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Thoughts about libraries.

Libertine Librarian Comes to Broadway

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I recently went to see Round and Round the Garden by Alan Ayckbourn at Circle in the Square.  It’s part of a cycle of three plays collectively called The Norman Conquests, all of which recount a single weekend full of comical and farcical sexually charged events in the life of three English couples, or perhaps two couples and one couple-to-be, all viewed from different parts of the house.  This part of the cycle, naturally, takes place in the garden, while Table Manners takes place in the dining room and Living Together takes place in the living room; same weekend, same people, meant to be seen in any order.

Round and Round… is amusing in that witty, intelligent way that only a British comedy of manners can be, and, as an added bonus, for me at least, something in the dialogue stood out immediately: this Norman, who is so bent on conquering every woman and possibly one of the men in his immediate circle, the star of she show, the center of attention, the quirky, bright, nonconformist who shakes everybody and everything up, is also a librarian.

Librarianship is far from the central topic of the play, and as I haven’t seen the other two related pieces, I have no idea if it comes up again, but it is mentioned by Norman (played by Stephen Mangan) at least twice.  The first time, it’s a reference to being “in the library” when speaking of his work, I think, and the second time it jumped out at me was when he spoke jokingly of having ensured his job security by having created a whole new classification system that nobody else would ever be able to decode.

There have been myriad discussions and academic papers and web sites and so forth devoted to the image of the librarian in the arts and in society.  We’ve had the affection-starved Marian the librarian in The Music Man, Mary Hatch leading a miserable existence sans George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life and the tireless and feisty library advocate Bunny Watson in Desk Set.  There’s the fantasy librarian seen in TV sitcoms, music videos as well as some X-rated works: prim and proper with her hair tied tightly back in a bun, bespectacled (which seems to mean “unattractive” to filmmakers and script writers), dressed in a crisp suit and silky bow tie that scream, “I’m all business,” and unable to have fun or even be friendly until for one reason or other someone gets her to “loosen up,” shake out her unexpectedly gorgeous mane and leap up onto the reference desk to display her surprisingly attractive form for play time.  Who knew people who wear glasses and conservative clothing could also be fit, attractive and occasionally be in the mood for a little fun?  What a shock!

There have also been a few wonderful and offbeat librarian types in the media.  Mary, the lead character in the film Party Girl and the fabulously satirical Lipstick Librarian, a force to be reckoned with on the Internet, are two of my personal all-time favorites.  And now we have Norman to add to our list.  I’m not sure what exactly to make of him, but at first blush, I kind of like him.

First, he’s a nonconformist, which I view as a good thing.  Second, Ayckbourn has imbued him with a wonderfully offbeat sense of humor, also a plus in my book.  Third, he is the opposite of sexually repressed, which is the raison d’être of so many of the classic librarian icons, including those mentioned above.  Norman is blunt and open in his dealings with others, and doesn’t make much of an attempt to hide his romantic feelings, to say the least.  Fourth, he doesn’t make a big fuss about being a librarian.  Of course, this is again Ayckbourn’s work and not fictional “Norman’s” doing per se.

It’s nice to see a three-dimensional character written in such a way that a feature that could easily become the stereotypical centerpiece of the character’s being is simply allowed to be one aspect of his or her many facets.  Books, plays and films that take a didactic approach to their characters’ traits are so tiresome.  Take My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for example.  As cute as it as it occasionally was, it seemed like little more than a classroom lesson on Greek-ness.  “We’re Greek, so this is why we do X, and this is how we do Y and this when we do Z,” and so on.  My Big Horny English Librarian, this play is not, thank goodness.  I’m eager to see the rest of the cycle, and if I do you can be sure I’ll annoy everyone who passes through by writing a post about it.


Written by whyaretherelibraries

April 15, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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