Thursday, August 7, 2008

Olympic Fever

Expectation regarding the Summer Olympics has been building for weeks, fueled by the already incessant media attention. With the spectacular over-indulgence of the Opening Ceremonies happening tomorrow, the fever is spreading. Will Chinese authorities attempt to censure international coverage? Will athletes drop dead from breathing the smoggy air? And most importantly, will the US teams win in all areas? If not, what's the point of it all? At least, that seems to be the focus of the coverage I have seen so far. This is nothing new. The main reason I avoid watching the Games is not because I don't enjoy them. It is because I cannot abide the coverage of the games, with the endless yakking by commentators, and the outrageously pro-American (and thus, anti- everybody else) slant of the coverage.

The last games which held any interest for me were the '84 summer games in Los Angeles, largely because I was living there at the time. These were the games in which the American gymnasts stole the show, winning gold for the first time in Olympics history, and generally putting the sport on the national map. I don't take anything away from those guys and gals (Mary Lou Retton was the darling that year), and back then, I could even name all the gymnasts on the team. (All the men, anyway. I can't imagine why...) But the Soviets were boycotting the games that year, in retaliation for the American boycott of the Moscow games four years earlier, so the gymnastic competition was much easier. The '84 Olympics also marked the return of the Chinese to the competition, who had been absent 32 years.

But even with all the Olympics hoopla in LA that year, I remember the games mostly because of the auxiliary international arts festival which surrounded the competition. Theatrical troupes from across the globe were invited for a weeks-long festival of theatre and dance.

Being the English speaking snob that I am, I had little interest in seeing something in a different language (I know, I miss a lot of good theatre that way, but pardonez-moi), so the shows I attended that year were mostly classics, presented by well-known companies. There was one dinky little play, whose name I don't recall, which took place in a foxhole during a war. Can't remember another damn thing about it.

American Repertory Theatre was in town, and Linda Lavin was headlining as Lady Sneerwell in School for Scandal. I also have a strong memory of seeing her in Six Characters in Search of an Author, but I can find no mention of that production on the 'net. I surely saw what remains my favorite production of Comedy of Errors, starring the Flying Karamozov Brothers (they're jugglers, of all things, but not bad actors either).

The highlights of the festival for me were the two shows brought by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Derek Jacobi was with them for that tour, and he gave two terrific performances. His Cyrano was preserved on video, and if you ever have a need to see the play, this is the one to watch. Jacobi's natural flamboyance really shines in this one. His other performance was as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and I think this performance was even better. Sadly, it's not preserved on video.

I wonder if there is an arts festival accompanying the Beijing games? Probably not. These days, the games themselves are more theatrically staged than anything a playwright could dream up. I'm told, repeatedly, that all eyes will be on Michael Phelps, to see if he can match or beat Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals. I myself won't be watching. I doubt I'll follow the games at all. Because of my disinterest, you will find no more mention of the Olympics in these pages. Nope, I'll be switching the channel, or reading a book, or renting a movie. I won't be watching the games.

 anybody know if those Hamm twins are competing this year?