Archive for Deep Thoughts

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

 (4) To keep with tradition. If we—us adults, that is—should stop going to the theater, then there’s a strong possibility our kids would stop going also. It would be a sad, sad day in the world if I should have to look at the Stage from behind a rope at a museum and some elderly woman working part-time through her retirement is explaining to me and my kids that going to the theater is what people used to do for “live entertainment.”

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

RyoanJi-Kane

It tolls for me…

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

[Act 1]

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

[Act 2]

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

[Act 2]

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

shamisen

Smooth, soft sounds from the shamisen

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

Buddhist_Incense_case

Smell the bordem…

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

Tsuruya Nanboku IV

Playwright, Tsuruya Namboku IV

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

Buddhist_prayer_beads

Pray to Buddha

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

A white chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum – symbol of loyalty and devoted love

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

cherry_blossoms

Wouldn’t be Japan without Cherry Blossoms

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

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

black kimono

Beware the black kimono!

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

Princess Sakura - Scarlet Princess

Drawing of “The Scarlet Princess”

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

 

stage-chair

‘Til November…

 

Rating: 0.5/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

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

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

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

1024px-Lady_Godiva_(John_Collier,_c._1897)

A portrait of Lady Godiva by John Collier

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

Dope Line (s):

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

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

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

medieval_romp

Even back then…

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

glitter 2

All that glitters…

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

Ronald Tavel: His Life & Works [web address]

Eight Plays from Off-Off Broadway [book]

The New Underground Theatre [book]

Return to the Caffe Cino [book]

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

Off-Off-Broadway [wiki page]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [wiki page]

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project [web address]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [book]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

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

flaming-creatures_movie-poster

Flaming Creatures movie poster

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

two_by_travel

TOTR Promo

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

tavel_650

Ronald Tavel

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

edwardian-hairstyles-gibson-girls

Classic Gibson look

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

Leather_BDSM_outfit

Who are you wearing?

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

andro_nun

Cross-dress much??

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

lady-godivas-prayer-edwin-landseer

More Lady G

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

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

 

stage-chair

‘Til October…

 

 

Rating: 3/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

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

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

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

virt_world2

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?

virt_world1

Ones & Zeroes

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

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

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Small on scale, big on dreams…

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

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Jennifer Haley

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

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

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The room.

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

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Sadistic weapon of choice

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

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Talk!!!

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

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

 

 

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‘Til September…

 

 

Rating: 2.5/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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.

 

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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.

 

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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 gunpoint 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?

 

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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 (and for whites to feel guilty about) 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…

 

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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 (who as raped as a pre-teen) 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 the French 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…

 

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Old school Harlem

 

The Caribbean’s rendition 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.

 

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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 get 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.)

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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…

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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.”

black-horse

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.)

hobbyhorse

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.

the_godfather_horse_head

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.

stage-chair

‘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…

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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