life family. In “Ah, Wilderness!” he chose instead to evoke the imagined shades of the Millers, the family he would have preferred, headed by Nat (Mr. Trammell), the tolerant, supportive father, and Essie (Lynn Laurence), the kindly mother. In addition, he portrayed himself when young as Richard (Peter Calvin Atkinson), a lovesick innocent who reads George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde on the sly but remains a virgin. Indeed, poor Richard is so idealistic that he actually contrives in the second act to visit a whorehouse without effect, coming home drunk but unspotted.

Terry Teachout, Kathryn Jean-Lopez, and others have praised the production:

“A stripped down production of Eugene O’Neill’s only mature full-length comedy shows that the playwright’s work endures. You’ll be charmed!” –Terry Teachout

“Smoothly directed by Peter Dobbins, the piece is as stageworthy as ever…[Peter Atkinson] embodies adolescent angst to the point of making someone well past adolescence recall how it can hurt. He’s a young actor to watch.”  –Off-Off Online

“The youthful Peter Atkinson is outstanding as Richard and is the production’s centerpiece. Mr. Atkinson’s animated intensity, comic timing, slightly croaky voice and sense of depth capture the adolescent bravado of an all American boy of yesteryear…Admirers should be charmed by this lovely revival.” –Theaterscene.net

“I laughed and I cried – it’s healthy and delightful! This production makes a convincing case for its old-fashioned virtues and Ah Wilderness! surrounds you with love on Bleecker Street…Do yourself a favor and see this run of Ah, Wilderness!” –National Review

“Reminds us of our past so that we might progress to a more enlightened future…Atkinson gives a captivating performance.” –Theatre is Easy

Also my first time back to the Sheen Center since last January for the Notre Dame Center for Ethics & Culture’s Vita Institute seminar.

Pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion

Tyler O’Neil writes on our recent Americans United for Life/YouGov poll that indicates that majorities of pro-choice Americans oppose late-term abortion:

The vast majority of Americans who consider themselves pro-choice oppose the kind of radical abortion provisions proposed by Democrats in New York and Virginia, according to a new Americans United for Life (AUL)/YouGov poll released Tuesday.

A full 68 percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion the day before a child would be born, the poll found. Sixty-six percent of pro-choice Americans oppose abortion in the third trimester and another 77 percent of them oppose removing medical care for a viable child outside the womb. A majority of Americans (53 percent) identify as “pro-choice,” while a large minority (47 percent) identify as pro-life.

Americans as a whole proved even less likely to support the killing of a baby in these circumstances. Eighty percent oppose abortion the day before birth, 79 percent oppose abortion in the third trimester, and 82 percent oppose removing medical care for a viable child after birth.

“This survey vividly reveals both the American people’s common-sense appreciation for the sanctity of life and the widespread horror, even among self-identified pro-choice Americans, of new laws like New York’s that effectively allow abortion up until the moment of delivery,” Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of AUL, said in a statement on the findings. …

Last month, Gov. Cuomo (D-N.Y.) signed the Reproductive Health Act (S.B. 240) on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973). The law allows abortion throughout pregnancy — even up to the baby’s due date — in the name of protecting a woman’s health. It also repeals protections for babies who survive abortion and removes New York’s protections for wanted babies killed if a pregnant mother is physically abused. …

Few Americans realize, however, that the current legal system is indeed this radical. Under Roe v. Wade and later Supreme Court precedent, if a doctor considers killing an unborn baby vital to save the life or health of a woman, an abortion can be performed up until the moment of birth. The Court’s precedent has an extremely vague definition for “health,” enabling a wide loophole for late-term abortion.

“Few Americans realize that when Roe v. Wade enshrined abortion into American law, it did so with practically no limits,” Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at AUL, told PJ Media. “Abortion is often justified based on the alleged basis of maternal health, but for most of America’s post-Roe history, there has been no consistent definition for what constitutes a legitimate health reason.”

“In practice, the sort of permissive abortion law that New York has adopted simply enshrines a peculiar public right to private forms of violence upon the most vulnerable members of the human family,” Shakely declared.

According to a Knights of Columbus poll released last month, a whopping 65 percent of Americans support changes to the law that would involve repealing Roe v. Wade.

We commissioned this poll precisely to discover where Americans stand on some of these fundamental life issues. What we’ve found is that late-term abortion is a nonpartisan issue: large majorities of Americans on both sides of the traditional pro-choice/pro-life spectrum reject late term abortion, not to mention the sort of acts that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has legalized in New York or that Gov. Ralph Northam would legalize in Virginia.

Georgetown in midwinter

A few scenes from waking through Georgetown over the past week or so. First, on a snowy Friday morning on February 1st on M Street:

Later on along O Street, heading west toward Holy Trinity on Sunday morning, February 3rd:

And lastly along Dumbarton and Wisconsin, on warmer and springlike Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, February 5th and 6th:

Little scenes from daily life.

Super Bowl 53

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have done it again:

The New England Patriots on Sunday night tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl victories by any franchise with their sixth, a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Tom Brady has been the quarterback for all of them, and he’s the first player with six Super Bowl rings, passing Hall of Fame defensive end Charles Haley, who has five. Brady has played in a record nine Super Bowls.

The Patriots picked up their 37th postseason win all time, breaking a tie with the Steelers for the most.

The Patriots have six Super Bowl titles in 18 seasons; the Steelers got their six titles in span of 35 seasons. …

The Patriots defeated the Rams for the second time in a Super Bowl; Brady won his first Super Bowl over the St. Louis Rams in the 2001 season. …

Brady is the oldest starting QB to win a Super Bowl (41 years, 184 days).

Belichick is the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl at 66 years, 293 days.

I’m thinking of two things. First, there was an incredible comparison shot at one point when photos of the Tom Brady of today versus the Tom Brady of his first Super Bowl in 2001. Clear difference between young and exuberant Tom Brady versus GOAT Tom Brady, but still the same Tom Brady. Then they showed photos of Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams quarterback, 2001 v. 2019. Goff was in Kindergarten.

And second, I’m thinking of Les Carpenter’s reflection on Tom Brady’s incredible success after Super Bowl 51: “It’s as if this all can go on forever.

Spiritual graces and solidarity

Hannah Brockhaus reports on Pope Francis’s homily from the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, earlier this month:

One of the grave injustices of today, he said, is the vast disparity in wealth which exists in many countries around the world.

“When society is no longer based on the principle of solidarity and the common good, we witness the scandal of people living in utter destitution amid skyscrapers, grand hotels and luxurious shopping centers,” he said. “We have forgotten the wisdom of the Mosaic law: if wealth is not shared, society is divided.”

He pointed out that in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, the same idea is applied to the Christian community: “those who are strong must bear with the weak.”

“Following Christ’s example, we are to make every effort to build up those who are weak. Solidarity and shared responsibility must be the laws that govern the Christian family,” Francis urged.

He also reminded Christians that it is a “grave sin to belittle or despise the gifts that the Lord has given our brothers and sisters, and to think that God somehow holds them in less esteem.”

“When we entertain such thoughts, we allow the very grace we have received to become a source of pride, injustice and division. And how can we then enter the promised kingdom?” he asked.

“It is easy to forget the fundamental equality existing among us,” he said, “that once we were all slaves to sin, that the Lord saved us in baptism and called us his children. It is easy to think that the spiritual grace granted us is our property, something to which we are due.”

“The gifts we have received from God can also blind us to the gifts given to other Christians,” he noted.

Clever Georgetown mural

I’ve written about the value of murals as both public art and as “creative responses to failure.” That is, the physical space for so many murals is a result of a failure of architecture in terms of the existence of “dead” spaces between buildings, or disappeared adjacent buildings, or whatever. Great murals serve not only as forms of public art, but they also stitch some of the aesthetic fabric of our public spaces back together. A great example of this stitching-back-together can be found in Georgetown at N and Wisconsin:

There’s this low-slung little one story vanilla-yellow building, an unoccupied former restaurant where nothing’s been happening since at least September. And there’s this incredible exposed brick wall that towers above the little corner place. Its owners are approaching ownership in the classical sense, recognizing that their property doesn’t justify itself solely by fulfilling bureaucratic minima like filing taxes papers or occupancy certificates, but rather that one has a responsibly to enliven one’s place and, as much as possible, contribute to a sense of harmony in daily life.

Simply, but powerfully, it succeeds. It turns that large blank wall not into a place either for an advertisement or for a loud and bombastic mural that draws a purposeless attention to itself. Rather, with its simple painted windows it acknowledges that such spaces should rightly have such windows. And not just glass orifices in a utilitarian sense, but true windows as places for looking out, with sills where living plants might root themselves. And most importantly, an interested woman and her dog peer out at passersby, as the New Yorkers of Jane Jacobs’s day did in contributing to the life and character and safety of a neighborhood in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and in some way that painted woman reminds one of the sort of neighborhood life we can have again, if we choose to—a life where we know and care about the place we live enough to make it beautiful, and nurture it as a place worth living.

Ghosts or ancestors

Andy Weissman writes:

Towards the end of his Broadway show, Bruce Springsteen describes how he’s realized that as parents, we have a choice to make: will we be ghosts or ancestors to our children. As ghosts, we haunt them with our mistakes and burdens; as ancestors, we free them from our flaws and walk alongside (or behind them) and help them find their own way.

In the past few months and without really thinking about it, I’ve started to get my morning coffee set up in place before I go to bed. On the kitchen counter I place the coffee dripper, filter, and scale, and then I weigh the beans. Last night at dinner I realized this was what my mother used to do every evening when we were kids.

Was she now being a ghost to me, or an ancestor with me?

Ghosts v. ancestors. I think I like that distinction as a way to think through the impact of family in your own formation—their influence as it has met your choices, and how one reconciles the bad and the good to live a life.

Capitol view and twinkling lights

I spent most of today at the Museum of the Bible at a conference in advance of Friday’s 46th March for Life. At one point I stepped out into the hallway to call in for an interview with Jim Havens of Love Will End Abortion, where we talked Americans United for Life, our publication Defending Life, Leana Wen of Planned Parenthood, and simple ways to respond with love and charity to friends with differing perspectives. This was my view from the hallway as we recorded that segment:

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As evening came on I joined a group heading to Pearl Street where we had what turned out to be an uninspiring dinner, but good conversation:

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I appreciate scenes like the one above, because they show how little it can take to enliven a public space. This would not be nearly as picturesque or welcoming a street without those little twinkling lights stretched overhead. We can do little things like this in our own homes and communities to improve atmospheres that architects and public planners spent too little time considering.

Austere and lonely offices

Attended mass at St. Denis in Havertown this morning, in Philadelphia now, and interested in seeing whether the Philadelphia Eagles season continues tonight against the New Orleans Saints. Sharing a scene from Market Street in Old City, and pairing it with Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays:”

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

It was something like ten years ago (maybe more) in the mid-winter that I was visiting my great uncle Bruce Shakely in western Pennsylvania. I had driven from State College the night before and arrived late. Gradually, the following morning, I woke to what I realized was the sound of Bruce out back, chopping wood for the living room furnace. Bruce was something like 85 at the time, still fulfilling one of Hayden’s “austere and lonely offices” of daily life and love.