Performance Date: 06.19.10
The Gallery Players
I was once complimented on my rhymed couplets at an audition. This filled me with the same amount of pride as when, at three years old, I was complimented by a waitress at the Hungry Hippo on how well I twirled my spaghetti. So I feel I am well-qualified to offer the following observation: you know rhymed couplets are written and spoken well when it feels like you are whitewater rafting. That I’ve never been whitewater rafting I hope does not undermine my credibility in making this statement.
The metaphor came to me while watching a new adaptation of Candide at the Gallery Players. The verse was flowing fast and fierce, just as it should be in a snappy satire like this one, and my ears were pleased by the rhymes popping out here and there. They were given just the right touch of emphasis – not so much as to interrupt the flow or bludgeon the listener, but not so little as to slide by unnoticed. And then I realized that my ears were actually more than pleased. They were actually looking forward to the rhymes, looking out for them, and using them to help my brain follow along in the tumbling rapids of exposition and quickly moving plot. In other words, the verse was the current in which I was zipping along, and the rhymes were the rocks I was pushing off of with my oars to aid my progress downstream.
I’ve never thought about rhyme in this way. I don’t think about rhyme much at all. It doesn’t seem to have a place in our culture today. Which is a total lie. Rhyme is all over the place in music and is kind of the main event in rap. But rhyme outside of music? Not so much. We’ve got Hallmark, we’ve got Dr. Seuss, and we’ve got “Stop that now, I mean it. Anybody want a peanut?” And that’s about it.
But maybe this was ever so. Maybe rhyme has only ever thrived in song and it just so happens that “song” and everyday life used to overlap more. Not that people used to walk around conversing in rhyme, or anything, and now there’s this dearth of it that old folks bemoan – Back in the day we used to appreciate rhyme structure! If you can’t use it properly, I’ll hit you with this crutch here! But it seems to me that rhyme was once a more highly appreciated form of wit and entertainment than it is today. Today, outside of music, it just seems hokey. And the idea of seeing a play written in rhymed couplets probably inspires most people to bring a pillow and blankey to the theater.
But it shouldn’t be this way! Rhymed couplets are fun! Oh god, look at me. I’m a nerdy, hokey, old person bemoaning a lack of appreciation for rhyme in theater these days. How attractive. But let me own that for a second and say this. What I liked about the rhyming in Candide was that it worked in partnership with the other elements in the script. Rhymes were advanced when needed – to make a point, to highlight or a joke or be the joke itself, or to serve as a mental assist as in my rafting analogy – and left to recede when not needed for these purposes, or when a seeming absence from rhyme would best set up a rhyming punchline down the road. They were sort of used like a star player on a good basketball team – one who can dunk when you need him to but who also knows to pass the ball.
That’s different from how I usually see rhyme used in music. Rap and hip-hop prize rhyme so much that it’s often all you can hear until you have time to really sit down and listen. And of course pop, rock, and country songs usually just reach for the low-hanging fruit, deeming flat, predictable, unnoticeable rhymes sufficient. I enjoy the results of both of these uses, but well-written and well-performed rhymed couplets do offer a slightly different joy. It transcends auditory pleasure and engages the brain a bit more. Makes the brain dance about, mapping meaning and metaphor and other meta M words. And of course there are great songwriters and hip-hop artists who use rhyme in exactly this way, but they are more the exception than the rule.
So yes. Go. Go see a play written in rhymed couplets. You’ll like it. You will. Listen to your old, hokey, nerdy grandma. She knows what’s good for you. And for god's sake, eat something. You look so pale!