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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, 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) 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 difficulties that arose politically she had to quit the stage altogether. Behn then ventured into a form 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!’

toy rocking horse

Hours of fun as a toddler…

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

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

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

half man half horse

The beast within…

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

equus poster

Chilling. Grisly. Disturbing.

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

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

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

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

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

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: Continued| In the Summer House

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

swimming at ocean 1

Old School Ocean Fun

 

Title: In the Summer House (1953)

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

[Act 1, Sc. 2]

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

[Act 1, Sc. 3]

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

[Act 2, Sc. 1]

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

 

amuse 1

Amusement Backdrop

 

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

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

 

w vote 1

Salute to Women’s History

 

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

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

 

female taxco band 1

All-female Mariachi [Taxco] Band, 1950s

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

 

Jane-Bowles

Jane Bowles, herself

 

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

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

 

ocean house 2

Ocean Front, circa 1950s

 

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

 

oyster 2

I’ll take mine Rockefeller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Or raw with a little horseradish and Crystal hot sauce…

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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‘Til April…

 

 

Rating: 2/5

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

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

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

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

 

dixie-hwy-osceola-co-1920s

County where Zora grew up in Eatonville

 

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

[Scene 1]

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

[Scene 2]

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

[Scene 2]

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

 

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Florida gator.

 

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

 

fire-magazine

Fire!! [R.I.P.]

 

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

 

zora_photo

Zora. Zora. Zora.

 

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

 

blackcreole_circa1860s_neworleans

Creole Man, circa 1860s

 

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

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

 

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Jim Crow rail car, late 19th century

 

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

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

 

jimcrowcar2

Early 20th Century satire

 

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

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

 

white-colored_passengers

Reminders

 

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

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

 

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Black family on TV, late 1980’s

 

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

 

empire-tv

Black family on TV, 2010’s

 

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til March…

2016 – Movie List*

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 30, 2016 by gregnett

*Of the movies I’ve seen… which no one has asked my opinion on. (I’ve seen over a 100 films this year. That should qualify me, right?)

Here’s yet another obligatory list ranking movies that hit theaters this calendar year, 2016 Anno Domini. A good, safe number is 10. So that’s what I’m giving you — and ten words to go along with them. All are listed by their USA release date. See ya in 2017. Enjoy!

 

 

Official poster shows the titular hero Deadpool standing in front of the viewers, with hugging his hands, and donning his traditional black and red suit and mask, and the film's name, credits and billing below him.

Dir. Tim Miller

 

Ten words: Who knew a violent action flick could be so funny?

 

 

How To Be Single Poster.jpg

Dir. Christian Ditter

 

Ten words: Somewhat passable contemporary dating movie tripped up by stock clichés.

 

 

Triple 9 poster.jpg

Dir. John Hillcoat

 

Ten words: By the book crooked cops actioner. Mackie is surprisingly good.

 

 

Miles Ahead (film).png

Dir. Don Cheadle

 

Ten words: Raw. Dizzying. Brash. Uncouth. Tragic. Just like the man portrayed.

 

 

Green Room (film) POSTER.jpg

Dir. Jeremy Saulnier

 

Ten words: Horror film meets Punk band. An unsettling, grim narrative. Yikes!

 

 

Puerto Ricans in Paris poster.jpg

Dir. Ian Edelman

 

Ten words: Charming, formulaic fish out of water story — but with Hispanics.

 

 

Nerve 2016 poster.png

Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman

 

Ten words: In a year of studio misfires, how’s this more entertaining?

 

 

Snowden film poster.jpg

Dir. Oliver Stone

 

Ten word: The most heart-warming romantic thriller of the year… Wait, what?

 

 

Bleed For This poster.jpg

Dir. Ben Younger

 

Ten word: Conventional pugilist story but skillfully crafted to avoid unwelcoming comparisons.

 

 

Manchester by the Sea.jpg

Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

 

Ten words: Mocks Christianity. Alcohol bandages all of the white people grief.

MOVIE REVIEW: Equals; or Dystopian Romance sweetened with Splenda®

Posted in Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2016 by gregnett

 

I’m starting to grow restless of these dystopian movies—I really am. I can’t take much more of them. Every time I go to thinking that the latest one will offer up something new and inventive, not even a third of the way in and I feel myself drifting off into outer space due to boredom. I would love to tell you that I made it past the half hour mark with Equals (dir. Drake Doremus, Breathe In) before the boredom set in but sadly that wasn’t the case. Sure, I’ve seen worse science fiction but this movie really tested my patience. Again, I’m not quite yet a critical mass but boy, oh boy…

 

galaxy

Can you spot me floating out there somewhere…

 

My main problem with Equals—and films of its ilk—is the casual, subtle, eugenic nature of them that none of these movies ever bother to address. How can a supposedly functioning, safe, harmonic “perfect society” like the one presented in Equals not be traumatized by the event that took place in order for it to come into existence? The answer is a bit of a cliché—and safely bundled up in the premise, I guess. But I can’t help but counter by stating how much of a cop-out that is: that in the future, after a nuclear event that wiped out most of the Earth’s human population, society will now be held in check with pills that will keep people in line and docile—and negate their sex drive too. And I know I shouldn’t be thinking about weighty, complex issues like eugenics while I’m watching a movie and rather putting my focus on trying to enjoy it. But there were just too many questions floating around that needed answering. Like, what’s so special about the handful of brown and Asian people that are allowed to “live” in The Collective? Why are they so okay with living under these conditions (restrictions)? Are they even allowed to question the setup of things? And why does The Collective feel that it’s okay to keep their numbers so much smaller than that of the white citizens, seeing as the State regulates child birth? Wouldn’t this tip the brown and Asian people off that something in their society is amiss? The fact that the races aren’t all represented with “equal” numbers? So are the people of color on a regimen of pills different from the white citizens? Ones that don’t make them realize that they’re outnumbered? And shouldn’t they be the ones committing suicide? (Seriously, do a Google search for minority suicide rates and see what pops up.) And how about the elephant in the room: (institutional) racism? It doesn’t seem to exist anymore, so how did that one get handled? With a premise so vague, it can’t just be summed up that some “pill” makes things so, or can it? If so, then this movie just jacked Big Pharma’s battle cry. They’re the loons who think that there’s a pill for “everything.”

 

Still floating… I wish I had my headphones…

 

Here in the West—America, Canada, (Western) Europe, Australia; Brazil all of a sudden—movies, like mostly everything else, are Eurocentric. But apparently no one slid Mother Earth the memo. Let’s see, umm, a quick head count… Oh, that’s odd. Brown people actually outnumber white people globally by a ratio of 11 to 1. So to see wide, serene, panoramic shots of a dystopian (virtually) white society living out their days without a care in the world, one has to think that their “government” or their elders or their who-have-yous were totally chill about the “vanishing” of 70% of the world’s human population, or damn near, to make way for their futuristic, techno-deficient Shangri-La. Again, to recount: brown (and Asian) people currently make up roughly 70% of the world’s population and this movie, like so many others in its genre, makes no attempt at explaining their disappearance, or even bothers to offer up a commemoration. Here, I suppose, some vague nuclear war is mentioned as to why the world’s population has been depleted, but still—why is it always the brown people who suffer huge losses? To me, it seems statistically improbable… At this point in life I shouldn’t be surprised that this is always the case with Western science fiction, movies or otherwise. But seriously, ponder that for a second: the disappearance of 5.2 billion brown and Asian people from the face of the Earth. Do you know what that is?  Well, boys and girls that is the equivalent of 262 Native American holocausts!

The only reason why black people are even in this movie is so that the hams who run the movie biz can experience that warm cozy feeling about their tummies for being Progressive™. And the only reason why Asian people are in this movie probably has something to do with my sneaky suspicion that a portion of the financing for the film came from the Orient—after quickly glancing at the credits. Shame on me, but I lack the confidence in believing that if this film were backed by a major American movie studio that it would be so racially diverse—and the film isn’t, though it would like to believe it is. Then again, maybe Equals could’ve been made by a major studio. But I doubt the people of color would’ve been able to use their real voices and speak with their natural inflections and at a normal tone (blacks yell; Asians whisper) … So yeah, there’d be black people in it—and a few Hispanic people too, for good measure. And as usual, there would be no Asian actors—they always seem to get the shaft for some reason… What? Don’t come at me, bro. You should know by now how Hollywood likes to roll them off the assembly line. Don’t believe me? Just go watch Pitch Perfect 1 & 2 then report back to me and tell me what you saw. Tell me you saw fine, excellent representations of Asian-Americans, please do—I dare you. So however you feel about that swipe at Asians (it isn’t; I love Asian people), don’t use that energy to troll me. Use that same energy to write your congressman a letter. (Boom! Current political snark. Two points!)

Okay, it’s been awhile since I’ve done this. I’m a bit rusty, but here goes…

 

Equals (2016) Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult

 

Equals begins just like every other film in its genre: with the main character playing the part of a loner and at the same time, a distant dreamer of sorts with mad ADHD, or restlessness, or something. They all run the same; I can never tell. Aside from the aforementioned affliction(s), the world that the character lives in seems to have a peculiar knack for sparseness. And by that I mean: all of the garbage we’re amassing as human beings, currently rotting inside freight containers on barges in the Atlantic Ocean and Yangtze River, or floating freely atop the water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, or secretly being hidden deep underneath the sand in the Nevada desert is now gone. The future, once again, will be without clutter. Tall, well-lit skyscrapers, yes; but no clutter. Silas (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: Apocalypse), though I could’ve sworn I heard his name pronounced “solace” the first time around, is who Equals is centered on. He too gets an insufferable meta-/biblical name to go by. Because if this movie did have any religious undertones—there are none—there’d be no escaping the striking similarities between movie Silas and the real-life biblical Silas who ventured about the then known world behind St. Paul the Apostle as he went on his excursions. Yes, movie Silas too has a strong desire walk the earth like his namesake but his reason is that he can no longer find “solace” in the world he currently lives in. Oh, and Silas is special too. He “feels” stuff… internally, and is issued pills for it though they don’t have any effect on him. Externally, however, it’s grounds for being removed from The Collective—the name of the “perfect society” he lives in—and placed in an underground compound known as “The Den” for reprogramming (death). So, of the five senses, touch—person-to-person contact—has been outlawed. I’m not really sure why that is. The movie doesn’t clarify it all the way, it mostly glosses over this notion—but you sort of just have to go with it.

A bit of a new “wrinkle” for a dystopian sci-fi flick is introduced here in that this “perfect society” allows art, actual artistic expression like visual art, classical music (how did it out survive EDM and Hip-Pop?) and literature—and Silas just so happens to be an illustrator at a company that produces books, digitally of course. Now if you have read any totalitarian manifesto from the last 200 years, you would know that letting the proletariat have a form of release is risky business. But since everyone is on the pill?, or indoctrinated?, there’s really no need to be concerned. Only Equals is a movie and things can’t stay the same forever. There has to be some kind of shake-up of the main character’s world, an inciting incident if you will. But before that can happen, we are introduced to Nia (Kristen Stewart, Anesthesia) who is white. But her name’s origin is Swahili which when translated to English means “purpose.” How a film so void of Africans (and African-Americans) commits such a faux pas beats me. I don’t know, I guess that’s what happens when names sound cool…

 

Just sailing along…

 

So Silas (solace) and Nia (purpose)—who’s a writer, and employed at the same company as Silas—just so happen to witness a white man commit suicide while looking out of the window at work one day, and from a simple thumb twitch on Nia’s part, Silas is able to infer that what he’s been “feeling” for so long that there’s another person—a woman!—who “feels” exactly what he’s been “feeling.” And just like that, he’s smitten. I mean, yeah, he’s looked at her from across the conference table at work a few times, and has seen her scanning her wrist (a very nice touch!) upon entering various buildings and what not, but him suddenly having the hots for her is a bit alarming. If Silas wasn’t so hot his damn self, anyone noticing his change of character would alert the authorities pronto because son does some legendary stalking of Nia following their meet-cute. The movie even goes out of its way to insert a “uhh-could-you-not-follow-so-closely-behind-me-bro!” scene just to ease any discomfort the audience might have in watching Silas’s behavior—and to give Nia some agency, because she was coming off very flat up to that point.

And I think it was about here that the movie lifted me up into outer space—at about the 18-minute mark, or so. For the life of me I thought that when I watched the trailer awhile back I would be going to see a science fiction thriller, not a love story. Equals basically deep-sixes everything it had going for it and became the Nicholas & Kristen Show with some very claustrophobic close-ups for the rest of its run-time. (Off the record: Silas is the worst boyfriend ever! for what he allows to happen to Nia.)

Look, I like Kristen Stewart. Other than the director, she was my main reason for going to see this film, so I wasn’t put off by seeing her face all over the movie screen. But ever since she did Clouds of Sils Maria, she has been picking some really odd films to be in. It’s like she’s content being the co-star rather than the lead. I definitely think she’s challenging herself but some of these stories are suspect… And Drake, he’s a good dude. His intentions are well, but this time around things are just a little too contrived for me.

 

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Equals (2016), Kristen Stewart

 

Truthfully speaking, if there were cameras or cell phones in this film (society) the third act of this movie wouldn’t be possible. The way in which the scenes stack up would be null and void. I have to reiterate that because of how preposterous the story became—and to keep with the theme of this blog post.

Another round of questions: how the f**k did Nia get back into Silas’s apartment? Why is Nia able to successfully commit a B & E (Breaking and Entering) without it alerting the authorities? At this point she’s a fugitive from the law in a society where everyone is chipped and therefore should be monitored, so how is she even able to make it back to Silas’s apartment in the first place? Shouldn’t there be guards posted at Silas’s front door, and guards posted at her home and job, and any other place she would normally go? In the same movie universe there are sleek, slide-away appliances, digital work-stations, jumbo news monitors, magic pills and adhesives but no Instagram, no T-Mobile, no GMail, or drones, or eye in the sky apparatus, or SWAT Team? On top of this, a random day-player mic checks that The Collective has cured cancer, the common cold, and S.O.S. (“Switched On Syndrome”; the movie’s made up disease for what Silas has that makes him “feel” which The Collective later develops a cure for yet Silas is able to shake off its potency) but excuse me, umm… eugenics? Uh, would you mind telling us about that one? What’s even freakier is that the guy who tells us what The Collective has gotten rid of is a person of color. Yikes!

So, yeah, all we’re really stuck with here is a movie romance. And you know how that ish goes: what’s your favorite scary movie, no what’s your favorite scary movie? lines of dialogue, and other hard-hitting questions like, “So where’d you grow up?” and “Are you a Democrat or a Libertarian? — God, not a Republican. Anything but a Republican.” And then the sex. You know the sex. We’ve all seen it: that PG-13 drivel that’s rife with mouth open, over-the-top heavy breathing and simultaneous orgasms… And why is it always the guy who turns into a philosopher for the pillow talk afterwards? Silas is a mute before then. But once he jumps into the sack with Nia, two movie-sex montages later, he’s ready to give a dissertation on love and all of its dynamics… Man, movie pussy is magic.

 

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Equals (2016), Nicholas Hoult

Equals hands its test in early. It was so hell-bent on giving us Romeo and Juliet in the future that it forgot to entertain us living here in the present with the world it had established. John Guleserian’s (cinematographer, Breathe In) visuals are a joy to look at. Too bad there isn’t a story to go along with them. The spotlight of blame shines bright on you Nathan Parker (screenwriter, Blitz) and you too Drake Doremus… And all of this talk about an all-female led Ghostbusters reboot and originality, and here we have a promising, young, American filmmaker doing his send up to Shakespeare. Maybe it’s me but I can’t help but feel like Doremus explores this type of terrain in all of his movies—unless he’s a romantic, then I sincerely apologize.

Equals isn’t a bad movie, not an intentionally bad movie… But it’s not a good one either. Sure, it’s crafted well. I’ve never had to look in all four corners of the frame to see a character’s face before. But a story like this comes a dime a dozen. Don’t believe me just watch: THX 1138 (Equals seems like an updated version IMHO), Comet, Wristcutters: A Love Story, The Hunger Games Trilogy (tetralogy), The Divergent Series, The 5th Wave, Wall-E, The Host, The Giver, The Lobster, The Island, Z for Zachariah (lots of religious undertones), The Matrix (the OG), V for Vendetta (for the counterculture anarchist in you), The Twilight Series (pentalogy; somewhat), Oblivion, In Time, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner (the granddaddy of them all), Southland Tales (horrible; don’t ever watch this movie), Never Let Me Go, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (for all you Hipsters out there), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, AlphavilleHer (one more for da Hipsters), Sleeper (yes, even Woody Allen)—and many, many more. I only say this much because I like Doremus and I want to see more from him. I’m tellin’ ya, the kid has a great eye, and I have a hunch he’s sharper than most. I just don’t see the need to keep going back to the well for Romance.

 

Boooosh!!

 

And as for genre films, aren’t we (brown people and Asians) owed one by now? Zombies, vampires, dystopian romance, evil witches & fairy godmothers, post-apocalyptic automobile societies, aliens, kaijū—yes, we may have missed the boat on these but there has to be some way, some new angle possibly for us to watch our big screen avatars don makeup and funny-looking costumes and prance about some made-up, fantastical world. A film like Leprechaun in the Hood exists but there’s radio silence upon the mention of an all person of color sci-fi epic/drama. Come on, Hollywood. All we’re asking for is just one, decent sci-fi ensemble film (or franchise) that’s front loaded with brown, black and Asian talent. And not one of those dinky Denzel Book of Eli movies either. Now is that too much to ask for in 2016? It can’t really be, really…? I mean, just look at the Fast and the Furious. I know you hate to admit it but that franchise uses a lot of the talent I just mentioned—even women! And they’re on movie number eight last I time I checked. And the filmmakers behind that series don’t discriminate, especially when there’s the strong possibility of making a shit-ton of money.

Equals – 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Science fiction; Romance
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, David Selby, Bel Powley
Director: Drake Doremus
Producer(s): Michael Pruss, Chip Diggins, Ann Ruark, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott, Jay Stern
Screenwriter:  Nathan Parker; story by Drake Doremus
Released: 07/15/2016; Runtime (in minutes) 101; MPAA Rating: PG-13

New Drank!: Weekly Quotes

Posted in Writing & Poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by gregnett

Hello all. I’m writing at length today to set up a new weekly thing I’ll be doing which is to provide a quote—some serious, some not so serious—for us to reflect on during the week. It’s just something we can re-read again and again to keep us on task while we work on our project, or while we’re in between projects, or not working on any project at all—whatever your creative endeavor may be. Mine is *deep over-dramatic sigh* screenwriting and/or film review/analysis and/or film business related ish. (I also write observations about what’s going on in America and the world at large hence the name of the blog.)

Currently I’m in the game-planning phase for a new project. For those of you who actually read this blog, you know that’s why there are long gaps of time in between my posts. So for now posts will come with a little more frequency. As for the quotes, I’ll be posting one every Tuesday—if I’m working on something or not—and hopefully before 10 a.m. (Sundays and Mondays don’t exist to me.)

The way it works is simple: you read it, feel some type of way about it, then see if it applies to what you’re working on, not working on, etc. If it applies, great! If not, well at least you have a new quote to go into your repertoire of random quotes to say to randomly to people. Easy enough, right? There shouldn’t be any pushback on this, I think. This is just the wheel all over again, only I’m putting my spin on it…

And away we go.

M.C. Escher

M.C. Escher

Quote:

“A man always has two reasons for what he does—a good one, and the real one.”  – J.P. Morgan