This play has sat on my shelf for eight years after getting it for a dollar at a theater flea market. (It's a Samuel French edition, but from London;...moreThis play has sat on my shelf for eight years after getting it for a dollar at a theater flea market. (It's a Samuel French edition, but from London; the size is all wrong and the paper is all funny.) It seemed like a good idea at the time, since coming out of high school I self-educated myself in playwriting by simply reading every play I'd heard of. Heard of this one! But then I just sat there with it. A couple Saturdays ago I pulled it down to read. The play is getting a lot of press right now with a new production, so I wondered what it would be like.
It's fine, turns out, is theatrical in the sense that it's hard to grasp the impact of several scenes without staging. There's also very good use of a chorus device, which is a favorite, and I believe that would have great impact on stage too. I like thinking that the writing was inspired by rumored true events, because I feel inspired by those kinds of too-true stories as well, and know they're hard to implement. Psychology and violence and sex and religion are all really thick themes, and here they're blended very seamlessly to all feel like the same impossible problem. That's a powerful feeling, but also requires some kind of conclusion to really be a lasting one. Mostly, though, we just get some 70s angst, which is different than an ending.
I think today the play feels really put in its time. It's overwhelmingly male, and intellectual shock in 1973 is now what makes mainstream theater look like theater. It's hard to find plays that don't look like all other plays. It doesn't make them bad plays, but you wish there was something else.(less)
I got this book from the Strand for my first semester of college in 2000. I was supposed to read it during a writing class about memoir. I didn't read...moreI got this book from the Strand for my first semester of college in 2000. I was supposed to read it during a writing class about memoir. I didn't read it, but I read an additional essay by Dorothy Allison and I liked that, so I always kept the book. In retrospect that was my best class that term. My sister is at the same point in college now, so it seemed fitting to work this one out finally. When I finally opened the book I discovered a receipt for its purchase tucked inside, from a Brentano's in Connecticut in December 1995, along with the ISBN's for Jane Smiley's Duplicate Keys and Tim O'Brien's In the Lake of the Woods, $50 cash.
This book falls squarely into the category of things I avoided because I worried there wasn't time, that turn out to take no time at all. It's so slight, which surprised me the whole time until I got to the last page where the author notes that it was written as a performance piece and modified for publication. The prose is so fluidly voiced, but it seems somewhat unreal that it could be performed aloud. Though, that might explain why the framing device of the title looks a little hokey on the page, which is too bad because most of the rest of it is vivid and warm.
Sometimes the lesson of my bookshelf is to stop waiting.(less)
Read via DailyLit in 47 parts. (Edmund Gosse and William Archer translation.) I read this in college in a very bad class, and I was curious about NYC'...moreRead via DailyLit in 47 parts. (Edmund Gosse and William Archer translation.) I read this in college in a very bad class, and I was curious about NYC's new revival so it was time for a reread. Thank goodness! I only remembered what happens at the end, and not at all why.
This read was much more thought-provoking. And somehow, though it is key, I didn't recall the theme of Hedda's pregnancy at all. (It was a really bad class.) And that's not a spoiled revelation; though she only (barely) admits it near the end, everyone else knows this in the first scene. Everyone scrutinizes her body and her expected future, but no one other than the audience acknowledges her unhappiness, and the oncoming child, and her opportunity to destroy the "child" of her only comrade. I just read a review of the current production that cites Hedda as being "evil" and I was shocked, because, what else is a proportionate response to the pain of her mistake.
The other new idea to me was the significant but brief description of her youth with her militant father, as his compatriot and sidekick. The General Gabler, giving his name to her and the play's title. The qualities of the father passed to the daughter, they rode side by side and shared guns, but doomed with a female life, Hedda's only adulthood can be marrying a useless bore. She can say of her pending family, "it is killing me," but in the end that's just not accurate enough.
(3 stars for the public domain translation, but 5 stars forev.)(less)
I remembered that I had this collection while I was reading Romola, because there is some Antigone/Oedipus symbolism early in that novel and I did a l...moreI remembered that I had this collection while I was reading Romola, because there is some Antigone/Oedipus symbolism early in that novel and I did a little refresher with Wikipedia. Previously, I'd read two versions of the tragedy for high school English class in 1999, a classical translation which I didn't like much, and this Anouilh adaptation which I loved. This was, I think, the first time I encountered a serious rewrite of an ancient story, particularly within drama, and it hugely influenced the things that still interest me most deeply about writing. I bought this collection sometime during college so I could reread the play one day and see if I liked his others as much.
I could do this all day, this re-looking at old words. What parts of the stories always stay the same through adaptation? What parts of them do other writers find integral? (NOT A BAD THESIS IF YOU ASK ME.) I am a huge fan of the idea of adapting the classics in this way, in order to learn from and demonstrate them. I think of it as cultural translation, ways to experiment and feel newness in the strongest stories of our species. It's a way of taking them very seriously, treating them to the same urgency given more relatable tales. I think the take on Antigone here is a really great one.
Thoughts, by play: a majorly mixed bag.
Antigone, 5 stars. Succeeds in service of the old story and in its own arguments. "It's just that I'm a little young still for what I have to go through." The conversation between Antigone and Creon made me dog-ear every page.
Eurydice, 1 star. I hated this so much I wondered if I was crazy for liking Antigone at all, much less a lot. I do though. This just stinks. It isn't translating the old story in any tangible way, nor is it doing anything else. There's so many people and they're all unpleasant and absurdly bad characters. They say stupid things. The scene where Orpheus is talking to her but they're not looking at each other isn't too bad, because it's a really good idea for a scene, but then it fizzles into ridiculousness like all the others. Was so glad when it was over.
The Ermine, 3 stars. Starts out stronger than it ends, but enjoyably Chekhov-esque. Thought that some of the financial conflicts were surprisingly real for a society melodrama. "What a sinister sort of farce life is when you're young and poor!"
The Rehearsal, 2 stars. Pretty damn boring. I guess it's farcical? But even so, who wants to watch or read these people at all?
Romeo and Jeannette, 4 stars. To my taste the later acts could use some editing because lots of the conversations feel like they hang on a few minutes too long. But I really liked it, especially the first half. It reminded me of the stressful surreal tone of The Homecoming and the shabby family of Refuge. (Sidebar: the racial epithets late in the play are confusing. One of those character's voice/author's voice mixups. Who do they belong to?) The ending really surprised me, and felt strong. Strangely cinematic, for offstage action.(less)
**spoiler alert** I remember buying this at Shakespeare & Co. something like 8 years ago, and there was a kitty cat lying under the ladder downsta...more**spoiler alert** I remember buying this at Shakespeare & Co. something like 8 years ago, and there was a kitty cat lying under the ladder downstairs with me in the drama section.
I can't remember how I heard of the play, but I understand why I was drawn to it. I used to think the best were "issue" dramas, "concept" plays, and this is one for sure: a woman is kidnapped by "Operation Retrieval" from a clinic before her abortion procedure, and confined for months to prevent her from going back.
I think I waited so long to read it, though, because some ideas lose everything the minute you put a lot of words to them. How could this idea be sustained for a play? How could it possibly end? But it gained some traction and the longer scenes occasionally blossomed. The scene on Keely's birthday was very kind. In the end, it did manage to surprise me.
In 2003 my best playwriting teacher recommended I read this, to help inspire the play I was working on, in a similar vein. She was a really smart teac...moreIn 2003 my best playwriting teacher recommended I read this, to help inspire the play I was working on, in a similar vein. She was a really smart teacher, so I can see why she did. (But I was too caught up to read it, at the time.)
I really liked it: the family is really good, the situation behind the family is really good, it feels like it could go longer because there's even more threads to pull.
That was almost the same as the only thing that held it back from being great for me: consistently, some of the writing is on the nose. I like that they're saying what they're saying, but good playwriting is written around those things, not all over them. Give it time.(less)
I bought this at the first BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market I went to, in 2000. The play was new then, so I bought it with a bunch of other books for a dol...moreI bought this at the first BC/EFA Broadway Flea Market I went to, in 2000. The play was new then, so I bought it with a bunch of other books for a dollar, but never read it. Or any LaBute, for that matter. Probably because I was pretty sure I wouldn't like it. Perhaps because I was worried I would?
Well, no worries, nothing exciting here. The first scene was ok, though kind of elementary. I could deal with the Iphigenia metaphor. The second scene totally lost me. It was like being stuck making excruciating small talk with totally horrible rich people for half an hour. And are they talking together or separately? It goes back and forth. Does she really need to be there? Any chance they'll kick themselves in the face? Oh sorry, SPOILERS. The third is all oblique rambling. And that is about it.
I don't get why all the "characters" are LDS, for no apparent reason or connection. To say what exactly? Only one of these stories is about institutionally-condoned bigotry, so as a whole it's not really about a church's warped value system. And the other two are more about their Greek allegories. So who knows. LaBute clearly thinks he is writing the edgiest junk in the world, and he wants to make you feel like you are super cool for participating. I don't find those kinds of authorial favors very interesting.(less)
I've had this copy since high school, but I've never read the whole thing before now. I think I'd read the first act, and seen the start of the movie,...moreI've had this copy since high school, but I've never read the whole thing before now. I think I'd read the first act, and seen the start of the movie, and I knew about the ending, but the pieces weren't properly pieced before this read.
So this was a good choice, very good choice. First act is great, second act is better. (Third act's ok.) Right in the middle, this turns so scary. Oh it's scary. The dark threat in a really good play, oh that's so good. When the "Violence! Violence!" struck up I caught my breath a little. (Also, "The mousy girl screams 'Violence! Violence!'" is a song lyric I had not placed.)
I liked George's mental break much more than Martha's, here. (And Honey's, as mentioned, isn't bad.) Martha's going-crazy monologues in Act III really did not work super great on the page for me. Whereas George's psycho ragey meltdown is amazing, amazing throughout but particularly in Act II, he's just talking evil circles around everyone, everyone every second. So detached, yet so ready to go. Albee describes a "hideous elation," which, wow. His creepy tangly backstory too. 5 stars, Act II. Maybe 500.
I'm leaving this at 4 stars though because the ending wasn't fabulous for me. I felt it didn't do very much. It got very manic for a very long time, and in a way, I felt, that drowned out its big secret. It's true I knew already where that was going, but I guess I felt that if the emphasis wasn't really on the reveal then it must be on the mania, and that was kind of all over the place. And I wanted a better sense of what's going on really, outside this crazy house, what happens after this night. Anything? Maybe not anything. I really wish I knew.
Anyway what I really have to contribute is how in my imagination Honey was played by Alison Brie. It was always her. Yeah I know, you're totally welcome. Just giving back to the universe a little. Good work.
I can tell I'm gonna be pulled to reread this someday.(less)
Well, I really hate when this criticism is used -- I technically disapprove -- but: this seems like "student work". It just d...moreI own a copy of this? Ok.
Well, I really hate when this criticism is used -- I technically disapprove -- but: this seems like "student work". It just does. It works at the level of, this is a play and it shakes out an ending. Even a thematic thread, or at least something repeated often enough to appear to be a theme. And it plots a lot of characters sufficiently.
But the ingredients don't blend. They're like a kid "baking" in the kitchen. The actions and statements of all the people are random and strange, and that's not my preferred style of theater. There's a bit of willful freak-show ick factor, which is one of my least favorite devices in theater also. Some of the humor would be funny with benefit of actors, but some of it totally not. And I guess Gene is the main character, but he's so insignificant he barely even belongs there.
Also I have no clue whether we're seeing the wallpaper devil on stage or not. Did I miss a direction? I thought it was imaginary until it "stormed in" or whatever. I'd like to be clear on that, since Brad's unscrewing was the most interesting.
It's all right. I only read this while I was waiting for Chris to finish Mockingjay anyway.(less)
Finally used an ancient Drama Book Store gift that Shannon gave me. Good.
Hm. I expected more from this one. The play uses so many ingredients I love,...moreFinally used an ancient Drama Book Store gift that Shannon gave me. Good.
Hm. I expected more from this one. The play uses so many ingredients I love, which is probably why it was disappointing that it feels like a normal play and not an awesome play. The material is capable of a lot, but here it mainly didn't surprise me. The first time you see everybody, you see the reasons they're made the way they are and how they'll affect each other. The elements kind of stand in their spots, doing their jobs. Move into position, create a contrast here or there. Then back.
The one surprising scene of major weirdness between Billy and Miss Roberts at least was unpredictable. But I guess I just didn't like it. I'm not sure why we had to see them do that, or what was different after.
I liked little moments, like when their mom looks at a FAFSA for the first time and makes herself do it. And 11-year-old Rachel also made me want to finally get around to reading the neglected Persuasion: "Because it's about waiting and then being rewarded for waiting." All her lines are the best, and she has pretty much the clearest presence.
The strongest theme is Billy's violent impulses. It's sad and frustrating. He's desperate to avoid being dangerous, but not really stopping himself either. He's got a little sadism, a lot of self-interest. And it's particularly good in retrospect, knowing that this came second to the play Stay, where the children are adults. I read them in "canon" order, but I can see the benefit of following the author's line of thought in creating these people, in sowing seeds.
And I'd totally, totally, totally be excited if there was more for them to be in.(less)
Finally used an ancient Drama Book Store gift that Shannon gave me.
I liked this so much. I read it immediately after the later play Scarcity (which is...moreFinally used an ancient Drama Book Store gift that Shannon gave me.
I liked this so much. I read it immediately after the later play Scarcity (which is a story that chronologically comes earlier). Doing this was interesting, because I think there are some deliberate links in what is said in each of them.
I liked this play more, because I think there's more thinking in it, more trying for something. The pieces are sort of jaggedy, but. Julia is so weird, but weird that works. (Are you annoyed by her? Scared of her? Sorry for her?) Billy's misogynist threats and stories about violence are a little overprepared, but they play out thematically. The angel doesn't do quite enough, but it's not really about her anyway.
There were so many scenes when I was just really excited by what was going on. When Julia touches Rachel, when Billy and Tommy have breakfast in the office, when Rachel is drunk and the angel explains the rules. In a good play, a scene being exciting is often just as simple as "I can't believe these two people are together, talking about this!" Because it's that good that those people are together, talking about that.
All the scenes here have something good like that happen in them, so I think there's a lot of care inside the writing. Which I think is somehow the thing that ultimately holds the language back from being revelatory -- everything that's said is a touch too declarative, too on the nose. And some of those lines are beautiful, but, it sounds like a play. But like a play that's aiming to sound powerful. Which in the end sounds kind of disappointing.
4.5 stars, but.
It's interesting that an alternate ending is included. In my opinion it isn't necessary; the regular ending's dialogue is more tightly edited, and the scene's conclusion more elegant. It's quite a good end. (less)
For a couple weeks I've been trying to think of a way to sum up what I loved about this play. It's surprisingly hard to pin down, because it tran...moreJeez.
For a couple weeks I've been trying to think of a way to sum up what I loved about this play. It's surprisingly hard to pin down, because it transcends a lot of its traits. The play is original but not unheard of, complex but not ambitious. It's melodramatic and funny. It does a lot of shorthand with a lot of characters. It's built around a very patient backstory and discovery. Yet, all its devices are smooth, its timing, shifts amongst people, exposition, it all comes through like clockwork. Every character clicks and every scene is right on the money. The words sound like they're coming from actual people with many, many unspoken thoughts in their heads. The right questions are left unanswered, both in the story and in the dialogue.
So, as a play it's really good, but also as real genuine deep-feeling writing, it just touches something very legitimate. A few things, I guess. There's the perfect sense that its scenes and themes all dovetail in exact reliance on each other. And the things too small to be themes, the things that just feel like family. The plot is an efficient take on topical politics, but what it's really about are relationships between things like parents and beliefs. There are many ways this comes about, but unquestionably for me the central standoff between Emma and her father bit, fearful and honest. And the list. That she gives.
Often when I read something that gets so much "right" I end up with pages and pages marked with things I need to reread, but I didn't do that while I read this. I think because instead of being a collection of good lines and good ideas, it just was good.
I bought this script because I got to see Herzog's new play 4000 Miles, which was extremely good too. And its central character Vera is a supporting character in this play (earlier both in writing and in narrative). Which is a thing I absolutely love. I hope there's much, much more for the author to find in her ideas behind these people. I want some more of whatever that could be.
(Finally used an ancient Drama Book Store gift that Shannon gave me! I also added this book into the Goodreads system. Oh I am proud.)(less)
Someone, at some point in college, convinced me that I was not a cool theater student if I was into Wendy Wasserstein. Then I got rid of all her books...moreSomeone, at some point in college, convinced me that I was not a cool theater student if I was into Wendy Wasserstein. Then I got rid of all her books that I owned. Which was every single one.
This is an example of a story in which both people are wrong.(less)