Some of the best art has emerged from of a failure of the senses. Think of Monet, his eyesight going, cataracts opaquing and softening his world–and the beauty he created out of that perpetual blur. I always think of that gorgeous poem by Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation:”
Doctor, you say there are no haloesaround the streetlights in Parisand what I see is an aberrationcaused by old age, an affliction.I tell you it has taken me all my lifeto arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,to soften and blur and finally banishthe edges you regret I don’t see,to learn that the line I called the horizondoes not exist and sky and water,so long apart, are the same state of being.
One day in December, nearing the end of this unhappy time, I was looking an an exhibition of De Mille memorabilia (Cecil B. and Agnes’s) at Lincoln Center. A videotape was on display, showing Agnes de Mille at work on a new dance she was choreographing, at a very advanced age, for the Joffrey Ballet. I was standing at the opposite end of the room, far from the tape, but I thought I heard the venerable Ms. de Mille tell her interviewer that the title of the new dance was “A Bright Room Called Day.” This sounded like fun and solace so I went over to watch the videotape, only to discover that the title of the piece was actually “A Bridegroom Called Death.” From a bright room called day to a bridegroom called death: The metamorphosis was emblematic of the times.My mishearing stayed with me, and eventually it came to sound like the right/wrong title of a play I had decided to write, a play about Germans, refugee and otherwise, caught on the cusp of the historic catastrophe about to engulf them.