Recently, in response to some treasured theatre friends defending the art form as still a home for fresh ideas by proffering, god help us, Shakespeare as an example, I countered that there were just a few issues that perhaps the pumpkin-panted paragon had not considered: oh, you know, stuff like nuclear annihilation, ecological annihilation, quantum mechanics, computers, cognitive science, genomics, communism, Darwinism, social media, outer space exploration, inner space exploration. You get the picture. There was no budging for some. “Shakespeare espouses the timeless verities. Period. No further work need be done.” So in frustrated response to this nonsense, I re-posted my gentle reminder from a few years ago: Shakespeare Would Hate Us.
Little did I know that this reposting would attract the attention—and thus inevitably the addled wrath-- of the anti-Stratfordians. You know, those bozos that believe Shakespeare was anyone but. I finally had to cut their mic in the comments section of the piece because they couldn’t seem to get it through their obsessive heads that I couldn’t care less about the authorship controversy. I care about new plays for a non-museum theatre. Period.
But then I remembered these notes I jotted while on a glorious kid-free vacation to St. Thomas a few years back. For reasons unfathomable to me now, I took along a copy of King Lear.
Been thinking about Lear, the degeneration of fairy tale into messy horrifying reality, plus the way sub-plot gnarls around main plot like a choking ivy. Why does Shakes. love the bitter bastards so? What happened to the Fool? The recurring examinations of how one speaks to power and how power listens. Or not.
It really is such a rich play in ways the other great tragedies lack. Hell, three sisters is enough to do that.
There’s something frightening about Lear that goes deeper than the other three, even though it lacks the supernatural twist of Macbeth, or the atavistic punishing drive of Othello, or the bleak alienation of Hamlet. Quite simply, these are real people in Lear doing really horrible things to each other, people they had no apparent cause to hate, in many cases, ten minutes before the action of the play begins. This is no revenge play. The malice blisters before our eyes on stage.
It was upon discovering that my hunch about “What happens to the Fool? Was confirmed today in the Wiki article about Lear: namely that the reason he disappears so abruptly is that he has to go off and change back into Cordelia. The fact that these two characters were very likely—and given the traditions of staging in the given parameters of the script— very easily played by the same actor goes at something eminently more dreadful than mere convenience in the hands of Shakes. Both characters are incomplete and dramatically unsatisfying taken separately but as an amalgam—which is how the audience would had to have taken it, at least on some perceptive level— they are (it is) a daintified horror on a Jungian order.
Sitting here in Bryant Park. First time back in Manhattan since the tragedy. It feels good to be here. Just to feel it still here under my feet. To see the Empire State standing tall to the South (in spite of a harrowing bomb threat last night. Heather said then exactly what I was thinking: “I don’t know if I could take it if that goes down as well.”
Been reeling through my brain trying to think of what I can do to be of some use. Oh to be of use! The best I can come up with— it struck me this morning— is to switch gears and start thinking about my most ethereal idea of all, The Good Ship Manhattan.
Sitting on one of the benches at 51st and 6th. Things seem lighter and quieter than usual as far as foot traffic goes in this part of the city. People seem stern for the most part. And whatever conversations I do overhear are all, without exception, related to the attack....
Waiting for the library to open. It must be at 11 ‘cuz so many people are standing outside. I just wanna return Typee.
Went by H’s office just a few minutes ago since I couldn't reach her by phone. The day’s going normally hectic busy for her and she says she’s vaguely offended by that.
Heather’s building got a bomb scare serious enough apparently to result in the authorities shutting down the building until further notice, at least until Monday.
Air still has a slight taint of acrid smoke that was so strong this morning that it woke me up, poisoned my dreams.
Still no access to internet from home. Got a glance at my emails from Heather’s desk at work, but was only able to reply to DSP. Might try the Woodside library today later or tomorrow.
Had a run in with some adolescent boys at the library this afternoon that I’m not terribly proud of but, given the frustration I was feeling after trying to deal with my huge backlog of email, seems inevitable. They were back-sassing an older lady librarian who had asked them to leave. I told them, among other things, that they should shut up and do as she says, and that given what’s going on, it was time for them to start acting like citizens. Silly, I know, but it inspired me to come home and write an open letter to community organizations (schools, fire houses, police stations,) offering whatever services I can....
Guess we all have to ride this terrible wave for as long as it holds us under.
Caring for each other is the beginning and undoubtedly the end.
My Dec. 29, 2007 journal speculation on why Curt Dempster, now deceased Founding Artistic Director of Ensemble Studio Theatre, commissioned me to write The Sequence, which dramatizes the race to decode the human genome: a race accelerated and sharpened by bio-tech entrepreneur J. Craig Venter.
“Curt wanted me to tell this story ‘cuz he recognized in Craig a kindred spirit: a kinless prickly genius whogetsthingsdone.”
Still chewing on this Fisherman revision. Have to get it right. Has to be remarkable. Can’t just sit there like a placeholder, prosaic and flabby. Needs to be sharp and murky, like an exchange of knives.
If I do this grudge play it has to be in the spirit of Wilder. It has to seem silly and overly earnest and then cut to the bone and then throw up its hands and say, “Oh, no, no you misunderstand. Forget that last part. I really AM just silly and overly earnest.” It has to ring a bell true and then say, “Who me? What? Ring a bell? Well, yes, I guess I have. But I didn’t mean anything by it. Honest.”
For reasons I would rather not get into I have taken to re-reading all my journals since I started handwriting them into marble comp books back in 1997. (I was typing for a living at the time and wanted to spare my wrists keyboarding my personal thoughts. I never went back to a digital.) The review is a pretty tedious endeavor. I wish I had described a lot less of my career woes and a lot more of my physical delights, but youth is ever wasted on the baselessly self-fascinated. Every so often as I read, however, I run across a little snippet, or string of them, that pleases me such that it prompts a desire to share.
. . . . Surprisingly, I find a deep correspondence between the Gould and the McMurtry. Both maintain—one overtly, the other subtly and subversively and ultimately more convincingly—that life has no plan, no forward progress, not even dominant echoes or themes; just the faintest hints of them. Contingency is all and contingency is one brutal motherfucker.