A week before Kris van der Veen was arrested in Russia, on suspicion of “promoting gay propaganda” to minors, he was reading about Ivan Dusak, or Ivan the Fool. A popular figure in Russian folklore dating back to the 16th century, Ivan is the youngest of three brothers who set out to seek their fortunes. Fairest of hair and bluest of eyes, Ivan is seen as simpleminded by his greed-driven siblings. But he follows his heart – always eager to help others, even if it puts himself at risk. Ivan’s naïve derring-do vanquishes the dastardly deeds of villains and wins the happily-ever-after love of princesses. Not such a fool after all. Kris van der Veen would be perfect casting.
The towering New Hampshire pines are shrouded in mist at 6am. Birdsong fills the air; rabbits play in the backyard. A warm wet summer day breaks like any other. Well, not quite any other. Across the land, across the sea, many awoke early with the same exhilaration they once greeted Christmas morning. Anticipation has been building to this moment for months, and I’ve been swept along by the undertow. But for some the excitement is tinged with anxiety. What if…?
The Inn is quiet again but for the rat-a-tat-tatting of rhythmic rain on the roof, Mother Nature’s own percussive washboard. It was a musical weekend with New Bedford band Pumpkin Head Ted visiting the North Country. Morning coffee on the terrace was accompanied by strumming of an acoustic guitar. A noontime flute trilled along the upstairs hallway. Hours before customers arrived, an impromptu session filled the pub with gentle harmonies. But I’d been thinking more discordant thoughts.
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.
“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…”