December 17, 1968
The N.C. Essay
CHRISTMAS AND KURT YAGHIJIAN
Sitting here, listening to Menotti's "Amahl and The Night Visit
ors, " I remember the first time I heard the music.
How are your children
and how are your sheep?
I was spending a postgrad year at a prep school, Williston Academy, in
Massachusetts, and I had been encouraged to join the chorus and was
having a grand time. (Formerly I thought such things were for sissies,
cream-puffs, as we used to say.) For the Christmas concert we sang the
chorus from "Amahl", and I was struck by the clear, simple beauty of
the music and lyrics which made my skin tingle like the sting of cold,
crystal snowdrops on my face when I looked up into a heavy downpour and
let myself be carried by the swirling gusts.
The next year I came home for Christmas from Columbia, and, while
watching for my annual production of A Christmas Carrol, the presen
tation of "Amahl and The Night Visitors" appeared. I sat enraptured,
my body swelled by constant waves of different emotions. First there
was the haunting, lovely tune of the shepherd's pipe, followed by the
mother’s voice, high and piercing like the frozen cold. She was a pa
thetic figure, capable of great warmth, but haggard and slightly hyster
ical, beset by poverty and her child's flights of fancy.
What shall I do with this boy.
What shall I do, what shall I do?
And there was Amahl, a cripple whose imagination gives him the
freedom to experience that which his body and poverty do not allow. He
was alternately humorous and touching, his facial expressions revealing
at times a great sense of lose at times a willingness to accept his
condition with good-natured stoicism and a strength which is bred only
in naive idealists.
I was a shepherd, I had a flock of sheep.
But my mother sold them.
Now there are no sheep left.
When left with the three Kings, Amahl acts as a boy should; he is
more curious than awed, and immediately becomes familiar enough to be
come a pest.
Amahl: Have you regal blood?
Amahl: Can I see it?
Of the three Kings, Kaspar was my favorite. With his deafness,
his tendency to ramble, his diffidence, and his idiocyncrasies he*
keeps licorice in a box among his magic stones), Kaspar is an ingratia
ting figure, as are the two other kings.
While watching "Amahl", I never sensed that I was watching a pro
duction. These were the original kings, each very human, who happen up
on a boy who represented all of suffering humanity waiting for a savior
Yes, Amahl is touching sentimental - actually an offering to a
concept of Christmas which probably lies dormant in most of us, like a
cherished childhood memory.
For a few years after I watched the Production faithfully every
Christmas, then, somehow, I' lost track of it, though I would often hum
the words during the season.
Imagine my surprise this year when talking about Amahl to one of
my students that I found out that the boy who played Amahl was right
here, and his name was Kurt Yaghljian.
(continued on page 5)
By Anthony N. Fvagola
IS THE THEATRE REALLY DEAD?
by fen^ Spcrsc^
Es the theatre really dead? Or
is it merely emerging from a long
seclusion resulting from lack of
Leonard Melfi, in his introduc
tion to his ENCOUNTERS, states:
"Off-Off-Broadway had to happen
because nothing else was hap
pening. The new anxious American
playwrights had no audience to
write for; they had no backers
to turn to; there was no place
to go. You had to be a European
(an impossible requirement _that
was deeply perplexing to a young
American playwright) with an es
tablished hit across the ocean
in order to have your play pre
sented on Broadway, and even Off
...The miracle drug has become
Off-Off-Broadway, but the weary
patient is still that same old
dying invalid: the commercial,
the~ new- brand-of-plajwrighting
guys, Broadway theatre."
Today's pla5?wright is not the
same man who conjured ghosts on his
parchment several hundred years ago;
nor is he the man who brought down
the deus-ex-machina to get out of
impossible fixes several thousand
years ago. Theatre of this genera
tion deals with Right Now. Writers
want reality to break through the
morass of lilting poetry, hundred
year wars fought within the bounds
of the proscenium in ten minutes ,
castles rising out of the mist right
on stage. And in their efforts to
get away from the fantasy, these
same writers are coming up with
people who live in trash cans, mini
ature houses that reflect the actu
ality of larger houses, and other
fantastic circumstances. Yet some
how contemporary audiences can
stretch their minds to the point
where they can comprehend such ex-
travagences. Writers have to employ
such unrealistic gimmicks in order
to reveal the reality of human na
ture. With abstract dialogue, ab
stract sets, abstract lighting, and
any other abstracts, contemporary
theatre mirrors the chaos of modern
sophistication. Ionesco's gibberish
and three- nosed brides are complete
ly beyond the realm of credibility,
yet they are absorbed and under
stood — or rather interpreted
because they are a reality in their
But theatre is not necessarily
the downfall of a king or the rise
to glory of a blind girl A single
gesture ~ a little too brazen, a
little too restrained — can grow
into a play. Laughter that rings
false or crowds the room develops
(oon't. on page 5)