La Turista is not a play for reading, and probably not a play for seeing. It's a play to be studied. The political references are too obscure for mostLa Turista is not a play for reading, and probably not a play for seeing. It's a play to be studied. The political references are too obscure for most people to understand during a performance; for a start the allegories are very specifically American (I'm English) and of their time (1967). Even so, according to the reviews of its opening run, most of the New York audience didn't get it either.
For such a play to work as drama, there has to be something – a plot, a story, a character's journey – for the audience to identify with in case they're not getting the subtext. La Turista doesn't even pretend to have that, which explains why 90% of its original audience left the theatre utterly baffled by what they'd just seen. Shepard doesn't give you that. His characters are not characters but archetypes and their words have no meaning beyond the allegorical.
The plot, such as it is, has an American couple (Kent and Salem, named after cigarette brands) lying sick in a hotel in Mexico (i.e. Vietnam) – La Turista means not just a tourist but the kind of dysentery often suffered by tourists. A local boy comes in and won't leave but refuses their money and spits in Kent's face. Kent reappears dressed as a cowboy and is eventually killed by the ministrations of a local witchdoctor.
Act 2 mirrors Act 1 but is set back in America, with the witchdoctor replaced by an American doctor, whose attempts to cure Kent are frustrated by Kent's defiance – the allegory here being that of youth in revolt against its elders.
As usual, Shephard inserts a few coups de theatre that make the play difficult if not impossible to stage. There's nothing as drastic the one-legged man who shaves another actor's head in Buried Child, and it's difficult but not impossible to obey the stage direction:
"SALEM and SONNY make a lunge for KENT who grabs onto a rope and swings over their heads. He … runs straight toward the upstage wall of the set and leaps right through it, leaving a cut out silhouette of his body in the wall"
…but having a witchdoctor slaughter chickens live on stage would give most directors (and theatre managers) pause before staging the play.
Studying La Turista might well be very rewarding, even if it is no longer politically relevant, which is why I've given it two stars rather than the one it deserves purely as the text of a play to be performed.
If I read it again, I'll probably understand the allegorical meaning of the phone being torn from its socket, then being used normally and then being impossible to use because, obviously, it's been torn from its socket. Shepard is many things but incompetent isn't one of them. 'Pretentious' certainly is one of them, but it's the pretension of theatrical ambition, which is something to be applauded. Shepard, who was 25 when he wrote this, would go on to greater things, but La Turista doesn't really work. ...more
Saw this at the Swan at the National. Some very clever writing but, as with most plays of this era, over-long with some very dull scenes. The first haSaw this at the Swan at the National. Some very clever writing but, as with most plays of this era, over-long with some very dull scenes. The first half lasted 95 minutes and I nodded off a couple of times, with only the character of Tattle keeping the energy up. The second half, at 65 minutes, was much better as the farce and satire gathered pace. Some clever staging served to keep the interest up. ...more
Considering Marlowe's reputation, Doctor Faustus is shockingly poor. It makes you appreciate Shakespeare when one reads an exact contemporary writingConsidering Marlowe's reputation, Doctor Faustus is shockingly poor. It makes you appreciate Shakespeare when one reads an exact contemporary writing plays in a similar style on similar subjects but who produces work so flat, so lacking in poetry, so shallow and melodramatic and, - apart from the summoning of the devils - with so little sense of theatre.
The character of Faustus is only skin-deep: his motivations aren't clear and there is little sense of the enormity of his decision nor any plausible motivation. That is only revealed when he sells his soul and embarks on a career as a cheap con-man and juvenile practical joker. You'd think something so momentous would be undertaken to enjoy the glories of the world, but Faustus seems content to tease the Pope and steal his dinner, do conjuring tricks for the Emperor and scam someone who wants to buy a horse.
In Shakespeare's hands, Faustus would have been a doomed hero, diverted from greatness by ambition (like Macbeth), with a tortured soul and sullied magnificence. Marlowe's Faustus is nothing more than a colossal twat....more
Not sure if seeing a puppet show version at Edinburgh counts (a delightful adaptation by Boxtale Soup), but I got the story so it gets on my list. WhiNot sure if seeing a puppet show version at Edinburgh counts (a delightful adaptation by Boxtale Soup), but I got the story so it gets on my list. Whimsical, charming and naïve. ...more
Saw this at Beckenham Theatre Centre. It wasn't bad (and it was impeccably acted) and it was imaginatively structured, but the character arcs didn't wSaw this at Beckenham Theatre Centre. It wasn't bad (and it was impeccably acted) and it was imaginatively structured, but the character arcs didn't work for me.
Part of the problem was the way it was sold to me: three sets of characters that are mysteriously intertwined. To me, the link was obvious within seconds, so there is no great 'reveal'.
Jim and Elaine's scenes didn't work dramatically: Jim is cheerfully hen-pecked in his first scene and suicidally depressed in his second, after finding a body. Kate also finds a body in equally (if not more) gruesome circumstances, yet her reaction is mere annoyance. Jim is psychologically destroyed; Kate is unaffected. Yet there is no development in Jim's psyche: we don't see how or why he went from normal to suicidal. Similarly, his partner Elaine goes from being self-absorbed and shrewish to attentive and loving (although there's still some selfishness in her concern for Jim, so it's not a total personality transplant).
Amy is amiable but her first scene is a bit dull. If she hadn't been so beautifully played then I would have found the scene interminable.
On the positive side, the dialogue is witty, well-paced and tightly written, and the circular structure of the timeline is imaginative and perfectly constructed. Some playgoers might find the inevitable anachronism confusing, but as Wisehammer says in Our Country's Good, "People with no imagination shouldn't go to the theatre."...more
True, I'm only 2/3 of the way through, but this is one of the most ridiculous plays I have ever read. Y'see, drama is about people, and I don't care hTrue, I'm only 2/3 of the way through, but this is one of the most ridiculous plays I have ever read. Y'see, drama is about people, and I don't care how vibrantly aggressive Shepard's writing is, and his dialogue is great, none of his characters are even vaguely real. These people - fathers, sons, grandsons - don't even recognise each other. It's nonsense. The whole play depends on the utterly absurd notions that none of these people know who each other are and aren't even bothered about the fact that one character says he's the grandson of another, isn't recognised, and yet carries on as if this isn't a big deal.
"Hi Grandpa, I haven't seen you in six years." "Who are you?" "I'm your son's son. I stopped off before driving 5,000 miles to see him." [At this point, you'd expect Grandpa to mention that his the man's son is right here, but oh no]. "Really? Is he my son? I can't remember."
You'd think it's a play about dementia and memory loss, but really it isn't. It's just a hopeless attempt to ape Arthur Miller without ever getting close to understanding the human condition. And there's the added effect that Shepard really hates actors. Dodge gets his hair shaved at the end of Act 1, just to make staging difficult. Bradley has a wooden leg, just to make casting difficult. You can almost see Shepard sitting at his typewriter and grinning to himself at how unstageable his play is.
It's ludicrous. I can't believe this nonsense won a Pulitzer Prize. Maybe it's a staging post on the way to freeing drama from its classical chains, but we've gone past that. Buried Child is a failed, out-dated experiment....more
I saw this in the bar at BLT: there were some terrific performances but the play itself was flawed and even inept in places.
Through a series of aboutI saw this in the bar at BLT: there were some terrific performances but the play itself was flawed and even inept in places.
Through a series of about ten encounters, the almost sociopathic heroine goes back to Stockport to see her dying father because she has never told him she loves him. Yes, the play is built on that most banal of clichés. She decides not to tell her husband where she is going: an illogical act that is never properly explained (she doesn't want him to follow her, but since nobody knows where she's staying she could easily have put his mind at rest without risking being found). She apparently loves him but is quite happy to disappear for two days, leaving the poor man frantic with worry. When she gets back, he happily accepts her perfunctory apologies and wedded bliss returns.
There are numerous mistakes and inconsistencies. Several characters comment on Harper's unusual name, but the story behind the name is never told. The first scene is a meeting with her boss – a man who is surreally creepy in a manner quite out of keeping with the rest of the play. One character is described as separated and is then revealed to have married again. Some workmen comment on the good weather, but ten minutes later the mother says the weather is clearing. Two characters suddenly go off on irrelevant racist rants for no apparent reason whatsoever; perhaps it's just the author's cack-handed way of telling us not to like them.
Some of the dialogue is vibrant and funny, but a lot of it is drab, low-energy murmuring that tails off into silence in unconscious parody of Ingmar Bergman. The vain, self-indulgent heroine is a terrific part (terrifically played in the version I saw), but the play's flaws in plotting and long periods of slow, boring musing about nothing at all make the whole experience a bit dull. ...more
You don't need the pseudo-musicals based on The Beatles and The Kinks that keep popping up round London to remind you that 60s nostalgia is big busineYou don't need the pseudo-musicals based on The Beatles and The Kinks that keep popping up round London to remind you that 60s nostalgia is big business. Howard Barker, whose first play was performed in 1970, isn't a nostalgist for the era; he's still living there.
Those bold 60s experiments in theatre made by young playwrights as they sought to wrench themselves free from the shackles of the 'well-made play' and its bourgeois values are mostly viewed now as quaint and even idiotic. Like Ptolemy's Almagest in the field of astronomy, they were important staging posts in the development of theatre but no longer to be taken seriously on their own merits.
Yet in 2006, Barker was still writing that kind of play. Characters with names like Algeria, Photo, Doorway and Youterus (who is male, naturally) scream, swear, copulate, fall over, display their privates and talk in riddles. There is, of course no obvious plot, presumably because that would mean submitting the play to the power structures of the patriarchy, or whatever it is these playwrights feel they are subverting by writing plays nobody can understand.
Seldom do one character's words bear much or any relation to another's: all that matters is their own feelings, leaving us with a play without empathy. If the characters can't communicate with each other, how can they communicate to the audience? The actors' job is made harder by Barker refusing to punctuate their speeches (are capital letters and full stops the bayonets of the oppressor?); not only do the characters fail to communicate to each other or the audience, the author refuses to communicate effectively with the actors.
You could make an intellectual argument in favour of this approach. As Barker himself said,
“It's time we started taking our audiences more seriously, and stop telling them stories they can understand.”
"A good play puts the audience through a certain ordeal. I'm not interested in entertainment."
Barker is a vigorous and eloquent proponent of theatre as a challenging medium. If only his words on the stage were as engaging as his words about the stage. Yet, if forced to choose between the Beatles stage musical and a performance of The Fence in its Thousandth Year, I'd still choose Barker – if only for the challenge and to find out whether his plays achieve in performance what they fail to achieve on the printed page. Even so, both shows suffer from the same artistic sterility, failing to recognise that the world has moved on. Barker keeps plugging away, stuck in an outdated style that was superseded by Caryl Churchill, having closed his mind decades ago. He has quoted one of his own characters as reflecting his own view on communication:
"I write from ignorance. I don't know what I want to say, and I don't care if you listen or not."
As a book, I despised The Fence in its Thousandth Year. As an actor, I can't imagine how it could be performed as anything but the pretentious mess you see on the page. But as an actor, I also know that a good director can find things I can't find in a script and create something amazing. Maybe the problem isn't that Barker is too challenging; it's that I'm not up to the challenge. Maybe the smug fool is me....more