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Famous Last Words

08.09.11 | 1 Comment


CATEGORIES Uncategorized

Among the entertainments and distractions wrought by Twitter are the propagation of memes or hashtag games, in which a topic is tossed out for the masses, from which to wring endless variations, almost always humorous. For example, yesterday, in honor of the weekend’s number one film, folks were spinning comedy on #FailedApePitches, to which I contributed such classics as “Macaque of the Red Death” and “She Wore a Yellow Gibbon.” You need a taste for low wordplay and bad puns to enjoy the majority of these efforts, which spread virally; I am often motivated to churn out a half-dozen in a few minutes when the mood strikes me, to my own endless amusement.

But amidst the puns, I employed Twitter’s hashtagging for a higher-aimed colloquy yesterday as well. Having spotted a feature about the 100 Best Closing Lines of Books, which I thought was very clever, since we mostly hear about book openings (“Call me Ishmael,” anyone?), I decided to toss the subject out to the Twitterverse, but for plays and musicals, of course, not books.

This did not become a viral sensation, nor did I expect that it would. But what struck me from the responses was how many of the closing lines moved me, immediately prompting my recall of one or more productions of the quoted play, taking me back to the feeling I had as the lights dimmed or suddenly went out on those lines. It only took a handful of words to reanimate the theatergoing experiences for me, and for a couple of hours, it proved a most intriguing avalanche of reveries, prompted by the memories of others.  The playwrights’ final words held enormous power.

What also struck me was how open ended the lines were in so many cases. I was not being sent words of finality, but words that seemed to lead on to yet another story, or perhaps more accurately yet another chapter in the story. Even with plays that I knew to leave audiences sad and even despairing, the final words usually offered some hope to the characters, and to us in the seats as well. This seems to have been what people took away with them.

And so I would like to offer you a limited selection of the final lines shared with me by others, and a few I chose myself, to see whether they have the same effect on others that they had on me, both at the theatre and in the scroll of tweets.  I find them hypnotic, optimistic and comforting.

“Greetings, Prophet. The Great Work begins: the messenger has arrived.”

“I think maybe heaven is a sea of untranslatable jokes. Only everyone is laughing.”

“When we’re 45, we can be pretty fucking amazing.”

“What will we do ‘til spring?”

“Blow out your candles, Laura.”

“Oh, how I do love birthday cake.”

“Years from now…when you talk about this…and you will…be kind.”

“Come you giants.”

“Ready, old friend? Courage.”

“Yes, let’s go.”

“You that way: we this way.”

“Everything in life is only for now.”

“We shall rest.”

“You get a good rest, too. Goodnight.”

“We’re free and clear. We’re free.”

“So many possibilities.”

“Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you. I absolve you all.”

“Not annoying! Not annoying at all!”

The quotes are from, in order: Angels In America: Millennium Approaches, The Clean House, Uncommon Women and Others, Take Me Out, The Glass Menagerie, Crimes of the Heart, Tea and Sympathy, Jerusalem, Man of La Mancha, Waiting for Godot, Love’s Labour’s Lost,  Avenue Q, Uncle Vanya, Our Town, Death of a Salesman, Sunday in the Park With George, Amadeus, and On The Verge. If the quotes are imprecise, it is because I didn’t have the resources to check each and every one.

My thanks to everyone who contributed; you can see the complete Twitter chain by searching on #beststageclosinglines. For those who would enjoy this as a quiz focused on musicals, my query yesterday prompted one from Chris Caggiano, and it can be found on his blog here.

Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman has nearly three decades of both executive and staff experience at such companies as American Theatre Wing, O'Neill Theatre Center, Geva Theatre, Goodspeed Musicals, Hartford Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club and Westport Country Playhouse. He tweets as @hesherman.

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  • Nice post.Having lit about half of those last lines at some point or another, I will share with you the feeling of the tremendous weight of responsibility that comes with deciding the duration of that final fade to black. 


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