Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #2: Conclusion | The Rover

masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #2: …Conclusion

Let me pause for a moment once again to stop my reader from drawing any erroneous conclusions about me; because I have spoken to acquaintances of mine and I have even sifted through my own thoughts quite extensively on the matter, and it must not be supposed that I am one who puts himself above others or has any enmity towards those in positions of rank nor do I take pride in taking shots at any of our institutions. But the Great Architect as my witness: something is going on out here that don’t feel right. On most days, I’m left speechless and mystified by what I see. How is it that we are unable to recognize that aspects of our everyday life are on the decline? I attest—almost on a daily basis—that I am one of the People, the only child of a single mother who did her best to see that her baby boy got off to a good start in this mad, mad world; a kind, humble black man of decent descent who tries like hell to not make harsh judgments about others; a man who loathes being the center of attention, a station that most of my fellow Muricans would find favorable because there’s less of a spotlight on my moral and intellectual qualities.

Re-comforted by this assessment, which doesn’t make me equal to or superior than the best, but places me far above the worst in our society (culture), I return now to the anecdote of my former Economics teacher, last touched upon a month ago, in order to bring it to a swift close. And the only thing left to say really is that I felt cheated; I didn’t get what I had paid for. (Well, technically, I didn’t pay any of the classes I had that semester. I fell on hard times and never actually got around to taking care of that nasty bit of business. And it isn’t something that I worry about either. That outstanding debt won’t go to collections. This I know because right now Uncle Sam has me faced against the wall with a gun pressed in the small of my back and is going through my pockets for other monies I apparently still “owe” him. But that’s beside the point and is another matter entirely. Still, I can’t help but say: Fuck you, FEMA! FUCK You!)

Our culture is crumbling transitioning. Everything feels cheap now. Flashing lights and crisp pixels, to me, just don’t cut it. The off-the-chart decibels and immersive gadgetry are committing a theft of the human soul to the highest order. There are those out there who can connect the dots better than I can so go to them for the numbers. Alls I got is the eye test and what I can feel—and it ain’t pretty. My brief stint with community college exposed all of this—or opened the gate, I should say. I merely wandered in and had a look around. What was visible was how poor the quality has become with a lot of our standing institutions, and our entertainment: plastic and unsubstantial (and dubiously encapsulating) yet offered up in a way to seem cutting-edge and the first of many fun! and exciting! interactive experiences to come. Now this doesn’t mean that the Theater is something that should be held in high regard, because it too has had its share of problems when it was Big Man on campus. It’s just me stating that it is now a relic, that it is of a bygone era, a niche experience for those with a middle-class income—and perhaps one we should fight a little harder for, though that’s high unlikely seeing as we just recently let the Circus go the way of the dinosaur. In the eyes of the masses, the Stage is viewed as something that’s still hobbling about like an old, tick-ridden Bassett Hound suffering with heart disease. We all know she’s seen her better days, poor thing. We just affectionately sneak her doggie-Furosemide into a cube of Kraft-brand cheddar, drop the “treat” into her bowl then lovingly pat her atop the head… Just let her die her own slow, miserable death on her terms; the pill is merely to ease the pain. To date, I’ve gone to the library and picked up a copy of every stage play in this series without any hassle and don’t expect that ever to change. Stage plays (and books too for that matter) sit on the shelf by the boatload. (Don’t even get me started on reading.) Only one (In the Summer House) had a check-out slip in it (dated March 2009); and only two had notes scribbled in the margins (Rome and Juliet, The Rover). And with that, I conclude my second preliminary confession. As is the fashion, I ask that we turn our attention to June’s stage play, The Rover.

 

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Lute got ’em dancin’!

 

Title: The Rover, or The Banish’d Cavaliers (1677)
Playwright: Aphra Behn
Time Period: The Restoration
Plot: Three upper-class Neapolitan women disguise themselves as gypsies for the pre-Lenten carnival in Naples in order to pursue men. Their endeavor puts them in the direct path of a group of capricious cavaliers who are on exile from England.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 2, Sc. 2, Ln. 85-89]

ANGELLICA 
How dare you take this liberty? Withdraw.
—Pray tell me, sir, are not you guilty of the same mercenary crime?
When a lady is proposed to you for a wife, you never ask
how fair, discreet, or virtuous she is, but what’s her fortune — which if
but small, you cry, “She will not do my business” and basely leave
her though, she languish for you — say, is not this as poor?

[Act 4, Sc. 2, Ln. 174-180]

WILLMORE
A virtuous mistress! Death, what a thing though hast found out for
me. Why, what the devil should I do with a virtuous woman? A
sort of ill-natured creatures, that take a pride to torment a lover.
Virtue is but an infirmity in woman, a disease that renders even
the handsome ungrateful; whilst the ill-favoured, for want of so-
licitations and address, only fancy themselves so. I have lain with
a woman of quality, who has all the while been railing at whores.

[Act 5, Sc. 1, Ln. 229-233]

 ANGELLICA
So will the devil! Tell me,
How many poor believing fools thou hast undone?
How many hearts thou hast betrayed to ruin?
Yet these are little mischiefs to the ills
Thou’st taught mine to commit: thou’st taught it love.

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Bad Boys of the 1600’s

I’ve been cooped up in my place for the past three weeks in deep, deep thought about a number of things transpiring in my life at the moment. And like any other person, I break from the weariness and introspection and go heavy on C.L.A.M. (Cinema, Literature, Art, Music). So Lee, Woo, Wright, Miller and Dizzy have been doing an excellent job in keeping my mind occupied—but then came Behn… The older I get, the more I realize that expressing my opinion on works of art—whatever the medium—that have been anointed by the Establishment as to be of a high quality (a masterpiece) but I see merely as tripe automatically places me on a list of people never to invite to a listening session, or to a dinner party, or to any social gathering where pretend smiles are worn and top-shelf alcohol is poured—any shindig where my opinion could potentially influence (upset) those standing around me. I usually tend to play things close to the vest so as not to clue people in on what I read—I have nothing to hide really; I blog under my real name and use the first letter of my first name and my full last name on all of my social media accounts. And I’m sure Uncle Sam and his Alphabet Groups could give two shits about what I read because I’ve skimmed over just about every internal CIA document that’s been made public since the Roosevelt Administration and no G-Men have knocked on my door… yet—but I really do have quite the list of C.L.A.M. Not all of it is 5-star material either. However, it is a respectable list that if prompted I could lay down next to anybody’s and they would unequivocally nod their approval. The only shock, potentially, would be from those who know me IRL and think that I’m naturally a Negative Nancy who doesn’t seem to like much of anything. Again, there are figuratively tons of things I do like. I can easily name drop forty plays I have high praise for that I’ll never make mention of on this blog or anywhere else in public. (As I’ve said in the past, we literature buffs are a weird bunch. My best-of list is for my eyes only.) I must really sound like a broken record month after month. But, no; it isn’t that… It’s the gift and the curse of consuming things at such a high volume. I easily top a 100 books a year (fiction and non-fiction; most of which start at 350 pages) and I pad that stat with a host of online articles, maybe 15 or so magazines (cooking mags as of late), about 5 screenplays, and 20 or so stage plays. And I mirror this effort as far as the rest of the acronym. So what I mean to say is that the more intake you have of something, in this case stage plays, the more your mind starts to categorize them as well as rate them against what you’ve read in the past. And past wise, Restoration comedy had been good to me. Going in, I thought The Rover, or The Banish’d Cavaliers would be more of the same.

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17th Century Jabbawockeez

My main issue with The Rover is that the “story” is needlessly complicated for reasons I’m not particularly sure why. In my notes, I remarked that I’ve spent more time writing down what is happening than I am reading what is happening—which can’t be good, right? Usually after I’ve read a play, I write down my initial reactions to it, research its origin and other relevant facts about it, then take a moment to reflect one last time on how I feel about it. Finally, I make my decision on whether it’s good or bad, on whether it holds up or not—and that’s how the sauce is made. Having thought it over, this play is more in the line with Equus in that one would fare better to see it performed. As written it’s a lot to keep up with, and forgive my jargon, The Rover is the most “play-ey” stage play of the ones I’ve gone over in this series. Five looong acts, three interconnecting story lines that involve eighteen characters and at least six or seven more that make their way on stage; sooo many monologues, sooo much verbal sparring (the bulk of which is solid actually) and Holy Mother of Venus the asides (when a character turns to audience or away from another character in the scene to give exposition or state how they feel at that moment) — I lost count of them! It’s all such a grandeur effort for how little the play has to say.

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Aphra Behn, herself

For the uninformed, Restoration comedies rely heavily on sexual innuendos, intrigue (thus the asides) and wit (thus the monologues), and are what would be considered in the Film world of today as “sex comedies.” The protagonist, often a male, is anti-marriage/monogamy, his only interests being a good ol’ NSA-romp and pleasure (food & drink) … So, we can think of Aphra Behn in today’s terms as someone like a Kate Angelo or TV’s Liz Meriwether who now centuries later can write in this style but to either gender as far as a protagonist. Conceivably, Aphra Behn may have paved the way for these women and many others—if my research serves me correctly. A close second to Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim as far as putting pen to paper and achieving acclaim, Aphra Behn—known mostly through her nom de plume Astraea—had a much higher output of works (16 produced plays) than the male playwrights of her era (Congreve while alive only had 6 of his plays performed). While other (male) playwrights didn’t need to put on plays to make money, Behn had to and because of the a few things that arose politically involving her past profession (she was a spy), she had to quit the stage altogether. Behn then ventured into a form of long prose fiction storytelling (Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave; 1688) that we would come to know today as the novel putting her out front of the likes of Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe; 1719), Samuel Richardson (Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded; 1740), and Henry Fielding (An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews; 1741) the headliners of the (epistolary prose fiction) novel. So as referenced earlier, I see why the Literati celebrates her. She definitely put together quite the résumé before passing away just shy of her forty-ninth birthday.

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Stuff that brings nightmares

Instead of being called The Rover, this play should’ve been called “The Courtesan” because that’s who this play is about, not initially perhaps… Behn goes the Tarantino route and cobbles together her story from a multitude of other sources, Thomaso, or The Wanderer (1664) by Thomas Killigrew being at the top of that stack. There are also shades of As You Like It (1599?) by William Shakespeare (women of high and low births, that is, nobles and courtesans being polar opposites) as well as several other plays from the time period about shipmen exiled from their mother countries, and Spanish comedies of time period which were needlessly complicated on purpose and included in them was the stock character of an imprisoned women who is liberated towards the end the play and ultimately decides who her lover/husband will be. Any biographer of Behn will state that she was quite defensive about people’s assertions of her being a plagiarist. I only make it a point because it seems like all others do who have gone digging into her affairs… (For those of you who have been following this series since R&J, all but one stage play revolves around the topic of Sex. Can you guess which one? It’s an eerie correlation that I’ve just now noticed on my second pass through this blog post.)

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More masks…

The Rover connects the lives of a naval captain (Don Belvile) and his cavaliers (Willmore being the standout and who the title of the play is referring to; rover also means wanderer or pirate) who have been exiled from England to Europe (Italy) to the lives of three Italian women, two of whom are sisters (Florinda, the oldest; Hellena, the youngest). This is set against the backdrop of the Italian Carnival circa 1650 (Behn places her story in this calendar year as a sort of political allegory) and the entire city of Naples is in habit (costume) and mask. And how convenient that it is. However much you buy into this notion will determine your suspension of disbelief with the play. A later (third) storyline centers on a courtesan (Angellica Bianca) — and in my humble opinion who this entire play is actually about — who foolishly falls in love with titular Rover (Willmore) and rages at him for not reciprocating. Willmore may or may not have designs on Hellena (a virgin), who’s days away from going into the nunnery for good and is desperately seeking a husband so as to avoid this fate. But it’s primarily through Belvile (an Englishman, who’s waiting for the opportune time to secretly marry Florinda) and the two Dons (Pedro, Florinda and Hellena’s domineering older brother; and Antonio, Pedro’s irascible friend who wants Florinda’s hand in marriage – all Italians) that the play twists and turns thus drawing itself out over five tedious acts.

Uh, that’s the clearest and most concise understanding of what I take to be the plot of this play. The male characters seem to have little or no motivation at all while two female characters have some (Hellena wants to avoid the nunnery; Angellica wants to marry a noble man so she doesn’t have to prostitute herself anymore). From there, every combination possible of Rover (those other than Belvile; Frederick, Blunt, Willmore) is put into a scene or situation with either Angellica, Florinda, or Hellena—even Valeria (the 3rd Italian woman; Florinda and Hellena’s cousin) gets tossed in there at the end good measure. None of the moments come across as funny and I only count one occasion where something profound was stated. When all of this becomes too predictable another courtesan is folded into the mix (Lucetta) possibly making a fourth storyline (?) in the play…

Again, I give you all of that without taking one, single look at SparkNotes or Wikipedia and still I’m beaten psychologically over even having to say that much. There’s barely enough plot to go along with the obscene amount of contrivances that put me on tilt somewhere around the middle of Act Three… Look, I get that they’re in mask and full costume (metaphors abound; I get it) but surely one character should have been able to pick up on another character’s voice and/or mannerisms—and not until the “plot” requires them to do so. The pacing is way off due to music numbers, quick scenes (some a half-page long), and several other tangents. (What was with that Lucetta storyline?) Day, yesterday, morning and night get thrown around so profusely that it’s hard to make out when each scene takes place or how much time has lapsed between Act One and Act Five. I think this story plays out over the course of three, possibly four days and occurs mostly at night (evening). Locations jump back and forth between a crowded street or someone’s chamber (bedroom; as is the case with farce). Again, having to decipher all of this ate away at what I was willing to believe and broke me mentally.

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Cormorant – Mask makers used them as inspiration

Another trigger warning because rape and attempted rape is spoken about throughout this entire play (sex comedy), weird considering a woman wrote this (though under a pen name whom many took to be a man writing anonymously). Here’s a snippet:

[BLUNT: Cruel? ’Sheartlikins*, as a galley slave, or a Spanish whore. Cruel? Yes; I will kiss and beat thee all over, kiss and see the all over; thou shalt lie with me too, not that I care for the enjoyment, but to let thee see I have ta’en deliberated malice to thee, and will be revenged on one whore for the sins of another. I will smile and deceive thee, flatter thee, and beat thee, kiss and swear and lie to thee, embrace thee and rob thee, as she did me; fawn on thee and strip thee stark naked; then hang thee out at my window by the heels, with a paper of scury verses fastened to thy breast, in praise of damnable women – come, come along.]

(*’Sheartlikins = ideally, a swear word like “Damn” or “Jesus Christ!” or “Shit!”)

I’m gonna get out of this one early and say that this play doesn’t hold up. No! (Cell phones would collapse this entire plot.) We’re moving into what is now the West’s 4th wave of Feminism and there’s better material floating around that speaks to the aim of this movement—because that’s kind of what I take away from this play. Behn uses her female characters to convey the hypocrisies between men and women in then English society, especially through Angellica. She gets all the juicy lines, she’s gets to do the majority of the soapboxing; she’s the one left hangin’ when people start pairing off at the end which is why I thought the play should’ve been named after her profession. As for the libertine lifestyle versus the traditional (marriage/monogamy) lifestyle; well, all one has to do is glance at the current marriage rates in this country and see who’s winning that battle… But make no mistake, Behn is dope but if you go through life never having read The Rover you wouldn’t be missing out on anything. It’s a bummer, because I thought this was gonna be a good one. Oh, well… Next month is my birthday month boys and girls and aliens! I’ll be in New York City for the first time ever! And next month’s stage play deals with something that’s become important to me again: Family.

 

stage-chair

‘Til July…

 

Rating: 2.5/5

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