Los Angeles: An Armchair Perspective

Posted in The City: Los Angeles with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by gregnett

It’s midway through 2018 and it has sort of been a meh year. To be honest, the summer crept up on me out of nowhere and if it wasn’t for a calendar alert reminding me to book a flight for my summer vacation I would’ve kept right along doing what I was doing: nothing!

cozy-armchair

You see, it’s like this actually…

And it’s okay to veg—I tell myself this, of course, to wipe away any potential shame or guilt that could arise in moments of prolonged idleness… It was about this time last year coincidentally that I got the sense that 2018 was going to be rather tame—and boy was my prediction accurate! No major complaints though, nor do I have anything to bitch about. Perfect health (sans one knee and one wrist), great job, money in the bank, roof over my head, vibrant aura, full stomach, clear mind, halfway decent sex life—I’m good!

The lull—if it I should even call it that—has more to do with the behind-the-scenes, day-to-day, re-re-branding, and strategizing of my life post Hollywood burnout. That aside, the creative juices continue to flow, spilling right over from last year’s effort and into this year’s… About that.

I might as well come clean: I scrapped my book idea. (Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve done that.) It dawned on me, while proofreading, how uneven it was: some posts were clearly better than others that just never really seemed to jell properly. On top of that, I had real life chomping at my heels (hint: FEMA). A valiant effort, but not one where I would feel comfortable about shaking people down for two dollars a copy, or going into the red to self-publish a book and then release it for free!

So I’ll just move right on along to Phase Two: which is my newsletter. (They’re all the rage right these days.) And if I haven’t mentioned this before, well, I’m doing it now… (On my desk at home is a stack of rezis from cartoonists, illustrators, satirists, writers, poets, etc. Oh, and I’m terrible at selling myself, as you can see.)

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You know, if my advice is worth anything…

Since my last post (December, 2017) I got to thinking about my time here in Los Angeles. I’ve been here for a little over a decade now and I haven’t spoken much about what it’s like to live here in the City of Angels. People have asked me, but I would casually avoid the What’s it like to live in LA? question. I wanted to nip this in the bud last year (June, 2017) on my ten-year anniversary—but forgot. And then there was my U.S. cities series, and I could’ve easily slipped my opinion of L.A. into that, and, well… I’ve only written about one city (San Francisco; more to come though). Then Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer got in the way; plus, the idea of talking ish about my (adopted) city makes me feel queasy… But, then again, La La Land is too fascinating a subject not to discuss. Still rolling around the idea in my head, I said to myself that I were to express my opinion what it’s like to live L.A., it’d have to be written—and from an armchair perspective. Something tangible and relatable, but at the same time slack and not so scripted… And maybe one could get a gauge on how I feel about living in L.A. after reading all I had to say.

Well, gosh darn it!, here it is: a new series (titled above) for you, the handful of readers who come to my blog from time to time—and something that I can refer people to who are constantly asking me with the what’s it like…? question(s). Now please bear in mind that this is Los Angeles through my eyes, and that overall slant of this series (and blog) is tongue and cheek (satirical?). So don’t be put-off or offended by what you read here (de facto trigger warning, I guess). Seeing as I’ve been here for more than a decade (11 years) I have ten bullet points (observations?, topics?, areas?)—plus one more!—I’d like to share that I feel are unique to the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Some of them might be familiar to you; some not so much, bordering on absurd and nonsensical… Because you’ve heard about the materialism, the narcissism, the balmy weather, the celebrity culture, the Ray-Bans®, the street gangs, the bad traffic—all of which are true, and the potential for overlap is likely. However, I’m hoping to be slightly “adjacent” to what’s already floating around out there.

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Oh, and another thing…

I’ve got a bit of writing and operations work to do for the back half of this year, so I’ll try to bang all ten (11) of these out two per month through the end of December. The first one’s a good one too! And I’m not just saying that because it’s my writing… It’s one that will make Angelenos grin widely because it’s sooo true, and everyone else outside of the SoCal bubble scratch their heads like, WTF!

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2017 – Movie List*

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 27, 2017 by gregnett

*Of the movies I’ve seen… And, of course, no one has asked me for my opinion.

I’m way down as far as my usual numbers. I try to see anywhere between 50 and 60 films in a calendar year, but this year I managed to see a little over 30 films. I felt like a lot of the movies this year were meh and passed on the bulk of them. Also, I did a ton of writing and going to the movie theater was the last thing I wanted to do when I had any free time. The current numbers look to be the same for next year (2018) and into the future for reasons I won’t go into.

So like last year: here’s yet another obligatory “list.” I find these to be my favorite movies to hit the theaters in 2017. Ten films worked last year, so ten films it is this year—with my take on each in ten words, in true tongue-in-cheek fashion. I don’t rank one above the other and am merely listing them by the 2017 American release date. Again, I enjoyed all of them! See you in 2018. Peace!

 

 

Ten words: Why the hell did you attend? Have you any self-esteem?

 

Ten words: Nam. Kong. Creedence Clearwater. And the most racially-diverse cast ever!

 

Ten words: Husband and Wife both have affairs but they are refreshing.

 

Ten words: A man’s lust for indigenous poon gets law enforcement killed.

 

Ten words: Steve and Rob are back… New Orleans next time around?

 

Ten words: Navel-gazing hipster existentialism à la spelunking in giant cardboard boxes.

 

Ten words: An engaging CIA thriller—but with the usual doomsday device.

 

Ten words: Who knew that a rape could be so damn funny?

 

Ten words: No indigenous people were killed; an idiot becomes town savior.

 

Ten words: Poker takes a back seat to all the daddy issues.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Alcestis

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 17, 2017 by gregnett

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
Post Preliminary Confessions: Closing Thought

masks

Comedy. Drama.

Well, boys and girls and aliens—this is it! Anything else pertaining to this here monthly blog series (confessional) will next be seen in book (e-book) form most likely… Packing all that I’ve said into an e-book is an idea I’m still wavering on—but ultimately that was what this endeavor was about in the first place. Should I still go through with the e-book, it’ll be at a relatively low cost to you the consumer and loyal supporter of the wave I’m on. I’m hoping for my e-book to “hit the shelves” at or around the price of $1.99 USD. (Life for Big G began as a runaway. I’m not all too sure how Amazon determines the costs of e-books for those who choose to self-publish and then use the Amazon Marketplace to hawk their wares, but I’m hoping that I can sell my e-book at $1.99 USD even, for sentimental reasons. The very first purchase I made way back when—when I began life “on my own”—was a five-piece order of chicken nuggets at McDonald’s for one dollar and ninety-nine cents (plus tax; Fall of 1996, I’ll never forget!)… A very profound moment in my life; the kind of small purchase that paid big dividends—literally! Oh, and no need to show any concern about that whole situation; I’ve moved on from it, clearly. It’s just that for this next phase of my life, I’d like to have it begin with the same price point, only this time the other way around… Anybody out there got two dollars for ya boy?)

Sometime last November, I think, I had a sit-down with myself and wondered, why hadn’t I had anything published? I have at least twenty black & white composition notebooks and an old, beat-up Dell laptop worth of solid material—what gives? I’m talking poetry, free-form, essays, reviews, news articles, biographies, short stories, partially-completed and completed novels, epistles, screenplays (le sigh); plus, a bunch of other start-and-stop thoughts and ideas that if I didn’t have to work seventy damn hours a week, there’s no doubt in my mind I could finish writing them… All of it just sitting there, unreleased, doing absolutely squat. After about a day or two of thinking it over, I figured out what I could do with most of it. But all that thinking, unfortunately, led me right back down the same road I had reluctantly travelled many times before: I could query magazines and the like for my poetry and short stories—but they tend to favor college students and established authors, so nah! (New voices, my ass!); I could query film agencies and literary managers as well as submit my screenplays to screenwriting contests… Not so much nowadays. The soup du jour in Hollywood right about this time is everything Woman (I’m not venting; it is what it is) and, again, I know the pain and misery of this marketplace and how cruel it can be regardless of that bias reality (Don’t for one second buy into the so-called “Diversity Initiative” that’s been taking shape in the American film industry for the past few years. Personally, I still think that if you’re a white man pursuing screenwriting (filmmaking) in Hollywood you’ve got it made in the shade. [I’m not venting; it is what it is.] But all “diversity” really means is that a TV show’s writers’ room will hire—for one season more or less—a “woman of color” before me—a “man of color”—because with that one writing position filled in this fashion they’re able to check off two boxes as far as Quotas™: woman and “person of color.” [How I loathe this term “person of color.” We all have a color. And two, I loathe this process even more. I much rather know I got into the room on my own merit rather than a showrunner needing to have a *ahem* “person of color” placed in the seat so as not to get fined, or lynched, or become a trending topic on Twitter or whatever.] Again, I’m not complaining or mad about the process; I’m just telling you that that’s way the cookie actually crumbles.); or I could once again reach out to the New York Literati and let them know about of my novels—but that’s also a no-go because they too are all about Woman—and what’s even weirder is that book agents can be quite cranky in their rejection e-mails and letters; or perhaps I could just call a spade a spade and admit to myself that “I suck!” and be thankful that I do have some outlet for my creativity via my own blog (#TINWIPAWhoop! Whoop!) and I’ll just have to be content with the five or so views I get each blog post (I’m not calling anybody out or anything like that, but I do go over the numbers and am fully aware of how abysmal they are.); or I could publish my own stuff…

It’s not really a boon—although it could be!—and I’m already far behind those who’ve taken to this course of action (self-publishing; self- anything). However, it is disconcerting to say the least. My (slack) revolutionary spirit doesn’t like how easily one’s voice is suppressed or how if one chooses to hold an opinion opposite to that of a closed-off group (re: elitist; union) one is painted as a dissenter, or worse, their material “isn’t any good so you can’t be in our club” and they are quickly jettisoned to the outskirts of Society™. Indeed, these truly are some trying times in America—the world perhaps—for myself and others who are having to seek alternative routes to be heard, to add to Pop Culture, to contribute to the “conversation” happening in Society™. I mean, there is a sort of je ne sais quoi about being brought to the fore by the nation’s established institutions (Hollywood, Washington Post, The New Yorker, Julliard, The Whitney, etc.) but does one have to be born into high birth (re: a wealthy family and/or nepotism) or risk going 100K into the hole for a college diploma just to have access, to have a say? Is this the best possible vetting process we have available? How exactly does the “little guy/gal” truly have a real chance if he/she doesn’t get the scholarship/stipend/voucher?

All of this is weighty at the moment—now, presently the end of 2017; December, that is—but the seriousness of the matter was palpable last November… I easily could’ve just put whatever story I had in any of my composition notebooks or on my hard drive into e-book form and that would’ve been that… I might still possibly, but I wanted to get a better understanding of the e-publishing process, going through it with new material (most of it not my own) first, then on the next go-round with full-fledged confidence of the process—because it’s not just my voice I’m concerned about. I’d like to either help others go through the e-publishing process, or open up a small press of my own and find other voices. (Can you say First Amendment? Or, Big G can you spot talent?) So, I’d like to think of Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer as a “mixtape,” my very first mixtape at that! It’s free online for those who go to my blog, but for those who support the wave all I’m asking is $1.99 USD.

Admittedly so, I do have one novel and one screenplay I’ll most likely get behind next calendar year (2018). But as far as everything else I’ve written or plan to write, self-publishing will be the move, starting first with Confessions due in e-book form some time second quarter of 2018 and then later in the year a collection of poetry, free-form, and short stories which I’m really excited about. Again, this is all still pending… The e-book version of Confessions, if I do in fact self-publish it (Right now it’s 55-45, yes), will include all twelve stage play reviews first posted on my blog but with slight modifications due to me moving them from the blog and into e-book form and, of course, the necessary revisions due to misspellings and syntax and grammar. It will also feature original artwork (and cover design) from a close friend of mine whose art will work in tandem with what I’ve written. Also, the actual “confessions” part will be expounded on as all the ones (3) discussed so far have been preliminaries. I’m even going to include an additional stage play review that’ll be in the e-book version only. Sorry. I really do hate to pimp myself out like this but, hey, what can I say? I’m a capitalist through and through… And lastly, I will stitch together any loose threads and incoherent thoughts I otherwise forgot about due to my personal life getting in the way or my self-imposed deadline… Sounds good? Great! Let’s wrap things up like we’ve done so the eleven times prior, I now put away the merchandise and ask that you turn your attention to December’s stage play, Alcestis.

the-death-of-alcestis-pierre-peyron

The Death of Alcestis, Pierre Peyron [MotionAge Designs]

Title: Alcestis (438 BCE)
Playwright: Euripides
Time Period: Classical Greek Period
Plot: A retelling of the mythical story of Alcestis who forfeits her own life in place of her husband’s.
Dope Line(s):

[Line 142]

CHORUS
How could the same person be dead yet still
live?

[Line 355-363]

ADMETUS
Even in sleep it is sweet to see
those whom one loves for however long they can stay.
If I had the words and music of Orpheus
to enchant Persephone or her husband,
charming them with songs to take you out of Hades,
then down would I go, and neither Pluto’s dog
nor Charon, the dead man’s guide, leaning on his oar,
could stop me before I raised you back to the light.
But—that won’t work—so, wait for me until I die…

[Line 383]

ALCESTIS
I who die for you am all the underworld
demands.

altar

Sacrificial Altar

Here we are. Together again. One last time, possibly… Especially, if you skipped over the above portion and came straight to the actual review. No, nothing of too much importance that you need to backtrack to the beginning. The above can easily be summarized in a line or two down here later… However, last we spoke I mentioned to you that I’d be doing a side-by-side comparison/review and I immediately started in on The Cocktail Party which owes its skeletal structure at best to this month’s stage play, Alcestis by classical Greek playwright Euripides. My time with you is limited, but I implore you to read up on as much of Euripides as you can. We currently have eighteen of his plays—intact!—out of a possible ninety to draw inspiration from. For some, Euripides might be familiar to you through his more recognizable works: Medea, Electra, or The Trojan Women. Or even having received praise from the great bard himself, Shakespeare. (We’ve been over him!) A true genius in every sense of the word, Euripides along with Aeschylus and Sophocles (They always come in threes, don’t they?) pretty much laid down the foundation for how us writers should build our stories. Not bad a trio; Euripides especially.

170px-Zeus_Getty_Villa

Zeus thunder god

Scholars feel that Euripides added new dimensions to the elements of comedy, and because of the realism, complexity and intrigue in his stories he may have possibly been a head of his time. He often scoffed at the fact the he was never able to consistently win at festival which bothered him well into his exile in Macedonia. (Google it!) Like most of today’s Hollywood blockbusters, Euripides had an over-reliance on the deus ex machina plot device when it came to resolving matters in his stories. But how can you throw rocks at the man who’s done so much for the mask of drama?

800px-Euripides_Pio-Clementino_Inv302

Euripides

A bit of a social critic in his time, he used myths and real-life stories of his day to weave into his tragedies. This blend of fake and real extends well into today in how we search for subtext in our stories and nod to ourselves when we comprehend the fictional elements (lightness/darkness as metaphors). And I guess that’s what drew Eliot to this story, a somber retelling of the mythical story of Queen Alcestis who sacrifices her own life so that her husband King Admetus can live… The inevitability of the death, the duality of how we are in public versus private, and unrequited love all show up in small traces in Cocktail. And for the most part Eliot flips a lot of Alcestis and makes it his own. But the one element that stands out is the idea of “returning.” In both Alcestis and Cocktail Party two women are returned to men having been “dead” to them.

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Greek Grim Reaper (Thanatos)

A simple online search tells me that Alcestis is considered to be a satyr play, meaning that is a serious drama in both tone and theme, but is infused with bits of comedy. Okay, fair. But I have to be honest: the language, though good throughout most of it, never gave me the impression that there were parts to this play that were intended to be funny. So, it was a bit of a shock to me when I read this was so afterwards. If anything, there’s the slight possibility that one could be put off by this play, especially when you consider how King Admetus and Queen Alcestis came to be in their little predicament at the start of the play in the first place…

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Satyrs don’t discriminate!

Alcestis takes place over the course of a single day—oh, and how convenient this is!—in Pherai (Pherae), an ancient town in southeastern Thessaly (present day Velestíno, Greece) at the palace of Admetus. His palace is under the protection of the god Apollo for reasons I’ll try to make concise in just a moment. Let’s just say for now that Euripides probably didn’t intend to have his work survive this long, or maybe he expected us humans living here in the twenty-first century to know chapter and verse on all our Greek myths and poems and bothered not to get in depth with the details. (Also, I read a translation of Charles R. Beye’s interpretation of Euripides’ Greek which itself had been copied over again and again by others and Charles is merely doing the best he can to articulate in English what Euripides was intending to say about a myth—in Greek—for those watching the play (the BCE crowd) who were already in the know about the myth whereas I was clueless to all of the intricate details of the myth beforehand and am still fuzzy about them afterwards. Whew!) Anyhoo, in a rare break from classical Greek narrative structure, Apollo speaks the audience about why (Queen) Alcestis is near her death bed and delivers it so in a tidal wave of exposition.

apollo-lyre

Show time at the Apollo!

All right, here goes: Alcestis’ dad, King Pelias, in wanting to marry off his young daughter had an oddly specific and bizarre stipulation for potential suitors: harness a lion and a boar to a chariot. (Don’t ask!) Okay… So Admetus has the ultimate cheat code because his bestie is a god (Apollo) who goes on to help Admetus through this task and a series of other more oddly specific tasks leading up to and past the point of consummation/marriage with Admetus. (I have to quickly throw in that Alcestis is Admetus’ cousin—Ew!) So, Apollo continues to get Admetus out of jams as well as extend his life until the Moirai make a new contract that states that if Admetus wants to keep stretching out his time on earth he has to get someone to volunteer to die in his place. Fast forward through a bit of business with his human friends and his parents who all think it’s absurd to give up their lives for his—rightfully so. And it’s in the midnight hour that Alcestis, the supposed love of his life, comes through in the clutch and offers up her life for his. Boom! I’ve just given you the Cliff Notes version of what it took forever for Apollo to say, although his language was way better than mine.

Hercules_Wrestling_with_Death_for_the_Body_of_Alcestis,_by_Frederic_Lord_Leighton,_England,_c._1869-1871,_oil_on_canvas_-_Wadsworth_Atheneum_-_Hartford,_CT_-_DSC05068

Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis by Frederic Lord Leighton

Yup, that’s the gist of it. The plot on this one is quite thin and doesn’t involve a whole lot. The stage play is basically a series of broken “interludes” in between the Chorus going in for an extended period of time, singing and soap-boxing as they do—until a supposedly happy ending. (We’ve discussed the Chorus before, haven’t we?) In one interlude we see Death (Thanatos); in another we watch as Alcestis says her goodbyes to her husband and children (only the son speaks; why is that?) before she croaks; in another a Slave fills Heracles (Hercules) in on all that has transpired earlier in the day at the palace; then in two separate interludes Admetus and Heracles talk it out like men!; and finally the climax: Alcestis and Admetus are reunited upon Heracles bringing Alcestis back from Hades. I usually make it a point to hide much of what happens in a play but there’s no point in doing so with Alcestis. The play was a breeze to read; it was maybe eleven hundred lines (1,163). And it packs a punch for how light it is! Eliot, I see what you did there… Make Heracles the Uninvited Guest, turn Admetus into Edward, and turn Alcestis into Lavinia, dope!

Greek-Chorus

Mask On, Mask Off

I would like to believe that this plays holds up in today’s world but I’m not so sure who out there would die so that their loved one might live—especially, if said loved one is purely looking to stave off his/her own death for superficial reasons. It’s possible maybe, but I’m so sure. So, no, this play doesn’t hold up… Now from the standpoint of how we act in public versus private, I believe Euripides may be on to something—because we all wear masks in public. But seeing as Eliot squeezed most of the juice out of this fruit, and the fact that there’s better material out there with the public/private theme, I don’t see the need to blow the dust off this one again unless you just wanna play dress up. However, I am glad that I’ve read Alcestis and look forward to reading all of the other Greek tragedies, or as many as I can get my hands one… In closing, this blog series has been quite an endeavor. It’s the most unorthodox thing I’ve done and totally at odds with how I write. Generating words each month for material I’m going in blind on is challenging; and to be honest: I don’t know I want to do this again. I usually have a certain through-line or theme I discuss with material I can sit with day in and day out and even if it took me a year to write, it all involved one piece. Yet and still , I challenged myself and I glad with the outcome. Like I said in the above, changes will have to be made if the plan is to put this blog series into book form. But that’s an issue I’ll face in 2018. Right now boys and girls and aliens, I have to figure out what my plans are for New Year’s Eve!

 

stage-chair

Thanks for coming!

Rating: 3/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: The Cocktail Party

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2017 by gregnett

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
Post Preliminary Confessions

masks

Comedy. Drama.

Title: The Cocktail Party (1949)
Playwright: T.S. Eliot
Time Period: Modernism
Plot: Several West End Londoners gather in the Chamberlaynes’ drawing-room following a cocktail party. Left to serve their guests alone, Edward Chamberlayne meets a mysterious stranger who offers his assistance in helping save their troubled marriage.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1, Sc. 1, Ln. 333-335]

UNIDENTIFIED GUEST
It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.
That’s the best advice
I can give you.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 88-89]

EDWARD
Oh, my God, what shall we talk about?
We can’t sit here in silence.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 322-325]

LAVINIA
Everything I tried only made matters worse,
And the moment you were offered something that you wanted
You wanted something else. I shall treat you very differently
In
[the] future.

london-night-1950

London (West End), 1950s

It is soooo refreshing to (finally) read a good story. I can’t even remember the last time I felt this giddy upon finishing a book. (Good stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) I guess this here blog series is gonna be alright after all… And I’m thankful for that! Last month’s stage play put me in a really dark place. (Bad stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) Talking became a chore. My jeans didn’t feel as crisp. I started back eating bread. Everything was not awesome. Life!—How fast things snowball… But like his Duderino’s ethos as to the way Life is: “Strikes and gutters.” Yes, why, yes indeed! Life is, at any given moment, as simple as that­—that of a forward roll of a thirteen-pound bowling ball down a waxed, wooden lane. Not necessarily a strike but the aim is to hit something as opposed to nothing at all. So, here I am; confidence renewed, faith restored, out of the gutter and lined up for a spare!—and all the more thankful to finally have some good chi flowing through me. This series’ll be done in no time!

st_anthony_of_padua

St. Anthony of Padua

It being close to the Holiday Season (November, Thanksgiving; December, Christmas [and Kwanzaa]), I wanted to do a side-by-side to cap things off. By that I mean, I wanted to review two stage plays: one of them an original, and the other an adaptation. Bad form on me though; I wrote last month that I’d be going Greek (I later edited this portion.) but in truth I had the “adapted” material slotted for November. It’s no surprise now but The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot is somewhat of a loose adaption of Alcestis by Euripides (Feel free to jump ahead if you like.) — and as a “Thank you!” to You this Holiday Season, I decided to let you in on what some of my favorite stage plays are. Playwrights actually. I absolutely love T.S. Eliot! I would guess that most of you are familiar with him through his poetry; this one in particular: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Old Possum’s would later be used as the source material for the long-running Broadway musical Cats (1981). I’m familiar with Eliot through a number of his essays and Murder in the Cathedral (1939), an earlier stage play of his which sits high on my list of all-time favorites. (Yes, it’s that good!) As mentioned way back in March and echoed again in June, I’m rather hush-hush about the material I read (for the most part). But ‘tis the season and offering up one of my personal favs might give you a better understanding of the kind of material I’m always on the lookout for…

TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot, himself

Well, what’s unique about Cocktail is how stripped-down the material is but at the same time how crammed it is with clever (and perhaps indulgent) homages to timeless works. Eliot borrows liberally from the Holy Bible, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Prometheus Unbound, The Waste Land (his own), Murder in the Cathedral (his own), Sweeney Agonistes (his own), The Family Reunion (his own), East Coker (his own), The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (his own), Descent into Hell (his buddy’s), The Extasie, A Woman Killed with Kindness, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Divine Comedy (Paradiso in particular), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Die Verwandlung [The Metamorphosis], Fathers and Sons, Res Publica [The Republic], Piers Plowman, Carmina Gadelica; also some wise sayings from Socrates and Buddha, and a few plot mechanics from William Congreve and the Comedy of Manners—and, of course, the above mentioned Alcestis which I’ll discuss more in-depth next month. (Eliot basically did the Tarantino before Tarantino did the Tarantino.)

1950s_solitaire

Some say Patience, I say Solitaire

All this mic-checking of other people’s material caused a lot of ire among Eliot’s literary peers (and a few of his friends) in the play’s heyday. (I seriously doubt the plebs of today will have read any of the works mentioned above; I’m aware of only about seven of them, and many of the works I’ve listed above have insanely high page counts.) And that was pretty much the only significant scratch against The Cocktail Party—that Eliot filched “sourced” so much of his dialogue from other people’s work that the play’s credibility was somewhat strained. Oh, and the characters—whose origins are rooted in farce; as Eliot was also wanting to satirize the first-world problems of London’s West End circa 1950—start off in something grounded in reality (and at times witty) only to become grand sermonizers and soap-boxers as the play moves forward, especially in the middle of Act Two. (As a lover of monologues, I was in hog heaven. The fact that they were heavy with Christian undertones and philosophical headiness didn’t all that much bother me.) Interestingly enough, Eliot later defended himself against the “sourcing” claim, stating that he merely did this to keep theater critics from picking up the scent of the play’s main source of inspiration, which again, is Alcestis. Should you read The Cocktail Party, that’s your call me to make. Me, myself—I have about a thousand other questions…

gin_tonic1

Gin + Tonic + Lime = Yes!

The play begins at the tail end of a cocktail party at the flat (home) of Edward & Lavinia Chamberlayne. Edward has been left stranded with several guest—and none of these stragglers have even thought of starting for the door. So the gin continues to flow, the hors d’oeuvres continue to be passed, and Edward’s patience continues to be tried—so much so that he fibs a bit on the whereabouts of his wife Lavinia who’s missing in action. (She’s away in the country tending to a fake sick aunt.) Just shy of newlyweds, their five-year marriage is already on the rocks; though this information is unknown to us early on. It takes minimal effort on an Uninvited Guest’s part to extract this bit of information from Edward a few moments later when they’re alone. Funny thing though: the Uninvited Guest’s nosiness is subtler than that of Julia’s, the Chamberlaynes’ spinster friend and renowned West End socialite who’s still lingering around. (She questions people whenever she damn well pleases.) Hell, Julia has no understanding of the word rude and neither does Alexander, another West Ender high up in the upper crust of London society. He too has yet to start home. It’s as if these three are all on the same team or something… Unable to cancel the party, poor Edward had to handle this small group—and others maybe—all on his own. The party finally over, Edward later finds himself in his drawing-room, defeated and dispirited, talking to a complete a stranger about his marital woes. Later in that same drawing-room, Edward’s young friend Peter—an aspiring script-writer!—tells Edward his problems which are also of the love variety. Young Peter made the timeless mistake of putting himself in the friend zone thinking that that move would put him on the quickest route to a woman’s under garments. Too bad the man Peter’s laying this heavy burden down on has already been “down that road.” But at least Edward’s being a good sport about it and hearing Peter out. Better to let the young buck down easy and keep the fisticuffs to a minimum—because you never know how young guys are going to react especially when they think that they’re “In love.” Oh, and that young woman would be Celia, who vanished with everyone else earlier. And like most side-chicks, Celia’s aching to be the star of the show. But “cosmically” there might be some thwarting of her master plan.

1950's_hors_doeuvres

More chips! More dip!

“The same thing but new” is an axiom sang out across the creative spectrum. It would be too easy for one to just roll their eyes at infidelity. I too have seen my fair share of it, but it’s the introspection that Eliot gives to both Celia and Edward that makes this play something worthwhile. (I mean, every time these two meet it’s fireworks.) I didn’t throw the book, but boy was I close—again! The play keeps the locations to a minimum (the Chamberlayne’s flat and a Consulting Room) and the storyline is fairly simple: a troubled married couple’s interactions with their acquaintances over the course of two years or so roughly, some of whom may or may not have god-like qualities about them; one in particular (the Uninvited Guest) agreeing to reunite said wife (Lavinia) and husband (Edward) — free of charge it seems. (Man, we’ll just have to wait until next month so that I can touch more on this.) However, The Cocktail Party does commit one major #TINWIPA no-no and that is having an awkward time jump in the narrative (two years!). Again, easily dismissed when the characters and the story are both complex.

gin_tonic3

Gin me!

Truth be told, old-ass Julia got underneath my skin—a lizzot! She pops up everywhere, prying for the sake of prying. This lady has got to be the noisiest character I’ve ever encountered in a story. But she did grow on me after a while as did Lavinia who definitely knows how to deflate a man’s ego… which makes for a great segue.

Like Camille, the “plot” of the story comes into place by the end of the first act. And much of what the characters say (and not do) after that point is where the story (tension) lies… To go into detail would ruin a lot of it for you (Act III is dope!); and you’ve seen a love triangle before. But what made me sit up in my seat was Eliot’s treatment of Edward. Edward is not the prototypical man of his Age (1950s), and him questioning his place in the universe and wanting to escape a loveless marriage would’ve have been quite striking to theater-goers. (Of course, men and women separated but not in great volume like today.) Men of Edward’s era rarely if ever thought of themselves as individuals (not publicly at least) and happily signed up for whatever society was dishing out. If it was go to work: men marched right into the factories; go to war: then hand me a damn rifle!; get married and start a family: on it!

chirstmas beetle

Metaphor, or Insult… Hm?

But watching Edward come into his own (self-actualization) made me painfully aware of something the men of my Age (A.D. 2017; some late Gen-Xers and many Millennials) have embraced fully for one; it’s also a luxury we don’t necessarily take for granted, but we really don’t have a clue on hard it must’ve been for men in Edward’s day to say fugg it! and go for self and self only. If Edward were living today he’d definitely be MGTOW. I would have liken him to having the same epiphany that Kevin Spacey (Oy, vey Kevin Spacey *deep sigh*) had early on as Lester Burnham in the movie American Beauty. (Films like The Matrix, Everything Must Go, Office Space, and Fight Club also come to mind.) Here’s a quick back and forth between Edward and the side-chick:

[CELIA: I don’t think I care for advice from you, Edward:
You are not entitled to take any interest
Now, in my future. I only hope you’re competent
To manage your own. But if you are not in love
And never have been in love with Lavinia,
What is it that you want?*]

(* = I provided the underline.)

Me answering for Edward: To have a little harem of maybe four or five hot twenty-five-year-olds on the side. Less responsibility, a less stressful job, and only to live off of what I absolutely need. A minimal existence. Also, a respectable gun and/or book collection, and perhaps a few other manly hobbies like billiards, cigars, or wild game hunting. A solid workout routine. Oh, and a better nest egg, and less friends, and less interaction with “dumb” people. And less you (Celia) unless you want in to my harem…

Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. Much of the above was me being cynical. But, no, Edward’s actual response is this:

[EDWARD: I am not sure.
The one thing of which I am relatively certain,
Is that only since this morning
I have met myself as a middle-aged man
Beginning to know what it is to feel old.]

Celia, in the middle of all this, belittles Edward by calling him a beetle. And with that yet another women stuffs a man back into the role of provider.

tray_glasses

A toast… To???

I’ll lay off the gender ish for now and close by saying that this play is very much relevant in today’s world—albeit slightly. Also, Eliot was doing the whole Art-Imitating-Life shtick here. IRL, Eliot’s wife died and during their whole time together he had been hella close to a young lady who thought that dude would remarry her when wifey was no longer in the picture. Well, she guessed wrong. So, it appears the Mr. Eliot went his own way. Interesting… But the fact remains that many (men) are waking up to the peculiarities of the institution of Marriage—especially now that the State and the Courts have gotten way too involved. And sizable chunk of men have sought out to better understand their personal relationship with the Universe, spiritually, religiously, astrally (it’s a word now) and secularly (and this is a word now too). Of course, there are major (societal) ramifications to all of this—but my generation isn’t at all concerned about the cause & effect portion. Strict marriage and even stricter religion don’t have the quite hold they once did, but they’re still lingering… Yet something tells me that neither of these will be the norm from now on… All righty, boys and girls and aliens. I’m looking down the barrel of three intense workout days to make room for the turkey and pumpkin pie I plan on engorging myself on. Next month we wrap this series up and we’ll talk 2018 in 2018. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til December…

 

Rating: 4/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #3: Conclusion | The Scarlet Princess of Edo

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Drama.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #3: Conclusion

Presently, I am still here in L—, and again, I am sitting at my desk (in my own place now!) in K— by mid-afternoon sunshine; and oftentimes when I am burdened by anxieties that demand all of my attention, I turn towards the nearest window and find some earthly matter to focus my attention on; and remembering that I am sitting alone in this new location, and Theatre that mistress to which my heart turned away from so many years ago, I think that, though blinded to what she actually does nowadays, and as scattered as my thoughts are of her as of late, the promptings of my heart may yet bleed one more drop of her positives. I say again to you, dear reader, as I look towards the window, sitting here relaxed and in a good and gracious nature; consider the following:

 (4) To keep with tradition. If we—us adults, that is—should stop going to the theater, then there’s a strong possibility our kids won’t go at all. It would be a sad, sad day in the world if I should have to look at the Stage from behind a rope at a museum and some elderly woman working part-time through her retirement is explaining to me and my kids that going to the theater is what people used to do for “live entertainment.”

And with that, these preliminary confessions are past; I ask that you turn your attention to October’s stage play, The Scarlet Princess of Edo.

 

RyoanJi-Kane

It tolls for me…

 

Title: Sakura Hime Azuma Bunshō [The Scarlet Princess of Edo] (1817)
Playwright: Tsuruya Namboku IV (also: Sakurada Jisuke II, and Tsuuchi Genshichi)
Time Period: Tokugawa (Edo) Period
Plot: During the Kamakura shogunate period of Japan, concern for rightful succession to Shogun arises when the Yoshida clan’s sacred scroll goes missing. Amidst the clan’s search for the scroll, their young princess’ transgressions are discovered and she is immediately banished from the royal palace and forced into a life of hardship.
Dope Line (s):

[Act 1]

GUNSUKE
A flowering cherry should not end in a pit. Think, my Lady, of the House of Yoshida.

[Act 2]

SAKURA
What happened afterward was that gradually; with each day and night that passed, there increasingly; welled within me tender and loving memories. How can I ever forget the spring of last year; the cold of February lingering in the air; when by my nighttime pillow, creeping stealthily; appeared a burglar’s dark form dimly before me; black hood covering his head, his face in darkness. Before I knew it, frightened, my trembling hand seized. . .

[Act 2]

SEIGEN        
In truth, the image of the moon shining pure and eternal over the boundless ocean of enlightenment is destroyed by wind-driven waves of the Five Corruptions and Six Desires. I am accused of wetting my sleeves with the dew of lust. Though unjustly charged, I do not think of myself now but only my temple’s welfare. Serve it well.

 

shamisen

Smooth, soft sounds from the shamisen

 

I have here in front of me nine pages of notes… cobbled together after reading a stage play that went well over the century mark (134 PAGES!). Also on these notes are the “loose strands” of a needlessly complicated story that when analyzed basically boils down to a bunch of old people getting bent out of shape that a young (sixteen-year-old) hussy porked a thug (lesser samurai); that an elderly priest can’t control his lust for a twelve-year-old boy; that that same priest dies, turns into a ghost and then proceeds to terrorize the hussy from beyond the grave; and a clan’s sacred scroll… The Scarlet Princess of Edo was supposed to be a “masterpiece.” Well, that’s what I was led to believe… And Scarlet Princess might just very well be—but not by my standards.

 

Buddhist_Incense_case

Smell the boredom…

 

It’s hard to convince others of your storytelling expertise especially when you’ve had nothing published/produced and then laid before the general public. I can talk here ad nauseam about forward momentum, plot (literary) devices, stock characters, characterization, proper exposition, taste/subtlety, story length (page count), etc. — but here I am without any sort of following or even a sparse Wikipedia page to show for myself—while Tsuruya Namboku IV has one.

 

Tsuruya Nanboku IV

Playwright, Tsuruya Namboku IV

 

Little is known about Namboku IV… But in looking up what little facts there are on him, I found out that his name was given to him after marrying Tsuruya Namboku III’s sister (Oyoshi). He didn’t garner success until almost was almost fifty years old (46) and is better known for his ghost stories, one in particular: Tōkaidō yotsuya kaidan (trans. Ghost Stories at Yotsuya). Namboku IV wrote with dark intent and is originator of the “raw” domestic play (kizewamono) about criminals and society’s outcasts—which is painfully apparent in Scarlet Princess. Two versions of this play survive to this day, one is seven acts and the other is nine—and I guess there’s no big secret about the one I read. Kabuki theatre has a particular setup: a prologue followed by five acts; but Namboku IV and his contemporaries played with this structure and added a ton of dance numbers and “posing.”

 

Buddhist_prayer_beads

Pray to Buddha

 

And there’s some fun to be had there if you were to see this play acted out… However, kabuki plays took place during the day, and Scarlet Princess is/was considered to be an “all-day” play. (I want so hard to work a pun in here but I won’t.) Scarlet depicts a Japan in which the sociopolitical order is crumbling, and you can really sense the overall material loss and decay as well as the spiritual disorder of things. Just about every character—and there are about sixty of them—drops the line, “Namu Amida Butsu” (trans. “to think of Buddha”) to keep things right above and below, so to speak.

 

A white chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum – symbol of loyalty and devoted love

 

The story, in the most concise way possible, intertwines the storylines of the three Yoshida clan’s royal siblings: Umewaka, mentioned in name only, but there’s strong emphasis that his death was of grave importance; Prince Matsuwaka, who does most of the fleeing and running around along with his disgraced father Shichiro in search of the Yoshida clan’s missing Miyakodori scroll; and Princess Sakura, the titular character, who—Spoiler Alert!—is re-gifted a scarlet kimono by the husband (Zangetsu) of her former head maid (Nagaura) after wandering around for quite some time (The story plays fast-and-loose with the time frame) in a tattered pink kimono. This same scarlet kimono is the kimono for which she has garnered the nickname the “Cherry Blossom Princess” from among the commoners.

 

cherry_blossoms

Wouldn’t be Japan without Cherry Blossoms

 

What makes the stage play so damn long are all of its subplots, the main one being about Reverend Seigen who begins the play via the prologue. He wants to jump off a cliff because has the hots for a twelve-year-old boy—and there’s no need for me to go in on how I feel about pedophilia… Anyhoo, he conveniently shows up SEVENTEEN YEARS LATER! to be the dude who’s supposed to marry Princess Sakura to some thuggish samurai(?) named Akugoro. (We know he’s bad because he’s wearing the black kimono.) Well, you guessed it, she’s ain’t a virgin no mo’, and there’s this missing scroll business; so now the Yoshida’s are on the scramble.

Other subplots involve people paid to either find someone, watch someone, dancing, and some weird ghost angle which was quite graphic—and they all just broke me mentally… I would’ve never guessed that there would be a story worse than In the Summer House but boy did I find it in this one.

 

black kimono

Beware the black kimono!

 

All of the men in this story are repulsive and gross. They just seem to get irate and vindictive because of what the women do. Everything borders on objectification and sexual assault, and left me feeling quite disturbed—especially now with what’s going on in Hollyweird.

 

Princess Sakura - Scarlet Princess

Drawing of “The Scarlet Princess”

 

This play doesn’t hold up by a long-shot… There’s not much here I can add to it, and sadly I have to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before which is give a really really low grade to a stage play. It is what it is… Next month should be more of an upswing. I’ll be going back to the early 20th century in November. Happy Halloween boys and girls and aliens.

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til November…

 

Rating: 0.5/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #3: Continued | The Life of Lady Godiva

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Drama.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #3: Continued…

So then, Theatre, the oft-neglected redheaded stepchild, you who are treated only slightly better than a destitute orphan, and cries out the most for attention of all society’s institutions, at length I’ve been away from you: the time was come at last that I should no more sit in anguish in your tiny, wretched seats; no more vague monologues, and wondering afterwards what the hell the “playwright” was trying to get across, etc. Too many have doubtless since then followed in my footsteps. However, with whatever alleviation the years have provided us, it seems we are still bound together by a subtle link derived from a common root. I, therefore, who mentioned just a month earlier, as it were, in the writings of this confessional, expressed that I would be highlighting a few of your positives rather than continuing to harp on all of your negatives.

And so, dear reader, another positive for you to consider:

(3) The “live”, actual performance. (And its variations.) It’s been said in so many ways, but here’s mine: “There’s just something cathartic and spiritually uplifting about group laughter. When an entire room of people—who are more or less strangers to one another—watching a performance get the joke, it does something to you deep down in your core.” Look, I get it. I understand completely. It’s hard getting up off the couch for just about anything these days—even the remote! But an evening at the theater is the chance to partake in an experience that can’t ever be duplicated. Literally each performance is different! You can’t help but fall prey to the spectacle when you consider that. Just imagine the sacrifice and collective group commitment it takes to put a play on—and then having to do it all over again just a few short hours later, or the very next day. It’s for that reason alone that I can’t all the way buy into the notion that “Theatre is dead.” No, sir; it is very much in the moment—one that can’t ever be recreated.

I now pass to what is this month’s main subject. And forgive me, dear reader, for such an abrupt shift which you should already be accustomed to by now in this blog series. Again, I ask that you turn your attention to September’s stage play, The Life of Lady Godiva.

 

1024px-Lady_Godiva_(John_Collier,_c._1897)

A portrait of Lady Godiva by John Collier

 

Title: The Life of Lady Godiva (1966)
Playwright: Ronald Tavel
Time Period: Late Modernism (Theatre of the Ridiculous)
Plot: A bawdy retelling of the heroic tale of Lady Godiva, an 11th century noblewoman whose famous naked horseback ride through the streets of Coventry saved the town’s residents from having to pay the oppressive taxes levied on them.

Dope Line (s):

GODIVA
With some things, the sooner they’re over, the better.

SUPERVIVA
Pity we have to resort to these deceptions. Still, at any rate, it’s a good thing hooers can’t think and don’t have feelings.

GODIVA
Skip the religious bit: —I had this convent pegged for what it is from the start.

 

medieval_romp

Even back then…

 

We need to talk. Or, rather, I have a confession to make… Whoa, a confession within a confession. That’s like, sixteen confessions… (A lame Deadpool reference; I know, I know.) No, seriously; in all honesty, I made a boo-boo. For the few of you who read this blog, you’ll see that the timing of this blog post is off by one week. I’m not all that bummed out about it; well, at first, I was—but then I realized that I was late with the first one… And rather than rushing to the press, I decided to just drop the review a week later (today!) and live with the outcome. My tardiness with this month’s blog post came up out of the fact that I got too comfortable and lost track of time. To explain: It’s been ages since I read Equus and Camille, both of which were damn good—and Romeo and Juliet (also good) aside, I’ve struggled to get through the other plays I’ve chosen to read for this series. And putting them down then going back to them didn’t help me any. So, after The Nether I decided to switch up how I do things, and consolidated the bulk of my reading and research down to a few days. And this time around I knocked out the reading in two days (over the course of back to back evenings) and then spent the following weekend digging up facts. Admittedly, it gave me lots of free time to work on other things and even jot down a substantial amount of notes. And I guess that’s partly why I was so bummed out at first about missing my (self-imposed) deadline. The Theatre of the Ridiculous—which The Life of Lady Godiva is a part of—is all but forgotten in this day and age, and it was interesting to see how big of an influence it had on other artistic mediums. For instance, glitter—which many of the TOTR’s productions used in excess—was later appropriated by the likes of Glam rock.

 

glitter 2

All that glitters…

 

And with all of the richness, style, and complexity this Theatre movement (and play) has packed into it, I didn’t take advantage of the extra time I had nor did I compile my notes for this review in any sort of serviceable fashion… There’s just too many layers to peel back on this Theatre movement to lay it down here and have it be suffice. Plus, I have other logs over the fire as far as upcoming ventures, ventures that have more of a chance at generating revenue for me—so you know how that ish goes. This could very well be lazy on my part, but I would like to throw a few recommendations on Theatre of the Ridiculous your way; that is, if you find this subject matter fascinating:

Ronald Tavel: His Life & Works [web address]

Eight Plays from Off-Off Broadway [book]

The New Underground Theatre [book]

Return to the Caffe Cino [book]

The Off, Off Broadway Book: The Plays, People, Theatre [book]

Off-Off-Broadway [wiki page]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [wiki page]

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project [web address]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [book]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

Flaming Creatures (1963), dir. Jack Smith [feature film]

 

flaming-creatures_movie-poster

Flaming Creatures movie poster

 

And this is only skimming the surface… Man, there’s so many things to consider, so much I wanted to tell you, because The Life of Lady Godiva; well, there’s not much to speak of… At best, it’s an amalgamation of things ranging from medieval fairy tales & legends, old black & white Hollywood films to Shakespearean witticism, (60’s) pop culture, Wildean plot scenarios, pomp (camp) and sexual debauchery (cross-dressing, homosexuality, bestiality, BDSM). (Throughout TOTR’s canon, you just come across re-imaginations and re-workings [see, it isn’t just Hollywood] of historical narratives and fictional works, or of the time [1960’s] murder investigations that went unsolved, adding transvestites, sex-crazed women, animals, and sex toys where needed.) Godiva cycles through Art Nouveau, Elizabethan era décor, British Edwardian era aesthetics (Gibson Girl look), Brooklyn kitsch circa early 20th century, and even peddles out a few Hispanic (Dominican) stereotypes. The music is just as anachronistic, going from Liszt to The Rockettes.

 

two_by_travel

TOTR Promo

 

Now I want to be fair to this stage play (and the TOTR movement as a whole), but then there’s my own subjectivity to consider. It goes without saying, but the script is the “bones” and the play itself is the “flesh.” But the “bones” here are quite brittle. It’s the head-scratcher of all head-scratchers that I’ve faced thus far in this blog series. The playwrights, directors, and performers involved in this movement went out of their way to be messy and scatter-brained on purpose. And it shows! On top of that: this could very well be the most self-aware movement of all time. Any number of the plays, Godiva included, could give The Rover and the rest of The Restoration a run for its money on who can dole out the most asides during a scene.

 

tavel_650

Ronald Tavel

 

Which brings me to Ronald Tavel himself; an integral part, perhaps the key component in the TOTR’s holy trinity, the other two being John Vaccaro and Charles Ludlam. No longer with us, Tavel has the proud distinction of being the only person to ever write with Andy Warhol. He and Warhol parted ways over, what else, creative differences (re: not being given his due credit), and if my notes serve me correctly, The Life of Lady Godiva is one of the first plays Tavel worked on after his separation with Warhol. (He had produced several plays prior to his time working with Warhol.) Tavel’s familiar bag of tricks (anachronistic use of language, sexual wordplay evoking homosexual imagery, repeated lines [dope writing!], Shakespeare references, pop songs, ad slogans) are all on display in Godiva, a re-imagining of the legend of Lady Godiva of Coventry, only this time around with—trigger warning!—rape and an attack on religion folded into the mix. (Why do so many creative types take potshots at Christianity?)

 

edwardian-hairstyles-gibson-girls

Classic Gibson look

 

Tavel keeps the story of the original legend mostly intact, having his characters talk it up for a bit until it’s time for Godiva to take her famous naked horseback ride through the streets of Coventry. However, included in Tavel’s version is a horse/buggy (Don’t ask!) that’s well-endowed, a transvestite nun, a bizarre dream sequence, and a Vegas-style chorus line at the play’s climax (?). It all sounds so fascinating presenting it this way, but the amount of asides and cracks at witticism (mostly of the sexual variety) make the play fall in on itself.

 

Leather_BDSM_outfit

Who are you wearing?

 

Coventry Convent is the locale of this play and a head nun who goes by the name of Mother Superviva (transvestite; man in drag) is in charge of all the madness. The story progresses when Godiva—that’s Lady Godiva—pulls up outside the convent along with her man servant Peeping Tom (yes, that Peeping Tom; originally played by Charles Ludlam) after their horse/buggy (Don’t ask!) breaks down just shy of the convent door. We learn that Leoffric, the lord of Coventry—who we will see later in the play donning full S&M garb—is stifling the townsfolk with a burdensome tax debt and Mother Superviva has asked Godiva to save them. (There’s some business about Godiva wanting to become a nun but that bit of info is tossed to the side and forgotten.) Leoffric shows up not long after Mother Superviva has spoken to Godiva about the town’s situation, and Godiva quickly confronts Leoffric on this matter. Leoffric agrees to remit the tax but only if Godiva rides through the town at high noon ass-naked—because that’s what the history books and God have destined for her to do.

 

andro_nun

Cross-dress much??

 

And that’s what’s so peculiar about the Theatre of the Ridiculous: Tavel and his ilk are okay with this level of self-awareness and senseless plot structure… The play hums one moment and then is choppy the next—on purpose!—so it doesn’t boggle the brain the way a play like In the Summer House would, but, then again, it does. And, in a weird sort of way, it’s kind of clever… The passing of time until Lady Godiva’s ride is handled with divertissements (diversions in the form of short dances) in which characters call attention to themselves and the progress (evaluation) of the production itself, and a dream sequence that takes place in Godiva’s mind, which, upon waking from, Godiva is violently raped. The rape is then quickly pushed aside to make way for a big, Vegas-style dance number ending with Godiva reviving herself somehow! and finally riding off on her horse/buggy (Don’t ask!) through Coventry, ass-naked! Again, to talk about the strangeness of this play, the actual ending, or conclusion, is given away long before the play’s final curtain which is kind of clever and funny.

 

lady-godivas-prayer-edwin-landseer

More Lady G

 

Does this play hold up? God, no! But there’s definitely some fun to be had in reading this, and there’s definitely something thought-provoking about the play’s underlying message.  As is the case with the majority of works that bitch-slap Religion, Godiva is no different in pushing for the acceptance of all forms of sex/sexualities (and genders?), and figures Religion to be the bulwark holding back the siege… I think it’s fair to say that’s been achieved, sort of? I mean, religion has just kind of stepped aside on this issue, right? Seriously, I don’t know; I’m asking… The back fourth of this play lets escape a line to the effect that, “Someday Porn will be accepted but nudity will never be understood.” Which is hella deep when you think about it, especially as it pertains to the female form. It’s crazy to think that Tavel knew back then (1966) what is essentially a reality now. Hell, the word porn is used nowadays to describe photos of food and climate disasters; yet we go ape-shit when we see a woman walking around without a bra on. Men rarely if ever show their junk in movies, but women going “topless” is somehow bold, or provocative, or taboo, or blasphemous—all at the same damn time. And possibly a necessary career move to get to the “next level.” But boobs on film never really cause outrage nor do dildos or blow-up dongs. But just let a young woman start breastfeeding her infant child in a restaurant, the looks she gets… Man, we humans are a terrible lot; so much of what we do doesn’t make sense… Sex in America will never be handled properly… So good on Tavel for being quite the soothsayer.

As for me, boys and girls and aliens, I see feudal Japan in my near, near future. That’s because here at #TINWIPA, we believe in Diversity™ and we haven’t ventured east yet. So next month’s stage play will be a hidden gem from one of the legendary masters of Kabuki Theater.

 

 

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‘Til October…

 

 

Rating: 3/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #3: Continued | The Nether

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Drama.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #3: Continued…

As someone who came from a family of mostly low-income, blue-collar (and “no-collar”) workers, started out in Music (guitar and piano) in grade school, detoured into Art (cartooning) and organized Sports (Basketball, Football, Baseball, Volleyball, Soccer) with flights of fancy into Interior Design and Graphic Design during middle school and junior high, then back into Music (songwriting) after my short-lived attempt at going to college, and finally into Film (producer/writer-director; more so screenwriting) at the start of adulthood—not only did my “career” choices steadily creep away from what mommy dearest had envisioned for her baby boy, but I too was left with a bit of a moral dilemma: does my current (and now mainstay) passion—writing; whatever the medium—make any significant contribution to the world in this day and age, or any of my past “creative” endeavors I left behind? This quandary has been the pebble underneath my heel for quite some time, and as recently as this past fall when I made the decision to go forward with this (slightly tongue-in-cheek) confessional, combining bits of my life with unscientific observations of modern day society as a way to discuss the medium of Theatre (stage plays), I had to sit in deep thought for a half day or so and reflect on why was I even bothering to write any of this—anything at all—down in the first place… Cleansing my brain of all the toxic negativity American culture is currently steeped in as well as my own self-doubting and self-deprecating ways, I regained the confidence needed to see this endeavor to the end. I’m never one to re-invent the wheel, and I’m sure, dear reader, that you may have heard many of these reasons before, but here are a few reasons on why the Theatre should matter. To you, dear reader, I would like to point out a few of the positives:

(1) The Cost. Both tangible and intangible. First-world problems about sums it up—if I were looking for the proper expression. While over a $7-dollar slice of cherry pie at a “roadside” diner, I expressed one of my many observations (grievances) about contemporary life in good ol’ Oosa (U.S.A.) to a group of my closest of friends: which is that “diner prices”, “fast-casual prices”, and “restaurant prices” are all now within $4- to $5-dollars of one another; the idea of a “cheap meal” is a thing of the past. The mere fact of eating out is expensive, certainly a lot more than enjoying meals at home. I also find that the costs for Entertainment are just as relative… Music festival tickets, professional sports tickets, Vacations (air travel plus room & board), movie tickets, comedy shows, nightclub venues (definitely for men) are within $15- to $20-dollars of one another, more in fact for the popular draws (MSG shows, Lakers tickets, Coachella, Broadway musicals, Travel to a locale during a special event, say Mardi Gras) — so there’s definitely enough griping to go around when it comes to spending what’s in your wallet. Those of us here in the “First World” with mad time to fill should definitely reconsider our stance on not attending the Theatre. If anything, most playhouses are slashing ticket prices—or giving them away for free—just to get people’s asses in those tiny chairs. Do you think Coachella or the Staples Center where the L.A. Clippers and L.A. Lakers play would ever consider doing that? As far as the intangible: much of the other areas of Entertainment have been extremely corporatized which, in essence, is predicated on maximizing profits whereas the Theatre (sans Broadway; though the medium too would like a larger bottom line) — bad material and all — seems to be more about how we (Society) are driving the culture. And you can’t put a price on that!

(2) A great if not better option to go on a Date. An excellent venue for Social-gathering. Another man is less likely to test your manhood — meaning you won’t have to “defend her honor” — while one a date at a theater versus the food court at the mall or right outside the men’s bathroom at a sports arena. (What is it with American men wanting to get into fist-fights outside the one room in a public facility that’s there so humans can relieve themselves?) I’ve hit on this before but the air in the theater is quite pretentious and in that setting, it’s rare that tempers flare—just think of the cost incurred to get into the building. No one’s trying to get kicked out! Theater patrons go out of their way not to speak or make eye contact in general, so there’s never any worry about a scuffle happening. Hopefully, the date is to see a comedy (or a musical) which allows for lots of playful hitting, knee-grabbing, and eye contact which is crucial early on in any courtship. (You can thank me later.) As far as it being an excellent choice for social gatherings, well consider the alternative: digital screens. Earlier Millennials and prior generations know what I’m talking about; face-to-face interaction is something we still pine for. It’s my own personal theory for why so many of us feel so aimless walking around nowadays—that and the economy. Hell, if the date is going well you might be so inclined as to talk to the other couples seated around you—between acts or coming back from intermission, of course. Who knows, that same conversation could potentially lead to some networking. With the average age of the theater-goer currently sitting at 54, the Baby Boomer you’re trading barbs with just might put you in the run-in for his/her position when they retire or bring you aboard so as to groom you along seeing as one so cultured as you is at the theater on a Saturday night… Sure beats firing off résumés online, or figuring out if you possess any of the skills for the “jobs” listed on Craig’s List.

Well, dear reader, that will have to suffice for now. I would like to turn our attention to August’s stage play, The Nether.

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They’re out there…

Title: The Nether (2013)
Playwright: Jennifer Haley
Time Period: Postmodernism (Transrealism)
Plot: A young detective investigates the inventor of an online virtual realm where morally questionable acts involving young children are being carried out behind the anonymity of “Shades” — human avatars that could potentially be real and what, if any, ethical ramifications this may have regarding the real world.
Dope Line(s):

[Scene 5]

MORRIS
It’s more than that, Mr. Doyle. It’s sound, smell, touch. The Hideaway is the most advanced realm there is when it comes to the art of sensation.

[Scene 13]

IRIS
People come to things on their own time. We offer a place where you may dismantle everything the world has told you about right and wrong and discover pure relationship.

[Scene14]

DOYLE
It draws people who are—broken—I know that, but—I don’t judge them—they are part of us, too—they are part of the world—God does not judge them—why should we?

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Ones & Zeroes

The Eagle has landed! I’ve been back home for a little more than a month now and both my body and sleeping pattern have adjusted back to west coast time. It’s the bank account that’s jet-lagged. But no worries, the system wasn’t built for folks like moi to keep it all. So spend it all I shall, whenever it does touch my hands… For those of you who have been with me, you might get the sense that I’m in good spirits—well, I am! One needs to be whenever one is blind-sided by life, in many more ways than one as of late. (Some things are just too personal for me to say here.) So who cares if this month’s play trivializes pedophilia, or has no clue on how real criminal investigations are run, or is ignorant as to how mental illnesses work; in real life, I’m being cleaned out by my own government for a fraud I didn’t commit with the paperwork to prove it, and my country’s president(?) is instigating World War III, at home and abroad. To hell with morals, screw decency. Pour big globs of debauchery and bad behavior all over the mob; just see if we push back—we won’t! We’re plebs for a reason! I’m a hundred percent sure now there’ll be a purge soon.

The Nether received rave reviews—spoiler alert!: this gets only a “meh” from me. And it pains me so to say that because this playwright is my contemporary—or would be if I could ever get over the hump and make an impact on Pop Culture—and a fellow Angeleno by way of San Antonio, Texas. Troubled waters lie ahead… I know readership is low for this blog, but I also know that Millennials and Gen-Xers love to “Google” themselves (sounds dirty, doesn’t it?) — so only time will tell how playwright Jennifer Haley will receive me… But for those #TINWIPA faithful—oh, how little of you there are—you know exactly where Big G (to those special two in Las Vegas, Cousin G) draws the line when it comes to taste and decency, so I must remain firm… I believe it was Roger Waters of Pink Floyd who said it best: “Leave them kids alone”. And with a few days (weeks?) left before the official start to the new school year here in the States, I wanted to see what the kids were doing. And by kids, I mean the playwrights currently making names for themselves in the Theatre world. Overall this series is geared towards old stage plays but I wanted to reserve at least one slot for a modern stage play, and The Nether has the proud honor of being on my inaugural list.

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Small on scale, big on dreams…

I couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or so pages in when I had to read the word “molestation” having had the notion be implied to me in a number of ways in earlier scenes… The majority of them featuring the play’s protagonist Detective Morris—a woman!—who works ‘em hard and fast; a sort of tough, no-nonsense and perhaps overworked public defender in an unknown city, world, and time. We are far out into the future and the Internet/internet we affectionately slave all of our time away on is now like those old Nokias of my high school days—gone! A major upgrade has been made to the web and it even has a new name, “Nether” — thus the riddle of the play’s title is solved. Yes, the world many of us fear where humans can no longer tell what is real and what is fake is alive and kickin’, and if weren’t for what this play was trying to peddle, I would have had no problem in finding this sort of world-building inventive. But, ideally, we get to see none of this brave new world only glimpses rather, because much of this play’s narrative involves overtly-dramatic interrogation scenes—the stockiest I’ve seen this side of a film festival circuit. (Interrogation scenes are common with new filmmakers looking to make their first short film. Just about any space can be turned into an interrogation room and then all you need is a few props and two committed actors to sell the drama.) And like so many before in this series, the story unfolds bit by bit, the heaviest of all the exposition being front-loaded so as to lace the back end with lots of navel-gazing and soap-boxing. However, Haley has decided to break her story line in two (which isn’t a bad idea in itself): one part is in the “present” featuring the interrogation room drama, the other in the “past” taking us inside the Nether—but still in rooms and the occasional foyer. And back and forth we go, watching as the two converge… And it’s the story that takes place in the Nether region (pun intended; forgive me) that makes me pause for concern.

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Jennifer Haley

Side note: Early on in my mind before I keyed in on what type of story this was going to be, I envisioned this play as a feature film, a fast-paced thriller where we cut back and forth between the different interrogation scenes all of which would be even more intense and amplified, and the majority of the “action” would take place in the Nether, requiring Det. Morris to jump back and forth between the virtual world and the real world while in pursuit of the truth/bad guy. Either world, Det. Morris would be running down some corridor, or turning over her shoulder and seeing ones and zeroes in everything around her, and always having a feeling that the world—either one—is on the verge of collapsing in on itself as she races towards some stock, arbitrary countdown to save a little girl from a pedophile which she would do—heroically, of course. And, as always, just in the nick of time. But then, the little girl would be lost to the Nether world forever, perhaps never being real at all, which would add some emotional weight to the story because the audience would’ve grown attached to her by then. And as the little girl turns to pixels, she would give Det. Morris a code that would show her the location of the server or the bad guy—or both. Det. Morris then would haul ass there, talk it out with the bad guy for a bit, then waste him… Again, this was all in my mind, and I was only about thirty or so pages in—and even then, I was giving this play too much credit.

Instead, as written, much of the suspense is telegraphed in advance; so people like me are far out in front of where Haley is trying to go with her story. Now I’m a fan of disjointed timelines, but it really serves no purpose here other than to drag out the story. And when stories start to drag that’s when I start to ask questions, especially when they take place in the future and technology (as well as surveillance) should be better than what’s currently on the market. I start to ponder questions like: Why doesn’t law enforcement have its own team of white hats to aid Det. Morris in finding out who the inventor is and tracking down his location? Why can’t the government just shut down the Nether (internet) seeing as there are “kids” involved and platforms allowing pedophiles to congregate could potentially become a societal issue which in the world of this play it clearly is? Egypt’s government did it (in 2011) and the U.S. has the Patriot Act (which if the President wanted to he/she could technically shutdown the Net) so some future politician/bureaucrat must surely have access to the Nether (internet) kill switch, right? Does Det. Morris have a superior officer, and if she does, why isn’t she or he monitoring her behavior? For that matter, shouldn’t Det. Morris have a partner to at least try to ensure that she doesn’t cross the line, and if she does decide to, at least there’s someone present in her life with a firm moral compass for the case she’s been tasked with trying to solve to perhaps prevent her from doing so? Why does Doyle’s lawyer—if he even has one—allow his client to keep being brought back in for interrogation? Hell, why is Doyle’s lawyer not present, considering what’s at stake (pedophilia charges)? Did Doyle even contact his lawyer before deciding to speak to and cooperate with law enforcement? Nothing was in writing, so what if Det. Morris reneges on her side of the deal? … I can go on and on and on. (No wonder Americans have no idea about how the Law works. Just look at the material they have available to them.)

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The room.

I guess one would find all of this cringe-worthy and unsettling (and possibly riveting) to see this acted out on stage: where and older man gets fresh with a little girl. Me, I would’ve walked out. Forgive me, I picked this at random from a best-of list and assumed it was going to be about dreams… Anyhoo, Det. Morris is knee-deep in a gentleman’s ass by the name of Doyle. He has been spending time in a realm known as “The Hideaway.” This realm exists in the Nether and was created by Papa, the kind of evil guy who believes he’s smarter than everyone in the room. She’s in his ass also, though spoiler: he goes by a different name, Sims. Both of these men suffer from mental illness but that never gets discussed nor does their sexuality really, considering it ranges from homosexuality to pedophilia. Papa (Sims) has created “shades”, avatars that allow users in the real world to be on his platform anonymously—and they nor he can be traced for some reason. The eerie thing is that some users take the form of little girls who then “play” in a little girl’s bedroom with another user who is usually an adult male or a male creature of some kind, and when the men have had enough “playing”, their next task is to bludgeon the girl (it’s always a girl, am I right?) to death with an ax. (Depraved, sadistic, nihilistic material; I can’t believe I read this.) There’s also a “crossing over” option available to users which means that they may possibly stay there in the Nether forever but it isn’t fully explained and dealing with all that was going on, I just had to let it go.

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Sadistic weapon of choice

Now I’ll say this much: Haley nails the sci-fi elements, though a lot what she offers up sinks under all of the navel-gazing from some her characters (Papa/Sims). One little girl, Iris, is Det. Morris’s way into finding out who the inventor is and the scenes involving Iris are some of the most inventive, and by inventive I mean disturbing… And that’s pretty much crux of this story: a man has created a “cyberplace” for other perverts and degenerates to get their rocks off online and he’s been brought in for questioning, and while in questioning he defends his right along with other pedophiles/pervs to be exactly who they are… Gross!

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Talk!!!

I guess that’s the thing with modern stage plays. The ever present “shock value” that turns a lot of people away—myself included—from the Theatre. Someone is always vomiting on themselves or someone else, or getting completely naked (always a busty white woman) for no effin’ reason, or getting mutilated, or coming up with the most heinous act imaginable just to see if they can make an audience cringe then crafting a “story” around it afterwards, not even bothering to see if the “story” itself is concrete. Then me, poor me, I come along and ask a few questions, wondering why something is, and I’m told to “Relax… It’s just art, bro!” Okay…

There’s no sense in asking whether this play holds up or not; it was only written four years ago. Rightfully so, the play does deal with a relevant topic: online virtual portals where things like child pornography can potentially be traded and discussed. (Yikes! Yuck!) From the looks of it, this play has opened all sorts of doors for Haley, and I tip my hat to her: congrats! But having read The Nether, I’m left scarred so there’s no way in the world I can see what else she has going on… Well boy and girls and aliens, I see you next month with a classic work from one of the founding fathers of the LGBT theater movement.

 

 

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‘Til September…

 

 

Rating: 2.5/5