a play a day

*** SPOILER ALERT:  There will be many... ***


I read this one first because it's German, and Cara left for Germany today.  All these years having heard of this play and I never knew the "circle" was just a version of King Solomon's test for determining who gets custody of a child.  Brecht isn't my favorite.  I associate his style with those snarly, cynical musicals I don't like. I don't just mean the Kurt Weill ones; I mean things like Chicago and Wild Party too.  But come to think of it, I did like Galileo... and I liked certain things about this one too.  I liked Grusha, her journey...and her Simon.  Their love story was touching and succinct.  I thought the Corporal was a funny character.  Azdak was okay, but I kept thinking of the NASDAQ the whole time.  I'm going to have to ponder the moral... it seems like a good one:  "What there is shall belong to those who are good for it."


I started reading this just after midnight, when it was technically the next day, thus the next play.  I was eager; Marty McD is my favorite!  Plus, I thought "The Pillowman" would be a good one to read late at night in bed... with some pillows nearby. Maybe it would give me nightmares!  Well it was good, but I like Beauty Queen and Cripple better.  I think the comedy of the dialogue is sharper in those -- not just because of the quaint Irishness, but because you can accept the quirkiness of the characters.  Here, there were fewer of those fantastic verbal riffs McDonagh does, and the ones there were seemed a little out of place given the situation.  I sometimes got ahead of the twists, probably just from knowing by now the sorts of tricks MM plays.  Like I knew the little girl wasn't dead because the cat wasn't dead in Lieutentant.  Lastly, it felt a little didactic as far as what it was trying to say about writers, their scars, and their posterity -- as if the whole play was one of Katurian's stories, and things worked out a certain way only to make the author's point.  But I love this speech one of the cops has:  "I'm tired of everybody round here using their shitty childhoods to justify their own shitty behaviour.  My Dad was a violent alcholic.  Am I a violent alcoholic?  Yes I am, but that was my personal choice."

• FROZEN / Lavery

First, I would like to say that Bryony Lavery is perhaps the coolest name ever.  Secondly, I would note that she wrote a play called ILLYRIA.  And thirdly, I would add that when I decided to read this play after THE PILLOWMAN I had no idea that it was about exactly the same thing.  So I'm all set in the serial-kid-killer drama department.  Of course, this one was very different in approach:  most of the scenes were monologues, impressionistic and fluid -- they could move through time and space, to cover a lot of ground.  There was only one major honest-to-God scene:  the confrontation between the killer and his victim's mother.  After I finished the play, I wound up reading a whole Malcolm Gladwell article about the plagiarism controversy:  in 2004, it was discovered that Lavery had taken many character details and also a few specific phrases from a 1997 profile Gladwell wrote on a psychiatrist.  The article I read was Gladwell's follow-up on how he and the psychiatrist responded to the plagiarism, and it had many interesting thoughts on the nature of intellectual property.  Amusingly, Gladwell's article was structured just like Lavery's play -- with the climactic meeting between himself and Lavery echoing Nancy and Ralph's big scene at the end of FROZEN.  And just as in Lavery's play, Gladwell forgives his violator; Lavery meanwhile is left to cope with her guilt, knowing that what she did was a "sin not a symptom."  (That's one of the Gladwell phrases she borrowed.)  

• A RAISIN IN THE SUN / Hansberry

Wow.  This was so good.  I can't believe I'd never read it.  It was in a whole different league than the previous three.  Like those were tropical storms and this was a category 5 hurricane.  Some of those scenes made me choke up just reading them; so I can imagine watching a performance...! I saw a list where this was ranked at #8 of greatest American plays. And this was the only one of the top ten I hadn't seen or read.  I would probably rank it higher on my own top ten, ahead of WHO'S AFRAID... (#5) and LONG DAY'S JOURNEY... (#4.  It's great, but it's too long!)  I guess the story really hit home for me -- which is kinda funny considering how far removed I am from Chicago's Southside!  But the idea of a dream deferred... that's universal.  Everybody has to fight against that kind of despair in life.  And then the writing was so good throughout.  The dialogue somehow felt both natural and poetic at the same time.  And the scenes all had such nice shapes, building to their climaxes. If I had to say there was anything wrong with this play, I'd say maybe dragging Lindner back for the ending was a bit less effective because we'd already seen Walter send him packing once before.  

• PICNIC / Inge

This must have been daring back in its day, but it feels pretty dated now.  I found it to be a really weird mix of 1950s Leave-It-To-Beaverish squareness and "shocking" sexuality.  (I'm actually not sure if it was supposed to take place in the 50s or earlier; the script never said.)  I note that the original production was directed by Josh Logan, whose main concern seems to have been getting as many buff, bare-chested young men on stage as possible... i.e. SOUTH PACIFIC.  So much of this play seemed to be about having the dude walk around with his shirt off and get all sweaty.  And yeah, then he dances with the hot chick, and whaddaya know, she decides to dump her conventional boyfried and run off with this hunky tramp.  Not much to it.  A RAISIN IN THE SUN was written only six years later, but feels far more modern and relevant.  What can I say in favor of PICNIC?  It had an interesting way with the scenes where there'd always be lots of people popping in and out of them, often with several things going on at once.  There were very few moments of two-people-talking-to-each-other.  Maybe Inge invented that?  I can't think of any older plays that do it...

• FAT PIG / LaBute

I've been on a weight gaining campaign for about a year now.  Today I reached 190 pounds—almost 30 pounds heavier than when I started!  So in honor of that milestone, I decided to read FAT PIG... I was prepared not to like it, because LaBute can be so harsh and cruel.  In The Company Of Men is undeniably well-written, but it just made me feel depressed about humanity.  So I was ready for more of that, only with a fat chick instead of a deaf chick.  Well... there is definitely some cruelty, but I was surprised how charming most of it was.  The love story is really well handled; I believed it.  And the asshole friend was funny, of course, in that LaBute way.  The dialogue was generally fantastic throughout -- really sharp.  Only the ending left me feeling a bit cheated:  he breaks up with the fat girl, in a long monologue that is essentially "it's not you, it's me."  And then, without allowing her much of a response, the play ends.  It seemed too abrupt.  The relationship that had been built up by then deserved to go down with more of a fight.  LaBute writes an interesting prologue to the play, where he talks about his own experience with fatness.  He describes a phase he went through where he lost a lot of weight, dieting and exercising and obsessing over his body... and not writing much.  Once he went back to junk food and gained 40 pounds, he says, the playwriting resumed.  It was interesting to me because I've had similar thoughts about a connection between creativity and unhealthfulness.  Just recently I had a sleepless night, but wrote a bunch of stuff in my stupor the next morning.  Creativity goes with a weakened state, somehow...  

Musings Past