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Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: The Cocktail Party

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

Comedy. Drama.

Title: The Cocktail Party (1949)
Playwright: T.S. Eliot
Time Period: Modernism
Plot: Several West End Londoners gather in the Chamberlaynes’ drawing-room following a cocktail party. Left to serve their guests alone, Edward Chamberlayne meets a mysterious stranger who offers his assistance in helping save their troubled marriage.
Dope Line(s):

[Act 1, Sc. 1, Ln. 333-335]

UNIDENTIFIED GUEST
It will do you no harm to find yourself ridiculous.
Resign yourself to be the fool you are.
That’s the best advice
I can give you.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 88-89]

EDWARD
Oh, my God, what shall we talk about?
We can’t sit here in silence.

[Act 1, Sc. 3, Ln. 322-325]

LAVINIA
Everything I tried only made matters worse,
And the moment you were offered something that you wanted
You wanted something else. I shall treat you very differently
In
[the] future.

london-night-1950

London (West End), 1950s

It is soooo refreshing to (finally) read a good story. I can’t even remember the last time I felt this giddy upon finishing a book. (Good stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) I guess this here blog series is gonna be alright after all… And I’m thankful for that! Last month’s stage play put me in a really dark place. (Bad stories do that to me; how ‘bout you?) Talking became a chore. My jeans didn’t feel as crisp. I started back eating bread. Everything was not awesome. Life!—How fast things snowball… But like his Duderino’s ethos as to the way Life is: “Strikes and gutters.” Yes, why, yes indeed! Life is, at any given moment, as simple as that­—that of a forward roll of a thirteen-pound bowling ball down a waxed, wooden lane. Not necessarily a strike but the aim is to hit something as opposed to nothing at all. So, here I am; confidence renewed, faith restored, out of the gutter and lined up for a spare!—and all the more thankful to finally have some good chi flowing through me. This series’ll be done in no time!

st_anthony_of_padua

St. Anthony of Padua

It being close to the Holiday Season (November, Thanksgiving; December, Christmas [and Kwanzaa]), I wanted to do a side-by-side to cap things off. By that I mean, I wanted to review two stage plays: one of them an original, and the other an adaptation. Bad form on me though; I wrote last month that I’d be going Greek (I later edited this portion.) but in truth I had the “adapted” material slotted for November. It’s no surprise now but The Cocktail Party by T. S. Eliot is somewhat of a loose adaption of Alcestis by Euripides (Feel free to jump ahead if you like.) — and as “Thank you!” to You this Holiday Season, I decided to let you in on what some of my favorite stage plays are. Playwrights actually. I absolutely love T.S. Eliot! I would guess that most of you are familiar with him through his poetry; this one in particular: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). Old Possum’s would later be used as the source material for the long-running Broadway musical Cats (1981). I’m familiar with Eliot through a number of his essays and Murder in the Cathedral (1939), an earlier stage play of his which sits high on my list of all-time favorites. (Yes, it’s that good!) As mentioned way back in March and echoed again in June, I’m rather hush-hush about the material I read (for the most part). But ‘tis the season and offering up one of my personal favs might give you a better understanding of the kind of material I’m always on the lookout for…

TS Eliot

T.S. Eliot, himself

Well, what’s unique about Cocktail is how stripped-down the material is but at the same time how crammed it is with clever (and perhaps indulgent) homages to timeless works. Eliot borrows liberally from the Holy Bible, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Prometheus Unbound, The Waste Land (his own), Murder in the Cathedral (his own), Sweeney Agonistes (his own), The Family Reunion (his own), East Coker (his own), The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (his own), Descent into Hell (his buddy’s), The Extasie, A Woman Killed with Kindness, the Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Divine Comedy (Paradiso in particular), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Die Verwandlung [The Metamorphosis], Fathers and Sons, Res Publica [The Republic], Piers Plowman, Carmina Gadelica; also some wise sayings from Socrates and Buddha, and a few plot mechanics from William Congreve and the Comedy of Manners—and, of course, the above mentioned Alcestis which I’ll discuss more in-depth next month. (Eliot basically did the Tarantino before Tarantino did the Tarantino.)

1950s_solitaire

Some say Patience, I say Solitaire

All this mic-checking of other people’s material caused a lot of ire among Eliot’s literary peers (and a few of his friends) in the play’s heyday. (I seriously doubt the plebs read any of the works mentioned above; I’m aware of about seven of them, and much of what I’ve listed have insanely high page counts.) And that was pretty much the only significant scratch against The Cocktail Party—that Eliot filched “sourced” so much of his dialogue from other people’s work that the play’s credibility was somewhat strained. Oh, and the characters—whose origins are rooted in farce; as Eliot was also wanting to satirize the first-world problems of London’s West End circa 1950—start off in something grounded in reality (and at times witty) only to become grand sermonizers and soap-boxers as the play moves forward, especially in the middle of Act Two. (As a lover of monologues, I was in hog heaven. The fact that they were heavy with Christian undertones and philosophical headiness didn’t all that much bother me.) Interestingly enough, Eliot later defended himself against the “sourcing” claim, stating that he merely did this to keep theater critics from picking up the scent of the play’s main source of inspiration, which again, is Alcestis. Should you read The Cocktail Party, that’s your call me to make. Me, myself—I have about a thousand other questions…

gin_tonic1

Gin + Tonic + Lime = Yes!

The play begins at the tail end of a cocktail party at the flat (home) of Edward & Lavinia Chamberlayne. Edward has been left stranded with several guest—and none of these stragglers have even thought of starting for the door. So the gin continues to flow, the hors d’oeuvres continue to be passed, and Edward’s patience continues to be tried—so much so that he fibs a bit on the whereabouts of his wife Lavinia who’s missing in action. (She’s away in the country tending to a fake sick aunt.) Just shy of newlyweds, their five-year marriage is already on the rocks; though this information is unknown to us early on. It takes minimal effort on an Uninvited Guest’s part to extract this bit of information from Edward a few moments later when they’re alone. Funny thing though: the Uninvited Guest’s nosiness is subtler than that of Julia’s, the Chamberlaynes’ spinster friend and renowned West End socialite who’s still lingering around. (She questions people whenever she damn well pleases.) Hell, Julia has no understanding of the word rude and neither does Alexander, another West Ender high up in the upper crust of London society. He too has yet to start home. It’s as if these three are all on the same team or something… Unable to cancel the party, poor Edward had to handle this small group—and others maybe—all on his own. They party finally over, Edward later finds himself in his drawing-room, defeated and dispirited, talking to a complete a stranger about his marital woes. Later in that same drawing-room, Edward’s young friend Peter—an aspiring script-writer!—tells Edward his problems which are also of the love variety. Young Peter made the timeless mistake of putting himself in the friend zone thinking that that move would put him on the quickest route to a woman’s under garments. Too bad the man Peter’s laying this heavy burden down upon has already been “down that road.” But at least Edward’s being a good sport about it and hearing Peter out. Better to let the young buck down easy and keep the fisticuffs to a minimum—because you never know how young guys are going to react especially when they think that they’re “In love.” Oh, and that young woman would be Celia, who vanished with everyone else earlier. And like most side-chicks, Celia’s aching to be the star of the show. But “cosmically” there might be some thwarting of her master plan.

1950's_hors_doeuvres

More chips! More dip!

“The same thing but new” is an axiom sang out across the creative spectrum. It would be too easy for one to just roll their eyes at infidelity. I too have seen my fair share of it, but it’s the introspection that Eliot gives to both Celia and Edward that makes this play something worthwhile. (I mean, every time these two meet it’s fireworks.) I didn’t throw the book, but boy was I close—again! The play keeps the locations to a minimum (the Chamberlayne’s flat and a Consulting Room) and the storyline is fairly simple: a troubled married couple’s interactions with their acquaintances over the course of two years or so roughly, some of whom may or may not have god-like qualities about them; one in particular (the Uninvited Guest) agreeing to reunite said wife (Lavinia) and husband (Edward) — free of charge it seems. (Man, we’ll just have to wait until next month so that I can touch more on this.) However, The Cocktail Party does commit one major #TINWIPA no-no and that is having an awkward time jump in the narrative (two years!). Again, easily dismissed when the characters and the story are both complex.

gin_tonic3

Gin me!

Truth be told, old-ass Julia got underneath my skin—a lizzot! She pops up everywhere, prying for the sake of prying. This lady has got to be the noisiest character I’ve ever encountered in a story. But she did grow on me after a while as did Lavinia who definitely knows how to deflate a man’s ego… which makes for a great segue.

Like Camille, the “plot” of the story comes into place by the end of the first act. And much of what the characters say (and not do) after that point is where the story (tension) lies… To go into detail would ruin a lot of it for you (Act III is dope!); and you’ve seen a love triangle before. But what made me sit up in my seat was Eliot’s treatment of Edward. Edward is not the prototypical man of his Age (1950s), and him questioning his place in the universe and wanting to escape a loveless marriage would’ve have been quite striking to theater-goers. (Of course, men and women separated but not in great volume like today.) Men of Edward’s era rarely if ever thought of themselves as individuals (not publicly at least) and happily signed up for whatever society was dishing out. If it was go to work: men marched right into the factories; go to war: then hand me my damn rifle!; get married and start a family: on it!

chirstmas beetle

Metaphor, or Insult… Hm?

But watching Edward come into his own (self-actualization) made me painfully aware of something the men of my Age (A.D. 2017; some late Gen-Xers and many Millennials) have embraced fully for one; it’s also a luxury we don’t necessarily take for granted, but we really don’t have a clue on hard it must’ve been for men in Edward’s day to say fugg it! and go for self and self only. If Edward were living today he’d definitely be MGTOW. I would have liken him to having the same epiphany that Kevin Spacey (Oy, vey Kevin Spacey *deep sigh*) had early on as Lester Burnham in the movie American Beauty. (Films like The Matrix, Everything Must Go, Office Space, and Fight Club also come to mind.) Here’s a quick back and forth between Edward and the side-chick:

[CELIA: I don’t think I care for advice from you, Edward:
You are not entitled to take any interest
Now, in my future. I only hope you’re competent
To manage your own. But if you are not in love
And never have been in love with Lavinia,
What is it that you want?*]

(* = I provided the underline.)

Me answering for Edward: To have a little harem of maybe four or five hot twenty-five-year-olds on the side. Less responsibility, a less stressful job, and only to live off of what I absolutely need. A minimal existence. Also, a respectable gun and/or book collection, and perhaps a few other manly hobbies like billiards, cigars, or wild game hunting. A solid workout routine. Oh, and a better nest egg, and less friends, and less interaction with “dumb” people. And less you (Celia) unless you want in to my harem…

Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. Much of the above was me being cynical. But, no, Edward’s actual response is this:

[EDWARD: I am not sure.
The one thing of which I am relatively certain,
Is that only since this morning
I have met myself as a middle-aged man
Beginning to know what it is to feel old.]

Celia, in the middle of all this, belittles Edward by calling him a beetle. And with that yet another women stuffs a man back into the role of provider.

tray_glasses

A toast… To???

I’ll lay off the gender ish for now and close by saying that this play is very much relevant in today’s world—albeit slightly. Also, Eliot was doing the whole Art-Imitating-Life shtick here. IRL, Eliot’s wife died and during their whole time together he had been hella close to a young lady who thought that dude would remarry her when wifey was no longer in the picture. Well, she guessed wrong. So, it appears the Mr. Eliot went his own way. Interesting… But the fact remains that many (men) are waking up to the peculiarities of the institution of Marriage—especially now that the State and the Courts have gotten way too involved. And most have sought out to better understand their personal relationship with the Universe, spiritually, religiously, astrally (it’s a word now), and secularly (and this is a word now too). Of course, there are major (societal) ramifications to all of this, but my generation can’t help but question all of these things; we’ll deal with the cause & effect later. Strict marriage and even stricter religion don’t have the quite hold they once did—but they’re still lingering. Yet something tells me that neither of these will be the norm from now on… All righty, boys and girls and aliens. I’m looking down the barrel of three intense workout days to make room for the turkey and pumpkin pie I plan on engorging myself on. Next month we wrap this series up and we’ll talk 2018 in 2018. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til December…

 

Rating: 4/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

 (4) To keep with tradition. If we—us adults, that is—should stop going to the theater, then there’s a strong possibility our kids won’t go at all. It would be a sad, sad day in the world if I should have to look at the Stage from behind a rope at a museum and some elderly woman working part-time through her retirement is explaining to me and my kids that going to the theater is what people used to do for “live entertainment.”

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

 

RyoanJi-Kane

It tolls for me…

 

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

[Act 1]

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

[Act 2]

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

[Act 2]

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

 

shamisen

Smooth, soft sounds from the shamisen

 

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

 

Buddhist_Incense_case

Smell the boredom…

 

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

 

Tsuruya Nanboku IV

Playwright, Tsuruya Namboku IV

 

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

 

Buddhist_prayer_beads

Pray to Buddha

 

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

 

A white chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum – symbol of loyalty and devoted love

 

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

 

cherry_blossoms

Wouldn’t be Japan without Cherry Blossoms

 

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

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

 

black kimono

Beware the black kimono!

 

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

 

Princess Sakura - Scarlet Princess

Drawing of “The Scarlet Princess”

 

This play doesn’t hold up by a long-shot… There’s not much here I can add to it, and sadly I have to do something I don’t think I’ve ever done before which is give a really really low grade to a stage play. It is what it is… Next month should be more of an upswing. I’ll be going back to the early 20th century in November. Happy Halloween boys and girls and aliens.

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til November…

 

Rating: 0.5/5

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.

 

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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?)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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‘Til October…

 

 

Rating: 3/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

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

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

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

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

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They’re out there…

Title: The Nether (2013)
Playwright: Jennifer Haley
Time Period: Postmodernism (Transrealism)
Plot: A young detective investigates the inventor of an online virtual realm where morally questionable acts involving young children are being carried out behind the anonymity of “Shades” — human avatars that could potentially be real and what, if any, ethical ramifications this may have regarding the real world.
Dope Line(s):

[Scene 5]

MORRIS
It’s more than that, Mr. Doyle. It’s sound, smell, touch. The Hideaway is the most advanced realm there is when it comes to the art of sensation.

[Scene 13]

IRIS
People come to things on their own time. We offer a place where you may dismantle everything the world has told you about right and wrong and discover pure relationship.

[Scene14]

DOYLE
It draws people who are—broken—I know that, but—I don’t judge them—they are part of us, too—they are part of the world—God does not judge them—why should we?

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Ones & Zeroes

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

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

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Small on scale, big on dreams…

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

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Jennifer Haley

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

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

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The room.

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

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Sadistic weapon of choice

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

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Talk!!!

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

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

 

 

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‘Til September…

 

 

Rating: 2.5/5

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

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

Comedy. Drama.

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

 

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Dame No. 1

 

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

[Act 1]

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

[Act 1]

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

[Act 3]

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

 

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Harlem 1970s

 

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

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

 

d2

Dame No. 2

 

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

 

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More Harlem 1970s

 

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

 

globe1

The Harlem Globetrotters

 

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

 

apollo

Old school Harlem

 

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

 

image

Dame No. 3

 

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

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til August…

 

 

Rating: 1.5/5

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.

 

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Amusement Backdrop

 

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

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

 

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.

 

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All-female Mariachi [Taxco] Band, 1950s

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

 

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Jane Bowles, herself

 

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

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

 

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Ocean Front, circa 1950s

 

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

 

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I’ll take mine Rockefeller

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Or raw with a little horseradish and Crystal hot sauce…

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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‘Til April…

 

 

Rating: 2/5