Saturday, June 6, 2009

Birthday Queens

Well, technically a Tsaritsa and a queen, but what do you want on a Saturday? They had very different lives; think of them as embodiments of the masks of tragedy and comedy, linked, perhaps, by an enormous capacity to love...

The tragic one first. I realized with a shock today that Alexandra Feodorovna, Empress of the All the Russias, was just my age or thereabouts when she met her tragic end. One thinks of her as an old woman by 1918, but she was merely weary.

It started promisingly enough - a grand-daughter of the great Victoria, raised in a serenely Anglophilic nursery in the country her mother had married into, Hesse. It seemed to get only more so when she entered into a love-match with her handsome, gentle cousin who would someday be Tsar. Almost immediately, though, it started to go wrong - the wedding marred by a stampede as the poor scrambled for gifts, then the birth of a series of girls - much loved, but not heirs.

At last, a boy - and the end somehow becomes inevitable: hemophilia. The Empress, mad for a cure, descended into a kind of mystic religious mania. Rasputin. World War. Revolution. Exile. Death, sudden and violent, in a dank Siberian basement.

Her portraits always seem foreboding, as if she has some idea, already, that there's something gone awry. And yet when she was a girl, her nickname was Sunny, for her smile; her husband called her that until the day they died.

Thinking of our other birthday celebrant brings drama of a different kind - the sturm und drag of life on the fringes of New York's avant garde, followed by sudden, sensational success, Tony Awards (the first one 27 years ago, would you believe?), and then a long stretch as America's Official Theatrical Homosexual. Harvey Fierstein has worn the highs (La Cage, Hairspray) well, even as he's weathered the lows (Legs Diamond; the very special hell that is Double Platinum...) with aplomb. He's an original, and today he celebrates his 55th.

1 comment:

  1. I flew up to NY and met a friend to audition for an off-broadway production. It was Harvey's last night of Hairspray. We entered one of those lottery's 3 hours before the show and won. We were seated on the very back row, but it was an amazingly fun production. The place was packed and he got at least a 10 minute standing ovation. It seemed to never end. He was the only performer that I felt "reached" where we were sitting. I can't imagine anyone else in that role.