Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Dark Tales for Dark Times

Dark Tales for Dark Times

Actors Theatre of Louisville, 31st Human Festival of New American Plays

So, after four years of a disastrous war, with another in the offing, led by an intellectually challenged President who has usurped unprecedented and unconstitutional authority, American playwrights have the material for rich and meaty public theatre. So what do they do? They take to their analysts’ couches and ruminate on the heaviness of being gay, Jewish or both.

This is a broad-brush reaction to the 31st Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville Kentucky. Arthur Miller and Tony Kushner assembled great drama by relating the personal to the broader body politic. This year’s crop was disappointing, tending to mawkish introspection.

Although much more compacted than, say, Kushner’s operatic vision, far and away the most successful play of this season is Sherry Kramer’s “When Something Wonderful Ends: a history, a one woman, one Barbie play.”

Lori Wilner playing Sherry Kramer, makes a monologue into a conversation, in a remarkably prescient act of prophecy inspired by her mother’s death. As she packs away her accoutrements of childhoods, her Barbie dolls and accessory, she seamlessly weaves in the story of how American (and British) gluttony for oil led by easy stages to the rise of the Ayatollah and the confrontation in the Middle East.

The writing began some time ago, so her ahistoric, but artistic elision of the differences between Iraq Taliban and Ayatollahs actually works – after all the White House has been doing the same, and by serendipitously, the tale off how Khomeini began his political career by protesting against a Status of Forces agreement that allowed GIs to run over Iranian kids with impunity is a timely reminder that past arrogance comes back to haunt us.

As she drove to clear up the family house, the history CD she is playing reveals that the SOFA was signed the very day in 1964 that she was acquiring the “Enchanted Evening” outfit, number 783 for her un-naturally voluptuous but nipple free bubble cut Barbie serial no 750;

Musings on life, death and consumerism flow seamlessly. After coasting Barbie’s Aston Martin across the carpet, she warns about “never again getting into a car that uses petrochemicals without understanding that it is a gun, and it is pointed at our heads.”

She muses about the amount of oil used to make the billions of Barbie dolls, “We could run the country for a year, if we could just get the oil back by melting a billion little household goddesses down.”

Most of the others were less successful. In “Strike Slip” Naomi Iizuka seems to be relating seismology and psychology. The attempt is helped by the inexactitude of both sciences but the web she weaves of too many life stories has more loose ends than a piece of macramé after the cat’s been at it. But some of the threads show a lot of promise, and it is positively and actively un-American in showing lots of people living happily ever after, on the proceeds of a serendipitously found mega-stash of cocaine except the poor hardworking Korean grocery store keeper who is prison for life while his daughter benefits. I suspect he is a loose end rather than a moral.

Ken Weitzman’s “The As if Body Loop” mixes stereotypical angst of a dysfunctional Jewish family of obsessives, psychoanalysis, American football and the Kabala and 9-11 to produce a science fantasy play in which the loony and possessive mother’s new age fantasies all end up being vindicated and everyone lives happily ever after.

Batch: an American Bachelor/ette Party Spectacle was like Foucault writing about sex: boring. Staged as it was in the local hot gay spot it was incestuously self-indulgent, content free, unchallenging. It was the least fun I have ever had in a night club. But of course, it was very avant-garde and the performers seemed to be having fun, so who cares about the audience?

More effective, but a little obsessive still, was Carlos Murillo’s “dark play or stories for boys” based on a tragic virtual relationship in Manchester, where a teenage boy uses the Internet’s chameleon-like nature to masquerade as his own sister, and ends in a gay relationship that he contrives to be close to fatal. Complex and convincing, it charts the loneliness of the long-term chat room in vicarious pseudonymous existences. In a way, it made me think that part of the Internet is a Thatcherite parallel Universe where there is no such thing as society, where no one usually ever has any responsibility.

I missed the actual performance of Craig Wright’s “Unseen” about prisoners in a totalitarian dungeon– suitably because I was appearing on a Fox TV show. I read the script instead. Kafka meets Godot; it attempts to get the audience, along with the two prisoners to empathize with their prison guard and torturer who is being badly affected by his work. Reality is bad enough, that one would have thought the flights of fancy here were somewhat superfluous.

In fact, that could be the overall theme. The writers are sensible and sensitive enough to note that reality leaves much to be desired. However, without regressing to so-called socialist realism, I could not help longing for the Kushner’s, Miller’s and more of the Kramer, to help us deal with reality without fleeing from it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ian Williams,

You have written about Consumerism, Life, Culture, War and Happiness in your post. In this context I want to post a part from my article which examines the impact of Speed, Overstimulation, Consumerism and Industrialization on our minds and environment. Please read.

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.

Fast visuals/ words make slow emotions extinct.

Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys emotional circuits.

A fast (large) society cannot feel pain / remorse / empathy.

A fast (large) society will always be cruel to Animals/ Trees/ Air/ Water/ Land and to Itself.

To read the complete article please follow any of these links :