Archive for Deep Thoughts

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

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 also 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 even when compared to 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… Cleansing my brain of all the toxic negativity American culture is currently steeped in as well as my own self-doubt and 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: that 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 works ‘em 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 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 the 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 it down the Nether (internet) seeing as there are “kids” involves 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.)

inter_room2

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, again, 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’t 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 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.

bloodyaxe1

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 and 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!

inter_room1

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, not even bothering to see if the “story” itself is concrete. Then me, poor me, I come along asking a few questions, or 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—but it does deal with a relevant topic: online virtual portals where things like child pornography is 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.

 

stage-chair

‘Til September…

 

 

Rating: 2.5/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #3 | Dame Lorraine

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by gregnett

All this talk of myself, and my railing at society but what of Theater? For that I have reserved my concluding words: it’s actually much worse than I thought—though I’ve already expressed that sentiment. But, to this hour, I don’t think my dear reader has ever heard me make mention of Theater’s finer qualities—with any extended detail, that is. And you will, though not now, as I would like for us to quickly turn our attention to July’s stage play, Dame Lorraine.

 

d1

Dame No. 1

 

Title: Dame Lorraine (1979)
Playwright: Steve Carter
Time Period: Postmodernism
Plot: An African immigrant family, mired by past transgressions, gather in the Harlem apartment of their physically disabled patriarch for the return of a family member recently set free from prison in hopes of finding closure with what got him incarcerated more than two decades ago.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1]

ANGELA
I shouldn’t have come. Why did I come here?

[Act 1]

DORCAS
I never thought to see you in this house again. I ain’t want to see you here … but I too glad you come. You have to understand … we had to stay here and my place was with him. I just a woman. You have to understand. I was doing what I thought best.

[Act 3]

PICTON
I sorry I do this thing to you. I sorry I plant all them bad flowers in you. I ain’t never want to see you cry. I beg you forgiveness. Before God, I beg you forgiveness.

 

har1

Harlem 1970s

 

Coming to you live from New York, from inside an undisclosed location in Brooklyn. But this here story takes place in Harlem circa 1979. No, seriously. I’m in NYC for this one. #TINWIPA goes on the road from time to time… I’m out here on the east coast celebrating my B-Day; this little thing I do where I pick a different city to toast to my getting old. I’m torn between Madrid or Tokyo for next summer and it just might come down to an old fashioned coin toss. But enough of that, I wanna talk Dame Lorraine, part three of Steve Carters’ Caribbean Trilogy (Eden, 1975; Mountain Dew, 1977), all of which could fall anywhere along the timeline of the twenty-six plays Carter’s alleged to have written. (This pompous S.O.B. claims to have some of his plays “hidden” in a trunk somewhere.)

Fair warning: this is the Kill Bill edition boys and girls and aliens, and I’m going to swing the Hanzō around mightily for this one. With that bit of business out of the way, I have just one question: Are black content creators being held at gun point and forced to produce material that showcases the most horrific and disturbing images (and sounds) of the Black experience in America, or are they doing this of their own free will? But then to ask that question is to immediately ask another: What is it about Black (and Brown and Asian) suffering that (white) audiences find so enamoring? These two questions always jump to the front part of my mind whenever I encounter material like this. To me, both of them are rooted in the question: Who is this film/play/book/song/installation for?

 

d2

Dame No. 2

 

In today’s world Carter clearly wouldn’t be in touch with his audience; as is the case with whites who lord over the images and representations of people of color. Film and Literature—Theater too it seems—constantly get it wrong whereas Music, Fashion (model representations aside) and Sports hit the nail on the head every damn time. When black youth is the face of sports culture (Lonzo Ball, Dak Prescott) and the backbeat to corporate commercials (Lil’ Yachty, Kendrick Lamar) and the pulse of online buzz (Black Twitter, Beyonce’s Beyhive), I start to wonder what’s taking the others so long to join in on the fun… Black people, I can surely attest, are done with the suffering narrative; they go the other way every time. People like Misty Copeland and Kevin Hart have broken new ground, and so have the Migos and Future and that last dude that was President of this country, yet the biggest movie “made” for black people this calendar year is Detroit? Yes, the ’67 Detroit riot is an important moment in (Black) American History and long overdue perhaps, but you guessed it: more Black suffering. What about the current cultural zeitgeist known as Turn Up culture? Will it ever see its day on the big screen, or on the best sellers list, or on stage (Hamilton doesn’t count). I feel like I already know the answer so why bother…

 

crumb1

More Harlem 1970s

 

For someone like Steve Carter, I get the feeling that he thought very highly of himself while in his prime. I mean, to be a part of the Negro Ensemble Company he would’ve had to… Still, I’m not ready to put him or his contemporaries—and mine also—on the same level as sadists, but I can’t seem to grasp why their need to go overboard in their indulgences of black suffering. In Carter’s case, an African family is trying to weave back the family fabric torn apart twenty-seven years ago when the oldest of eight sons initiates a gang rape scenario on his young sister only to be caught in the act by his father who he then beats within inches of his life thus making it hard for the man and his wife to survive in Harlem, New York which at the play’s point in history (1979) was figuratively falling to pieces. And rather than having them move on, Carter puts them all back under one roof where they await the brother’s return as if he were the Prodigal Son.

 

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The Harlem Globetrotters

 

Like The Rover, the plot points don’t easily connect and that’s marred even further by syntax—but that’s the gist of what happened for the family involved in this story to be where they are at the start of the play. We enter the home of Picton Moulineaux through the eyes of his daughter Angela Moulineaux and her bi-racial boyfriend Salvatore “Sal” Buongusto (half black, half Italian; bigotry abound because of this). Rightfully so, she wants nothing to do with this place but since her father is on his deathbed and the coincidental release of her oldest brother King Moulineaux from prison, Sal has put it to her that she should work some things out with her family as it will help things in the intimacy department between them. (Picton named all of his sons with titles traditional of royal court like Prince, or Earl, or Marquis). Things happen glacially, and the back and forth took some figuring out… Again, this is that irksome thing I hate about writers who have no actual story and are merely holding things off for shock value: they have characters withhold key information until the very last minute possible or avoid answering direct questions and just monologue instead; it was In The Summer House all over again. However much a mess this play is though there was an opportunity for me (and now you) to learn what a Dame Lorraine is, so there’s that. And seeing as I’ve spoiled the bulk of the play, you can read for yourself how Picton goes into great detail for what he calls a Dame Lorraine which aids in giving the play its title. I would like to talk about the actual Dame Lorraine character that still exists today…

 

apollo

Old school Harlem

 

The Caribbean’s renditions of the cakewalk as discussed in Color Struck, is the simplest way of putting it. Mockery of the ruling French elite that became a thing of its own and can still be seen today in Caribbean carnival culture, hence all the photos of portly black women. More than one character exist and the photos throughout are of the modernized version of Madam Gwo Tete. When returning to the barracks (slave quarters) the slaves would emulate what they had seen while servicing French high society’s elaborate parties and coronations, exaggerating different portions of their bodies, however, for comedic effect. For Madam Gwo Tete it was humongous breasts then later an even bigger ass, the ass originally belonging to Madam Gwo Bunda. So, should you read Dame Lorraine, you’ll have a better understanding of what Picton means when he talks about seeing a performance and his mumbling off of various words attached to the word “Madame.” Lastly, all of the Dame Lorraine characters don masks so as not to make out the “respectable citizen” behaving so lewdly behind underneath the costume.

 

image

Dame No. 3

 

I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for this play though I did hope that it would be decent. It being my B-Day month I wanted to select something from a black playwright and about an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: Family. There’s not much to glean from here other than the fact that I would never do any of the heinous acts committed in this story to my own blood… I’ve always enjoyed the dynamic of families coming together for an event, light or tragic, in one location and maybe not this story but something much milder will always be relevant, especially if it charts the fragmentation of daily family life and the overall looseness of what constitutes a family in the 21st century. Stories like that never gets old whereas Dame Lorraine, I couldn’t be happier if it’s never mentioned past this point. Well, that’ll have to suffice. I’m in New York City for the first time ever! and there’s an entire city filled with tall skyscrapers and moving about are 8 million people with 8 million stories—and I need to go finish seeing what that’s about! I’d love to tell you what’s up for next month but my laptop is Los Angeles but I’m sure it’ll be better than this play. Happy Birthday, me! Thank you, New York!

 

 

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‘Til August…

 

 

Rating: 1.5/5

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

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2017 by gregnett
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

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #2 | Equus

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 21, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #2

I do not often weep: for not only do my thoughts on matters pertaining to American culture (art) daily, hell hourly, sink to depths “too deep for tears” — but also, I believe that all minds which have contemplated such matters as intensely as I have done, must, for their own protection from utter despondency, hold some undying belief that the overall future and well-being of American culture (art) will one day be free of suffering. On these accounts, I am weary at this phase in life: and, as I have said, I do not often weep… Yet here I am, in my feelings once again, though this time much more even-keeled and moderate: and often, when I wander at this time around Hollywood, past the eateries, theaters (Pantages, Palladium) and tourist traps shops that line Hollywood Blvd. or along the much quieter Theater Row (Santa Monica Blvd.; same flair), each district lit up by bright, attention-grabbing signs, and hear the lively conversations of those I stroll by or see huddled together on the sidewalks outside of the theaters which years ago sated me, I shed a single, metaphorical “tear” and smile to myself over the other-worldliness of the scenery which so abruptly and so unsympathetically has separated me from being one with American culture (art) at the moment. How it happened, the reader should already know from my previous “incident”; however, there is still more remaining to this introductory narration…

Not long after the period of the last “incident” I recorded, I had the unfortunate opportunity of meeting a gentleman who might possibly be the worst instructor teaching at the community college level—at any grade level—and barring the fourth grade, having to sit through his “lectures” was the most excruciating time I’ve ever spent in a classroom. Several members of the faculty sang his praises and in their eyes, he could do no wrong. One would’ve expected rose petals to be flung at his feet every time he walked the halls from the way he was lauded by his peers. One female faculty member in particular left me mouth open and speechless over her adoration for him. The man had thrown a hex on her long before I arrived on campus—so there was absolutely nothing I could say to her to prove to her otherwise that this man was, excuse my French: le piece of fecal matter. On our walk to the Business Department office to make print-outs for our midterms was when I decided to voice my opinion. I had had enough—and something had to give goddammit! I respectfully told her that she shouldn’t be so quick to fall for every kind, old, black man that knows how to stack his words. I said that the black men of his generation had perfected the gift of gab and that it was like honey to the ears of the white men of his era who would much rather see black men holding out tin cups and sitting in the gutter talking to themselves in a drunken stupor or swaying back and forth in a warm summer breeze dangling from the end of a noose than upright and thriving. I also said that these same black men had used the power of spoken word for the majority of their lives and purely for selfish reasons like avoiding hardship, or getting out of a jam, or stuffing their bellies, or fleecing their own brethren. And then I said that some of these same black men had even managed to convince small, unsuspecting colleges/institutions that they were smarter than the senior classes exiting Princeton; case in point, the entire Business Department of L— College, for some reason, thinks that they struck oil when they decided to employ an elderly black man who is still working well into his eighth decade of existence, a black man who’s yet to teach his current students anything relevant to the course he had been selected to instruct—I said all of this, or something to that effect. I ended by mentioning to her that if he were so damn “smart” then why hadn’t he retired yet? I mean, David Rockefeller recently topped out at 101 but his work had real (dire) influence. He was rigging the stock market; he was re-engineering human beings; he was whispering to women that they should put down the frying pan and instead pick up the keyboard—all of this allegedly, of course. (I don’t want to get whacked!) But what was this friggin’ guy doing? Don’t flatter me by saying “Teaching us.” Seriously, a man that “smart”, I said to her, is willingly choosing to work until he’s dead…? Having said my fill and her with no response, we finished out the errand in silence.

It was only out of a matter of convenience that I had remained tight-lipped to begin with. During this period in life I was pretty much nostrils out all the time, always on the lookout for a shortcut—and I had found one with him. It was grating, but a shortcut nonetheless. I mean, he just sat in front of us and talked for two and a half hours—or however long—twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) about Venus knows what; all of it improvised and not at all relevant to what was described in his course syllabus. (Those poor trees.) The class was supposed to be about Economics. Le Douche would also like to get my heart rate up by saying that he was going to teach us how to read stocks but, you know, that would drastically cut into his monologue, so… Anyhoo, my classmates and I—on the strength of this guy’s insufferable yakking—eventually bonded together. As the semester went on, during each “lecture” we would all turn to each other in deep confusion and total disbelief, absolutely mystified by what we were seeing play out right in front of us. It was just like in Fight Club: it was on all of our minds, we just hadn’t given it a name. There wasn’t even a name we could give it—but collectively we were all thinking, “Is he really just gonna sit there and talk the whole time and not teach us?” Dude was mum only for two days: our midterms and our finals… I know, I know. How can he administer a midterm and a final exam when all he did was talk ambiguously about “stuff” and never got around to teaching us anything? Well, I’m still trying to figure that one out too myself, to be honest—and how he calculated my final grade in the class: a B.

I dally with these stories because, to me, the recollection of them is interesting—not to mention the whole marketing angle which I’ve discussed in the past. So, as was the case with Preliminary Confession #1, the reader will have to once again practice patience, for I am in no rush to hasten to a close on what is my second preliminary question. And, like always, I ask that we turn our attention to this month’s stage play, Equus.

white horses running

Power & Grace

 

Title: Equus (1973)
Playwright: Peter Shaffer
Time Period: Early Postmodernism Period
Plot: A dispirited child psychiatrist attempts to treat an emotionally-troubled teenage boy who has committed a horrific act of animal cruelty.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1.3]

DYSART
What did I expect of him? Very little, I promise you. One more dented little face. One more adolescent freak. The usual unusual. One great thing about being in the adjustment business: you’re never short of customers.

[Act 1.7]

FRANK
Yes, well that’s him. He’s always been a weird lad, I have to be honest. Can you imagine spending your weekends like that—just cleaning out stalls—with all the things that he could have been doing in the way of Further Education?

[Act 1.14]

ALAN
And he said ‘Behold—I give you Equus, my only begotten son!’

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Hours of fun as a toddler…

Who knew the play involving animal cruelty would be so complex? Quite the shocking turn of events in this here series. I could say the same about my life right now, but that’s another story—and one I don’t want to get into… You know, it’s never a good feeling having to subject yourself to material that you’re strongly against. It rarely turns out positive, and, if anything, the whole experience just leaves you woozy. All the ordeal can ever do really is further cement your beliefs—that’s what pretty much ends up happening… I can be honest: I didn’t give this play much of a leg to stand on. I didn’t know if I would be in a strong enough place mentally to deal with the kind of imagery a story like this one evokes. Personally, I’m of the belief that there’s a special rung (circle?) in Hell reserved solely for those who are unkind to animals. I’m not quite full-on PETA about it—but, for Christ’s sake leave the damn animals alone!

Still, I was curious—and what good would this theater-review series be if it didn’t have a healthy mix of material? Considering my narrative hang-ups, I had to put them to the side for the interim in order to carry out this endeavor. Now that doesn’t mean that my nerves weren’t bad or that my stomach wasn’t in knots over having to read Equus (Latin for horse; Equus ferus caballus is the actual subspecies). Peter Shaffer did bless the world with Amadeus, I figured, so at least I knew that I’d be in the hands of a solid playwright.

And Shaffer did have quite the stunning writing career. Success in London, success in New York, success in Hollywood—the creative-type trifecta! Equus, in its heyday, left audiences speechless. Monumental when you consider it had over 1,000 performances… A little more trivia here: Anthony Hopkins was an original cast member in the New York production (1974). Oh, and the masks worn in The Lion King Musical were inspired by the masks used in Equus. Not bad, not bad… And near the end of Shaffer’s life (He died in 2016.) he gave the rights to Equus to prominent theater producer David Pugh who then went on to cast Daniel Radcliffe in one of the lead roles for the play’s revival (2007). At the time, it was still peak Potter and having Radcliffe in the play—in the buff!—was a no go for Warner Bros.’ execs, so he eventually had to drop out. (No lazy wand jokes here.)

half man half horse

The beast within…

Shaffer received the story by chance during a car ride through the English country side. A friend of his mentioned to him in passing that a teenage boy in the area had done something horrendous to a group of twenty-six horses at a local stable. Losing contact with the friend and not bothering to seek out the actual news story, Shaffer used the sparse details to recreate his own narrative, dropping the number of horses down to six and also exploring the realms of passion, (human/animal) sexuality, religion and sanity rather than the heinous act itself. Further backbone and heft were added through the old world Greek Stage tradition. He incorporated masks, miming, fourth wall-breaking and dance as well as a “faux” Chorus: the actors remain on stage the entire time, watching the story unfold along with the audience but also ready to jump in at a moment’s notice. Again, not bad. Not bad at all… As for the story, well…

equus poster

Chilling. Grisly. Disturbing.

The year is 1973(?) and at curtain we are to envision that we are in the office of Martin Dysart, a middle-age, overworked child psychiatrist at the Rokeby Psychiatric Hospital in South England. (This primarily is the location of the story though, technically, there are others. The stage design is sparse with only a single, main light shining down to the center of it that’s in the shape of a square.) Cigarette lit, he speaks to us (the real audience) and as small group gathered before him about a teenage boy he has been treating for the past month. He pauses mid-monologue, getting ahead of himself, and decides to go back to the very beginning, back to when he first became aware of the boy’s existence… Now this is one of the most highly controversial ways to start off a story—via flashback and with (voice-over) narration… In Hollywood, that is. (Remember, I have a script-reading background.) Flashbacks at the start of a screenplay are a huge red flag. It’s the tell-tale sign of a novice screenwriter. The next sign of a novice screenwriter is the use of voice-over narration—and speaking to the audience (“breaking the fourth wall”) does virtually the same function, when switching from the medium of Film over to Stage. In Film, seeing these two coupled together at the start of a screenplay would make a veteran script-reader cross his or her legs and let out a deep sigh of disgust. I actually started off my first (and only) short film [#shameless plug] in this fashion but will most likely avoid starting off a story this way again—and, of course, the subject matter… (That’s another long story and is strictly personal, and not a shot at anybody else.) Me, myself—I don’t get script-reader’s beef with flashbacks (or flashforwards or dream sequences for that matter) but I can kind of understand their frustration with voice-over narration, kind of… What seems like a simple story device can actually be quite cumbersome to work with once you get going. There are figuratively millions of books out there on how to use voice-over narration “properly” so by all means seek out the one you like. But here’s my take on voice-over narration having read over two-hundred screenplays that use it, hundreds of stage plays that break the fourth wall, and a plethora of novels written in first-person past tense:

(1) If the main character narrates the story, whether starting at the very beginning or at the “perceived beginning” (a flashback to a pivotal incident), we as the audience are robbed of any actual stakes (and possible tension). Basically, the main character survived. So to show us a scene—or several scenes—of near-death moments feels like a “cheat.” (To see a movie/play where the main character dies nowadays would take an act of Congress.)

(2) Who is the main character telling her story to? Because we (the real audience) don’t technically “exist.” Many new (screen-) writers fail to comprehend this notion. And not too many of them are ever that clever enough to make their main character cuckoo (i.e., the main character is talking to herself). And because of their failure to understand this story element, you can often tell that the jokes and dramatic beats were written for us and not the person the main character should be telling her story to, whoever that may be.

(3) Exposition. Basically, your main character will end up saying “stuff” (information that we need to know for story purposes) to people who should already be in the know. For instance, the main character will narrate for a bit then drop out to let a scene play out regularly. And in this scene you will get a line like: “So, am I going to see you tonight for dinner at eight?” Sure, the main character could be just saying this to confirm. But shouldn’t the other character in the scene know this info already and maybe want to discuss something else?

(4) This last one really curls the blood of many script-readers. If you have one character who narrates, who is often the main character of the story then we (the real audience as well as the person[s] being told the story; see #2) can only “see” the story from the main character’s point-of-view. So the moment you switch point-of-views it becomes a “cheat.” Ideally, voice-over narration is a way for the audience (and the person[s] listening to the narrator) to get inside of a (main) character’s head and see life through that character’s eyes—and no one else’s. This element gets botched the most. Midway through a script with voice-over narration, out of nowhere the main character has knowledge of things she couldn’t have known because she was either never there or hadn’t yet arrived at the location where those specific details would eventually come up. It’s a matter of sequencing. Some writers try to gloss over this by saying that because the main character/narrator is recollecting all that happened, the details of things she couldn’t possibly know of but somehow knows of them much earlier in the narrative are okay to state at an earlier time because she’s merely piecing a story together, albeit unreliably (first person mechanics automatically make this a reality), and she’s going to eventually find out that information anyway and a simple line of dialogue to clear up the matter when she does eventually find out the information in the correct scene is a simple-enough fix. It’s like a reverse lampshade, or something. But in my book, it’s still a “cheat.”

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The Dark One

Shaffer works all four of these with ease, tripping up a bit on #3—but that’s just me being hella nit-picky. However, the rest of the story hums… And of the five stage plays I’ve reviewed so far, Equus has the most complete story line: you have a world-weary doctor who is over it and doing the cliché one last job. Here it’s up to him to determine the fate of a teen who has done something monstrous to a team of stable horses, and he’s got roughly one month to make his final decision. The teenager in question is seventeen-year-old Alan Strang, who is a bit of a sicko in my opinion. I’m quite disturbed by what he did to those horses. I shiver thinking about how many more Alan Strangs there are out there today hidden in society doing this type of sick, twisted ish behind closed doors and away from cameras…

I would like to take this time to apologize in advance for what is going to be the vagueness of my review. Like Camille (could’ve done a tie-in but opted not to) — I think this is one you should read… But I also must issue a Trigger Warning along with that recommendation. There are two sequences—this being more a performance piece, and the showiest of the plays I’ve discussed—that are definitely worth your while. One is at the “midpoint” and the other is at what I take to be the play’s climax. These sequences make the play what it is and Shaffer’s descriptions in these moments (throughout as well) have sucked all the life force out of me. (I don’t know if I could’ve handled seeing this play acted out IRL.)

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Giddy up!

Shaffer piles a lot on to his plate here in trying to get to the root of what would make Alan do what he did. I don’t buy any of it, and I don’t feel bad about making that known. The theme here—again, under the umbrellas of passion, sex, religion and sanity—is the seemingly senseless violence of our time. Yeah, I agree but with Alan it comes down to curiosity—that and he could get away with it because the creatures he lashed out on are virtually defenseless.

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Entertainment? Where’s the heck is PETA?

Having read Equus, I can’t help but look at this play differently now. I’m going to go against the grain here and take a Feminist angle, because I find it warranted this time around. Plot and narrative-mechanics wise, this play is another two-hander (forty-year-old man, seventeen-year-old boy) and the typical back-and-forth/will-they, won’t-they business is all solid. But there are some peculiar—and by peculiar, I mean off-putting—jabs at women kneaded not so subtlety into the dough… Both Dysart and Alan blame women for their sexual inadequacies; Dysart admits to a female colleague—on the job!—that he is impotent; Dysart’s boss (Hesther) allows him to go far beyond the doctor/patient relationship thus making her a pushover; Alan’s dad (Frank) blames his wife (Dora; Alan’s mother) for Alan’s behavior (effeminacy); it’s also suggested—strongly suggested—that a young woman’s (Jill) sexual advances are what may have caused Alan to go postal; Alan, himself, is even antagonistic towards a nurse and strikes his own mother… Look, facts are facts—coded or exposed. And Shaffer, not any of the characters in this here story, may have had some resentment (and possible outright hatred) towards women. Not to speak ill of the dead but it’s worth mentioning that Shaffer was homosexual, so… (That makes two gay writers for those keeping track of diversity.)

Well, it should be obvious that this story holds up… I mean, just look at what we’re doing to Mother Nature. Hell, look at what we’re doing to our own species… Sorry, I can’t be more inventive and extensive. Stories like this make me extremely depressive and question my existence… I get to wondering if our society is even equipped to handle grisly events like the one featured in Equus… This play was written and performed in the 1970’s, and like a cheating voice-over narration, I have working knowledge of the future so I know that we don’t per se… And I guess that’s what makes me so sad. Right now, some nut-job is getting ready to mistreat/torture an animal for no other reason than that he/she can. It’s absolutely infuriating that I or any animal-protecting agency can’t do anything to stop it from happening… It looks like this has shaped up to be another Color Struck moment where fun slips out the back door. *deep sigh* Tough material to trek through this month boys and girls and aliens… But make no mistake, Shaffer’s a genius playwright and the writing in Equus is phenomenal… It’s just the subject matter; I’m not a fan of this kind of stuff (anymore)… I’ll close by saying… Shit, I don’t even know how to close… And here it is National Pet Month and I just had to have this play slotted, oh boy… I’ll see you guys next month with something a little more upbeat… I should be all right by then… Next month’s stage play is from one of my favorite time periods: The Restoration.

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‘Til June…

 

 

Rating: 3/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #1: Conclusion| The Lady of the Camellias

Posted in Theater Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2017 by gregnett
masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

 

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #1: …Conclusion

So blended and intertwined in my life are occasions of laughter and of tears, that I can’t recall without shaking my head and smiling, an “incident” that occurred back in the early fall of 2010, a bit of an icky little situation that ultimately deaded my live-theater attendance. I was working in a restaurant downtown at the time, and I was just coming out of a funk over — what else — my film “career”, and wasn’t quite clicking on all cylinders just yet; but was in a good place mentally where, if needed, I could be sociable; where I could be in a room with other people all pursuing the same thing I was pursuing and not be at all bothered by any of the conversations or be so in my head that I’m just sort of halfway listening to someone lie “fudge” the truth about all of the “wonderful” and “exciting” things that were happening for them in their career; the usual shop talk aside from droning on about what one had to “endure” while at their Day Job waiting tables, stocking groceries, or brewing corporate coffee. (Uber wasn’t in yet.)

I forget who exactly had invited me to this party I went to. But I feel the strong need to attribute my being there to someone so I’m just going to randomly pick my old friend Greg (same names) and say that it was him, even though I’m fairly certain it wasn’t, and I eventually ended up riding there with Thomas and Edwin anyway. This party was in Silver Lake. Again, this is 2010 and I didn’t really have a good feel for what L.A. was—not like I have now; and I wasn’t all that excited about being at a party in that particular neighborhood. Silver Lake, in my humble opinion, can be a loathsome part of town, especially when you’re down on your luck and hard-up for cash—like I was. Back then, I pretty much hated L.A. across the board but in my assessment of Silver Lake, having ventured there a handful of times prior to that evening; I could see why East Coast Americans had mockingly come to call Los Angeles, La La Land. Silver Lake’s stretch of Sunset Boulevard on any given day, to me, feels like a scene right out of the movie They Live—but in reverse. By that I mean, your eyes are visibly exposed and everyone else’s are shielded behind a pair of blacked-out Ray-Bans® and you’re the one being stared at because you’re not wearing flip-flops, or dirty Converse® sneakers, or ripped denim, or Hippie beads, or a baggy V(ee)-neck tee, or a fedora, or vintage clothing; there’s no “ink” on your sleeves (forearms) — you get my drift. 2010 was like peak Hipster time (How are these people even allowed to get away with calling themselves individuals?) out here in L.A. — and none of it ironic. But me, silly me, I’m a glutton for punishment, and I hadn’t been out of the house in a while and would’ve happily agreed to rob a bank if that instead had been offered to me. Plus, I wanted to hang out with Thomas; no homo—I just wanted to do bro-shit!

It had been my intention originally to just bunker down at the edge of a sofa or grab a chair and pull it up against a wall out of the way and camp out there, maybe then make a few trips to the snack table, let Thomas do his thing, and as the party progressed, have Thomas find me, pour ourselves a cup and raise one. But after wandering around by myself for some time, in awe that a man still in his early 20s had come up on a nice chunk of change (by way of paychecks from some network sitcom that was popular with white suburban tweens) and purchased himself fly-as-f—k man cave at the very top of the Silver Lake hills (I don’t know the name; Mount something, I think), I veered into the “first-floor kitchen” for an iced adult beverage, not because I necessarily wanted one but because I wanted something to do with my hands. And in itself, 2010 was interesting moment in time. This is before YouTube started playing commercials before every freakin’ video clip, and way before smartphones became the pervasive little pests that they are; yes, people actually talked to one another in group settings not talked to one another while glued to their cell phone screens in group settings. And since everyone’s necks weren’t at a downward angle, one could enter a room and be greeted, or make eye contact with the host and others—and perhaps even nab a warm smile from one of the ladies, or fellas. Most importantly that “special stuff” wafted all through the air (vibe), hanging there to let you know if the party you found yourself at was going to be chill or nah

Most of the desserts and junk food had been depleted and the drinks as well… I don’t know if I’m the only one who notices this, but there is this strange phenomenon at house parties where the brown liquor disappears first. After that, the tequila and beer drop off; then the wines—red and white. Pulling up the rear is vodka and gin. Poor gin. Nobody’s friend. Hardly anyone touched you back in 2010. We’ve all seen it: that jumbo bottle of Seagram’s that’s trotted out each and every party and/or get-together and forced to live out its lonely existence at the back third of the drink table, isolated from all of the other cooler, sexier alcohols; and no matter how “wild” the party gets, it never gets opened—not even on a dare… Is it just me? Am I the only one who notices this? Well, it gave me something to grin about, in between bites of salvaged scraps of mushy birthday cake and lukewarm frosting (I was at a get-together and not a B-Day) that I recklessly shoveled into my mouth. (So uncouth; I know.)

It was as if everyone at the party—or at least in my vicinity—just stood waiting and looking around, anxious for some sort of event to take place. It was well after midnight and most of the conversations were starting to fatigue, and from a quick scan of the faces still present there was but one hedonist amongst the lot of us (me!) so putting forth the idea of a group orgy was definitely out of the question. And for some time standing there nibbling, nibbling and mixing some Tropicana®-whatever juice and gin (I caved.) concoction, there had been an animate object in the shape of a human being steadily creeping towards me from the left—the Devil’s side—with slow and determined steps (knee-high leather bootz) and being accompanied by the obnoxious sound of child-like snickering.

“You have cake on your face… Oh, my God! It’s all over your chin.” And then an encore of more child-like snickering.

I’ll tell you no lies: I become completely unhinged in moments like this. I’m still shell-shocked over some ish that happened to me back in tha hood and would prefer it if people would engage me head on… But that’ll never happen so…

I communicated my embarrassment, internally. I tend to be that way around beautiful (Latin) women. My next thought was that all was lost; and that my only chance for executing a retreat was to sacrifice my adult beverage. However, on reflection, I was quite determined to make the most of my trip to the “first-floor kitchen.” The young senorita was in the utmost alarm, both on her account and mine: but, in spite of this, so peculiarly had the viewing of my face, in this wacky episode, taken hold of her bodily functions, forcing out of her that long, loud, and lovable language of laughter (Alliteration boys and girls and aliens.) that momentarily severed several of the conversations happening one room over in “the den” (open-kitchen floor plan), and in the process, unburdened me with having to issue a harsh sentence for violating my personal space.

She was an actress — What girl there wasn’t? — and I, a writer; a pre-Tinder, face-to-face match made in creative-type Heaven. Fast forward one half-hour later and I’m still saying all of the right words, and I’m doing a so-so job of eating my junk food, and our responses to each other’s questions seem real—and the moment isn’t like something out of a Romantic Comedy. Our time together—plus or minus some bizarre cock-blocking from my own homeboy Greg—was truly genuine… You know, it’s chance encounters like these that makes one say, “I went to this really cool party last night.” Hell, if I know. I only spoke to one person (her) and had ghosted on the host earlier in the night soon as he started boasting about his accomplishments and gave myself a tour of his place. (Who does that? Just exactly what kind of asshole am I?)

Anyhoo, MaribelMaritza… uh, let’s see, MaMa— something. This is by no means to protect the innocent; I simply can’t remember her name—but I’ll never forget that face though. Three days later M— got me into her theater show free of charge, some small-box theater joint in DTLA that receives funding from the city to help foster Latino thespians. I was with it—and all that it entails. With interracial relationships, I’ve learned over time to just relax and take it easy. They know that I’m black (“African-American”) — it’s written all over my skin for Christ’s sake…

I thought the entire production was self-indulgent, and it seemed to be all about this one dude; this chubby, Latino do-every-job-in-the-theater type. You have to watch out for scumbags like him, especially in small, crumby theaters as was the case with the one I was at. His type tend to hire gullible young actresses who’ll do just about anything for a role, only to seduce them then discard them at the end of a production. Their only other hires are gay dudes, fearing competition from other heterosexual men. His house, his rules; I guess. Yeah, his type are all about sleeping with the main actress; that’s their reason for turning over in the morning. And M— was the main actress, so the first “date” or first “interaction” rather, involved a bit of recon work on my part because I could plainly see how “familiar” he was with M— at certain moments in the “play” and based on the cast (him, her, two other girls, and several gay male supports), as mentioned above—I knew his type and was extra motivated in wanting to eff up his world. But, I didn’t want to get too turnt up on the first night and decided to just sit back and play it cool.

And played, I was. After the show, I get up out of that small-ass theater seat and start making my way over to M— to congratulate her and out of the corner of my eye I see another black guy starting over to her, and, of course, the Latino Everyman following behind her like a whipped poodle, shadowing the poor girl’s every move. And now I’m thinking to myself, “What is this?” Because, I’m nobody’s fool. I’m nobody’s pawn; perhaps a rook from time to time. And I don’t fight over scraps of meat either—well, not this particular scrap of meat. This should’ve been in the bag, the way I saw it. Something’s not adding up. And how the f—k did I not see this coming? And now more questions start to sprout up… Why the free ticket? And why the lengthy late-night text messaging convos? And why all the initial interest and exchange of phone numbers? I’m not even a week into knowing this girl and I don’t even know if I feel like investigating any of this ish; and so: I just let it go… Some things just ain’t worth it.

And whether I wanted to know or not, all of my questions were answered two days later when I— (protecting the innocent here), my drop-dead gorgeous Asian co-worker and “friend” walked up behind me and tapped my shoulder while I was standing at the computer terminal. “Hi, Greg.” I breathed evenly for a moment, and then I turned poised but a little pissed. “I guess you already heard what happened?”

“I haven’t heard anything. What are you talking about, I—?”

“Well, I saw you talking to M— at the party…”

“You were there?”

“Yeah, the guy I’m seeing was the guy M— was seeing…”

He was there?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d he look like?”

“Well… He was tall, about your height. Black.”

Tall and black… Oh, yeah. That’s right, you do like black guys.” I— was one of the few Asian women in Los Angeles who was willing to admit that publicly: that she was into black men. And that’s when it hit me: I—’s dude and I had crossed paths that night at the theater. He was also the same black dude I vaguely remember seeing at the party (in Silver Lake), Thomas and I being the only other brothers that were there. Interesting. I clocked him looking at me when I was talking to M— in the kitchen, and he didn’t seem to be at all bothered by it. Well, I’ll be goddamned. I guess dude was doing a little recon work on me. “So what’s up, I—?”

“I did something bad.”

“Tell me.”

“Well, that bitch…” — It’s always “that bitch,” am I right fellas? — “…is upset because J— likes me and not her. She’s a slut anyway because you, J—, and H— (Latino Everyman) all f—ked her, and now that bitch has nobody! I had to put that bitch in her place the other night. She kept calling J—’s phone while I was with him…”

Let’s get one thing straight: I hate Drama. Especially the drama of messy little girls, because none of the females involved in this here anecdote had acted like women.

I had to cut I— off mid-sentence: “Wait, wait. Hold up… I never f—ked, M—.”

“You what…? But I thought…”

“Nope. You seem to have gotten hold of some bad information. Or came to that conclusion all on your own.”

Wait for it. Apologies tend to take a long time.

“Oh, Greg. I am so sorry. My bad, I…”

“It’s all good, I—. I’m going to be honest with you: you just threw me in the crossfire by being messy. It sucks, but it’s whatever. I actually did kind of like her though. I went to go see her a few nights ago. She had asked me to come see her stupid-ass play” — I felt that way on the strength of the Latino Everyman not her — “and she wouldn’t even talk to me afterwards or reply to any of my texts. And now I know why,” I said; smiling—and proud of myself that I had remained calm the entire time. “But, like I said, it’s all good. I hope things work out for the best between you and J—.”

THE END. FOR NOW —

Creative-types and Sex and Friendship and Art and Life and Loyalty and Integrity and Hard Work—quite an interesting emulsion these things are here in Los Angeles… And where I was around that time (2010), I just wanted to put each back into its individual bottle and keep them separate; that in itself no easy task. But it’s all for the best now, I hope. As far as the theater (Art) I merely extracted what I wanted from it the most which was the material

And that’s how a nice and easy-going fellow, that would be me—who has no theater background at all—got it in his mind to want to write criticism on stage plays. The above “incident”, though a bit melodramatic, was the culmination of more than my fair share of similar theater run-ins (Drama). Episode after episode after episode of ones like the above, or much milder versions, had taken a toll on me. And it didn’t help the other side either (audience member) seeing as I actually knew how the sausage was really made—and, of course, theater’s notoriously steep ticket prices which I sure as hell couldn’t afford… I’m clueless as to how the theater is now; I’m still about two years out from setting foot back into one. But back then I was really open to the idea of having a real theater experience—but, man, all of the bullshit. Some were power-hungry. Most approached it as a stepladder to the movie business. Many were just horny. All—or what felt like all—seemed indifferent about the material and only a tiny, tiny few had any extensive knowledge of the medium. Tradition meant something to them. So, in effect, this theater review series is a way for me to make up for lost time—and diggin’ in the crates for old material is as good of a place to start! I’d be ecstatic if any of the plays in this series are revived for modern audiences… Okay, that’s enough of me being in my feelings. Let’s turn our attention to April’s stage play, La Dame aux Camélias.

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The Auteuil – 19th century French Elite Hangout

 

Title: La Dame aux Camélias [The Lady of the Camellias] (1848)

Playwright: Alexandre Dumas fils

Time Period: Late Romantic Period

Plot: A Parisian courtesan, in spite of her many admirers, falls hopelessly in love with a young bourgeoisie man.

Dope Line(s):

[Act I]

MARGUERITE
Go away at once, if what you say is true. Or else, love me as a friend, and in no other way. Come and talk to me sometimes, but have no illusions about me, for I’m not worth much. You are too young and have too much feeling to live in this world of ours. Love some other woman and marry. I’m trying to be honest with you.

[Act II]

MARGUERITE
Good-bye, you foolish boy. Does he love me, I wonder? Am I even sure that I love him, I who have never loved?

[Act IV]

ARMAND
Then I will tell you. You gave yourself to him because you don’t understand the meaning of loyalty and honour; because your love belongs to the highest bidder and your heart is a thing that can be bought and sold; because when you found yourself face to face with the sacrifice that you were going to make for me, your courage failed you, and you went back to the past; because I, who have devoted my life to you and my honour, too, meant less to you than your horses and carriages and the jewels around your neck.

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Book Art

There’s a quote floating around out there in the ether with Mae West’s name attached to it that I’m sure to butcher here. It goes a little something like this: “Men love women with a history, because they’re hoping that her past will repeat itself.” Not bad, huh? Not good either—morally and socially speaking, that is; opting to give away the milk for free, or at a relatively affordable price. Oh, the Horror… and the humanity… There are some out there who believe that if we (America) were to lift up the bar on Sex (Legalize it!) that these here walls are sure to crumble. That’s a weighty “proposition” to consider: on whether or not to commodify sex. A quick, wet finger to the wind tells me that a decision is looming; and just as quickly I bury my head in the sand. I can’t bear the thought on how good ol’ Oosa (U.S.A.) is going to tackle the world’s oldest profession. But considering what’s going on in DC, ATL and in the Bay Area with the Missing Black Girls—it an absolute fact at this point that many of them have been funneled into the sex trade—as well as the usual turning of tricks in every dirty, cheap motel along every dirty, cheap highway in this here republic, one can see that the situation has become critical.

The “cat” (Brace yourself.) is really out of the bag now here in the 21st century; it’s even gone digital (Backpage). Yes, we are a long ways away from The Pill and the Sexual Revolution and the Swingin’ Seventies and whatever the nicknames for the eighties and nineties were… What a mess! The moral fabric of our country is hanging in the balance… What do we tell the girls? And the little boys? Or the Christians? And the alien debunkers? And we can’t forget the pimps & hoes? A magnificent quandary to ponder. And here I am being crass about it. I’m sorry; it’s an unforgivable character flaw. I’m like that in moments like this when there’s way too much gray area—and no visible solution.

Stick. To. The. Blog. Post. G!

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White Camellia equals Hanky-Panky

 

Oh, but I just can’t help myself—not after reading material like this. La Dame aux Camélias [English translation; The Lady of the Camellias], or Camille, written by Alexandre Dumas fils (at 23!) first as a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name—then hastily was put together to be performed on stage a year later—does the impossible and makes me empathize with a hoe, er, I mean a courtesan. Further, a femme galette, which is like the Ferrari® of hoes; because not only do they dole out sex, they’re also highly educated and are as just as refined as the crème de la crème of the then Parisian high-society (mid-1800’s). Only difference is that they come with a heftier price tag to garner their “services.” And all this means is that these femme galettes really knew how to please a man. Thus, the earlier quote from Mae West… Because if there’s anybody who’s in trouble should the original-pimp-of-the-land (Uncle Sam) push the RED BUTTON and legalize nookie, it’s regular women. Yeah, these galz might play nice with the hoes now, retweeting memes and quotes, or mobbing up at Slut Walks for whatever it is that they do there, and hoisting up high to the sky their personalized, homemade posters about “sex workers” needing “rights”, but quietly these broads are shaking in their bootz. Back-alley logic, perhaps; but I’ll be alright

A recent article came up out of the muck a short while back legitimizing what men like me already knew but was revealing to those who were oblivious somehow to the fact that we Americans ain’t gettin’ busy no mo’. Sex—other than hoes & johns—is on the decline. It’s not as bad as Japan but it’s been trending downward for some time. There are a lot of factors that may have led to this atrocity of cold, sexless bedrooms and no nooners on the washing machine during lunch break; here are a few: contemporary dating mores, longer work hours/careerism, pornography, Feminism, video games, smartphones. Yet, if you cruise past any random Insta-thot’s profile page and peek at said thot’s follower amounts, you’ll see that the thirst is real. American men want it; but American women ain’t giving it. So, is there any wonder why the Porn business eclipsed $10 billion dollars in profit in 2015 which can be easily backed up by the smut-filled search histories on you galz’ guy-friend’s & husband’s laptops, or that the underground sex trade is now hovering close to $15 billion annually? And there’s clamoring now to bring this illicit business above ground? Pussy would put Disney® out of business… Fifteen billion dollars is Nike® on a bad year, and you can’t walk past that many people without seeing their brand on someone’s feet… So that’s what we would be unleashing onto the general public—if one were discussing things morally, that is. But it isn’t like sex isn’t everywhere nowadays anyway. I mean, have you seen what they do with breadsticks in fast-food pizza commercials?

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Dumas Himself

 

And yet I keep coming back to the numbers… Who? Who’s buying it? Add the two numbers above together and that’s twenty-five billion dollars. Who? Who out there is it? Most American men deny in public that they don’t watch porn or pay for crotch but the numbers don’t support their claim. So, who? Now I sound like a goddamn owl. Who goddammit? Is it you reading this? Are you the who?

Moving on.

Prostitution is Big Business—and has always been and *sigh* might always be. And where Big Business is—Uncle Sam wants to be there also… But I’ll back off for now seeing as Le France has our attention à la Camille. And as palate cleanser, here are some useless interesting facts about camellias to rinse away all of the sex talk.

It is said that the camellia flower speaks to the heart and expresses positive feelings. Colors range from white, yellow, pink, red and purple. In the Koreas camellias symbolize faithfulness and longevity. Some contemporary meanings of the camellia are of desire and passion, and refinement. In Western civilization, white camellias were used in the past by mothers at funerals when mourning over the early loss of a child. Oh, and here at home, in the still-behind state of Alabama, the (pink) camellia is the state flower and represents “southern beauty.” Its place of origin is Japan where it was cultivated for thousands of years, and did not make its way to Europe until the mid-1700’s. A timely saying is: “Nothing says spring quite like camellias in bloom.”

And it is spring; it began last month. But there was some overlap with Women’s History Month, so why not celebrate spring now! Love is in the air, folded in with all of the toxins and smog, and I couldn’t think of a better stage play to add to my inaugural theater review series for the month of April. Camille is considered by some to be one of the greatest love stories ever told. An online search will bring up a plethora of movie adaptations, theater revivals and musicals—but I still wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I’m going to be brutally honest here and totally contradict a lot of what I said last month as far as storytelling goes. It’s also interesting to note that I’ve recognized a few parallels in the four plays (to be discussed at a later time) — three of which do some peculiar things with the locations and characterizations. Romeo and Juliet is the only outlier in that it “feels bigger” than what it actually is whereas the others stage plays are confined to one, or a few locations. And, so…

Image result for Marie Duplessis

Marie Duplessis – Real life Camille

 

As if in French farce, though we are in France, Camille’s opening scene takes place in the drawing room of a beautiful Parisian home circa 1848. A gentleman by the name of de Varville is sitting impatiently and having a small discourse with a close friend, Nichette. It’s rather harmless banter about her and her fiancé Gustave (who won’t appear until later in the play) and why he hasn’t married her yet seeing as the two have been seen together in public—holding hands of all things abominable. They’re both waiting for the titular character to arrive back at her home and in she comes, The Lady of the Camellias, Marguerite, a title she received for her choice of camellia she wore on her person while a courtesan: red for when she is menstruating, white for “Come on, boys. Time to have a little fun!” She’s absolutely brazened, both beautiful and confident, and can easily slick talk every man in the room. Side by side with Summer House, the two main characters come crashing & thundering in hard—which is more or less a staple of the medium. With screenwriting I’m used to taking in those early moments of a script to see if the writer will “show” me who the main character is—because film is a visual medium—whereas in theater there are no cameras and showing doesn’t come into play all that much. In theater (stage plays), characterization is more often than not verbally expressed (“tell”). And in less than five pages, Camille puts In the Summer House in my rear-view mirror—and thank Gawd! Dumas, being a master student of the stage having studied the movements before his, borrows heavily from Greek Tragedy and turns the plot very quickly, giving us the crux of Marguerite’s dilemma and joining her with her eventual lover up front. Like I said, Marguerite is no longer a courtesan—at least from what I can gather—but can’t seem to keep men from orbiting around her (de Varville). And due to a relapse back into past her “profession”, on top of an ominous lingering cough, life for her is slowly starting to turn sour. Her current john man/helper Duke de Mauriac—mentioned throughout in name only—was set to provide for her as long as she could keep it in her pants but since she couldn’t do that, fifty-thousand francs worth of debt that Marguerite rung up under his name now hangs over her head—and he wants it all back.

But, no worries; she’s got Love now. Armand, the new apple in her eye, is at her home with his friend, Gaston, who is there with his friend, Prudence, a milliner (hat-maker) and across-the-lawn neighbor/dear friend to Marguerite. And, of course, there’s Olympe, Marguerite’s brothel-buddy from back in the day; and Saint-Gaudens, an elderly gentleman who’s Olympe’s current sugar daddy, not to mention Nanine, the maid—the maid/butler being a stock character of farce because of their ability to move in and out of scenes helping to expose/provide information and move the plot forward. A bit of a character pile up, but Dumas does an amazing job not to make the scene feel “stuffed”—though most of the story plays like this. About fourteen characters, roughly, have some sort of bearing against the plot.

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Red Camellia means no Hanky-Panky

Which brings me to my central point; because, in essence, Camille is yet another plotless story. The next four acts of the play, all of which take place at various locations (Marguerite’s dressing room; a château in the French countryside; Olympe’s house; then back at Marguerite’s) and at various times (four days later; three months later; one month later; six months later) make relatively no significant changes to what we learned in the opening act—that these two, for better or for worse, are madly in love with one another and want like hell to be together. Sure, there are some reversals and setbacks (that’s drama) and later developments, but this is essentially is a two-hander with a smorgasbord of supporting characters. That’s not to say that this story wasn’t a joy throughout—because it was! This is truly powerful stuff. I may have been extremely generous to Romeo and Juliet in giving it a 4.5/5 rating back at the beginning because one could make the argument that Camille is possibly a better romantic story than R&J—just looking at the characters of Romeo & Juliet and Marguerite & Armand side by side. I stood up; I didn’t throw the book—but was oh so close to doing it. What happens here is truly heart-breaking. I felt so bad for the both of them. In reading up about Camille, the challenge of any production was to find the right Marguerite, and if you didn’t the critics nailed you for it. The list of women who actually received praise for their performance as Marguerite is a rather small one; those other women were run out of town.

I keep a small, private stock of stage plays that I like to believe no one else knows anything about. (We literature buffs are a weird bunch.) And this play is going into that collection and may even crack my top ten. Like I said, I may sound contradictory, but when the writing is this superb and the characters are this rich, you tend to overlook plot mechanics, time jumps, and coincidences—or that Dumas, in adapting himself, fails to include in the stage play a clear understanding for those who might not be privy to the novel that Marguerite is suffering from consumption (tuberculosis). It’s no exact science but it’s still a code I live by. Camille is the exception to the rule, however. I even respond to its deep though uplifting theme of redemption through love and suffering… And I shouldn’t say two-hander because there is sort of a loose “triangle” here. I know I’ve said a lot already, definitely more than I’d originally planned and not even close to what I wanted to say. But I would like to leave you with this one particular exchange just in case for some reason, you might not get around to reading this play:

[DUVAL: Cannot you see what your old age will be, doubly deserted, doubly desolate? What memories will you leave behind you? What good will you ever have accomplished? You and my son have two very different roads to follow; chance has brought them together for a moment. You have been happy for three months; do not sully that happiness; keep the memory of it always in your heart. Let it strengthen you; it is all you have the right to ask of it. One day you will be proud of what you have done, and all your life you will respect yourself for it. It is as a man of the world that I am speaking to you, it is as a father that I am pleading with you. Come, Marguerite, prove to me that you really love my son, and take courage.

MARGUERITE: And so, whatever she may do, the woman, once she has fallen can never rise again. God may forgive her, perhaps, the world never. What man would wish to make her his wife, what child to call her mother? It is all true, what you have told me. I have said the same thing to myself many times, but I never understood it until now. You speak to me in the name of your son and daughter; it is good of you to use those names. One day, sir, you will tell this beautiful and pure young girl, for it is for her sake that I am willing to sacrifice my happiness, that somewhere in the world there was a woman who had only one thought, one hope, one dream in life, and that for her sake she renounced them all, and that she died of it. Because I shall die of it and then, perhaps, God will forgive me.]

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“Bois du Boulogne” – Alexey P. Bogolyubov

If that doesn’t move you then I don’t what will … So does this story hold up today? Well, no; not really. There’s a small, small window for this kind of material to be impactful but it’s closing fast. Considering where we are now with Prostitution, and how desensitized and oblivious we are to it, and how much of a problem it is globally, I don’t see how a story where a high-priced prostitute falling in love with an upper-crust man (Pretty Woman) would bring us all to tears, or make us consider doing something about eradicating the profession. Society is way too fragmented now as is for us to give people grief for who they choose to fall in love with—and still be able tackle all of the Big Problems as well. Hell, a political scandal dies down after a week or so. No one has the time or the energy—I sure don’t!—to keep up with who someone is sleeping with, even that someone’s family. At best,  a relative or friend will just tell you to “be safe and make sure that they love you.” Who you fall in love with in today’s world is your business, and no one else’s. So, if you want to make a prostitute from the Bunny Ranch your wife or make an “escort” off of Backpage your girlfriend—go for it! Whatever makes you happy, bruh! Now that doesn’t mean you won’t be fodder for the internet trolls, ‘cause they’re gonna get ya regardless. You’ll be a joke or a meme for like a month, if that, then it’s on to the next one. Anything past that is nothing a private patch of land in North Dakota or an expensive three-bedroom loft TriBeCa can’t handle. Most Americans are chumps anyway; they just act tough online. If they were to see you and your hoe-turned-housewife, or vice versa, walking down the street they wouldn’t do a thing at all. They probably wouldn’t even recognize you because they’d already be harping on the next “issue” and expressing fake outrage over that one. So go ahead and love who you love—or, if you can’t find love, you’re more than welcome to add to the debauchery by spending a couple of Ben Franks on the by-the-hour artificial version…

Well, enjoy the start to your spring. Start thinking about getting yourself in shape for the summer. Beach Season is right around the corner. Next month I contradict myself even further (farther?) — because the stage play I’ll be reviewing then is going to be all about the effed up things a man does to a horse!

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‘Til May…

 

 

Rating: 4/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #1: Continued| In the Summer House

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #1: Continued…

A wiser man than me once said that “we never do anything consciously for the last time”—that is, anything which we have long been doing—“without sadness of heart.” (If ever there was a saying more soothing to the creative Soul than this one—only the universe knows.) This truth I felt intensely, when I came to leave filmmaking behind, a career option I had fallen madly in love with, and where I had thought I would find fulfillment and happiness. (Just be patient; even I am so over talking about this. The TL;DR version that will eventually dead this matter is coming this summer.) On the night I left film forever (Yes, I remember!) I grieved in my room all by my lonely, and may or may not have shed a few tears. (No, I don’t remember—or do I?) And that night, while looking over a healthy pile of rejection letters from literary managers and agents, and film festivals (I do it to myself honestly, holding on to ish like this), I rolled over in bed, and, catching a glimpse of my face, my reflection in the mirror as if on standby, locked gazes with it, and looked myself intently in the eye, thinking to myself, “What now, G? What now? How in the hell are you gonna come back from this one? Of all the stupid things you’ve ever done in your life this one hurts the most. Now you’re stuck here—in Los Angeles of all places. And you don’t even have enough money to get your ass back home… I want out of this goddamn town! I want out of this industry! I’m not even IN this industry! I don’t want anything to do with film ever again!” And I was right: I never did have anything to do with it—until recent. Still at the mirror, I looked at myself self-righteously and proudly (Hey, we all do in that moment—am I right?), smiled resolutely, nodded my affirmation (or rather, my goodbye), and I parted ways with the movie business forever—or so I thought.

Morning came—so dramatic; I know—and under normal circumstances I would’ve been ready to launch into my day. I’m thankful for my up-and-at-‘em approach to life, and, in many regards, I’ve benefited greatly for having this outlook—though it wasn’t on showcase in that moment. As for my residence: it’s a spacious, second-floor, balcony apartment (occupancy four), and I have been blessed, from my first moving in, with a cast of supportive roommates and “a room of my own room” just like good ol’ Virginia, which I use—then and of course now—as an area of leisure and study. At about six-thirty or so I got up, and stared with hazy contentedness at the treeless skyline of S——, the now gentrified L.A. enclave cloaked in a gray sunlight and slowly beginning to tinge sky-blue with the gloomy dullness of a typical, cloudless December morning. (Told ya I know the date!) Again, I agreed that I would be unwavering and overwhelmingly fixed in my decision: but yet I was vexed by the looming possibility of setbacks and obstacles; and if I could’ve foreseen the shit-storm that my life would become over the next two years, and quite the back-breaking, soul-crushing shit-storm of pain and misery at that which wasted no time in starting up around me, I would’ve… Well… Well, I don’t have the heart to jot it down here…

To this vexation the calm peace of morning presented a disturbing comparison, and in some degree a mild stimulant. The moment was more profound—or at least it seemed to be—than that of any other time in my life here on the West Coast: and to me the stillness of morning is more moving than any other stillness, because the city (L.A.) hasn’t come alive yet; and thus, I’m able to sit quietly and introspect and think freely, unabated. I put on a pair of sweats, moped about, and did nothing of importance. Up to this point in time my room had been my “meditative tower”: here I read, and typed, and poured over notes all hours of the day well into the wee hours of the night: and, painful as it is to admit, that for what remained of 2014—and 2015 and 2016, respectively—I, who was about as easy-going as they come, had lost my joyful vigor and stanch optimism upon ending the violent and contentious see-saw battle with my chosen career path; yet, on the other hand, as a “creative type” (loosely), so passionately fond of books, and visual art, and stage plays (Yay!), and dedicated to all sorts of intellectual endeavors, I recall not sitting for too long an interval in the caustic stew of dejection, and sought out random activities from time to time. Still moping about, I was a bit teary-eyed, I think, as I looked around on the floor at all of the crumpled-up sheets of paper, underneath my stool at a stack of dusty notebooks, at the dog-eared novels stacked at the base of the wall, and other relevant items of my former trade, knowing for certain, that I looked upon them for the last time—or so I thought. Even as I write this today, it has been three years since enduring the worst of it: and yet, at this moment, I can picture the scene quite vividly as if it were yesterday. The lost look on my face: pitying and abominable; my eyes and mouth of which had prior operated with great animation, and the whole of my face once so radiant and jolly, had been completely debased. A thousand times over I avoided the mirror, seeing as there was nothing to gather as consolation from looking into it…

Damn, here I am once again putting the cart before the horse. The summer needs to get here in a hurry. And try as I may: I don’t want to spend precious hours during this portion of my life reminiscing about the past. Admittedly, I have yet to arrive at something definitive in regards to Preliminary Confession #1. Well, it should be painfully obvious to you now that my casual avoidance of the question is by design, hence the protracted lamentation (and teaser). Hell, any salesperson worth his or her salt is constantly thinking of ways to drum up business; they have to get you, the customer, to come back somehow… I think you see where I’m going with this. Anyhoo, and without further ado, we now jump to March’s stage play, In the Summer House.

 

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Old School Ocean Fun

 

Title: In the Summer House (1953)

Playwright: Jane Bowles
Time Period: Middle to Late Modernism
Plot: A middle-aged woman of good carriage becomes an overbearing presence in her young daughter’s life who is just entering into adulthood. Over the course of a year, the two women confront and avoid one another—at times to the detriment of those around them.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1, Sc. 2]

GERTRUDE
. . . Even my griefs and my sorrows don’t seem to belong to me. Nothing does—as if a shadow has passed over my whole life and made it dark. . .

[Act 1, Sc. 3]

MRS. CONSTABLE
I don’t know where to go or what to do next. I can’t seem to tear myself away from you or Mr. Solares or Mrs. Lopez or Molly. Isn’t that a ridiculous reaction? I feel linked to you. That’s the only way I can explain it. I don’t ever want to have any other friends. It’s as if I had been born right here in the garden and had never lived anywhere before in my life. Don’t leave me please. I don’t know where to go. Don’t leave me.

[Act 2, Sc. 1]

 MOLLY
After a while I could sit in that booth, and if I wanted to I could imagine I was home in the garden . . . inside the summer house.

 

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Amusement Backdrop

 

As the great philosopher Forrest Gump once said: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get.” *heavy sigh* Boy, I absolutely had no idea what I was in for with this one. Which reminds me: it’s Women’s History Month. Helloooo, Ladies! This one’s for you: In the Summer House by Jane Bowles. What’s that? Never heard of it? No worries; perhaps in the past is a great place to keep this one.

You know, after reading such an odd play like this one I figured that it would be best if I let you in on the process. In the initial blog post announcing this series I mainly hit the bullet points but now might be a good time for me to go a little past that, seeing as it’s still early in the series and my style, tone and format aren’t completely locked down yet. Oh, and I also don’t want you guys to think that I’m a d**k and doing this series just to crap on other people’s work as a way to feel good about myself.

 

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Salute to Women’s History

 

Okay, for starters: there are just too many stage plays to choose from—millions possibly. 2017’s lineup is already locked in place and isn’t at random. Each play is in essence a tie-in—at least for this year—to whatever is in observance (Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.) for that particular month which is why I went with In the Summer House, a play that was written by a woman, features a group of women, and is set during what I thought would be an interesting time period showcasing the lives of women: the decade before the Sexual Revolution (1960’s) and the rise of 2nd wave Feminism.

It’s a given that my style is unorthodox (undisciplined); no fancy words and academic analysis here, or paragraphs boggled down by theater jargon. And since this is my slice of the internet, I’m not going to hold back saying how I feel about something I’ve read. And with readership as low as it is, what need is there for me to swab clean my initial reaction to something? However, I do try my best to keep an air of professionalism just in case someone from the print media ranks stumbles upon this blog, likes what they’ve read, and then asks me what my take is on a current theater production. What I’m saying is: I’ll zip it up for by-lines and dinero. Other than that: the beat goes on.

 

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All-female Mariachi [Taxco] Band, 1950s

Preliminary Confession #1 — How did a nice and easy-going fellow such as myself get it in his mind head to want to want to write criticism on stageplays? — isn’t fully answered but I did allude, even before this question, to the fact that I come from a film background. And a lot of the jobs I took early on required that I read and evaluate screenplays (for free!) which get their DNA (formatting) from stage plays because—guffawHollywood’s first wave of filmmakers were theater directors and playwrights. (The style of screenplay still being used today is called the Master Scene Format which was created by Thomas Ince in 1911.) So, in essence, I’ve been reading stage plays for a minute now (2006) and that’s why I can’t help but give such a strong opinion on how to “correct something” in them. That part of me won’t go away. Another part that won’t go away is how I go about picking what to read. Again, I trust my film senses: I read theater websites, see what plays my favorite writers have read, ask people I know what they’ve read (this is actually how Hollywood finds new material), seek out lists of classics—but the main thing I do is look at the title. Just about everyone in the film industry is guilty of it. And for the undiscovered writer, that’s really your only sure shot: the title—which explains how out of hand they’ve gotten as of late. Personally, I’ve read over 1,000 screenplays. (This is a very, very low number; some who get paid to read scripts average 700 scripts a year.) Nowadays I’ll read maybe three or four new ones start to finish if that, and skim maybe the first 15-to-20 pages of another four or five more but I don’t consume them in high volume like I once used to. Much of what’s written on spec today won’t get produced thanks to sequel-itis and comic book-itis currently squatting in our movie theaters. The scripts floating around Hollywood at the moment are basically one-hundred-page calling cards to do work-for-hire on studio tent-pole projects… So when it came to narrowing down my list for the inaugural twelve—and the year following—some made the cut just on their titles alone as well as my own subjective tastes. I’ve also held off reading them in advance so that whatever I have to say about them happens in the moment… Look, not all of these plays are going to be stellar—just go back one month. I knew going in that I’d see some peculiar ones and that I would have to do my best in trying to be fair, honest and open-minded as possible when it came to critiquing them. It’s just that on back-to-back months here at the very beginning I’ve really been caught by surprise.

 

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Jane Bowles, herself

 

This particular work came recommended from a blog I read where a follower asked the blogger what plays should she consider for her young, all-girl theater company and this play was listed in her response—which brings me to why I brought up my script-reading background. This play falls into the not-so-rare situation of where the title caught my eye. In the Summer House — it has a nice ring to it. It sounds profound yet ominous and tragic, metaphorical… As a script-reader I gravitated towards stories that are set in one location—which the title implies. Horror, which is all the rage right now (Get Out), benefits significantly from this. One location means smaller budget which in turn means more money for P&A (prints and advertisement). And for a filmmaker constricted to just one location, it’s a true test of his or her creative ability. This, on title alone, would’ve been added to my reading pile back in the day. Now reading it would’ve been an entirely different story because there are a few variables to consider. Like, did this come into the office through an agency, or on spec? If it came in on spec, I would’ve set this aside after page five. No way would I waste my time or risk getting fired from my non-paying job by investing time in reading this. And if it came in through an agency, I’d just bite my tongue as best as I could but still articulate to the boss man in the comment section on the coverage page that this script was a chore to read and heavy, heavy revisions would be needed before this could be seen by a paying audience. Now some readers go further, getting down right vindictive with their comments, but that never really suited me. I’m not a malicious person; I just want the story to be good. I’m not out to destroy a writer’s career before they even had a chance to get it started.

About my tastes: I like ensembles, one-location settings, and short time-frames (an afternoon, over the course of a night, three days; nothing more than a week), well-written monologues. Stuff that drives me up the wall: “You’re late!” scenes, narrative time jumps (one year later, five years later, TEN YEARS LATER!!), grandstanding (I’m not sure of the actual term but it’s when a woman tells a man, or vice versa, to “Leave!” either verbally or silently and just as the man starts off she yells, “Wait!”), casually racist jokes or racist stock characters (Magic Negro, Gay Best Friend who’s a party/wedding planner, broken-English Asian actor. Seriously, is every Latino male over the age of 40 a lawn mower, and is every Latino male under the age of 40 a gangbanger? Better yet: what are Americans’ understanding of Muslims before 9/11? Seems like they’re all depicted as either hopeless or criminal and the only way to save them is to continue occupying their land and dropping bombs on them, ignoring their pain and suffering because only American troops are the ones dealing with PTSD. [Is that too political for you? Oh well!]).

 

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Ocean Front, circa 1950s

 

What else: no plot (as in a story with no goal; people just standing around yakking), bodily fluids (semen, fecal matter, urine, etc. whether visible or mentioned) and mutilation (perverted sexual acts, animal cruelty, slicing of the epidermis, stuffing of objects into the orifices, extreme violence and gore whether realistic or CGI, etc.). I’ll go one step further and say that writers who write scenes in their script/play showing or mentioning the acts of defecation and urination in an unnatural way, or showing a character slicing open their own skin just for the sake of “shock value” should be brought in for psychological evaluation. These people clearly need proper medical care & attention and shouldn’t be indulged. I’m mystified as to how they manage to get into rooms with people who make films for a living and convince them that they should fund their projects. It’s absolutely mind-boggling… Now that’s just a small selection and by no means extensive even though it looks that way. It might even give you the impression that I’m no fun. No. A man can’t just dine on caviar alone. There are some exceptions; I pray that they come up along the way. I’m usually good at avoiding a lot of the cons when it comes to movies. But stage plays ain’t like movies. I can see movie trailers and steer clear of the bad ones. I’m going into a lot of these plays blind because the synopses for the majority of them make no damn sense at all. They’re like trying to read an anthropology book on Stone Age civilization; two paragraphs in and you’re clueless as to what any of it actually means. Whew! I’ve said a mouthful. Now that that’s off my chest, on to our stage play…

 

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I’ll take mine Rockefeller

 

I try to dig up little tidbits on each of these and it appears that Mrs. Bowles left planet Earth at the age of 56 leaving behind a fairly light body of work (one novel, seven short stories and this stage play). My take from reading up on her can be surmised in two words: proud bigot. Sorry, not sorry. She had a stroke at age 40, developed a limp because of it, and then took out her frustrations on the rest of the world, feeling that she can say whatever she damn well pleases. In her own words: “I’m Jewish, homosexual, alcoholic, a communist — and I’m a cripple!” Then again, maybe she’d fit right in considering America’s current social climate. So as you can see, she was known more for what she did away from the stage, that is, her being abrasive, in an open marriage and her being a “homosexual” (again her words, not mine; besides gay had an entirely different meaning back then) — but that sort of stuff barely moves the needle nowadays, not when people can change “transition” to a new gender (Caitlyn Jenner) or become so color struck (Boom! Another monthly tie-in, though hella forced this time.) that they would want to change “transition” into an entirely new racial identity (Rachel Dolezal). So her alternative lifestyle only gets a meh and a half nod from me. If you want to wow me, you have to do it on the page—something she couldn’t even do in real life. Summer House’s stint on Broadway was insignificant, and critics then (1953) were split 50/50.

In Bowles’ story: Gertrude Eastman Cuevas and her daughter Molly are the owners of precious beachfront property in southern California that is footsteps away from the Pacific Ocean. At opening curtain we are in the garden and just off of it and the main house sits a “round summer house covered with vines.” Molly is in and out of this summer house constantly, using it as a place to hide from her overbearing mother. Oddly, Gertrude’s behavior comes at you right out of the gates. Some of the things this lady espouses wouldn’t even be said in polite company. She has an acerbic remark for just about everything: men, women, brown people, children, work, money, life. Nothing misses a lashing from her tongue. It being the 1950’s and all, it’s interesting to note the difficulty Gertrude has had in raising a child on her own. She now finds herself debating on whether or not to marry Mr. Solares, a Mexican (-American?/ -immigrant?) suitor who has been courting her for some time. Her reasoning isn’t that drawn out and seems to be purely financial:

[GERTRUDE: I’m thinking of seriously marrying Mr. Solares, after all. I would at least have a life free of financial worry…]

Besides that there isn’t much in the way of conflict here. But a series of characters are introduced, so many in fact that I just plain stubbornly don’t want to list them. And I like stories with lots of characters but here there are so damn many, none of which are all that distinguishable, nor do they do anything interesting. I’ll just focus on these three: Lionel, Vivian Constable and Mrs. Constable. Mr. Solares and his sisters and the other random characters that pop up from time to time are a non-factor. Vivian and Molly are roughly the same age (15 and 18, respectively) and this, if any, is where the play gets its central conflict from. Allegedly the theme of this play is about mother/daughter relationships and you can kind of see that here and there, but those moments are so fleeting, and what you get in between them are unfunny, senseless pratfalls, random character walk-throughs, on-the-nose musical numbers, way-out-in-right-field navel gazing, and random time jumps (ten months here; two months there). After reading this play, I wanted to throw the book at the wall. But that course of action is reserved for that special bunch of literary works that successfully manage to get under my skin. Throwing the book is an act I consider to be on par with a compliment, good material or bad…

Vivian too is constantly trying to get from out underneath her mom and has made her rent her a room in Gertrude’s house. Mrs. Constable allows it but is staying close by at a hotel up the coastline and stops over sporadically to check in on her daughter. I wrote in my notes that Vivian and Molly, based on the dialogue given to them, must be mentally retarded disabled because the ish they say, man… I guess the implication here is that Gertrude and Mrs. Constable have stunted their daughters’ growth. Well, if that’s the case, where the hell is Child Protection Services or the local law enforcement for that matter because something happens to one of these young ladies later on in the story and I’m amazed that the adults involved were able to keep their freedom. I’m even more amazed at the fact that neither of these two young ladies has walked into traffic yet, especially Molly.

Later on in the play Lionel, a fast-food employee at the local seafood shack, gets it in his mind to ask for Molly’s hand in marriage—and it was at this point that I broke down mentally. Imagine asking someone pointed questions about making plans to be together and what their outlook is on the future and them completely ignoring you, opting to chase ladybugs around a yard and speak ethereally about the moon and the stars and not wanting to feel pain… What the ever-loving f—k!

The men in this story. Hell, the women in this story!

I wrote the entire damn cast off. Mr. Solares is a pushover and is completely dismissive of Gertrude’s cattiness and racism. Lionel has no clue about life and proposes to a much younger woman than he his who is a complete ditz, who over time will become a burden on him. Vivian too is a Dodo bird, and as for what happens to her, well… it happened and? (Spoiler.) Mrs. Constable is spineless and was made to be a lush merely for theatrics. Mr. Solares’ sisters and servants are just over-the-top stereotypes of Mexican immigrants that would in no way fly in this day in age. There isn’t even a sufficient amount of back story on any of them to justify these characterizations except for Gertrude who gets the tried-and-true “daddy issues” crutch.

 

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Or raw with a little horseradish and Crystal hot sauce…

 

I’ve come to grips with the fact that I may very well never make an impact on Pop Culture, but holy mother of Venus I know I’m better than this! Just exactly what was going on five or four or three decades ago for theater/literary critics to keep a light shined on this kind of material? Why would one of my favorite bloggers recommend this to a woman for tweens to perform?

Absolutely nothing happens in this story; there is no plot! And it doesn’t even take place in the summer house!! Let me clarify the no plot statement: I’m not against plotless stories, not if they are filled with interesting characters. None of these characters felt real to me. Just about everything they said was stilted and if it wasn’t stilted dialogue, it was underlined by music score. Furthermore, what hurts a plotless story are narrative time jumps. It makes a story feel disjointed because the minute something gets interesting, you suddenly are rushed forward to a new point in time and have to build up forward momentum all over again. Bowles, in trying to keep her story interesting, decides to add more characters but our connection to the original, main characters was never cemented, yet she just continues to pile more and more of them on…

Does this story hold up? Seems like a funny question considering all that I’ve said. But the crazy part is, falling back on my script reading days, I would place this story on the border of “PASS” (reject) and “CONSIDER” (re-read at a later date to see if it can change our minds on wanting to reject it). Consider has these varying degrees and after a while it becomes sort of like ordering steak. This could be something to “consider” but with what I said above: heavy, heavy revisions. The majority of the “conflicts/situations” (proposals, marriages, foreclosures) in this play happen off-screen—but not in a good way like Chekhov. They just randomly do for some reason. And none of what does happen on stage justifies all of the bizarre time jumps except Vivian and Gertrude’s marriages which they’ve arranged to have together. Correcting this wouldn’t be all that difficult… I like the idea of a single mother being overbearing to her daughter, and juxtaposing that against the decade of the 1950’s could work beautifully, seeing as that was a stagnant time for all Americans. Deep-six the year long time-frame and just and have it all come to a head on their wedding day which could be over the course of an afternoon. This also would be one of the rare occasions where I would recommend flashbacks—but like salt, use sparingly. And, of course, get rid of the inane pratfalls, racism and bigotry—or at least be more subtle. Merge a few characters together and it would make for an explosive situation all under one roof, or all outside in the garden, rather, next to the ocean. Because undeniably, Gertrude Eastman Cuevas is an interesting character—speaking out the way she does considering the time period. And if given just a little bit more to go off of, she could truly be something special. Bizarre scripts like this one fizzle up out of the murk every now and then in the film business. A story like this one would be bought by A-lister’s production company then heavily revised beyond recognition. And as soon as the A-lister has the chance to put down the cape or the machine gun, getting this kind of material made would be their top priority because main characters this challenging and this complex don’t come around all that often. And on those days, your job as a script reader is difficult. Because you don’t want to be the guy who wrote “PASS” on a script that could potentially land Meryl her next Oscar® nomination. Add to that the fact that the industry is currently on a manhunt, er, I mean, womanhunt for stories with strong, female protagonists. Plus, we all know period pieces are shoe-ins for Best Picture… So this one smells like “CONSIDER”. So, yeah, in a weird way: this story does hold up. The mother/daughter estranged-relationship that’s fully dimensional is a story not often told.

Well, I think I’ve exhausted my point. Hopefully, there’s enough here to last you until next month. I’m three weeks into a 30-day juice cleanse and I’m hella grumpy from typing and revising this blog so much. One Love, boys and girls and aliens… I’m on my way to the kitchen now to pour myself a bowl of vegetable broth.

 

 

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‘Til April…

 

 

Rating: 2/5

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions #1 | Color Struck

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer
PRELIMINARY CONFESSION #1

I have often been asked—by myself mostly, and in my head at that—how I first became an amateur theater reviewer; and have worried, undeservedly, about the opinion of my acquaintance—again, myself mainly; it being reasoned that I should rely primarily upon my worldly experiences and incorporate them here, by way of serialized installments that are hopefully not too indulgent—though that often tends to be the case with writers—simply for the sake of adding an element of mystique around what it is that I’m doing: theater—rather, old stage play—criticism. This, however, is only a small portion of what actually goes “into it the process” — obviously. True it is, that for ten years (2007-2016) I actively pursued a film career and on occasion did partake in going to the theater, mainly for the fact that it provided me with a small break from my craft (screenwriting and filmmaking) and the frustrations that go along with it: but, so long as I experienced the theater from this angle, I was effectually guarded from all the positive aspects the theater offered, even more so by the long periods between visits where the time away was spent toiling away at what at the time I thought would be bring me pleasure (happiness). It was not for the purpose of creating pleasure, but of mitigating pain, pain of the worst degree, that I later returned and began to use the theater as an occasional sedative for my creative desires. In the thirty-first year of my age, a most painful realization of life, which I had first experienced about ten years before but for something entirely different, barreled into me with the force of ten-thousand dump trucks. This area of my life, as I have stated before in an earlier blog or two, will be expanded upon this summer when I summarize my first ten years (a decade!) living in Los Angeles—and my career ups-and-downs will be one of the many highlights. However, during the period of grief and dejection (that is, from 2011 to 2013 roughly) the theater, even reading (my own work included) pretty much flat-lined: for the two following years I could only resuscitate them at intervals: but now, under more favorable circumstances, from cheerfulness of spirit, the “pain” now yields no other remedy but the theater and any other communal event as well as a renewed passion to write again—though in a different format than I originally had planned. As for those salad days—which brought about this “complicated” relationship between theater and me, which in themselves are quite interesting, as well as the situations that produced them—I’ll have to anecdote about them at a later point in the future and too then answer fully what is the first preliminary question. For now, we turn our attention to Color Struck.

 

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County where Zora grew up in Eatonville

 

Title: Color Struck (1926)
Playwright: Zora Neal Hurston
Time Period: Early Modernism (Harlem Renaissance)
Plot: Several black couples travel by train to a regional cakewalk competition.
Dope Line(s):

[Scene 1]

 JOHN
Yes, I want you to love me, you know I do. But I don’t like to be accused o’ ever’ light colored girl in the world. It hurts my feeling. I don’t want to be jealous like you are.

[Scene 2]

EMMA
Oh—them yaller wrenches! How I hate ‘em! They gets everything they wants—

[Scene 2]

EMMA
He went and left me. If we is spatting we done had our last one. Ah, mah God! He’s in there with her—Oh, them half whites, they gets everything, they gets everything everybody else wants! The men, the jobs—everything! The whole world is got a sign on it. Wanted: Light colored. Us blacks was made for cobble stones.

 

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Florida gator.

 

That’s just the way it is, things will never be the same—at least that’s how I remember the chorus to Tupac Shakur’s Changes going. Makaveli makes short work of Bruce Hornsby’s original record, adding heft with an ever-jabbing bassline that pulsates behind the sample, as he unleashes a barrage of unfiltered lyrical content depicting the miserable conditions that African-Americans were left stranded in, in the aftermath of the trickle-down Reagan Era 80’s and the gas-guzzling post-Bush Sr. 90’s… And on that note I’d like to say: Happy Black History Month boys and girls and aliens. I’ve decided to crack open this nut from the early 20th century in honor of. Remembered more for her seminal work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston’s stage play Color Struck had been buried deep underneath a mountain of greater works from the time period until it was unearthed in the 1970’s and extracted still ripe from the pages of the now defunct Fire!! Magazine (published in 1926; only one issue ever pressed), immediately anthologized, and has been hobbling along ever since.

 

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Fire!! [R.I.P.]

 

Man, there are some painful revelations that I’m having in my 30s. My brethren and I have been up shit creek for so long, much longer than any of us would care to give thought. And the more I dig up artifacts (sheet music, newspaper articles, corn mix boxes, etc.) from our past, the more I realize how much “baggage” we have still to “unpack”—and skin is one of them. Why we haven’t let this go, why we’ve allowed this to divide us, confounds even the most astute and the most militant amongst the Diaspora—Willie Lynch Theory or nah. Color struck—the stage play’s title defined—is the attitude/allure that darker-skinned African-Americans have for lighter-skinned African-Americans’ (and whites’) skin tone. It’s an old saying amongst Blacks believing that those with lighter skin complexions and Eurocentric features (blue eyes, hawk’s beak nose, “good” hair, washboard ass) are the epitome of Beauty thus more desirable—and what one should aspire to emulate. Further, it is a colorism within one’s own race—an “intra-racism”, if you will. For one to be color struck it is to be stung with an arrow equivalent to Cupid’s; it roils forth the same sort of reckless whirlwind passion of that of star-crossed lovers (Boom! Tie-in to last month’s review) — but rooted in a heated jealousy. The skin “issue”, unfortunately, seems to be generational at this point—which is a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing on my part. So not to ruin it all by stating it now, I pause to say: One Love to my departed sistah Zora… Oh, and please allow me the honor of nitpicking (critiquing) your work.

 

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Zora. Zora. Zora.

 

The first two decades of the 20th century were an interesting time for Blacks in America. What’s billed is a renaissance (Harlem Renaissance; mid-1910’s to mid-1930’s) but if one were to dig a little deeper one would we see that there was an aggressive—and admittedly successful—effort on (white) America’s part to industrialize and indoctrinate socialize Black people. Another notable takeaway of the time period is the outright feverish eagerness on the gens de couleur libres’ part to be “recognized by” and “accepted into” the white (WASP) Elite—and the bulk of the North’s efforts (and moolah) benefited these Uncle Toms. Gens de couleur libres (free people of color) is the term that was applied to people of African descent—a large portion of them being of mixed race—who had never been subjected to the harsh conditions of plantation life. By the 1920’s this group had already become a silent “black aristocracy” primarily in my home state of Louisiana (New Orleans) — referred to there loosely as Creole (“light-skinned” African-Americans). However, these gens de couleur libres did reside in other parts of the country and just like the former slaves had migrated North and West during The Great Migration (mid-WWI more or less through the 1950’s). The 1920’s is also the same period of time in which the black aristocracy’s “power structure” started to become undone via American legislation (Plessy vs. Ferguson [1896; the ripple effects carried into the 20th century], the stripping of personal wealth, the removal/refusal of aid to institutions) and hate crimes (race riots, arson of black businesses, murder) — though a good of bit of their “power” was salvaged by graveling at the feet of the white Establishment for crumbs. Today, there is still a small, insular group of Blacks (again mostly “light-skinned”) who relish the fact that their family’s lineage as gens de couleur libres can be traced back to before the Civil War (spring of 1861 to the spring 1865).

 

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Creole Man, circa 1860s

 

Again, none of this is to be divisive—or to point the finger. I mention the above only for context, in hopes that a generalized outline of the times (Color Struck’s setting: rural Florida 1900; and the same locale 20 years later) will give one an understanding, and add body and texture to where Zora’s story unfortunately falls short…

And how could she know that her play would still have possible relevance in the 21st century? Maybe in her mind the idea of Black people still squabbling 90 years later over something as arbitrary as skin tone would seem downright cuckoo. Surely a non-issue like that one would’ve already worked itself out in all that time… Hold up; let me fall back. I’m being way too presumptuous. Besides, there’s no need to speculate on what Zora’s thoughts might’ve been. The fact of the matter is that there’s no real way of me—of any of us—ever knowing, so…

 

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Jim Crow rail car, late 19th century

 

Color Struck is an easy enough story to follow. All that I’ve mentioned above along with the arrival of immigrant groups from Europe (Irish, Italians, Jews, etc.) and a smaller, second Industrial Revolution which took in its grasp many blacks and whites (and Mexicans and indigenous) shifted the United States’ economic power and focus to the North (factory work) and to the West (expansionism) as well, decimating the South’s rural economies (agriculture by way of livestock and free human labor) in the process. The effects of which were deeply felt in the state of Florida where Color Struck’s story takes place. Several black couples are traveling from Jacksonville to St. Augustine by train to a regional cakewalk dance competition—which is basically the best thing smokin’ seeing as there ain’t much to do now that most of the jobs are gone and small gatherings like these play an integral role in keeping what little community there is left intact. As for this cakewalk, it is a leftover from plantation life, it being a mockery of whites’ ballroom dancing at first—but then taking on a life of its own. I’d go into greater detail describing it but then I’d be robbing you of your own personal scavenger hunt (Google/Bing). I’ll say this much: just think Soul Train line. And if I have to explain what that is—then I give up…

First impressions: Boy, things sure have changed. Who travels by train nowadays? This means of mass transit always fascinates me because so much literature—Black or otherwise—from this time period starts off this way: someone or a group of people en route to a destination by rail line. More so the uncommon here, as this particular railway car is packed to the brim and segregated by race (Negroes). However, there’s still a noble affable air in the setting, and to Zora’s credit, she presents what is the opening scene in a very matter-of-fact fashion. One could easily mistake it for a passage in a William Dean Howells novel—which it clearly isn’t, and in doing so, one would be denying Zora her proper respect.

 

jimcrowcar2

Early 20th Century satire

 

A fairly sizeable cast—I say five or six—have some weight against the story but it is the character Emmaline Beazely (called Emma throughout) who is the most fleshed out. She’s traveling with her boyfriend John and a few others. She and John though are “dark-skinned”, John himself being a shade lighter (not “light-skinned”). And John—well, I guess they still make guys like John: kind, considerate, loyal, gregarious. So it was a bit disconcerting to see him to have to bear the grunt of Emma’s wrath for the majority of the proceedings. Skimming Zora’s bio afterwards, I learned that this was a recurring figure of hers: a strong (somewhat broken) woman whose only love is of the selfish-angry-hurt variety. In today’s world that kind of “acting out” (characterization) has to have some sort of context, I feel. Because here her rage swishes back and forth around the rim of the cup so much that it made me speed through the middle parts of the play a lot quicker than what I would’ve liked to just to see what this pain (and resentment) was rooted in. And then I get to the end of the play only to see that Zora opted to go the Manchester by the Sea route—which is to say absolutely nothing, implying basically that Emma can’t “beat it”, whatever it is… A bit of a spoiler on my part I guess. But the actual ending, I cannot lie, I never saw coming (dope writing!).

Tossing Zora a bone here, and to connect the pieces to my own review, what I believe Emma’s anger is rooted in is basically the world around her: a “thriving” but not yet failing—though silent to some—black (“light-skinned”) aristocracy which because of her skin tone and/or her lot in life she can’t gain access to, and a rural Black community that has gone to seed, a community Emma possibly feels trapped inside of with no tangible means of escaping. And there won’t be any help from the other side (the rural white South) this time around either because they have their own to look after seeing as the U.S. government has its empirical claws clutching at things elsewhere. Yes, there are “light-skinned” Blacks who are still milling about like Effie, a mulatto girl loosely playing the foil to Emma, whose misfortunes are one in the same but Emma still sees her—and the people with skin like hers—as a threat. To Emma, it’s as if they’re encroaching on what little resources there are left (men, money, employment) and if she drops her guard even for one second people like Effie are going to make off with them. And any of these, maybe all, are potential areas of concern for one looking to adapt this play for television or film, or the stage.

 

white-colored_passengers

Reminders

 

As for the elephant in the room on whether or not this play holds up, the short answer: No! The long answer is a bit more complex and sort of takes away from the overall “spirit” of this theater review series. But in this case seeing as I’ve started off the blog post foreshadowing my sentiments, and it also being Black History Month—on top of other things—I figured: “Hell, I might as well say how I really feel and tack it on as best as I can to my conclusion.” Yes! Hell, yes! I think there’s a lot here that’s still relevant. Not just Black people but America at large seems to have fallen under some sort of weird, perverted colorism, the fallout of which lands often times in large clumps on the minds and spirits of those with really dark skin pigmentation who can’t cheat their skin tone without having to go through with a horrific skin-bleaching process which ends up doing more harm than good. We’ve gotten way too obsessed as a society with wanting to be hazel, and chestnut, and caramel, and brown (not in reference to Latino), and bronzed, and olive (existing as black and green in nature but as light brown in American lexicon; okay sure, whatevs), and tanned… and vice versa so as not to get any darker. A nation as diverse and as narcissistic and as morally bankrupt as ours has cross-pollinated itself to the hilt thanks to the Internet which has now made cultural appropriation the easiest it’s ever been to commit in human history, not to mention what has been imprinted on all of our psyches since this country’s inception (Native American Holocaust) up to and through the Civil Rights Movement (1950’s through the end of the 1960’s; true equality for East Asians, Hispanics, the indigenous Native Americans, African-Americans, Central and South Asians, and the rest of Eastern Europe and Africa) into today. We are all color struck. We are all in awe of each other’s natural skin and features that cosmeticians and surgeons from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the pricey enclave of Beverly Hills neighboring my beloved Los Angeles have amassed a miserly fortune off of our insecurities (neurosis).

Getting off my soapbox and back to Zora, I think that her legacy is in serious jeopardy. In an Age where more and more people are favoring video content over the written word, I fear that her work may get left behind simply because this generation of content providers trends towards lazy and many of them aren’t going to want to put in the work necessary for a story like this one—and many of her others—which don’t lend themselves over easily to contemporary story conventions. And that’s sort of the other big knock on Zora: her lack of theme. And then, of course, the cardinal sin anywhere in the universe: telling a story that has no plot. More reputable critics have said that her plays and novels are “morality tales” but that to me is like when a filmmaker makes a painfully-bad movie where nothing happens and should anyone ask why that is, the filmmaker defends his/herself by saying that “It’s Art! You just don’t understand.” It’s an answer like that that makes me want to key their car… I mean no disrespect, but that’s the case here: no theme really, and no plot. All in all, if Color Struck is on your reading list—read it. If it’s not, yet something’s compelling you to read it, you’ve been warned.

 

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Black family on TV, late 1980’s

 

And one last thing on colorism as it pertains to Black people—which I mentioned earlier at the top of this blog post by way of Tupac, recalling his lyrics and frustration over the fact that nothing ever changes. Well, I can concede that the air around the skin “issue” has improved somewhat, although I still have to consider where we all are in the macro- sense… But every time Black people have come close to putting this “issue” behind them the Media not so sneakily places it right back in front of us—why is that? The photos above and below this paragraph I leave to you to dissect on your own. Still, I can’t help but say, “Come on, Black people. We should know better.”

 

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Black family on TV, 2010’s

 

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

 

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‘Til March…