Nicole Lewis flashes a mischievous grin as she hands me a plate of freshly made blueberry oatmeal pancakes. “I’m warning you. They’re very healthy.” It’s not my usual breakfast of coffee and a cigarette, but change is good. Nicole and I agree on that. It’s part of why we’ve become friends. We met when she arrived in New Hampshire in June to direct a play at the Weathervane Theatre. I arrived a month earlier to visit my college friend Joanne who owns the Inn at Whitefield, right next door.
I know. You don’t like to celebrate birthdays. That probably goes double for this year. So I won’t dwell on it. I’m thinking about another celebration: the Gay Pride Parade in New York City. Come to think of it, you aren’t big on parades either. But maybe today is different. Maybe falling on your birthday, this year’s parade might tempt you from your country home to join the jubilation. I imagine you there with Dagmar, an exotic rainbow on your shoulder, marching to your own drummer. Or maybe not.
In September 1986 I died of AIDS. That’s me – center in the photo – playing one last game of Scrabble. An hour later, handsome Tony in the white shirt died in the arms of Steve, who left the hospice soon after to spend his final days with his family. I passed quietly, offstage. Five nights a week, above a gay bar in Amsterdam.
Paris, 29 May 1913
Everything was beautiful at the ballet. Romantic melodies by Chopin, graceful sylphs shimmered in white, Russian dreamboat Nijinsky danced in the moonlight. The first act at the brand new Théâtre des Champs-Elysées was what everyone expected. But as the music of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) began the second part of the program, the audience twitched, twittered and turned hostile.
“One literally could not, throughout the whole performance, hear the sound of music,” said Gertrude Stein (who actually saw the second performance four days later.) Popular composer Puccini (also attending the second night) called the music cacophonous, “the work of a madman.” Suddenly everyone who was anyone in Paris wanted to see what kind of ballet had caused a riot in the theatre on its opening night.
“You wonder how these things begin…” muses El Gallo, the handsome narrator in The Fantasticks, the world’s longest-running musical. (The original off-Broadway production opened in 1960 and ran for 42 years, so Les Mis and Phantom don’t even come close!) It was based on Edmond Rostand’s burlesque romantic comedy Les Romansques, which opened at the Theatre Francais in 1894 on May 21st – how’s that for serendipity? “You wonder how these things begin…”