Historical Moments

Emily Dendinger’s Hideous Progeny is part of a small but fruitful subgenre of historical/biographical fictional works that focus on the true-to-life confluence of interesting people in a specific moment.  Unlike a typical biographical work that takes a long view of a person’s life and times, these Moment plays take advantage of the clutter of historical and personal forces in a discrete period of time that’s easily playable – an evening, a summer, etc. Here are some examples from literature, theater, and film:

The Symposium, Plato – 4th Cent. B.C – Socrates, Aristophanes, a famous tragic playwright, a doctor, a lawyer, a student, and the Navy Admiral that would doom Athens in the Peloponnesian War, all get together to get drunk and give speeches about Love.

La cisma de Inglaterra, Pedro Calderón de la Barca – 1627 – This play treats the divorce of Henry VIII and his first wife Katherine, and his excommunication from the Catholic church.

Travesties, Tom Stoppard – 1974 – Tristan Tzara, James Joyce, Vladimir Lenin, and a English consular general Henry Carr converge around an production of The Importance of Being Ernest in Zurich during World War I.

Gothic, dir. Ken Russell – 1986 – A horror movie that’s also about Byron and the Shelleys’ summer in Geneva. Gabriel Byrne plays Byron and Natasha Richardson plays Mary Shelley.

Shakespeare In Love, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard – 1998 – Inasmuch as Richard Burbich, Christopher Marlowe, John Webster, William Shakespeare, and Queen Elizabeth are all running around getting into scrapes, while Shakespeare is composing Romeo and Juliet. This one’s a stretch because it’s a total work of fiction, but, hey, it’s fun.

Copenhagen, Michael Frayn – 1998 – This play dramatizes a meeting between the quantum physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen in 1941, touching on the ethics and science of atomic weapons.

Million Dollar Quartet, Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott – 2006 – A musical about a recording session at Sun Studio in Memphis where Elvis Prestley, Car Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash were all present.

Little Ashes, dir. Paul Morrison (This movie was released in 2009 and depicts the young lives of Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, and Federico Garcia Lorca who were friends at the University of Madrid in the early 1920s.)

Can anyone think of any others? Frost/Nixon perhaps? I don’t think I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! should count, but…

Advertisements