Ron Carlson

Ron Carlson

A weeklong electronic journal.
Aug. 6 1997 12:30 AM

Ron Carlson

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       This morning we watch the student actors at the Shakespeare Festival here in Cedar City, Utah. The light rain has us in a bland classroom which all these noble youth transcend with dexterity. These are mainly high-school students and they are good, every one of them ready for trouble, that is drama. For two hours, without hesitation, they sing, cajole, tease, declaim. Such language in such instruments is a ringing pleasure. I watch our boys, the seriousness they give to these performers, who are only two and three years older than they.
       The actress Rebecca Nelson, 16, is fully surprised that her family and the Carlsons have come to retrieve her, and she grins and colors, and then, thank god, introduces us to all her friends.
       Our family slips away and uses lunch at a Mexican restaurant to preview Hamlet, the play tonight, and as I tell the story, the boys light to familiar moments that they know from somewhere. When Nick expands the orchard murder I ask him if he's seen this show before. The prince is still alive when the bill arrives.
       Summers I find myself traveling in close quarters with my family, and there are surprises in such proximity. Throughout the lunch and our long walk afterward, we're talking, and as we talk, that odd thing happens with our names, that is, everyone uses the wrong name once or twice. Colin walks with me and he turns and commences some of his observations with "Nick," or "Mom." We do it when we start sentences. I remember my mother going through my brothers' names looking for mine as she stood before me with an instruction, and we all got so we knew that a revision of the name or an apology was unnecessary. And that is what has happened now in my family. Nick starts a sentence to me with his brother's name and he is undeniably speaking to me. It only means we've all created our code; we're in the circle.
       In the last daylight we attend the outdoor "Green Show," watching these clapping gypsies sing and strut and tell fortunes and bad jokes. The lawns of Southern Utah University are filled with hundreds of playgoers. Two plays are performed every night.
       Our Hamlet is indoors and it is absolutely off the charts. I won't review it but to say it has exactly the vital shadowed heart that I wanted the boys to see in their first production. It's been set somewhere between the World Wars--rifles, uniforms, European business suits--very classy. Fortinbras' soldiers wear smart red berets. Polonius steals the show, his two-thirds. Sitting in the theatre I'm aware again that a thousand novels take their titles from the play, and I'm not sure there isn't a book of poems waiting for the Ghost's phrase, "The Porches of My Ear."
       After the curtain call there's a little water in my eyes, but not for Hecuba, and as our group stands, Colin says quietly, "That was pretty good." On the way back to the motel, everyone tired and righteous (having sat still for three hours), I ask my friend Scott if he's got one of those berets somewhere. He's driving the motor home slowly under some leafy sycamores on a quiet street. The branches brush the top of the tall vehicle. He looks at me puzzled, then smiles. "That's right," he says. "They were Norwegians, weren't they."

Ron Carlson's most recent book is the story collection The Hotel Eden. His fiction has appeared this year in Esquire and Harper's. He lives in Arizona.