Saturday, January 3, 2015

Mike Nichols, In Memoriam

Mike Nichols in later years. Courtesy of website.
I remember Mike Nichols and Elaine May as a kid. They were a hysterical, witty, vibrant comedy team. I missed Nichols' Barefoot in the Park on Broadway, his first outing. The production helped to put Robert Redford on the map and was the first of his truly innovative and memorable collaborations with Neil Simon. I saw Catch-22, years later and appreciated its sardonic humor and great acting. After his prior two film successes (see the next sentences), critics were unkind to Catch-22, though it holds up to time, especially in the currency of our government's war travesties. But it was Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate that put Nichols on the map as an incredible film director. The rest is nearly one success after another with What Planet Are You From? (yes he probably did it as a favor), as perhaps the only really dire exception. I have seen most of his films and much of his most recent work on Broadway, including his fabulous Death of a Salesman. He never lost his humor, genius, humanity and quiet wisdom in all of his work; if he did, he fooled us.

I had the opportunity to speak to Nichols at a performance of Betrayal which he directed. I was compelled as if by ordination to go over to him and repeatedly state, "God Bless you for your work and what you have contributed." If I sounded like an idiot stating that he had "made a difference" in my life and I was so appreciative for it, I don't care. It was an unction that I am glad took over me. I saw him again at a performance of Richard III with Mark Rylance or was it Twelfth Night? It was right after Philip Seymour Hoffman died. Mark Rylance spoke and there was a moment of silence for Hoffman, and it was just awful. Nichols was obviously suffering as were all in the theatre and film community. Then, I did not feel compelled to speak to him again, though as we walked out of the theater we glanced into each other's eyes. He, I am sure, did NOT recognize me as "the woman who said he made a difference in her life." I am sure he received such compliments so often, he filtered them into his vast storage capacity of memory as he charged ahead to his next project. I was glad that I told him what I did, however effusively "infantile."

Nichols! He was an amazing talent and genius who sparked us to life and made us forget the monsters we were...for an hour or two or three as we laughed at his comedies (The Birdcage), or cried/mourned/grieved for ourselves (Death of a Salesman). He made his art look easy and reminded us of what could be accomplished, despite economic woes and the grumblings of the profit-hungry about barely breaking even. Nichols your value is beyond measure. Thanks for the truth and hope and energy of self. We're better for your having been in the world.

Of platinum character and brilliant mind
You forged a path no one but you could make:
Courageous artistry one-of-a-kind,
A determined will no studio could break.
Elucidating themes of life for us
Reflecting hope, highlighting human flaws
With wisdom, clarity, acumen's trust.
Your films and plays and works? You gave us pause.
Your legacy's a beacon: we turn away
From vapid, puerile, soulless media fare
That Philistines present; the empty arts-
Are lacking substance, draining truth and care.
Your spiritual gifts and talents do inspire
Us to rekindle ancient drama's fires.    

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