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

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masks

Comedy. Tragedy.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You were there?”

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

He was there?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d he look like?”

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

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

“I did something bad.”

“Tell me.”

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

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

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

“You what…? But I thought…”

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

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

“Oh, Greg. I am so sorry. My bad, I…”

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

THE END. FOR NOW —

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

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

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The Auteuil – 19th century French Elite Hangout

 

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

Playwright: Alexandre Dumas fils

Time Period: Late Romantic Period

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

Dope Line(s):

[Act I]

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

[Act II]

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

[Act IV]

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

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Book Art

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

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

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

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White Camellia equals Hanky-Panky

 

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

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

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Dumas Himself

 

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

Moving on.

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

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

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

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Marie Duplessis – Real life Camille

 

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

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

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Red Camellia means no Hanky-Panky

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

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

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

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

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“Bois du Boulogne” – Alexey P. Bogolyubov

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

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

stage-chair

‘Til May…

 

 

Rating: 4/5

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

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Old School Ocean Fun

 

Title: In the Summer House (1953)

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

[Act 1, Sc. 2]

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

[Act 1, Sc. 3]

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

[Act 2, Sc. 1]

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

 

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Amusement Backdrop

 

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

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

 

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.

 

Jane-Bowles

Jane Bowles, herself

 

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

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

 

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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.

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til April…

 

 

Rating: 2/5

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

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

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

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

 

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County where Zora grew up in Eatonville

 

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

[Scene 1]

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

[Scene 2]

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

[Scene 2]

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

 

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Florida gator.

 

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

 

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Fire!! [R.I.P.]

 

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

 

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Zora. Zora. Zora.

 

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

 

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Creole Man, circa 1860s

 

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

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

 

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Jim Crow rail car, late 19th century

 

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

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

 

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Early 20th Century satire

 

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

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

 

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Reminders

 

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

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

 

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Black family on TV, late 1980’s

 

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

 

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Black family on TV, 2010’s

 

Rating: 2/5 stars

 

 

stage-chair

‘Til March…

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer: Preliminary Confessions | Romeo and Juliet

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

Comedy. Tragedy.

Confessions of an American Amateur Theater-Reviewer:
PRELIMINARY CONFESSIONS

These preliminary confessions, or introductory narrative of earlier adventures which laid the foundation for my approach to theater criticism, has been deemed necessary to highlight, and for these main reasons:

1. To be out in front of that question — “How did a nice and easy-going fellow such as yourself—who has no theater background at all—get it in his mind to want to write criticism on the stage plays?” — A question which, if not somewhere plausibly resolved, could tinker with that degree of sympathy which is necessary in any case to a reviewer’s purpose.

2. As an awakening perhaps to the current cultural landscape. Take for instance: The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ final performance of The Greatest Show on Earth is this coming May (2017), a live-action showcase that has been apart of Americana for 147 years. It seems like every time I “pay attention” to the news I see a report pointing out how Americans are slowly succumbing to the techno-industrial beasts commonly known as digital and virtual enslavement “entertainment.”

3. As a way of creating some new interest in the theater. My own criticism aside: if one can get pass the pretentiousness and ticket prices of Broadway and its ilk, or support the local “smaller” theater boxes, one would see that the theater is an amazing place to socialize and that there is still quite a bit of creativity being used. Allegedly, Hollywood just had two record-breaking years back-to-back. And when the money comes that easy, it is hard to find originality…

[The above preliminary confessions will be answered in later installments. For now, we turn our attention to Romeo and Juliet.]

 

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Rosemary for remembrance

 

Title: Romeo and Juliet (1595)
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Time Period: Early to Middle Renaissance
Plot: An ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets has forced the Prince of Verona to issue a death sentence to the person of either family who instigates the next brawl. Young Romeo Montague and young Juliet Capulet secretly wed in the background of this age-old conflict between the two families.
Dope Line(s):
[Act 1, Sc. 2, Ln. 55]
ROMEO
Not mad, but bound more than a madman is,

[Act 2, Sc. 2, Ln. 66-68]
ROMEO
With love’s light wings did I o’erperch the walls,
For story limits cannot hold love out,
And what love can do, that dares love attempt.

[Act 4, Sc. 5, Ln. 46-48]
LADY CAPULET
But one, poor one, one poor and loving child,
But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
And cruel death hath catched if from my sight!

 

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That Old-Old-Old  Old School Balcony Game

 

What can I possibly say about Romeo and Juliet that hasn’t already been said? Not much, really. The work speaks for itself. Romeo and Juliet has been adapted—just film alone—more than 30 darn times for Christ’s sake! And somewhere north of 290 plays and 500 movies wouldn’t be in existence if it weren’t for William Shakespeare. He is to Stage and Film what the Notorious B.I.G. is to Hip-Hop and wall murals. The characters and language of Romeo and Juliet are all solid—but there are some contrivances though. I mean, four centuries ago a lot of the goings on of this play may have been the ish but now in the year 2017 anno Domini, someone’s got to take on the ungodly task of nitpicking the great bard’s work—just a wee bit. Seriously, how often does one run into someone who’s in a position of authority who can’t read? And then that same person turns to the next person walking by, who just so happens to figure into the plot, to read to him what is on the sheet of paper he’s holding? Be honest: that’s a little too convenient…

And that’s sort of why I chose R&J to kick off my monthly theater review series. Just about everybody on the planet has heard of it. And, personally, I wanted to refresh myself with the material. In middle school, my English textbook only had excerpts. It showed up later in high school in two forms: the cheesy VHS copy of some British theater company doing their rendition which I was forced to watch in English III—and the Aaliyah movie. That’s what we called Romeo Must Die in the hood when I was growing up: The Aaliyah Movie. Sad but true. But in our defense: it was her feature film debut, and that movie had banked its fortunes on Black people showing up at the box office. And so: that’s what we called it.

 

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Romeo Must Die (2000),Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Again, I have to pause to say that this story really is the Energizer Bunny. There won’t be anything this century written—my work included—that will come close to it. This thing is Teflon™. I guess that’s why Universal bought the rights to Rebecca Serle’s novel When You Were Mine which has now been green-lit to be a film titled Rosaline. Sony’s going in big also but with a 300-style version titled Verona. So yet another spin-off, reboot, remake, sequel, prequel, requel, whatever the f—! to obstruct the road for originality in Film. But, oddly enough, Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Julietguffaw!—from a really old-ass poem: The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet (1562) so it all comes back around I guess…

 

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Verona

 

Shakespeare’s Verona. A lot like my New Orleans. Romantic but at the same time crime-ridden and shaped like a crescent—somewhat. It’s late in the summer (July?) and there’s an ongoing feud spilling over into the streets.

Between who?

Two families of great stock who absolutely loathe one another.

And how long has it been like that between them?

For those involved, they don’t care to remember… And they are the Capulets: Lord and Lady Capulet, Juliet, Tybalt, Greory, Sampson—and others; and they have beef with the Montagues: Lord and Lady Montague, Romeo, Benvolio—and their supporters. Prince Escalus wants this put to rest and issues the punishment of death to the next person who starts things up again…

And how could you not love the opening sequence of R&J. There’s great banter, great action, and, aided by prologue, you get a great sense of the world and the setting, a great deal of tension, an onslaught of characters (which I love!), and what we should be paying attention to as far as theme—ending meaningless quarrels with someone or groups of people.

 

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Rapier-fighting

 

Now I’d like to move things along and get to Juliet who at this point in my life I’m shifty about. I get that she’s thirteen, but boy oh boy, she’s smart one moment and then foolish the next (great writing!). Confession: I’m an aspiring screenwriter and I can admit that publicly. Now as much as a decent writer I like to think I am, I still haven’t gotten over the hump and on my way to writing episodes of television or making feature films. I just had to stop my review for a moment because there’s this one thing I’d like to highlight that runs rampant in my business (I still work in film). Something I see the so-called “pros” do all the f’ing time—and that’s having characters “arrive late.” I guess there must be some screenwriting book that every writer in the business treats as the Bible or it’s one of these goddamn screenwriting “rules” that these same screenwriters honor as the gospel—but I strongly disagree with this notion: having characters “arrive late” or having a scene begin “late.”

Here’s why: IRL if I were to show up late to a production meeting or just show up late in general to work, I could potentially lose my job. Because being late in real life makes adult human beings believe that I can’t be trusted or that I’m irresponsible—and punctuality is a key indicator. Now the weird thing in my biz—and maybe in all industries—is that no one will give me ish about it to my face. But when I suddenly find out why I can’t crew up on the next production, all I have to do is think back to the time I showed up to set twenty minutes late, phone call or not. It isn’t so much that I have a quarrel with scenes beginning “late”; I get that that’s necessary sometimes. But it’s the announcement of a character in a scene saying to another character that they’ve arrived “late.” One, it’s wasted dialogue; two: fire his or her ass. Or just don’t bring up the fact that the character is late at all and get down to business. Damn near every episode of television I watch or movie I go to see it has to have the same-old obligatory scene where a character says “You’re late.” to the person walking in late. It’s only brought up once and never mentioned again (anywhere!), and nothing ever comes of it because characters in movies (and television) don’t get reprimanded at work unless it’s in the third act of a Romantic Comedy. So moratorium on that nonsense in 2017, please!!

My suggestion: crib from Shakespeare. It isn’t like that isn’t a thing already. The simple fix to that problem is right there at the beginning of Scene 3, Act 1. Lady Capulet and the Nurse enter together into what I guess is Juliet’s part of the house, looking for her:

[LADY CAPULET: Nurse, where’s my daughter? Call her forth to me.]

And Juliet enters “late”—which, like I said, isn’t a bad thing in itself:

[JULIET: Madam, I am here. What is your will?]

Boom! Done! I get that screenwriters want to quickly establish tension in a scene but I think that the “You’re late” approach is the laziest way of going about it. Shakespeare does this magnificently—showcasing how one can be late and still get tension out of the scene. And not only is there tension off the bat in this scene, but he also makes room for his other characters (the Nurse) thus adding dimension to them and he lays down a good dramatic beat to build up to the main character’s entrance: Juliet.

And why couldn’t she have picked a better choice in men?

If we’re playing favorites, I’d have to say that my favorite character in this whole ordeal was Lord Capulet—and Juliet or the Friar would be my second. Lord Capulet too is aloof at times but the man makes a ton of sense. It’s weird reading this play again, especially post-Twilight Series (and its ilk) and now as an adult. (Teens in this generation have a weird fascination with death, am I right?) No father in his right damn mind living today would allow his daughter to hang out with a guy like Romeo. And I have to give him a few brownie points. He wears his heart on his sleeve—admirable—and is a bit brash, suave when needed. But he’s also long-winded and the type to flaunt money and status around (the Apothecary) which is a big #TINWIPA no-no. I have to whisper when I say this just in case there are some R&J diehards lurking about: ((whisper)) I think Romeo is a sociopath or a psychopath—or both. ((end whisper))

In looking at my notes for him I’ve written, “So he kills Tybalt, Paris who is his own homie’s cousin, and himself. And Lady Montague dies off stage over him being exiled. Then Juliet takes her own life, and his actions could possibly get Friar Lawrence, the Apothecary and Balthasar all whacked! Why do women swoon over him? Is this love?”

 

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Charnel House Climax

 

And that’s sort of the gist of what happens here. It’s the classic, tragic love story that’s been sampled more times than Isaac Hayes’s “Ike’s Mood”. Aside from the many passages foreshadowing Romeo and Juliet’s untimely demise (all amazing), it’s kind of the story of how Romeo makes a mess of things in Verona. He gets involved with his cross-town rival’s teenage daughter. They secretly get wed and fornicate behind everyone’s backs. He then gets deep-sixed to Mantua due to the resolve on Prince Escalus’s part, only to come back to Verona and poison himself, not before slaying another person. Uh, romantic? Okay…

All in all, I think Romeo and Juliet will stand the test of time—it’s that good. It’s a fairly easy story to follow, but you read this one for the language and metaphors… If yet another story could be spun out of this yarn, the Rogue One version of this would be what took place between Scenes 3 and 4 of Act 1. I’d pay hard-earned cash to see what one could come up with for how Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio got in with that crowd of maskers, torchbearers and drummers who end up performing at Lord Capulet’s party.

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

 

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‘Til February…

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

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

 

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

 

galaxy

Can you spot me floating out there somewhere…

 

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

 

Still floating… I wish I had my headphones…

 

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

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

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

 

Equals (2016) Kristen Stewart & Nicholas Hoult

 

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

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

 

Just sailing along…

 

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

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

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

 

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Equals (2016), Kristen Stewart

 

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

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

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

 

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Equals (2016), Nicholas Hoult

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

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

 

Boooosh!!

 

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

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

The One About The Hamster

Posted in The City: Los Angeles with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2012 by gregnett

“Suddenly I am furious, that with my life on the line, they don’t even have the decency to pay attention to me.”
Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games 

 

 

I haven’t written a post in quite some time so forgive me if I’m rusty. Also, this is sort of a shitty attempt to sound all hip & vibrant, and this is also to mask the reality of my situation, that situation being that I hit a wall–figuratively speaking. I’m like 2 pages away from being officially done on a script I’ve been re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re. . . one more re-, rewriting that I’d like this well-connected manager to read. (I need a literary agent, you know what I mean. **Brooklyn voice**) I usually remedy this situation by taking a nighttime walk around the block but I don’t feel like walking around in the cold. It’s a shame Los Angeles sells you on the weather. Truth is: the temperature drops well below 60 degrees on most nights and if I don’t plug in my electric heater I spend most of the night shivering. As if I’m not shivering already.

Which sort of brings me to a point it looks like I’m going to make. (I was wingin’ it up until this point. Definitely not the case anymore.)

My film. It’s done and all. I’m happy with the way it came out. Believe me, it’s creepy what you can do when you put your mind to it. Thanks to a talented cast & crew, couldn’t have done it without you. Sorry, I haven’t laced my blog with the updates and all the behind the scenes junk like originally planned. I’m not being paid for it and no one reads this blog anyway. . .

But my shivers are way out of control. Sending that up to the universe once more to see what happens. I wrote this poem, I Still Shiver,  (I won’t drop it on you now) and reading it again recently made me think about the coming months, 2012 in general, because I’m going to be doing some shivering. And what I mean by that is that my nerves are bad and are getting worse.

Why?

All of the above.  Just cause.

The kid’s got a lot of stuff going on.  Some good, some bad. And it’s been real hard for me to keep still–you know, not shiver. At least writing this blog keeps me stationery save my fingers. But that’s only temporary. And I’m clueless on how to get my nerves to settle. I’ve done everything.

Any thoughts?

The biggest shivers come from what could potentially happen after this film gets seen? And trust me,  I’m having nightmares about that ish! It sucks not knowing.

 

THE END

Director’s Thoughts #1

Posted in Short Film Project with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by gregnett

Although his skin blended well with the dark waters, he was 
careful not to lift his arms too high…” — Toni MorrisonTar Baby

I’m the least bit excited about producing (more like writer-director/producer/co-editor) my first short film. If anything, I’m at peace.

I feel like life has prepared me for it:

Being poor. My life since birth had been put at risk. Extremely dangerous neighborhood. Crumby education. Bad diet. Violence on top of violence. To alter this cycle so I didn’t have to continue living this way involved me taking a lot of risks, certain kinds of risk. “Risks” I’m not sure at this point will end up in my memoir.

So ideally being a filmmaker involves taking risks. The subject matter of my short film is quite risky. The pivotal scene has a man tied to a bed post; his genitals are then removed via hacksaw. Very risky! On top of other things like self-financing and adapting someone else’s work.

–Again. Being poor. My mother had to make miracles happen and I’m still making them happen. Rent money is one of them. I’ve always said, ‘Poor people are the best with money.’ We can’t depend on the little that’s coming in, so we have to be creative in how it all gets spent.

You guessed correctly if you’re wondering if I had to stretch my dollars–I am!

Being a terrible dater. I laughingly call them interviews. You get dressed up to talk a little about yourself and why you would be right for the “job” (boyfriend). You’re then told that there are others applying and that isn’t necessarily you but “other factors” on why you didn’t get the job. That’s to say if you get a call back in the first place about not getting it. In my case, I end up calling and calling to see what’s going on… I’ll quit here, you get the point. [side note: I no longer practice the modern day society exercise known as dating.]

Filmmaking should be categorized under relationships. If done properly, you’ll build relationships with other filmmakers that are for life. But before you get to that point, it involves you having to sit down with a lot of people and getting said people excited about something you wrote at4 a.m.on a Tuesday night in the dark with only the glow from your laptop illuminating the room. The large majority will say “no”. Sort of like dating… *wide smiling grin covers my face* It hurts less and less the more you hear it–the word “no”–and becomes fun and a game all in itself eventually. But like I always say, ‘One yes is equal to a thousand No’s.’ That’s the breakthrough point we all strive for.

Reading. Thankfully I got in the habit early of picking up a book from time to time.

I heard somewhere that screenwriters of yesteryear read authors so therefore the transition into films was easier on them. In passing they would mention their favorite film reminded them of their favorite book. Not so much the case often times today. Screenwriters of today research by watching other films in the genre specific to the one they’re writing. I’m not at all interested in how someone else would’ve filmed an alien invasion. I would prefer to stretch my mind a little on how something like that would look like. Hence me enjoying books more than movies–still!, even though I want to make movies professionally. Books were there for me when boredom crept in and they have also helped keep my imagination vibrant.

Listening. Sometimes it’s just best to shut up.

It might sound odd, I’m sure. But for those who understand what I’m writing, listening means absolutely everything to understanding the world and your own imprint on it. I’ve gained so much knowledge by listening. It goes hand in hand with filmmaking, especially me being a novice to it all…

Decision-making. My job now involves me having to think fast on my feet–literally.

When you’re working long days, especially the amount of hours it goes into making a film, the last thing you need is someone who’s supposed to be your commander-in-chief clueless about what to do next or uncertain about how the lighting and blocking of a shot should look.

————–

And since I’m at peace, that also means I’m a step closer to fully understanding how this organism works. Because filmmaking is an organism. It lives. It breathes. It adapts. It grows. Ideas come, then they go, then come again, hang around for a while, then leave again. I’ve been making changes to this project since March and I’m sure they’ll change again soon. And let me just say here before I go on in the next passage that filmmaking is easy. My one true difficulty has been LOCATION. Location, location, location! It’s like opening a damn restaurant. It’s an issue I’ve already worked out for my next film. I’m turning my living room into a studio, an all white studio. See how easy I make the decision-making process look.

Moving forward…

Me making a short film, and it’s looking like my next work will be a feature, should hopefully demystifies the movie business and/or filmmaking experience. By no stretch of my imagination did I envision myself doing this when I was a child. My imagination was wild, but not that wild! But now that I’m getting ready to take my first crack at it, I can’t help but feel that I belong, that this is what what’s right for me.

I have the actors that I want, the crew that I want and the right mind frame I need to be in. For now, I keep my giggles to myself and am enjoying the ride…