Theatre Thursday: 120 days to go

Today, September 2nd, marks the start of the eighteenth month of our COVID adventure in the U.S. Everyone had thought that it would all be over by last spring, within a year, but we were wrong.

Despite large numbers of people being vaccinated, there are still breakthrough cases of the Delta Variant, meaning that people who are fully vaccinated can still be infected, albeit generally with much milder symptoms.

Those of us who are fully vaccinated may have to get booster shots to protect against Delta or other variants, and everything is up in the air again.

Unfortunately, some people — among them governors in a couple of very conservative states — seem to be actively doing everything they can not just to prevent but to prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing actions like mandatory masking (especially in schools) or requiring proof of COVID vaccination to work at or attend school, depending on whether the children are old enough.

They’re also blocking requirements for people to be vaccinated to attend certain public events.

As a result, case rates are going up, ICUs are filling up, and people are dying — including a number of very vocal anti-vaxxers and people who have called COVID a “hoax.”

If we had shut down in March 2020 and then not tried to open up in July of that year, waiting instead until September 2020, we might have greatly reduced the spread of infection. It would have also been nice to have the vaccines rolling out in great numbers well before — oh, when was it?

January 20, 2021-ish. But we wound up having to start to shut things down again in March of 2021, with another failed attempt at re-opening in July, and here we are, going through it all over.

September 2 means that there are just 120 days remaining in 2021, but whether this marks the last year of this plague and a turning point when we do beat it or just marks the lead-in to our third plague years is anyone’s guess.

It’s an interesting date, though, because on September 2, 1666, the Great Fire of London began and it burned for five days, destroying a quarter of the city — and this happened on the tail-end of London suffering through the Black Death — the bubonic plague that had struck in 1665.

Now, you’ve probably heard the story that the fire had a silver lining because when it burned down so many houses in impoverished neighborhoods, it drove out the rats, which took the fleas that carried the plague with them. You’ve probably heard it, but the story is not true.

It was probably just a weak attempt at the time (or even years after) to say, “Hey. The fire wasn’t all that bad a thing, really.” Stiff upper lip and all that rot.

If there was a silver lining, though, it was this. The 17th century in general had not been fun for England. First of all, after Queen Elizabeth (not yet the First) died, she left no heirs, so the country had to go to Scotland to find a King, bringing James VI on down — although in England, he reigned as James I.

His assuming the throne essentially united England and Scotland, sort of — ask the Scottish their feelings on that — and he was succeeded by his son Charles I in 1625. However, Charles I really didn’t get along with Parliament, and there was a lot of argument between them.

Charles I believed that monarchs ruled based on divine right — quite possibly because his father was the dude who put the “King James” in “King James Version” of the Bible. But Parliament saw  Charlie boy’s “divine rights” as an excuse for tyranny, which made the king do things like tax the rich.

It eventually came to a head, as it were, Charles I was put on trial, deposed and executed. The driving force behind it was a guy named Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan who took over as Lord Protector once the old king — well, mainly his head — was out of the way.

Cromwell definitely ranks high on any conceivable list of History’s Greatest Assholes. One of his notable acts was shutting down all theatrical performances because, again, he was an asshole and a puritan douche. He also didn’t treat Ireland all that well.

After the English Civil War, he held power for almost five years. Oddly enough, his reign ended on September 3, 1658.

His reign ended because he died, but it was due to disease, not execution. Fear not, though. After the monarchy was restored and Charles II, son of I, took up the throne, Oliver’s body was dug up and he was executed posthumously, his head winding up on a pike in a prominent location in the city.

This happened, fittingly, on the 12th anniversary of the execution of Charles I, which put a nice set of bookends on the whole ugly affair.

Charles II brought back culture and the arts and all that good stuff with a vengeance, and the theatres opened once again. One of the new theatres that opened during what became known as The Restoration was the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. It opened in 1663 — and then closed down because of the plague. But it did survive the Great Fire of 1666, and kept on going.

Well, at least until 1672, when it burnt down. It was rebuilt in 1674, with a third iteration constructed in 1794 and the fourth and current version erected in 1812.

Moral of the story? Kings and leaders come on go, as do plagues and cities. But art and creativity — and especially theatre — just keep going on, and on, and on, no matter what apparent temporary darkness may befall them.

We’re in the thick of it again now because some people are too selfish and uncaring to do the right thing to help everyone. Sadly (for them) these people will either wind up having to be very lucky, or they’ll die. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground any more.

So mask and vax — or don’t. Just accept the consequences if you choose not to, and don’t beg some doctor to save your life.

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