Last Monday, I had the pleasure of participating in a reading of “Harold and Maude” at the Historic Iao Theater. Isaac Rauch and Barbara Sedano (who also directed) played the title roles perfectly, as charming as Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon were in the 1971 film, a quirky cult classic about the sweet friendship between a troubled young man and a free-spirited octogenarian.
Some 45 years ago, I saw the original movie, also at Iao Theater. It was probably the first adult movie that I attended. Adult in the sense of mature themes, not graphic sex. Those movies were shown at King Theater, around the corner on Vineyard Street. In fact, “Harold and Maude” was rated PG, so I guess it’s more accurate to say it was my first serious movie.
The first R-rated film I saw was “Woodstock,” again at Iao. By the time the movie came to Maui, the triple-album soundtrack had been released, and it was my favorite record at the time. So I begged my parents to let me see the film, even though I was only 12 years old. My mother accompanied me, to my adolescent chagrin, and she fell asleep after the first 20 minutes. She awoke with a start when the theater audience joined Country Joe and the Fish on “the Fish cheer” (Gimme an “F” . . .) and asked me, “What did they say?”
“It’s the fish cheer, Mom,” I answered truthfully. I’m pretty sure she knew it was a different “F” word, but she just shrugged and went back to sleep.
The next R-rated film I attended at Iao was “M*A*S*H.” I was still underage, but my date was 17. He was a nice boy, a good student, and he impressed my parents by asking their permission to take me to this movie, so they gave their blessing. At 14, I was slightly embarrassed by the nude scenes, but the subplot involving the dentist mortified me. I couldn’t help but associate my father with the character of “Painless” Waldowski, who was suicidal over sexual issues and was redeemed by a night of passion with a departing nurse. As far as I knew, the only thing they had in common was that they were both dentists, but that was enough to give me the creeps.
I also remember seeing “Willard” and “A Clockwork Orange” at Iao Theater. Neither film was anywhere near as creepy as the samurai and obake movies that used to play there. There are a couple of scenes that still pop vividly into my head, more than 50 years after being scared to tears by those Japanese classics.
These memories and more were unleashed during Monday’s ONO (One Night Only) reading. “Harold and Maude” is full of little gems; comedic, poignant and thought provoking. One of my favorite bits is when Maude talks about the wise man she met in a Persian bazaar. On the head of a pin, he inscribed what he called “the wisest, the truest, the most instructive words for all men at all times.” The words were: “And this too shall pass away.” Maude tells Harold, “Apply that, and you’re bound to live life fully.”
At home after the show, I went online to find the original source of the saying, which I’ve heard in various forms all my life. Commonly thought of as a biblical reference, the sentiment — but not the actual phrase — does appear in the New Testament. Turns out that it probably was coined by a Persian sage after all.
A Sufi fable tells of a powerful king who summoned his wise men and asked for something that would make him happy when he was sad, and could also change his joy to sorrow. Another version has the king requesting a saying that would be accurate in all situations. After much thought and consultation, the sages and poets came up with “This, too, shall pass.”
Wise words, indeed, both comforting and cautionary. I try to do as Maude suggested and apply the mantra daily. Of course, being a sentimental fool as well as an eternal optimist, I always add “but I’ll always have the memories.”
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.