Category Archives: Writing

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” 4 ·

(Photo of Jasper)

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.  Today, it is warmer—and there is sun.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog park. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, HUDSON. Today, CHRISTIE (Male), late 50’s, is standing at the beginning of the scene, but because of social distancing, he will be sitting on a second bench in this part of the run. JUNO and JASPER are CHRISTIE’s two Jack Russell terriers.)                        

(HUDSON is digging a hole to lie in; JUNO and JASPER are at the far end of the run.)

 

MARY JANE:  What are these dogs eating? Mud?

CHRISTIE:  Jasper you come over here!

MARY JANE:  What are they eating? Hudson was eating mud yesterday.

CHRISTIE:  You come over here, Jasper.  You, too, Junie.

MARY JANE:   I don’t mind if he eats a little mud.

CHRISTIE: (Suspecting Jasper is going to eat poop.)  Jasper, you get away from there.  

MARY JANE:   If he’s eating a lot of it, I care.  Is it poop?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know what it is.

MARY JANE: (Standing.)   I’ve heard about a powder for dogs who eat their own poop—makes it taste bad and they stop. But that wouldn’t help your dogs, because they eat other dogs’ poop.

CHRISTIE: Probably mud. (CHRISTIE kicks the ground where Jasper has been.)

MARY JANE:  (About a small piece of dog poop on the ground.) See, that’s the kind of thing I wouldn’t normally pick up.

(CHRISTIE picks it up anyway.)

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.  Hudson’s going. (Hudson is pooping.)

CHRISTIE: (Moving straight into action.) JASPER!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE: I have a bag. (Chasing Jasper.) No!

MARY JANE:  Come on, Jasper, you come up here by me.

CHRISTIE: (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that, Jasper!  Drop that.

(Pause. JASPER does not listen.)

MARY JANE:  Did he get it?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think so.  Junie, you get up there, too.

(Silence.  CHRISTIE cleans up HUDSON’s poop.  JUNO sits by Mary Jane.)

MARY JANE:  Thank you for picking it up.

CHRISTIE: No problem.

MARY JANE:  I don’t think he’ll go again, but you never know–he’s been going a lot lately.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.)  No eating.  You know full well you’re not supposed to be eating that!  The last thing I need is a sick little dog.

(HUDSON settles down with his ball and begins “woofing” seven or eight times.)

MARY JANE:  (About the barking.) Hudson.  Stop being so loud!

(MARY JANE coughs and uses her launcher to play fetch.)

MARY JANE:  I’ve been coughing for four weeks. (since) March 1.  I take my temperature every day—I’ve never had one.  Cuomo says this is going to peak in 21 days—he changed it from 45. 

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: Prince Charles has Caronavirus. (CHRISTIE is throwing balls to the dogs, as well.)

MARY JANE:  He does?  That must have just happened.  I listen to the news when I’m getting ready in the morning.   

CHRISTIE: Junie, don’t you go down there.  I don’t want you eating mud. 

MARY JANE:  A lot of people around here say they’ve already had Coronavirus. Coughing, headaches, sniffling, diarrhea, they’ve been doing that all winter. They have chapped hands from washing so much.   They need to put hand cream in the bathroom, and use it. If not, they’ll forget. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  This cold I have–I think it saved my life. My friend Jerome tested positive—after waiting two weeks to receive the results. He texted me he’s getting better, but he’s still in quarantine.  If I didn’t have this (cold) Jerome and I would have been going out a few times a week. He has money, doesn’t mind paying. Getting lunch at Smashburger, riding up to Dobbs Ferry for drinks on the water. I would have gotten it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  Jasper always puts the ball between feet, like croquet.  Hudson learned that from him. Now he does it too.  Is it the game called croquet where they aim the ball through a (she curves her arms and hands.

CHRISTIE:  (Seeing that JASPER has done this to CHRISTIE’s feet.) Yes.  Croquet.

MARY JANE:  (To HUDSON.) Now you want the orange ball.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t know what this is.  Last week everybody wanted the green ball.  Now it has to be orange.

MARY JANE:  (Hudson’s coloring is orange.) An orange ball for an orange dog.

CHRISTIE:  Trends can change at a moment’s notice.  Turn on a dime.  Everyone was fine with the green bacon ball until 11:17 this morning.  Then you couldn’t give it away. They got tired of it. No one will touch it. 

MARY JANE:  More and more I notice Hudson doesn’t like me leaving him.

CHRISTIE:  (Still talking about balls for dogs.) Jasper won’t even pick it up. Look at him. It’s right next to him. 

MARY JANE:  (About HUDSON.) He gets restless at night, can’t make himself comfortable.  Doesn’t want to be petted very long—and only when he’s lying down.  

CHRISTIE:  Hudson never likes to be petted.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  He has arthritis of the spine. He’s getting old fast.  He’ll be my last dog. He’s already eleven. 

(Pause.)

MARY JANE:  Uh-oh.

CHRISTIE:  (Yelling at Jasper, running after him, trying to get him away from the poop.) Drop it! You drop that! You drop that! You drop that!

MARY JANE:  Do you have a bag?

CHRISTIE:   (Running to pick up poop.) How long do you say you’ve been doing this?

MARY JANE:  I’ve had dogs since I was sixteen.  That’s when my father felt he could trust me to take care of one–when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them and taking them outside.  But I wanted one longer than that—I have the dog gene.

(End)

(c) 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES) 3 ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A wet dog park in the Bronx.  

(MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, HUDSON—although CHRISTIE (male), late 50’s, is throwing most of the balls today (to HUDSON and one of CHRISTIE’S two Jack Russell terriers, JASPER. The other, JUNO, sits on the ground near MARY JANE. ) 

CHRISTIE: Come on, Hudson, come back.  Don’t go down so far.

MARY JANE: Hudson, come back.

CHRISTIE: Jasper got it.

MARY JANE: He knows not to go very far when I’m throwing the ball!

CHRISTIE: (To Hudson.)  I’m trying to get it to you.

MARY JANE: I used to think he was smart.

CHRISTIE: I can’t throw it that far.

MARY JANE: Hudson, Christie’s wearing two pairs of gloves and has the ball in a plastic bag!

CHRISTIE: He missed it.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Hudson, come back this way.

MARY JANE: A hospital ship is being sent to the East Coast.

CHRISTIE: (Explaining to Hudson.) Jasper will intercept it if you go too far downfield.

MARY JANE: Another one is going to the West Coast.

CHRISTIE:  I don’t have the arm for that.

MARY JANE: The problem is they only have 5,000 ventilators in New York.

CHRISTIE: How many do they need?

MARY JANE: 30,000.

(Pause.)

MARY JANE: Do they give one to the 40-year-old—or do I get it, with underlying conditions?

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: (To Hudson.) Stay up here.

MARY JANE:  It used to be a disease would wipe out segments of the population—but we’re not used to that.  We got too smart in eradicating disease.

CHRISTIE: (To Hudson.) Forget it, Hudson—I’m not a professional quarterback!

MARY JANE: They were looking at the people who died in Italy.  The largest group had cases in the elderly population with three or four underlying conditions.  The second group had two–

CHRISTIE:  It’s like fires out West.

MARY JANE: Exactly. 

(The dogs suddenly begin to bark at children outside the fence.)

CHRISTIE: (To the dogs.) That’s enough, that’s enough. (About the dogs, to the children.

MARY JANE:  Hudson, stop barking.   

CHRISTIE: (To the children and nanny .) They’re just saying good morning.

MARY JANE: All the children are off from school.

CHRISTIE: (To the children, about the dogs.) They’re just saying hello.  You don’t have to be scared of them.  They’re just big talkers.

(The nanny and children move on and the dogs stop barking. Silence.)

MARY JANE: How is your son?

CHRISTIE: Still in Edinburgh. Going on lockdown.  He doesn’t want to come home. Says it’s as bad over here as it is there.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know in Venice, without all the tourists there, the canals are like glass.  Crystal clear. Blue. You can see all the way to the bottom.

CHRISTIE: Hudson, you got the ball!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” (2) ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx. There are two benches. The first is near the entrance to the run—the second it toward the opposite end.

MARY JANE, early 70’s, sits on one side of the second bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, HUDSON. CHRISTIE, late 50’s, is sitting on the far side of the bench and throwing a ball to one of his two terriers—the other dog sits near MARY JANE. A sunny day)

CHRISTIE: (Calling, to one of his dogs.) Come on Jasper, stop taking Hudson’s ball.

MARY JANE: What to do? I wait for this all year long–I’m not sure if  anything will change by May or June. 

CHRISTIE: I saw, on the Web, that the worst should be over by the end of  April–not that it might not recur . . .

MARY JANE: I get the same ABT tickets in the parterre–with my friend.

CHRISTIE: (To Jasper.) You have your own ball! Leave Hudson’s alone! (CHRISTIE stands.) Come on Jasper, put the ball over here!

MARY JANE: That’s all right. Just leave him. He’ll put it down when he’s ready.

CHRISTIE: Jasper!

(Jasper finally puts down the ball.)

MARY JANE: I told you. He always puts down the ball if you leave him alone.

CHRISTIE: Natan said we should just nuke New Rochelle—then our problems would be solved.

MARY JANE: And cancel 2020.

CHRISTIE: That will get rid of corona virus.

MARY JANE: The National Guard is taking food and medical supplies to the elderly.

CHRISTIE: How far away is New Rochelle? I’ve never been there.

MARY JANE: Depends on where you’re going. New Rochelle is a big place. Six schools. Two closed. Twenty-five minutes, maybe. That’s where my vet is and where I get my car repaired. We used to go to New Rochelle for the best pizza.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: They closed Fordham. Columbia.

CHRISTIE: Saint Xavier. Courses go online Thursday.

MARY JANE: Was anyone at the school found to be infected?

CHRISTIE: Three.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: What does that mean for you?

CHRISTIE: I can’t tutor because you have to work with the student face to face. (Pause.) They’re going on spring break anyway—it doesn’t matter.

(Pause. We hear the entry gate open and close. A small black and white dog, like on the old RCA records comes up to CHRISTIE—and he lightly begins petting the dog.)

CHRISTIE: (Changing the subject.) At least the weather’s better. That would stop the virus. That’s what happens with the flu. Knock it out. One of the workmen in our building said: “You want some Coronas? I got some.”

(Silence. CHRISTIE stops petting the dog.)

MARY JANE: (Speaking quietly.) You know Natan?

CHRISTIE: (Not hearing.) What?

MARY JANE: You see that man over there?

CHRISTIE: (To one of the terriers.) Come on Jasper—you can let Hudson have his own ball.

MARY JANE: He lives in Natan’s building.

CHRISTIE: Why is he holding a white handkerchief in front of his face?

MARY JANE: Natan often knows things about people.

CHRISTIE: (Throwing a ball.) The New Rochelle line was only a joke, you know that, right? I never know if people take things the wrong way. (Looking over at the man.) Maybe that guy is sick.

MARY JANE: His son is in quarantine.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: I was just petting his dog–lightly on top.

MARY JANE: Can you get it from animals?

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: I don’t know.

MARY JANE: He seems sick. (The man is blowing his nose.)

CHRISTIE: I don’t want to wait to find out.

(The dog jumps up on the bench.)

CHRISTIE: I think I’m going to go in the other run.

MARY JANE: I’ve never gotten along with him. He takes up too much of a bench.

CHRISTIE: I want to wash my hands.

MARY JANE: I’m going to the doctor in a few minutes.

CHRISTIE: Let’s get out of here.

MARY JANE: (Suddenly.) Hudson! We’re leaving!

(End)

(C) Copyright 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

LIFE SKETCHES (SHORT SCENES AND MONOLOGUES): “AT THE DOG PARK” ·

By Bob Shuman

SCENE: A dog park in the Bronx.

(MARY JANE, early 70s,  sits on a bench in the dog run. Using a launcher, SHE plays fetch with her spaniel, HUDSON. CHRISTIE, male, late 50s, is standing and throwing a ball to one of his two terriers—the other sits near MARY JANE.) 

MARY JANE: I don’t think it can be coronavirus because I don’t have a temperature.

CHRISTIE: Is that one of the symptoms?

MARY JANE: That’s one of the symptoms. I was checking every fifteen minutes, when I was home, and I don’t have a temperature. 

CHRISTIE: Plus you’ve had this for a while–

MARY JANE: About three or four days.  Four days. And I’ve never had a temperature. So I don’t think it can be coronavirus.

CHRISTIE: (Relieved.) Well, that’s good. (To one of the dogs.) Good catch, Jasper.

(Silence.)

MARY JANE: You know Crosby, Stills, and Nash—from the sixties?

CHRISTIE: Sure.

MARY JANE: I was going to see Nash.

CHRISTIE: You were?

MARY JANE: But I told my brother I couldn’t go—he didn’t have a problem, he completely understood.  If I was on the aisle, that would be one thing, so I could get up, if I had to. But I didn’t want to be in the middle of a row in case I started to cough. 

CHRISTIE: My wife thinks she has norovirus

MARY JANE: I wouldn’t want people to think I had coronavirus.

(Silence.)

CHRISTIE: Where is S. A. R.?

MARY JANE: Over by the railroad tracks.

CHRISTIE: Yeshiva is closed, too.

MARY JANE: And the academy.

CHRISTIE: The man lives in New Rochelle. It’s affected over a thousand people.  They can trace it. 

(Silence.)

MARY JANE:  I don’t think this can be the flu because I don’t have chills.

CHRISTIE:  Early in the morning I think I must be getting sick—under my left eye feels all puffy. But I am fine by the time I get up. 

MARY JANE: I was reading about the common cold—and this should peak in the next two days.

(Pause.)

CHRISTIE: There’s no one else here—not even the schoolkids.

MARY JANE:  It’s like we’re the last two people on earth.  (To her dog.)  Hudson, find your ball!

CHRISTIE:  We’ll meet up with another group of survivors from . . . Italy.

MARY JANE:  (To herself.)  I’m not contagious.

(End)

© 2020 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

DAVID RABE:  “UNCLE JIM CALLED” (FICTION FROM THE NEW YORKER) ·

UNCLE JIM CALLED

(Rabe’s story appeared in the 7/8 & 15 New Yorker.)

A week ago Thursday, my uncle Jim called. When I picked up the phone and said, “Hello,” he said, “Hello.” The voice was familiar and yet I didn’t recognize it. “Who is this?” I said.

“Jim,” he told me. “Uncle Jim.”

“What?” I was very surprised, because I thought Uncle Jim was dead. “Who is this?” I wanted to know. I really wanted to know.

“I just told you. Jim. I’m here with Hank. Is your mom home?”

“No,” I said. I thought Uncle Jim had been dead for years.

“Where is she?”

Now, the Hank he’d just referred to was probably his older brother, and my mom was their sister, Margie, and the thing of it was, the bewildering thing of it was that I thought they were all dead. “Is this some kind of joke?” I asked.

“We’re not laughing,” he said.

“Look,” I said, “I was in the middle of something here.”

“Oh, yeah? What?”

“Well, cooking. Dinner.”

(Read more) 

DE NIRO AND THE 2018 TONY AWARDS/‘IVANOV’ FROM MOSCOW’S STATE THEATRE OF NATIONS (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In a week where Robert De Niro’s curse out of Donald Trump received a standing ovation at the 2018 Tony Awards, Russian actor Evgeny Mironov, who immerses himself in the title character of Anton Chekhov’s Ivanovat New York City Center from June 14-17–notes, in a Playbill interview with Katie Labovitz, that “Art is above politics.” The two actors, who were not reacting to one other’s comments, emphasize a cultural distinction between the aesthetics of the two countries and raise a tortuous, ugly subject for both—the degree to and ways in which censorship is employed.  American theatre, where politics is a marketing hook (Trump as Julius Caesar at the Delacorte last summer, for example) does silence through marginalizing and ignoring even important work and artists, admonishing or condemning them for mistakes in liberal thinking—recall the careless lack of perspective in the title for The New York Times review of the Pearl’s 2016 A Taste of Honey; “She’s Having the Baby.  How Quaint.” Or consider the roughly half of American voters who would not concur with Mr. De Niro or even want their children to have to listen to him on such a subject on a night which largely celebrates musicals.  Maybe Russians are more accustomed to abrupt changes in the political climate than those in the West, which may help explain why De Niro has had trouble accepting a free election that happened over a year and a half ago.  Or is he just emissary of the unofficial censorship from the left?  Here’s a simple observation:  Why do reviews of plays, books, art, concentrate so heavily on divining an author’s politics, real or imagined—and passing judgment on them, instead of discussing the work itself?  Have we become a nation not of art aficionados, but of inspectors patrolling the slippery slope of political correctness?  Within the last year the BAM production of the Flemish director Ivo van Hove’s conflicted dramatic interpretation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a novel he shamefully admires—but without him, without his standing in the artistic community, without his being native to another country, where would Objectivism, akin to Conservatism, have a chance to be contemplated on stage in this country?  Chekhov, of course, talks about the need to shift cultural perspectives through his character Konstantin, in The Seagull.  Perhaps, he is right to impute that a cultural collision is necessary to shake up prevailing artistic norms.

Ivanov (Mironov), the title character in the new Theatre of Nations production, brought to the U.S. as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival, would never be deemed politically correct, much less producible, if written by an American playwright, although the current settings and costumes are contemporary. This may upset the paradigm of understanding the playwright’s work in terms of needing to see him as part of Old Russia: fading, if grandiose; but Ivanov himself, plagued by financial crises and alcohol abuse, a dying wife he doesn’t love (Chulpan Khamatova), and a young woman he is attracted to (Elizaveta Boyarskaya) would also not win him much sympathy with the #MeToo Movement or raise much interest in the shrinking men’s market (a work with similar themes by Derek Ahonen of the Amoralists, The Qualification of Douglas Evans, did not make much impact in 2014).  Such a character is not unknown in the American vernacular, however; he’s just more akin to others who have had their day, like those in the writings of John Updike and John Cheever.  All of the actors—part of Ivanov’s family and social circle–need mention, though, because of their stamina throughout the evening (three hours and ten minutes, performed in Russian with English surtitles) and the complexity of their performances: Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Igor Gordin, Natalya Pavlenkova, Dmitry Serdyuk, Alexander Novin, Marianna Shults, Olga Lapshina, Aleksey Kalinin, Ilya Orshanskiy, Irina Gordina, and Andrey Andreev

Oleg Golovko’s settings for the play also inadvertently recall the American 1970’s—his decor is at first heavy, unmatched patterns and drywall, perhaps brutalist, reminiscent of paneling and prefab, pre-Martha Stewart. Elsewhere he recreates a dacha lit by candlelight (and sparklers), a utilitarian doctor’s office devoid of personality, except overseen by a large kitschy painting of a German Shepherd, and the back room of a wedding hall—the amplified lighting, using fluorescents, is by Denis Solntsev. Chekhov shows that Ivanov is despondent (“When I’m depressed, I fall out of love with you”), but that seems like a bad excuse for his transgressions.  Audiences are not asked to ascertain a minimal production, though; a current, cost-effective mode. The cast has also apparently been given time to move beyond telegraphing and shortcuts, to think past the next line or plot point.  They work naturalistically to achieve independent characters, arriving at fullness: the condition of entropy just before chaos.  Whether the credit should be given to the actors or to the director, Timofey Kulyabin, or all, the emphasis rests on accumulations of behaviors, quite detailed. Examples include the twirling of a plate on a tabletop or clapping the hands of a partner in a birthday dance, or doing chin-ups, or kissing hands—the depth of specific touches may be missed by the audience and some might never be known.  Whether they have been improvised or consciously blocked, Stanislavski is noting them.

Evgeny Mironov’s appraisal of art as above politics registers with a purity to American ears who have come to believe that art is only politics.  Internationally, there is much to be learned regarding fine art from other cultures, beyond the American status quo.  Domestically, though, art is not politically balanced and has been appropriated propagandistically.  There is work to see, but the American theatremaker has largely been abandoned by the right—to the point where his or her art can be demonized, if it can even be visualized at all.  During the time of year where lists are compiled about winning dramatic works, accolades are one-sided and incomplete.  Theatre does not have a Regnery, the publisher of Conservative books, to provide any kind of balance.  To a liberal, that may come as a relief on different levels, but it does not show the world the true range of possibilities for finding our own Chekhov, no matter his or her political affiliation.  One way Americans can start to confront this matter, as the #MeToo Movement raises its voice, is to allow someone, like Jon Voight, who, incidentally, played Trigorin in The Seagull on Broadway, to be part of the Tony ceremonies next year.  Part of becoming nonpartisan regarding the arts–and coming to a reckoning with the past–is to acknowledge how partisan they actually are.  

Update, 6/18:  In an apparent answer to Robert De Niro’s Tony performance,  Chris Perez, in The New York Post reported, on June 18, that a Trump supporter tried to disrupt the curtain call of the musical Bronx Tale, directed by Mr. De Niro, on June 16, by standing to display a  Trump 2020 campaign flag.

© by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

(Photos by Sergei Petrov–from top: Ensemble;  l. to r. Chulpan Khamatova and Dmitry Serdyuk; Elizaveta Boyarskaya and Evgeny Mironov; Ivanov Evgeny Mironov at table.)

 

LLOYD WEBBER/RICE: ‘EVITA’  (REVIEW FROM LONDON) ·

By Marit E. Shuman

 Rainbow High or Rainbow Low?

In the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, panache seems to overtake sincerity in this gilded, but nonetheless, enjoyable production. Title-role: Emma Hatton, no stranger to the West End (her credits include Elphaba in Wicked) or to the world of jazz and blues, seems to rely heavily on the latter in the delivery of her performance.

A vocally taxing role, Evita swoops from dusky, barely audible low notes all the way up to belted passagio, and then some. To quote Patti LuPone, originator of the role of Evita on Broadway, “There’s a couple of notes that aren’t as strong as your top notes or your bottom notes and that’s exactly where the score sits.” Where LuPone punched through the Es, Fs, and Gs, that characterize the vocal line (at the cost of her vocals, to be fair), Hatton backs down and floats them, in a breathy, bluesy manner. This approach adds a layer of sensitivity to Evita, by the addition of more dynamic contrast, but at what cost? Some of the strength, drive, and fearlessness of Eva Perón seem to be lost.

 

Playing opposite Hatton, making his West End debut in the role of Che, is Gian Marco Schiaretti.  Extremely handsome, he moves about the stage with ease and confidence.  Classic Che beard tightly clipped, army reliefs tightly fitted, and vibrato tightly coiled, this “boyband Che” brings charisma to the role, and, when he moves to his higher register and gives up trying to speak-sing, reveals an expressive and powerful voice. Unfortunately, the honesty and gravity of Che, as narrator, are glossed over by all the glitz.

Whereas the roles of Evita and Che seem to be lacking something, in terms of integrity, so too does the music. As is the norm nowadays, with theatres trying to cut costs, the orchestra that Webber’s iconic songs were written for consists of three keyboards–playing the parts of various instruments, such as strings and harps–a couple of trumpets, and a guitar.

All in all, a fun production but fluffy–ephemeral and insubstantial.

© 2017 by Marit E. Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Pamela Raith

WAYNE ALLENSWORTH’S AMERICAN SHOWDOWN: THE AUTHOR OF ‘FIELD OF BLOOD’ ON MODERN WESTERNS, FRONTIER SITUATIONS, AND THE BEST BOOKS AND FILMS IN THE GENRE—INCLUDING HIS OWN ·

Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002.  He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1998.  He is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine.  His short story, Man of the West, was nominated for a Western Writers of America Spur award. He has contributed to the following collections: Exploring American History (Marshall Cavendish, 2008); Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario (Chronicles Books, 2006); Immigration and the American Identity (Chronicles Books, 2008); and Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia, edited by Marlene Laruelle (Johns Hopkins University). He lives in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Wayne Allensworth saddles up with SV’s Bob Shuman to talk about writing the epic, the poetic, and the tragic in a two-part interview—Part 2 will be published 4/25.   Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD at the end of this post.

Wayne, tell us about your new book—would it be fair to call it a “Western”?

 The themes and setting make Field of Blood what some might call a “modern Western.” I think of the book as taking place in an imagined present— a small Texas town is transformed as the American Southwest gradually melds with Mexico.  America is merging with Latin America, with all the dislocations, conflicts, and moral dilemmas that arise out of a clash of cultures.  We aren’t quite there yet, but are headed in that direction at a rapid pace. If the elite of both countries had their way, that’s where we would be now. That was my starting point.

I tried to imagine what that would look like. It’s very much a frontier situation.  The rule of law is breaking down where the old America is passing away, the globalized world bringing with it chaos and disorientation.  The corruption and frenzied violence of today’s Mexico are crossing the border.  That’s what’s coming. You might say that the drug cartels and their accomplices are a criminal counterpart to trans-national corporations, both out to take advantage of the erosion of borders and national institutions.  They share an interest in dissolving boundaries, doing away with the old institutions, and exploiting the situation for profit, no matter what the cost to ordinary people. 

My characters are struggling with the new reality and their own sense of identity, as well as a sense of loss.  I tried to get at the surrealism of globalization, and the bizarre situations it creates.  America is being forcibly merged with Latin America, but it doesn’t stop there, not for us or them. It’s really an anti-human and anti-humane world, one without reference points, that benefits the most ruthless among us the most.

In this setting, I set up a situation that forces people to take sides in a way that is especially pronounced on a frontier.  It’s the kind of dilemma that leads to an inevitable showdown. That’s very much like a traditional Western, but in a modern, or post-modern, setting.

How did you become interested in Westerns–and what is it about them that made you want to write them?

My grandfather told me stories about the Old West when I was a boy.  I heard stories about Quanah Parker, the range wars, about his meeting Frank James, and seeing Geronimo.  Westerns are uniquely American, they are elemental, dealing with fundamental issues—survival, identity, loyalty—and they are about us, about our people and how we came to be what and who we are.

I read Westerns my grandfather would pass along to me after he had read them, books by writers like Louis L’Amour, Ernest Haycox, Jack Schaefer, and Alan LeMay.  Later on in life, I read Larry McMurtry, Charles Portis, and Cormac McCarthy.  McMurtry wrote his great epic Western, Lonesome Dove, in an urbanized, technological era when Westerns had fallen out of fashion.  I think he revived the Western.  McCarthy wrote his masterpiece, Blood Meridian, as a metaphysical Western, one that drew on authors like Melville and Conrad, but the violence and stylistics of the novel were from a later period. McCarthy took the Western to places it hadn’t been before.  You might call some of these books “modern Westerns,” books like McMurtry’s Horseman Pass By, McCarthy’s border trilogy, and his No Country for Old Men.  Modern Westerns, especially, have an elegiac quality about them; they are stories chronicling the passing of an era, the passing of the old America, its values and way of life.  But that sense of something dying out, that something we’ll miss, the good and the bad, is part of a lot of Westerns.

Westerns were once a very important genre in America cinema, and movie Westerns and Western books drew on each other. It was a two-way street, the books, dating back to the dime novels of the 19th century, to the authors I’ve mentioned.  They provided much of the raw material for movie Westerns, and the films provided a lot of the imagery used in subsequent Western stories. The great movie Westerns, films like StagecoachRed RiverShaneHigh NoonThe Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, gave the genre its stock of characters and themes, and the imagery of a mythical West.  Directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks set the standard for movie Westerns and made them art. Movie stars like John Wayne and Gary Cooper became the face of American Westerns. John Wayne, in particular, became a symbol of the American Western.  Clint Eastwood took up Wayne’s mantle to a certain degree. He was in Westerns on TV and in the movies, and, together with director Don Siegel, made modern Westerns like Coogan’s Bluff and, some would say, Dirty Harry, which I’ve heard called an “urban Western.” 

I think films like Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country and his best movie, The Wild Bunch, drew on the somber tone and texture of elegiac Westerns.  The Wild Bunch took Western films into some of the places Cormac McCarthy would take the literary Western.  Peckinpah made modern Westerns like Junior Bonner and The Getaway, while films based on McMurtry’s books, Hud and The Last Picture Show, contrasted the Old West with the new one, the ideal of the West as we like to think of it, and the realities of modern life.  That kind of movie is still with us—just look at the success of Hell or High Water.

Thank you so much.  Looking forward to next week.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD: Field of Blood Prologue

Read Part II of this interview: http://stagevoices.com/2017/04/26/wayne-allensworths-american-showdown-ii-the-author-of-field-of-blood-on-the-epic-russian-intelligence-western-assumptions-and-asking-his-characters-to-make-hard-choices/

Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved. 

SAM SHEPARD: ‘TINY MAN’ (FICTION) ·

Sam Shepard

(from the New Yorker, 12/5)

Early morning: They deliver my father’s corpse in the trunk of a ’49 Mercury coupe, dew still heavy on the taillights. His body is wrapped up tight in see-through plastic, head to toe. Flesh-colored rubber bands bind it at the neck, waist, and ankles — mummy style. He’s become very small in the course of things — maybe eight inches tall. In fact, I’m holding him now, in the palm of my hand. I ask them for permission to unwrap his tiny head, just to make sure he’s truly dead. They allow me to do this. They all stand aside, hands clasped behind their tailored backs, heads bowed in a kind of ashamed mourning, but not something you would question them on. It’s smart to keep on their good side. Besides, they seem quite polite and stoic now.

(Read more)

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/05/tiny-man

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MICHAEL FEINGOLD: VACANCIES FOR THEATRE VISIONARIES (PART II) ·

Michael_feingold_2013_obie_awards

(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 9/16.)

Once upon a time, a young actor met an older playwright. That story might have many possible outcomes, but on this particular occasion, its results were extraordinary. The young actor's name was James Houghton, and he was cast in a play by Romulus Linney, at a grungy off-off-Broadway theater. Like many before him, he found Linney's playwriting of great interest, and wondered why this distinguished writer, with productions on Broadway and in other notable venues to his credit, had so little public recognition that he was still working in a do-it-yourself showcase mode, focusing his own lights and folding his own programs.

But unlike those who had previously pondered that cultural question, Jim Houghton decided to do something about it. He scraped up some money — his actress wife had just done a dishwashing-detergent commercial, which helped — and put on, not a single production, but a season of plays by Romulus Linney, in, improbably, a Japanese calligraphy center on Bond Street. Some critics came, who knew the value of Linney's plays from previous encounters; I was one. A small public came. A reputation was launched. And suddenly there was a company, named Signature Theatre, which had a newly established tradition: to celebrate a different American playwright each year, by presenting a full season of his or her works, old and new. Traditions can be born very quickly, especially if everyone thinks they're a great idea.

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/michael-feingold-on-james-houghton-legacy_78391.html

Photo: Michael Feingold/Village Voice