It’s been so long since I’ve blogged. This rather long post will have to serve as a catch up. I hope I’ve learned my lesson. From now on I will start posting more up-to-date and digestible (read: smaller) pieces.
My blogging truancy might have something to do with one of my past diversions raging into full-on obsession: the theater. In a matter of four months I have seen a fair number of plays (primarily prompted by the playwriting class I took this past fall at the 92nd Street Y).
Here’s a rundown of the plays I’ve seen:“Eurydice” (by Sarah Ruhl at the Second Stage Theater)
Beautiful set (everyone at least agrees on that) and some beautiful, inventive moments that made the play well worth seeing. Overall, an interesting take on the Orpheus myth.“Ohio State Murders” (by Adrienne Kennedy at The Duke)
Quite enjoyable. She had me at Hardy. I adore everything by Thomas Hardy and I really let that color my opinion of the play. I loved how Tess was used to mirror Suzanne's own treatment and narrowing of circumstances due to her place in society. "Ohio State" also reminded me of "Wit" (with both its use of literature as a mirror to the main character's own experience and the narrator's voice over throughout the play).
It probably says a more about me than the play that I didn't see "Ohio State" as particularly innovative. In my opinion, it was a solid play that used the voice-over (really a monologue--but I'm seeing monologues everywhere these days!) effectively to tell the story. I did find the chronology to be confusing--there were times that I thought she should've been living at the boarding house and not the dorm, but there she was crying with her friend Iris Ann. I'm not sure, but this could've been a tactic to obscure the eventual revelation that both twins, not just the one, had been murdered (that was a surprise to me). Or maybe it was used as a device to render the narrator unreliable. Maybe I've watched too much "Law and Order," but I had my momentary doubts about Suzanne's account of the first murder.
One last thought: I thought LisaGay Hamilton was very good, but I'm pretty sure her boots were too big for her feet. Yet another good reason to stay out of the front row.“The Secret Order”(by Bob Clyman at 59E59 Theaters)
I enjoyed this mainly because it was about a topic that I know quite well: STM (science, technical, and medical) publishing. In other words, my day job! I know that expedited peer review is a bad idea, and, an added bonus, I even know what a cell counter is! Colleagues who work at our flagship publication traveled from Boston to see the last performance based on my recommendation.“Rock N’ Roll” (by Tom Stoppard at Bernard B. Jacobs Theater)
Okay it was WONDERFUL. Months later and I still think of this play. The scenes of the Czech Republic reminded me of my trip to Hungary (Budapest). The most exciting part though? After the play, my play buddy (JF) and I lagged behind in the theater. When we finally made it to the street, JF announced "...and there's Tom Stoppard!" He was pacing the sidewalk, hassling with someone on his cell phone. A young guy (handsome, likely an actor) confirmed that it was indeed Tom Stoppard but advised that he wasn’t in the happiest of moods. Seeing how crestfallen I was, the young man added “well, you could always try.” Meanwhile, some older gentleman buttonholed Stoppard for what seemed like ages. As I stood there, manuscript in hand, waiting for that conversation to end, an old lady muscled her way next to me and nearly poked my eyes out with her umbrella (which she kept up and open despite the fact we were under cover). I kept turning around, looking to JF for permission to quit this quest, but she kept egging me on, advising me to be sure to “smile” when I asked for that autograph. Finally, when the old “gent” finally took a breath, Stoppard took that opportunity to extricate himself from the conversation. I approached Stoppard at that moment, asked for his autograph, and much to my relief he assented. Then, he led me away behind the plywood-covered alleyway, What happened there? Not much. Although there was a bit of drama (for me anyway): Midway through signing his last name, someone called out to Tom (I'll pretend we're on a first name basis now), and they started chatting. More importantly, Tom STOPPED signing his name. I don't remember what they talked about. All I can remember is that I had been thinking "Oh know, he can't stop now. No one will know who "Tom Sto" is! They'll never believe that Tom Stoppard signed my book." But, after they wound up their conversation, he finished off his signature, and I went off on my merry, star-struck way. I’m just happy that I bought the Rock 'N' Roll script instead of the key chain. I don't think he would've signed a keychain no matter how big of a smile I could flash.“Happy Days” (by Samuel Beckett at the Brooklyn Academy of Music)
BAM’s theater space is beautifully deconstructed. The performance was intriguing. What follows are the notes I wrote during the play and afterwards:
About identity reflected in others and through opposites (and in the 2nd Act’s language)
Winnie – Willie
Black – White
Front – Back
Immobile – Mobile
Talkative – Nearly Mute
Stasis = nothing. Winnie is literally stuck, getting nothing done. The repetition of tasks is the same as stasis; i.e., doing the same thing over and over is the same thing as doing nothing.
Many contradictions in terms are used throughout the play, which serves to highlight the play's absurdist nature. Winnie discusses the past: If something seems to happen, then nothing actually
happens (that is, it only seems
The spaces, the pauses are negative space in the play. Another being is there to validate the other. Winnie needs Willie there to talk to. But just talk is not action/doing, and she is therefore doomed to repeat the same actions, the monotony of it all. It is repetitive. It is mostly the same day over and over, with very little variation.
In Act 2, some things happen, but Willie is gone. Winnie is happy that eyes are on her. She needs to be an object “If I said I can’t talk to myself. Then you must be there. Even if you are dead.” Also, “such a blessing” and “what do you do when words fail?” The anslwer to that is Nothingness. In the play, language is identity. In short, in Act 1: identity is obtained through the acknowledgement the contrast of another. An “other” is necessary to “be.” In Act 2: when that “other” is gone, identity is realized through language. It sustains her being.
What are happy days to Winnie? Perhaps Willie’s responsiveness to her? More importantly, what does his return at the end of Act 2 signify? And, as she had wished/requested, he is at the front of the mound (not behind it as he was in Act 1).
I also wrote to a friend about the play in particular and Beckett in general: Beckett is hard. His plays are not necessarily what I’d call entertaining. I look at “Happy Days” as more of a brain teaser, akin to a word jumble or cryptogram that you must solve. It’s more about the wordplay than anything. I look at Beckett as just something to be studied. That’s all. It breaks a few boundaries and its ideas get incorporated into later plays, albeit in a more diluted form. If you think of Beckett as a “modern play concentrate,” it´ll go down easier. Most of the fun comes from discussing it!“Avenue Q” (at the Golden Theater)
I wish this had been out when I graduated from college. It would’ve been nice to have these answers FIRST instead of figuring this all out on your own. “The Homecoming” (by Harold Pinter at the Cort Theatre)
I saw this with my husband on Valentine’s Day of all days. Most of the performances were very good. This is definitely a play worth further academic study. Madonna/whore issues abound.http://www.litencyc.com/php/sworks.php?rec=true&UID=580http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Homecominghttp://www.haroldpinter.org/plays/plays_homecoming7.shtml“Conversations in Tusculum” (by Richard Nelson at The Pubic Theater)
Brian Dennehy was great as was David Strathairn. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, in part, by Aidan Quinn’s performance (he was in the first Off-Broadway play that I ever saw: “A Lie of the Mind” by Sam Shepard, back in 1986; so, admittedly, my expectations were high). Quinn was at his most convincing when he ventured into more passionate and animated dialogue. Otherwise, he just didn’t carry off the stilted syntax the dialogue required (which I imagine was a result of Nelson’s efforts to simulate Cisero-esque, Caesar-era oratory). Dennehy and Strathairn made the formal (almost stiff) language seem natural. Quinn seemed to struggle with that until pyrotechnics and near-madness were called for. The play was very political and, yes, at the end, the message of what must be done under tyrannical forms of government is clear: get out your pitch forks! Also: I love the 1930s-40s era costumes (lots of blousy linens and cottons, suitable for a villa in Tuscany).“Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?” (by Caryl Churchill at The Public Theater)
One of my favorites: Caryl Churchill (I saw Far Away some years ago)! Instead of torturing my husband or unsuspecting friends, I saw this by myself and almost didn’t make it in time for the curtain. (I got lost on the way. The Public is near one of the most confusing intersections I know of in Manhattan.)
“Drunk enough to say I love you?” is the first line of the play. Sam and Guy, on a couch, are rekindling a passion they had for each other. Guy is giddily debating whether he should leave his wife and kids for Sam. By the end of the first scene, Sam convinces him that he should.
But this is no ordinary relationship. It soon becomes clear that this play has a larger meaning. Sam is the United States, and Guy (from what I’ve read) is Great Britain. Guy is addicted to Sam, and Sam needs that love, needs to know that he is loved. He demands it.
The play fast becomes a romp through American Imperialism/colonialism and the colonization/exploitation of space, laying bare in the simplest of terms, the extent to which the United States has gone to achieve its goals. Canoodling on the couch, Guy and Sam are giddy at the thought of bombings: Korea. Vietnam. Granada. “You’re good at this!” Sam beams at Guy.
But at times, Guy debates leaving Sam. He has periodic doubts about their larger, worldwide activities. Sam demands that Guy ignores the horrid things they both do in order to enable the affair to continue. And so, drugs are necessary to keep the relationship together: caffeine, nicotine, heroin. Seeming to materialize out of nowhere, cigarettes and coffee cups are plucked out of the air by Sam and Guy. I must admit that I’m not sure if any alcohol is summoned up by the actors, who sit God-like on their couch. With each scene, the couch ascends higher and higher against the black backdrop of the stage. On this prosaic private sanctuary, the characters sit, sprawl, and slouch their way through both their affair and world dominance. A match made in heaven, as they float ever higher above the stage and the world.
As always, Churchill is a master of language. The dialogue is telegraphic, almost (and I hesitate to say this)“Seinfeldian” in it’s cadences. The dialogue is constructed almost entirely of incomplete sentences, with long pauses in between. It’s important to note that the characters do not necessarily finish each other’s sentences. Instead, the phrases are just left hanging, truncated in the air, with enough space to call attention to their incompleteness. Still, a sentence’s full meaning is completely understood by the other character -- and by the audience. Enough can be gleaned through just a few words: “3 million.” “Nicaragua.” “Vietnam.” “Turpentine on testicles.”
At first the bombs and wars seem to be a game, waged for sheer power, and serving as a form of foreplay between the two men. After all, power can serve as an aphrodisiac. But what comes after power? Towards the end of the play, it becomes clear that achieving power can come at a great cost. What happens when the lover questions what has been done to achieve that power? What if, in a crisis of conscience, he leaves (as Guy does)? As torture and Iraq are invoked, love has forsaken Sam, and fear has taken hold. Sam’s quest for power has evolved into a need for safety. The wars are still waged, but no longer with exuberance. It is a miserable world Sam has made for himself--and, consquently, for everyone else.
One note: I’m still not sure why Churchill chose to make the couple gay.
On the calendar for the rest of the year: Sam Shepard’s new play at the Public, Edward Albee at the Signature Theater Company, Caryl Churchill’s monumental “Top Girls” and maybe “August: Osage County.” Perhaps a musical is in order: “Jersey Boys” (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of my guiltiest pleasures).
Labels: Caryl Churchill, Edward Albee, plays, Sam Shepard, theater, Tom Stoppard