(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/28.)
Hell isn't just other people: it's backstage in this new version of the story of the scholar who sold his soul to the devil. Here, the third and fourth acts of Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century play – long suspected not to have been written by Marlowe – are replaced by new scenes written by Colin Teevan, which update the satire and place Faustus in our own world of avarice and celebrity. Faustus isn't the only one selling his soul: bankers and media moguls casually sign on
Times are certainly changing at West Yorkshire Playhouse, where this co-production with the Citizens theatre in Glasgow heralds the start of James Brining's influence as artistic director. There is so much that is distinctive and interesting in Dominic Hill's Faustus that you are prepared to forgive the moments when it drags (particularly in the first half), or the unevenness of a production that still displays signs of uncertainty in some of its performances and stagecraft.
(I can appreciate both of these writers—but I do think that Ann Coulter is not seeing how good Karen Finley is as a performance artist. Can we start a fund to send Ann to one of Karen’s shows?
article from Human Events, 2/27.)
Having given up on trying to persuade Americans that taking guns away from law-abiding citizens will reduce the murder rate, Democrats have turned to their usual prohibitionary argument: “Why does anyone need (an assault weapon, a 30-round magazine, a semiautomatic, etc., etc.)?”
Phony conservative Joe Manchin, who won his U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia with an ad showing him shooting a gun, said, “I don’t know anyone (who) needs 30 rounds in a clip.”
CNN’s Don Lemon, who does not fit the usual profile of the avid hunter and outdoorsman, demanded, “Who needs an assault rifle to go hunting?”
Fantasist Dan Rather said, “There is no need to have these high-powered assault weapons.”
And prissy Brit Piers Morgan thought he’d hit on a real showstopper with, “I don’t know why anyone needs an assault rifle.” Of course, where he comes from, policemen carry wooden sticks.
Since when do Americans have to give the government an explanation for why they “need” omething? If that’s the test, I can think of a whole list of things I don’t know why anyone needs.
I don’t know why anyone needs to burn an American flag at a protest. The point could be made just as well verbally.
I don’t know why anyone needs to read about the private lives of celebrities. Why can’t we shut down the gossip rags?
I don’t know why anyone needs to vote. One vote has never made a difference in any federal election.
I don’t know why anyone needs to bicycle in a city.
I don’t know why anyone needs to have anal sex at a bathhouse. I won’t stop them, but I don’t know why anyone needs to do that.
I don’t know why anyone needs to go hiking in national parks, where they’re constantly falling off cliffs, being buried in avalanches and getting lost — all requiring taxpayer-funded rescue missions.
I don’t know why Karen Finley needs to smear herself with chocolate while reading poems about “love.” But not only do Democrats allow that, they made us pay for it through the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to scholar John Fuegi, The Good Woman of Setzuan “shouts the agony” of Margarete Steffin, the play’s unacknowledged principle author who, for most of her career, wore a male disguise, signing her name as Bertolt Brecht. As Fuegi explains in his book Brecht & Co., Shen Te (the drama’s female protagonist) loves a man who uses her and takes her money. Intrepidly, however, she puts him to work, running her factory, “providing jobs for the helpless and homeless. He works for her because he believes the boss is not really the female Shen Te, for whom he is consistently contemptuous, but rather the tough male Shui Ta, to whom he is consistently fawning.”
After seeing a production of Good Person of Szechwan, now playing at La Mama until February 24 (the play uses John Willet’s translation and is directed by Lear deBesseonet) audiences will get to see a drag artist play a version of Steffin. It’s a proposition that the Foundry Theatre renders with jubilation. However, I wonder if Steffin would think her work highjacked yet again (besides her not receiving writing credit on the play, it was dedicated to Brecht’s wife, Helene Weigel. The actress was deemed perfect for the title role—actually, she would not play it, as its WWII premier was in Switzerland, and she was a refugee in America at the time. Ruth Berlau is today seen as another collaborator on the text.). I also wonder if Steffin, along with Brecht himself, would think the new production gives proper estimation of yin and yang, whether the writers would believe the drama has been softened without the sting of traditional, perhaps anachronistic or even archaic, gender roles and role playing in a male-dominated society.
Harold Clurman, writing in 1963, found Brecht’s work (he may not have known much about the contributions of Steffin and Berlau, not to mention Elisabeth Hauptmann) more than didactic, rising above politics “through a subtle artistry which always says something more than, and different from, their presumed ‘lesson’. That is why they have never been wholly accepted as effective Communist propaganda.” (We must also ask, in the La Mama production, if the play is effective for proponents of a post-genderized world?) Are Shen Ta and Wang being defanged by subverting their relationship’s dynamic and leaving Steffin cries unchampioned? Isn’t what the play is saying that, circa late 1930s, there are no social solutions and that gender is intrinsic and part of an insoluble problem? Brecht, the theorist, wants us to “think” and here the question seems very close to: How can humans be good in a world where societal forces and constructs conspire to make that impossible? DeBessonet seems to be simplifying and universalizing for the 2000s, but, ultimately, she frames the question from one-side: How can a man be good in a world where goodness is impossible?
Eileen Atkins and Charles Edwards star in this new play by Margaret Heffernan about the tempestuous relationship between one of the most famous American writers of the twentieth century, John Updike, and his mother. When John Updike's mother was asked whether she was proud of her son's acclaim, she replied, "I'd rather it had been me."
Updike said that one of his earliest memories was seeing his mother at her writing desk. He wrote many stories about his mother and mothers in general, almost all isolated by their intelligence and sensitivity, which their sons both love and fear. Replete with tension, they mirror the journey all children must make from love to separation to attempts at coexistence and back to love. But the stories are always about the son's journey, as though the mother has gone nowhere. But what of Mrs. Updike's journey?
This play brings Updike and his mother together as Updike struggles with another failed marriage.
He comes home to his mother, expecting support and sympathy, to discover for the first time that his mother is a person too, with hopes and fears and disappointments he had never seen. His mother challenges him: can he love anyone whom he does not see merely as an extension of himself? And, if he can't, what kind of writer, what kind of man, does that make him?
Mrs Updike … Eileen Atkins John Updike … Charles Edwards Young John Updike … Josef Lindsay Wesley … Stuart Milligan Springer … Garrick Hagon Interviewer … Joseph May Lara … Lorelei King
The writer, Margaret Heffernan has written three plays for radio, including a pair of plays about Enron
There have got to be more critics from the right who can give established dramatists, like Lyle Kessler (Orphans), the resistance needed to move beyond acceptable liberal fantasy and produce art. Here is a writer who understands the mechanics of coercion, peer pressure, and social control. Yet, in Collision, now playing at the Rattlestick through February 17, he only delivers a simplistic position paper on gun control. Kessler is literary and is interested in formal construction, as well as the elements of language theatre (listen to the skill with which he writes his monologues). You might see him as an existentialist and compare his writing to that of Beckett’s and Pinter’s. But for all this playwright’s knowledge of the stage, psychology, and behavior, he has written obvious downtown theatre, a utopian cautionary tale, not a serious indictment of gun culture at all.
Collision is a retro story and its sound is stilted, its plot implausible (tell me again how those guns got past security into the dorm room?). You won’t be able to confuse it with streaming news, ‘60s reality, or any other. The bonding of a group of students–and their teacher–who produce a violent act is not the stern lecture we need on Newtown, Connecticut; it’s not backup to chip away at the Second Amendment. Taken without its final minutes, it might add up to a perceptive investigation of power, but it’s PR Theatre, opportunism, right for a meeting with suits on box office. These characters aren’t up to mass bloodshed in public spaces—they’re not especially desperate, they’re not especially motivated. They don’t especially fit the profile: They’re not crazy. They’re eggheads with a weapon.
The Amoralists are one troupe we could expect to take us into pretty deranged areas and maybe tell a Manson or Lord of the Flies story. But they don’t; they’re earnest, and well-meaning, and fastidiously interpreting the script—for once, they seem interchangeable with other actors on the scene. Of course, their roles aren’t written to be case studies in the mentally ill; the characters don’t seem to be especially disruptive in their classes, they aren’t taking dangerous pharmaceuticals. It is sometimes pointed out that Ibsen can ask for a radical jump of logic at the end of his plays—but Kessler wants a leap of unjustifiable faith.
Some might think work like this dilutes the very issue of early detection and getting psychopaths hospitalization. It implies that the general population is like the mentally ill who commit such crimes. In the wake of a tragedy of the likes of Newtown, that is an unhelpful metaphor. It's trouble when playwrights want to control people in society as if they were their characters.
Directed by David Fofi
with Michael Cullen, Craig ‘muMs’ Grant, James Kautz, Nick Lawson, and Anna Stromberg
Ingo Swann, renowned artist, author, researcher of PSI–and of the fuller extent of human perceptions, abilities, and powers–passed away February 1. For those of us who were lucky enough to have known him, he will be deeply missed. For everyone, his work and contributions to the world will be remembered.