By Peter Macy
We spent three days in Manhattan recently, two of them honoring Grandparents Day at the grandchildren's school and one accompanying them to the theatre to see Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, which just may not have been a match for our Italian (Centerentola) production.
There is no doubt here that education is different from our day. First grade (the younger grandchild) is dealing with "symmetry" in art class, "balance" in science, observing maturation of their silkworms and writing small essays about favorite topics.
My only similar experience, at that age, was balancing on a see-saw.
I was curious about what fourth-grade (the elder grandchild) was up to. In math, they built, equipped and operated miniature golf courses. Today, they were studying "why people move" and "why they stay," beginning with the earliest civilizations. These topics are exposing students to history, geography, economics, politics, religion and so forth. They also raised trout fingerlings and turned them loose in the Croton Reservoir, which supplies water to the city.
In my fourth-grade, the prime interest was recess and learning profanity.
The day after our school visits, we escorted the grandchildren to see Cinderella, a musical first staged in 1957. After seeing the show, I looked up the history of the Cinderella story. Now I know why our children are confused.
In the original, written in the 17th century by Charles Perrault, the godfather of fairy tales, the king's ball went for two days. The musical doesn't have a king and the ball is one day with a banquet held later. A 2002 issue of the book, by Rose Anderson, is more traditional -- one ball.
In Italy we dispensed with the king and used the traditional single ball.
The musical we saw was really a spoof. The prince, unfamiliar with princely duties, is under the spell of a wicked prime minister signing foreclosure notes on the homes of all his subjects. Infatuated with Cinderella during the ball, he reverses course and invites his starving subjects to a great feast hoping to identify Cinderella. At the second coming of midnight as Cinderella is entering her coach, she remembers she has to leave a slipper. The theatre darkens and a small spotlight shows the slipper being placed on the steps.
Now everything works out for the prince and his people except for the wicked stepmother. Seeking mercy, she is sentenced to 90 days of community service.
In Italy we had one advantage over other theatres -- we staged our play in a real castle -- Castello Poggiarello.
My wife directed the production, two grandchildren were the stepsisters, a third was the wicked stepmother, the fourth was supposed to be "Cenerentola" but she stubbornly declined. In desperation I was cast into the role and the adamant granddaughter agreed to be the prince.
The musical was supposed to be a triumph of liberty over tyranny. We never got that far. I wore a mop for a wig. In an old castle like this, anything can be found. Someone produced an ancient ball dress, which I wore backwards because of its décolletage.
The audience filed in and the play proceeded as scripted. However, when I arrived at the ball, the obstinate prince refused to dance with me and the production collapsed.
In any case, it was a joy to be with the grandchildren in their school and at the theatre and to reminisce about past productions, which always arise when our four grandchildren get together.
Peter Macy lives in Groton with his wife, Clare.