Archive for Godiva

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

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

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

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

 

1024px-Lady_Godiva_(John_Collier,_c._1897)

A portrait of Lady Godiva by John Collier

 

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

Dope Line (s):

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

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

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

 

medieval_romp

Even back then…

 

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

 

glitter 2

All that glitters…

 

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

Ronald Tavel: His Life & Works [web address]

Eight Plays from Off-Off Broadway [book]

The New Underground Theatre [book]

Return to the Caffe Cino [book]

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

Off-Off-Broadway [wiki page]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [wiki page]

NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project [web address]

Theatre of the Ridiculous [book]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

Warhol Screen Test #2 [video segment]

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

 

flaming-creatures_movie-poster

Flaming Creatures movie poster

 

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

 

two_by_travel

TOTR Promo

 

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

 

tavel_650

Ronald Tavel

 

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

 

edwardian-hairstyles-gibson-girls

Classic Gibson look

 

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

 

Leather_BDSM_outfit

Who are you wearing?

 

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

 

andro_nun

Cross-dress much??

 

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

 

lady-godivas-prayer-edwin-landseer

More Lady G

 

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

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

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til October…

 

 

Rating: 3/5

Advertisements