Sunday, June 17, 2018

The play's the thing....

     Every now and then, a reader writes in and uses a certain inappropriate word, such as this compliment, received Saturday:
     "Once again a spot on editorial ..."
     Never do I archly observe that editorials are the unsigned expressions of the newspaper's collective opinion, producing by the editorial board and running on the editorial pages. What I write are "columns." The photo and the name are dead giveaways.
     Ditto for when people refer to my non-fiction books as "novels." 
     I don't write that because someone who doesn't grasp that not-so-fine point of writing is either new to the realm, or not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and either way probably would not benefit from a lecture.  
     Instead I try to just use the word properly in my response, "Thanks for your kind words about my column." 
     But sometimes, in different situations, correction does seem in order. Particularly when you know the person — or organization, he said, in a bit of foreshadowing — involved. If you respect someone, you are obligated to set them straight.
     I obviously respect the Goodman Theatre. I've been going to their plays since they were in the basement of The Art Institute. I respect the actors and directors involved. I know the publicity staff. They not only offer a steady stream of the classics that I crave, but new stuff, such as "Father Comes Home from the Wars," written by Suzan-Lori Parks, which I'm tempted to say could hold up against anything Eugene O'Neill ever wrote except its funnier, it isn't five hours long, and nobody makes a speech about Schopenhauer.
     Heading into "Father Comes Home" earlier this month, I noticed, at the entrance to the Goodman's smaller Owen Theatre, the above line of five busts, with my main man Dante to the far left, by the door I was entering, along with a plaque. They've been there for years, but I never really registered them before, never paused to consider. I recognized the guy at the far end — Voltaire — but was unsure of the three in the middle. So I read the plaque. Here it is.
    Now, do you notice what I noticed, right away? Think about it a moment. 
     I'll give you a hint.
    "These busts of great playwrights..."
     Dante was not a playwright. He wrote an epic poem, The Divine Comedy. He wrote his early love poems with a sort of narrative glue holding them together, Vita Nova. And various letters sucking up to patrons and denouncing the speech of Florentines and such. 
    No plays. Not a one. Never. Mai, mai, mai, as the great man might say. 
     Tasso, Moliere, Sophocles and Voltaire, obviously wrote plays (well, in Toquato Tasso's case, not so obviously. He must have been a bigger deal in 1925, when theses busts were installed in the original Goodman. Unlike Dante, he did write a play, "Aminta,"    
    Though such is the authority of a plaque — you just don't expect them to valorize a blunder — that I kept nosing around the Internet, making sure that Dante didn't write a play that I just happened to never heard of, despite reading dozens of books about him. Frankly, it's worth it to be so spectacularly wrong to find out about Dante's play. But I don't think so.
     So what do I do with this observation? I suppose I could mention it, sotto voce, to my pals at the Goodman. But they'd just roll their eyes. (I did ask them if they'd ever heard a complaint about it before. Not to their knowledge...) 
     Nobody wants to replace a plaque.  Sometimes a bit of mild public scolding is just the thing. And to take the edge off it, I'll pay for the new plaque. Assuming it's comparable to this one, I'm not popping for bronze and lots of scrollwork. Just change "playwrights" to "writers" and, boom, we're good to go. 
     Although, heck, while we're at it, let's lose "Tasso." Nobody knows who Tasso is. He's a man with a beard. We'll call him "Aeschylus "and nobody will be the wiser. 


  1. Yes I see what you mean. But have you watched John Mullaney's Kid Gorgeous stand up special on Netflix? Right in the middle of what I think may be the most brilliant comedic take to date on the current President ( he never mentions his name), he riffs on those who heed too closely ( in his opinion) to what he calls being right rather than intersting. I don't think he sees the irony of that but I think on the right vs intersting thing he speaks for a lot of people.

  2. It's not surprising that someone made a mistake. What's surprising is that nobody caught the mistake before the plaque was made and installed.

    There are a couple of signs in a hospital that I visit a couple of times a week that have, in bold capital letters across the top, ILLINOIS DEPT. OF PUBLIC HEATH. I pointed the humorous misspelling to a person in charge who responded, "Oh my God! That's been there for 17 years!" This was four years ago and the signs are still there. Apparently nobody else has ever noticed.

    1. I was on the second floor of that atrocious Helmut Jahn designed state building, [I refuse to call it by the name of the still living ex-governor who was ten times as corrupt as Blago, but never was even indicted] & there were several semi-permanent notices posted there, all with misspellings of various state departments.
      Obviously, no one that works for this corrupt beyond belief state has ever heard of spellcheck!

      As to why I consider that ex-gov ten times more corrupt than Blago. He was on the executive committee of Hollinger when Conrad Black & David Radler looted the Sun-Times & did nothing, along with the numerous instances he took antiques as gifts that were really bribes & his appalling overuse of pinstripe patronage, mostly for leases on private buildings that were used for state offices. The worst being the lease for the entire old Standard Oil Building at 9th & Michigan. That lease cost more the first year than the building's owner paid for the whole building just months prior to signing the lease & then the state's Central Management Services didn't allow anyone the use of the top floor, where Standard's top execs had their offices, because those offices were too large & luxurious for lower level state employees!

    2. The powers-that-be probably noticed the mistake, but those fat cats don't care enough to fix it. Too many Heath bars will do that.

  3. I imagine you're probably one of a very few, if not the only, "Dante Award" recipient who'd know this.

    1. Yeah, most of the winners are local TV personalities who have Italian heritages, or once aired a segment in support of Columbus Day. I know I shocked the Dante Award luncheon by actually talking about Dante.


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