Als iedereen elkaars gedachten kon horen, zou de wereld er dan beter uitzien? Op papier misschien wel. In de praktijk zou het doodsaai zijn, om niet te zeggen een gruwel. De spanning in een boek als The Circle van Dave Eggers zit hem in het feit dat je kunt huiveren om een angstaanjagende, maar verzonnen wereld van totale communicatie, terwijl die wereld tegelijkertijd juist zo dichtbij is.

Tot die tijd moeten we het doen met miscommunicatie. Het verschil tussen wat we denken en zeggen en vervolgens tussen wat we zeggen en bedoelen. Dit spanningsveld is waar een schrijfster als Yasmina Reza haar inspiratie uit haalt en met succes. In Gelukkig de gelukkigen volgen we achttien personages die op verschillende manieren met elkaar verbonden zijn. Elk hoofdstuk is geschreven vanuit het perspectief van een van hen. Een voor een kom je ze tegen. Onderling vormen ze ook relaties: een huwelijk of buitenechtelijke relatie, dan wel die tussen ouder en kind of tussen vrienden. Samen vormt het een soort mozaïekboek.

Dat werkt uitstekend. Reza beeldt haarscherp uit hoe het kan dat we van vrienden denken dat ze het perfecte stel zijn, terwijl ze na afloop van een etentje geen woord meer met elkaar spreken in de auto. Omdat je in het ene hoofstuk in het hoofd van iemand zit en in een ander hoofdstuk diegene juist van een afstand kan observeren merk je hoe groot de verschillen kunnen zijn tussen hoe we over ons eigen handelen denken en hoe we overkomen. Mensen hebben vaak de beste bedoelingen, maar uiten zich niet altijd even handig.

Dit leidt vaak tot schrijnende situaties in Gelukkig de gelukkigen, maar even zo vaak tot komische momenten. Reza schetst vele moeizame, stroeve of ronduit maffe dialogen die je zo als kleine toneelstukjes voor je ziet, vaak absurdistisch van toon (ik herinner me de meesterlijke film Carnage, die op één van Reza's toneelstukken gebaseerd is). Tegelijkertijd is de tragiek nooit ver weg. Als je ziet hoeveel moeite het kost, hoeveel pijn een terloopse opmerking kan veroorzaken. Communiceren blijft haast onmogelijk en toch zullen we wel moeten. Gelukkig laat iemand als Yasmina Reza zien dat we daar allemaal last van hebben.

31 Maart 2014

De Bezige Bij, 2014
Oorspronkelijke titel Heureux les heureux, 2013
Vertaald uit het Frans door Eef Gratama
208 pagina's


Why would anybody read Shakespeare? This is a question I always ask myself whenever I open one of those world famous plays. Shouldn’t you just see them performed live on stage, or perhaps as a movie adaptation? Does reading those 400 year-old texts give you any pleasure?
For me, the pleasure in reading Shakespeare is biggest just before I start and directly upon finishing. Between those two moments – that is, during the actual reading – pleasure is sometimes hard to find. To help my imagination a little I usually speak all the lines out loud, which gets pretty exhausting after an hour or two. In order to catch some of the references I try to look at the footnotes on each page, but this makes it almost impossible to pick up any speed whatsoever. Besides, most footnotes explain the intended puns in the character’s wordplay, the humor of which I usually don’t care for. Then, there are these somewhat redundant comic relief scenes, necessary from a structural point of view – because an audience couldn’t stand three hours of non-stop tragedy – but difficult for a reader as they distract from the action and are not all that funny.
So again, why? Why did I just read Romeo and Juliet? Because, for me, there is great pleasure afterwards. Despite having seen a few Romeo and Juliet movies (Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet and the Jet Li version Romeo must die), I had never yet read Shakespeare’s original. Now that I have, I feel I appreciate all those other works that followed Romeo and Juliet better. This is still my main reason for reading Shakespeare. Know your basics, see where it all started, and immediately you will recognize more artists that somehow got their inspiration from Shakespeare.
Just keep going, follow the rhythm, skip footnotes, take the inevitable wordplay in your stride, enjoy the purple passages (such as the famous ‘To be or not to be’ speech); reading Shakespeare is possible. Possible to do and possible to enjoy. It takes some determination, but you get a lot in return. Nice lines like these, about Romeo in love:            

“Alas poor Romeo, he is already dead, stabbed with
a white wench’s black eye, run through the ear with
a love song, the very pin of his heart cleft with the
blind bow-boy’s but-shaft.” (Act II, scene IV, ll. 13-16)

And, of course, Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene, which starts with the often-quoted “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east and Juliet is the sun!” (Act II, scene II, ll. 2-3)
There was a lot of memorable material in Romeo and Juliet and the ending, well-known as it is, does take your breath away. I cannot say when will be the next time, but there will always be more Shakespeare for me to read. King Lear seems a good contender.

20 February 2013

Arden Shakespeare, 1980
Originally published 1596


Many people can easily go through life reading nothing but novels. I admit that is better than not reading at all, of course, but it wouldn’t do for me. While the novel is still my favourite genre, I always need to mix it with other reading matter: history, travel, short stories, graphic novels, essays, drama. I don’t think I’ve ever read a collection of essays on theater before, though.
The empty space is apparently an essential text for drama students; I’d never heard of it. Its idea is simple, to give an overview of the position of theatre at the end of the 1960’s. Writer Peter Brook, a celebrated director who worked with many famous actors and companies, divides his topic into four parts: deadly theatre, holy theatre, rough theatre and immediate theatre. To summarize these four parts is hardly possible, but I will give it a go. The deadly theatre is what theatre should not be, but all too often is: fake, shallow, overly dramatic or popular. The holy theatre is what theatre can be under ideal circumstances: life-changing, giving energy, inspiration and creating a sense of community. The rough theatre is where that battle is constantly fought, striving toward the pureness of the holy theatre, but getting stuck in mundane deadly theatre. The immediate theatre, finally, is where Brook tries to bring it all together: by talking of his experience as director he goes from designing a set to the first rehearsals and from an opening night to the necessity of an audience. This, I will admit, is what I remember from reading this book.
The trouble with The empty space is its density, or to put it a little more bluntly, its absolute vagueness. Many sentences I had to read two or three times to get any sense from them. I often found myself staring at a page for some minutes, not being able to let the words form themselves into meaning. Although I took it only one part at a time I did force myself to at least finish each part every time I sat down with the book. Nevertheless, at the start of each new chapter I’d mostly forgotten what preceded it; it just wouldn’t stick in my head. The question is though, does that really matter? Is it bad when you forget the details but retain a strong overall impression? Perhaps this is better than remembering all the details in a book but failing to come up with any impression at all.
Brook’s love of the theatre comes across strongly, no matter how densely his writing can be sometimes. During my studies I took two drama classes, the inevitable Shakespeare class and one called Anglo-American Drama. Reading this book, some moments of these classes I hadn’t thought of for years suddenly came back. One was warming up with exactly the same exercise as Brook recommends here: with a group of people reading the line ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’, one word each person until the sentence becomes fluent within the group.
Not only does Brook make me want to dive into Shakespeare again, he also makes me enthusiastic about Brecht, Beckett, Chekhov and Pinter. Despite his vagueness, Brook is clear enough about the power of theatre, about the uniqueness of every performance, how wonderful it is to witness a group of actors playing live for you and how even more wonderful to be among those actors on the stage yourself. Simply put, I like theater and, if struggling through The empty space eventually makes you realize that once more, it must be worth reading it.

11 February 2013

Penguin Books, 2008
Originally published 1968

Comments (1)

I have this play in one book, together with The Importance of being Earnest and Lady Windermere's fan (or Lady Fandermere's wind, as my drama professor used to say). Logically I expected An ideal husband to be a comedy. And in a way it is, since it ends with one couple´s marriage being strengthened and one couple about to get married. By definition it must be a comedy then. But I suppose it´s more of a ´problem play´, like Shakespeare´s The merchant of Venice or Measure for measure: happy ending but trouble in the middle.
With An ideal husband I didn't mind it. Sometimes Oscar Wilde can be a bit too funny. This time there were also a few silly society ladies and the inevitable charming wit, spewing aphorisms from the top of his head; the nicely named Lord Goring. There was, however, also a plot. A plot involving blackmail of the not so ideal husband Sir Robert Chiltern. Not a highly memorable plot I'm afraid. But as long as Mr. Wilde entertains me along the way I feel I can forgive him. Who needs a plot anyway when you can quote such lines as: "Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfahionable is what other people wear." Or, one more: "Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

14 November 2012

Pan Books, 1952
Originally published 1895


I usually read a few plays each year and I always think it should be more. Plays make me want to read more plays. But reading them also requires a lot of concentration and so, whenever I finish a play the genre falls to the background for some months. Maybe that's fine though.
Sweet bird of youth was my 3rd play by Tennessee Williams. I contemplated re-reading A streetcar named desire (first time already 8 years ago!), but decided to go for the one I hadn't read yet. I finished it quickly enough only failed to immediately write something about it. I should really force myself to do this religiously, since you lose already so much in a week's time; especially from a play. Things I do still remember: a start in a hotel room, a later scene in and around a mansion and the last part in the hotel again. Sadness, longing for the lost innocence of youth, a brooding Southern athmosphere, probably Louisiana (which immediately triggers some memories of my own, of my visit there in 2006). A sad ending, or actually, a potentially gruesome ending, but that's only hinted at. Not exceptionally tragic, mostly that feeling of sadness remains. Perhaps I should see some real Williams and go to a performance of Tramlijn Begeerte (I know, that title!) that's scheduled in Amsterdam.

24 October 2012

Penguin books, 2000
Originally published 1959


This play certainly makes you thirsty and is probably best read with a good bottle placed beside you. Also, if possible, read it in one sitting as, for obvious reasons, it's also watched in one go. I read this in two days, which is still quickly enough, but it took some effort to come back into it. For this is a play that builds up. You feel all the tension already from the start, but O'Neill builds things up gradually. Only at the end does it truly erupt. It's definitely a long day for the four main characters and, same feeling I get when reading Hemingway for example, where do they put all that drink? Maybe we're drinking children compared to these giants from the past? So, structure good, reading good, language good, drama good: a good play by O'Neill and the first I've ever read by him. Saw a performance of Mourning becomes Electra once, with Halina Reijn, so I could read that next. Or, since a good play always makes me want to read more plays (and then I don't for months), I could pick up any of the three Shakespeare plays that are still waiting for me. Perhaps King Lear.

5 September 2012


And so, inspired by Bryson, I did what I wanted to do: finally read one of the Shakespeare plays that have been waiting for years (ever since Steve's Shakespeare course actually). Almost read it in one sitting which took me a full day. Richard II is a tough one, but ultimately quite rewarding. Maybe I should read the whole Henriad now...? I could start with 1 Henry IV.

9 May 2010



An important link in improving my drama backlist, inevitable after Death of a salesman. Actually liked this one better, maybe because it's an historical play rather than comtemporary. I sometimes seem to lose myself more in historical settings than settings from modern life. I read this one in one day, which might also have helped. It's a rather exhausting, but irresistable ride and left me quite impressed in the end.

6 March 2010


I think I underestimated this play a little. I thought, ah a nice little intermezzo, but it turned out to be a more difficult read. Having already seen it performed (in Dutch) I knew the plot, plus the fact that the dialogue shoots back and forth over the page; it's hard to keep your mind on track. And yet, this play still kicks you in the face, with its language, its violence and its surprising twists. Can't wait to see another performance or perhaps the classic movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

13 July 2009


The Bald Soprano. Ionesco's first play and a good one right away. Reminiscent of Pinter (and Beckett I suppose) in its repetitive dialogue, full of non sequiturs and random phrases. I like the series of weird anecdotes towards the end and the cacaphonic, sort of primitive ending.

The Lesson. A nice portrayal of the disintegrating relationship between professor and pupil. It starts innocently enough, but by way of an interesting exposé of Latin languages and philology it becomes more and more violent and sadistic. It ends in madness and murder, closing with a circular motion towards the beginning, just like The Bald soprano...

Jack or The Submission. Didn't like this one that much. Remaining impressions are just of Jack's crazy relations (which somehow reminded me of Jan, Jannetje en hun jongste kind by E.J. Potgieter) and the grotesque Roberta's. Plus, the nice song by the grandfather; 'a cha-ar-ming trickster'. Stays in your head, that one. But, altogether a rather forgetful play.

The Chairs. Read this in Christchurch, New Zealand, thus finishing the first of the two Ionesco compilations I bought in San Francisco last week. I think, after The Bald soprano, this play is the second stand out piece of the book and it's probably the most famous. Even though you should call this play weirder than the BS it comes across as more life-like somehow. Two sad, senile old people staging their final climax as a big show for an empty audience; it's quite crazy but tragic too, a 'tragic farce' indeed. A good one, the longest and the best of the bunch.

22 December 2008

Grove Press, 1982
Original titles La Cantatrice Chauve, La Leçon, Jacques ou la soumission, Les Chaises, 1950-1955
Translated from the French by Donald M. Allen

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