Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grabbing an Opportunity

When opportunity knocks, you need to answer it. When it knocks a second time, you sometimes have to make a mad dash for the door so that you don't miss it.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to see John Astin read poetry and talk about his life at a fundraiser for the Visible Theater. The tickets were not what I would call cheap. In fact, I asked my husband, "How can I justify spending this much to see John Astin?" I desperately wanted to go and bring Marina with me.

I need to give some background here. Several years ago, John Astin had done a one-man-show at my old college about the life of Edgar Allen Poe. I went to see that show with my mother but I decided against taking Marina, even though she had read a bit of Poe's poetry. She was young (seven or eight?) at the time, and I wasn't sure if a play about a poet could hold her attention. I always considered that a missed opportunity. John Astin WAS Edgar Allen Poe. The play was funny and sad and filled with poetry I knew well but had never heard read as this actor reads it. I waited around after the show to tell him how much I loved it and spent years waiting for the show to come around again so that I could take Marina. In the meantime, I gushed about how wonderful the show was.

We had learned about the mysterious circumstances regarding Poe's death when we visited Poe Cottage back in June. This year was the 160th anniversary of Poe's death and 200th birthday. In honor of that, Baltimore gave Poe a proper funeral. Marina read an article about John Astin reading poems at the event and it mentioned he was going to be in our area, so I jumped online to see if there were still tickets. Normally I would have sighed and dismissed the idea because of the cost, but I really wanted to take Marina to hear Mr. Astin read. My husband suggested it could be an early birthday present for me. Marina suggested she could pay for her own ticket. I ordered the tickets and last night I drove through a downpour with Marina to see the show.

John Astin was wonderful! I think hearing him read The Raven in person fully justifies the price of admission. He read a number of poems and excerpts by various writers and then answered questions from the audience. During this part of the evening we learned some interesting facts about his life. He spoke of how he got his first acting job. Someone had left a copy of the Daily News on a seat in the subway, and a friend of his picked it up and saw an ad for auditions for The Three Penny Opera. His friend called, told him and they went together. Out of all the actors at the audition, he was picked out and the others were sent away. He tells this much better than I do, but long story short, that first role in The Three Penny Opera was the start of his career. He played the role on and off for eight or nine years. He spoke about cause and effect. If that newspaper hadn't been left behind on the train he would never have known about the audition.

Mr. Astin also spoke about his life. His mother encouraged him to read his first book by Poe. She helped him with the hard words in The Purloined Letter when he was six. She sounded like an amazing woman. An avid reader, he could never stump her on the definition for a word. She had enough grounding in Latin and Greek that she could figure out what any word meant. He spoke of his life as a university professor at Johns Hopkins and got into a discussion with one audience member about why kids today aren't as well read. (I had to smirk there. Many of the books he mentioned had already been read by Marina.) I felt like I should have taken notes because he mentioned so many great books and authors that I would love to have my kids read. I hope Marina's memory is better than mine.

I grew up watching the Addams Family and loving the relationships among the quirky family members. I don't think I realized until I was an adult how much the show impacted my life. There is even an episode where you learn that the children aren't going to school because Grandmama teaches them at home. I wonder if watching Gomez Addams reading his monthly yoga magazine while twisted in various poses set me on the path to practicing yoga. I went to see John Astin that first time because I loved him as Gomez and he rekindled my interest in Poe. This time he was very much a professor. And he is always John Astin, a very approachable, passionate person with a joie de vivre. (heh! I spoke French!)

I'm glad I had a second chance to take Marina to see John Astin. I wasn't brave enough to ask questions during a Q&A, but I did pull her up to meet him after the show. He advised her to read Poe out loud. He also signed our programs, which had a picture of him as Gomez. All in all, we had a wonderful night out!

John Astin reading The Raven-I was happy to find this. I think he recites it even better now, but this is how I remember it from his one-man-show.

The Addams Family Goes to School-The episode I mentioned is on Hulu! I know the Addams Family isn't for everyone, but they had some wonderful lines. Gomez to the assistant principal: "If we wanted them to be happy, we would have let them stay home."


Kez said...

Oh wow! I wasn't sure who John Astin was until you mentioned the Addams family - but how awesome would he be??! Who better to do Poe than Gomez?!

Mrs. A said...

Sounds like an awesome evening! I'm so glad you and Marina were able to go.

Inner Elder said...

I am so glad you treated yourself and gave Marina the opportunity. Good for you both! Love, Mom

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