Aren’t We a Hoot at the Hipp!

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. So run that ye may obtain.” Corinthians 9:24

The Hippodrome’s latest production, Beth Kandor’s play Running Mates, is a political comedy and so are we.

Yes, folk want to go out for a laugh, but they want to laugh at something or, even better, somebody.

We are requested to cooperate. We are about to make fun gently. We can make each other feel better by laughing at something.

Politics and comedy are inextricably mixed – both because politics is funny and because comedy is a weapon. Which is not to say that politics, like all human endeavors, is not inherently tragic, thus we realists have adopted the tragic view of life. Comedy and tragedy would seem to contradict one another. Shakespeare could meld them in the same play. Reality does the same thing to our views of life, comic or tragic.

Matthew Lindsay plays a small-town Southern politician, Mayor Sam Storm of Anderson, Georgia, who fits the bill perfectly: paunch, drawl, misogyny. It goes under the broad general heading of “conservatism”.

“Now you lissun here.” Matt Lindsay has got the dialect down. Small town in Georgia’s conservative mayor, they talk like iss, they move like iss. Watch how Matt Lindsay moves through this show and you’ll wonder how in the world this Mayor can manage to keep his paunch. The guy is doing a run-walk around the set for two acts.  He’s anxious as hell, with good reason – the Mayor’s about to lose his job. A pro’s pro Lindsay doesn’t move a muscle without a reason. And he manages to make Sam likeable. Hell, you might’ve voted for him too – as long as nobody was running against him.

But now someone is. The thing is it’s out of the ordinary. Up to this point, it’s been easy to be mayor.

His wife Sophia, played with a pleasant combination of subtlety and gusto by Joy Lynn Jacobs, is what used to be called “liberal,” which then transformed into “progressive,” while conservatives predictably stuck with “conservative”. Sam thinks and lets it slip that men are superior to women, when all evidence from both the play and reality leads us to the opposite conclusion. Herein lies the comedy. It’s flattering. We are an informed audience – we know more than he does. In fact, we know more than everybody. And that’s funny!

The men are dimwitted, the women are clever. In Lysistrata the women proved their superiority to men by denying them sex, and the fiction lay in the men not just raping and brutalizing them. The Greeks, I guess, were civilized. In this case, the women elect to compete with men for the votes of their fellow citizens. This is the democratic way.

How in the world has Sam managed to win and be re-elected and stay in office so damn long? That’s a mystery that rings true to real life. It says more about the electorate than the candidate. They’re the ones who are really stuck. Sam’s the Mayor but the town pretty much runs itself, in fact history seems to be pretty much running itself and local politics along with it. See Tolstoy: Napoleon was history’s bitch.

Tolstoy took things all too seriously. Fahrenheit 451 took things all too far. Running Mates settles in the middle.

Sophia, during her privileged in-home yoga class, enlists her wily friend Liddie, whose liberal libido is about to get loose, to be her campaign manager, and we’re off to the mayoral races. Liddie gets a yen for Sam’s campaign manager J.B. Jackson, so you see where this is heading.

We’ve got to watch the proceedings as if we don’t know what’s going on in the real Georgia. Put that aside for an evening of entertainment. Leave this to the pros. They’ve got this. Top-notch production values. Everyone hits their marks. Stephanie Lynge’s direction is crisp, fast-paced, staged with cinematic efficiency, each scene cutting to the chase. It’s the well-made play. The French were good at this, the farce.

Andre Sguerra is sublime as the yoga instructor, he finds clarity and reality in the role, and so he is truly funny and puts in relief how hard everyone else has to try. For everyone else, it’s a struggle they overcome to the best of their considerable abilities.

Michelle Bellaver as Liddie has marvelous timing and the generous ability to share a scene. Nicholas Perez-Hoop as J.B. pushes every button on the faulty mechanism of his character, an unreal amalgam of willingly corrupted innocence and political acumen, trying to get the damn thing to work, and that in itself has its humor. But the script establishes situations that compel the actors to go over the top to achieve the necessary pacing, the rhythm of laughs that goes with situation comedy, archetypes, comedia del arte. The yoga instructor is uniquely positioned to ignore all that and just be.

Our sympathies are with Sophia from the start. When it is revealed that the hideous skeleton in her closet is having smoked a joint in college, we want to laugh, but not because it’s funny, because it’s outrageous, and it’s at this point where we start to wonder what it is we’re laughing at, because her offense is not a disqualifier, whereas Sam’s misogyny is.

They have a daughter, wittily and adroitly played by Maggie Cramer, and so the solution becomes generational. That’s called progress, the arc of history bending toward justice and all that. It’s a kind of fairy tale. It plays in the middle. It’s a bourgeois comedy. In Shakespeare’s day its like would have played at night indoors at the Blackfriars Theatre for a well-heeled audience. The Blackfriars Theatre preserved the thrust stage. There was no curtain.

The fact that all this is going through your mind in real time, as you, the studio audience for this sitcom, respond in ways that affect the rhythm, even the meaning, of the comedy – on a thrust stage where every view necessarily includes the audience, so that we share our responses. It’s never like it is at a sporting event with opposite cheering sections. The thrust stage with its three-sided view makes three equal one.

We who enjoy an evening at the stately Hippodrome are the modern equivalent of those at the Blackfriars, or so we might imagine.

These people in this play are well-off too. Their place is well-appointed. The set descends and we are perched above it. The set by Timothy Dygert, the Storm’s up-scale living room, is so perfectly serviceable that it becomes as solid a bourgeois character as any in the play.

This is craft, akin to the old studio system in Hollywood to which French critics would apply the auteur theory to deify the most excellent directors and their work. It is also, of course, a commodity.

You get your money’s worth with Running Mates, a night out in evening wear to laugh and be seen in all conviviality, and, in reflection, subscribers, you got more than your money’s worth with Fahrenheit 451, so you’re well ahead of the game.

Performances of “Running Mates” run through October 30. Tickets can be purchased at

TheHipp.org or by calling (352) 375-4477.

Language Arts Class

What is the difference between your brain and your mind? 

What is the difference between time and history? 

Montaigne’s Essay Questions

What is a good parent?

What should you do when you’re anxious?

How can you know if you’re in love or just infatuated?

Should you worry what other people think?

What should you do if you’re shy?

How much love should you have for yourself?

The Great Tom Miller at the Center of the Universe with Hall of Fools

When Diogenes came upon a boy who was eating like a pig, Diogenes slapped the boy’s tutor.

 

Wind in the Willows  

How are these themes treated in The Wind in the Willows: Hospitality, Forgiveness, Humility, Compassion, Home? 

Who is the main character and why? 

It’s hard somehow to read the beautiful chapter called “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”. When the Otter family loses its baby Portly, and Ratty and Moley go looking for him. You can’t help thinking about “the lonely heart-sore animal,” and knowing that Kenneth Graham’s own son, for whom he had made up the story in the first place, Alastair was going to go to Oxford and before he was twenty, kill himself. 

Grammar Test

Write ten different correct grammatical sentences. Each sentence should contain the corresponding grammatical element listed below. Then diagram the sentence.

  1. direct object
  2. preposition
  3. predicate adjective
  4. predicate noun
  5. verb phrase
  6. adjective
  7. adverb
  8. conjunction
  9. object of preposition
  10. linking verb

You may use a textbook, dictionary, and your own notes. You may not use anyone else’s notes.

Three Sentence Patterns

Our whole language comes down to three sentence patters. 

S/V 

S/V/DO 

S/V/SC 
 

You do something. 

You do something to someone or something. 

You are someone or something. 

Subject/Verb

A subject performs an action, with the use of the active voice; or, an action is performed on a subject, using the passive voice, as is the case with this clause. 

And that’s all there is. 

Somebody or Something does something.

To do something is to perform an action.

What can you do?

What can be done?

Now you have a rough idea of the field of Action. It is infinite, which means beyond space, but, more to the point, it is eternal, which is to say, outside of time, or timeless, that is, the verb in its infinitive state. These are infinitives: to be (or not to be), to think, to swim, to run, to write – it goes on and on.

A verb is action.

Not just an action,

but action itself,

in Time,

happening.

The verb is the action of the sentence; it is what happens, the happening happening.

A sentence is a complete thought expressed through a subject and predicate.

The subject may be implied or understood.

Get it?

Think!

The predicate contains the verb, the action.

A Noun and a Verb, put them together and what do you get?

A subject and a predicate.

Someone or Something does Something.

Subject/Verb/Direct Object

A subject performs an action directly on an object.

An Indirect Object may receive the action Indirectly:

 “The batter hit me the ball.” 

“Throw me over the rail my lunch.”

Nouns are things.

We were taught this definition: “A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.” That wrongheaded notion has clouded our minds ever since.

A noun is a thing.

Think about it: A name is a thing. A person is a thing. A place is a thing. An idea is a thing.

When you say you like swimming, swimming is a thing; it’s the thing you like.

A noun is a thing

Someone or something does something TO someone or something.

Something does something to something.

He hit the ball.

We ate lunch.

The car ran the stop sign.

Subject/Verb/Subject Complement

Someone or something IS someone or something.

Something is something.

Something becomes something.

Something looks or appears something.

Something seems something.

“Madame, I know not seems.”

Diagramming

Everything can happen through a sentence diagram. You have the whole board to illustrate how a single sentence works. You can separate the elements and show their relationships at the same time. It is something like geometry. 

Always find the verb first. The verb will lead you to the subject. The verb, or the simple predicate, is the key to the sentence. It is the energy. Once you find the energy, you can look for its source. 

See where the light is coming from. 

When Spinoza was constructing his Hebrew grammar he centered his work on the noun.

Everything, it seems, is a thing. 

In Spinoza’s philosophy there is only one substance. Its attributes are infinite. 

A substitute teacher once told me, “I must confess, I don’t believe I could diagram a sentence to save my life.”

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

Welcome to Eighth Grade Language Arts. I’m Tim McShane. My pen name, and my stage name, is Shamrock McShane. I’m a Shakespearean trained actor, and I’m a writer of plays, movies, fiction and nonfiction, in short, I am a Language Artist.

You need a Composition Book and a Pen. And you should always be reading a book. That way you’re ready for anything: Bus stop, waiting room, desert island.

Here’s what we do:

Monday is the Writing Lab. We experiment with words. To do this, you must have some words to work with, and this is where the Rules of Writing Practice come in. If you follow these rules, you will become a writer. As soon as you follow these rules, you are a writer.

Here are the Rules. The Rules of Writing Practice. 1 Keep your pen moving. 2 Don’t stop to re-read, re-write, or correct mistakes. 3 Don’t think; just write.

I’ll explain the Rules later. And What to Write About.

There is homework every day. Every single day. In addition to out of class assignments, you must practice your writing for at least 10 minutes strictly according to the rules.

Tuesday is the Writers Workshop: What to do with all those words. How to get them just right. How to spell them. Punctuation. Capitalization. Sentence Structure. Plot structure. Moving things around, changing things.

We diagram sentences.

I believe in a normative grapholect – a written language with rules.

Wednesday, we read independently, and add more words to our ever-expanding, ever-mounting vocabulary of words, words, words, culled entirely from student independent reading, and mounted on the front board in our Race to the Top.

Everybody signs the Reading Log, we get to see what everybody’s reading, sometimes we trade books. And we write about what we read.

Thursday is devoted to literature. I read aloud; students follow along. I do a running commentary; we stop for questions. We’re reading Beowulf now, and writing about it, interpreting it, thinking critically, in writing.

Friday is Review and Sharing. Work is returned. We keep all graded assignments on file. You’re welcome to see it any time. There’s a graded assignment just about each week, worth ten or twenty percent of the total grade for the nine weeks. There are 100 points available, and at the end of the nine weeks I just add up the points and that’s that. County-wide grading scale, 90-100 is an A, et cetera.

I don’t discuss grades with students. I’ll be happy to discuss grades with parents, but there’s no point in discussing a grade with a student, because if you could grade yourself, you could teach yourself, and that gets us nowhere. I’m more than happy to discuss a student’s work and where it went right or wrong.

Yes, I accept late work, up to the very last moment when I have to turn in grades. But the later it is, the better it needs to be.

I score writing holistically, the same way the FCAT is supposed to be scored, considering focus, organization, support, and conventions. In fact, grades are just my way of telling anyone who wants to know whether or not the student in question is going to pass the FCAT, which is our sole mission here on Planet Earth.

To that end, we especially practice writing persuasive and expository essays. Because that’s the way to pass the FCAT with flying colors. And that’s what makes an essay test different from all the other tests you take. All the other tests are designed to find out what you don’t know. A math test is full of hard problems, to see which ones you can’t figure out. But an essay test is designed to find out what you do know. But you have to be forthcoming, you have to volunteer it.

You have to get off the dime.

We’ve all seen this. By eighth grade, you’ve seen it for years. There’s a topic given, an essay is assigned, everybody’s hard at work, and invariably there’s someone doing this. (Holds pen in mouth.) You ask him what he’s doing, and he will tell you in all honesty, in perfect frankness, “I’m writing an essay.” But he’s not. He’s not writing at all. He’s holding a pen in his mouth.

This (Scratches head.) is not writing. It’s scratching your head. Looking out the window is just looking out the window. Staring into space is just staring into space.

Only one thing in the world is writing and that is when you are putting words on paper. It is when you are moving your pen across the page, making words, making sentences, making paragraphs. That’s writing.

It’s a hand-eye coordination skill – like basketball or playing the flute or putting or painting – it requires practice. It requires physical as well as mental dexterity and endurance.

So, the first rule it to Keep Your Pen Moving. Loosen up. Write in cursive, if you can, because it will enable to compose in words, rather than one letter at a time. It should be easy, and it should be fun. If it’s not easy and it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. You’re either writing about the wrong thing, or you’re writing about it the wrong way.

What to write about? Can I write about anything I want?

No. You are severely limited in what you can write about, but not really. You cannot write about nuclear fission, say, no matter how much you may want to, but you may write about a secret path through the woods that you know about, or how to do the butterfly stroke.

Rule Number Two: Don’t stop to re-read, re-write, or correct mistakes.

Three things will tempt you to stop, because they make so much sense. You’ll be writing along, following Rule Number One, and everything will be fine, but then this little voice in your head will say, “Hey, let’s see what we’ve got so far, let’s just see what we’ve got. Let’s read it over.”

No. We’re not reading. We’re writing. So keep moving, don’t stop to read. But then the little voice says, “Well, let’s re-phrase that, because you could say that another way.”

No. We don’t want to change the words, we want to add to the words, we want to fill the page. Don’t stop to re-write.

And we’ve all seen this. Thirty seconds into a writing assignment and someone is already balling up his paper. “I made a mistake.” Or they’re going at with their white-out, or they’re erasing.

Keep going. Correcting mistakes is not writing. That’s editing. We’ll do that later. We don’t want to fix the words. We want to add to them, remember, we want to fill the page.

And then I tell the students the story of penicillin and the mold growing in the laboratory and the scientist about to throw it out, when he said: “Wait a minute, what are the properties of this mold?” And what he thought was a mistake, turns out to be a cure. What you think is a mistake may turn out to be the best thing you wrote.

Rule Number Three: Don’t think; just write! Hardest Rule to Understand, Hardest Rule to Follow. Understand this: Writing is thinking. If you stop to think before you write, I can guarantee what you will think of: You will think of a reason not to write.

Everything will be fine, you’ll be following the first and second rule to perfection, but then the little voice will say: “Wait a minute, you don’t know how to spell that.” Pekinese. Maybe you better just say “little dog” – dumb yourself down. Or, “Don’t write that, you don’t even know what that means. It sounds good, but what if it doesn’t make sense?” Or “Don’t write that, people are gonna think you’re weird.” Or, and this is the worst of all, “Don’t write that, that’s true!

When that’s exactly what we’re looking for. Write it down in your composition book. Capture it. Your truth, what you know and think and wonder. Later you can edit and revise and perfect your truth and decide whether you share your truths with others. But for now, just write.

https://shamrockmcshane.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/hall-of-fools-arrives-at-the-white-house/

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Hall of Fools available now on Kindle

For $2.50

That’s right, $2.50

http://www.amazon.com/Hall-Fools-Shamrock-McShane-ebook/dp/B00X38D7SS/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Lighting Bradbury Up at the Hipp

Ray Bradbury began Fahrenheit 451 with a story in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine in 1950 at the height of the McCarthy era, the Red Scare, when the specter of communism was haunting addled minds.

That’s usually the tell of sci fi as well as its twin historical fiction – they’re really more about contemporary times, what’s happening at the time they’re made. It’s art’s way of reminding us that History is Now.

The story grew into a novel in 1953. Its point of view is that of third person central intelligence, from the perspective of the protagonist, the fireman of the future, Guy Montag. In his world, fire is no longer a danger. Humanity has produced a fire-proof environment. Firemen in this world exist to burn books.

Why?

Don’t ask. But of course, you will.

Montag does. He meets a girl on his daily round of book burning, Alexandra Rose Horton as Clarisse. She is intriguing. Clarisse impresses Montag with her directness, her commitment, her engagement, her intellect. She shocks him. But it shocks her when she realizes: “You look at me!”

He will look into her, find out what she’s all about.

Guy Montag is not unlike Lester Birnam in American Beauty, awakening from a coma in midlife, or, as Fire Chief Beatty, the closeted bibliophile, might allude like Dante entering the Dark Wood of The Inferno.

It’s hard to envision any future in which there aren’t several significant antithetical factions all operating at cross-purposes. In the simplest terms, Bradbury imagines something hard to imagine, a repressive world without any ideology besides repression. But there it is.

Reading is a vast subject. It’s hard to write about it because it’s so vast. But it’s easy to wade in. Most people learn the basics of reading by age six, so it’s not that hard. Every effort has been made over the millennia to simplify the reading process, with an alphabet of just 26 letters, grammar, and punctuation.

Slaves in this great country of ours, which some would forcefully make great again, were prohibited from learning how to read. And the slaves instinctively knew this was the key to freedom, and they would steal clues from the master’s house and scratch the symbols in the dirt till they could cipher them out.

Even the oldest slaves wanted to learn to read because they wanted to read the bible. They had a sneaking suspicion that it didn’t say what the white people said it said.

In Fahrenheit 451 you have a world where reading is permitted, but books are burned. All books.

I taught Reading in public school for 30 years, and the whole endeavor is ridiculous, for the simple reason I’ve just given. The problem isn’t how to read; it’s what to read and why. Teaching literature is enriching. Teaching reading is bullshit.

In 1970 Francois Truffaut made a movie of Fahrenheit 451 starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. Pauline Kael hated it. She let Bradbury have it out of the gate, calling his sci fi premise a dumb but brilliant gimmick so nakedly primitive that educated viewers would fall for it.

A world without books. If I had announced that the first day of school, objections would have been few. The objectors would be those few kids who read books. They were always a minority anyway. Are there perhaps fewer and fewer of them? Seems so. Then what’s the point of burning books that nobody reads?

I’m not the only, am I, old enough to regret the burning of the library at Alexandria? Actually the 20th century was by far the greatest of all for book-burning – which only goes to show that maybe a library isn’t the safest place to keep books after all.

Kael went after Bradbury for taking the politics out of Fahrenheit 451, which is a good point but one that the Hippodrome bulldozes right over. Ralf Remshardt directs this play like it’s Brecht. And that makes it exciting, sharp, witty, and dynamic.

Ralf Remshardt

We were enjoined to teach kids that Reading is Fun, but the kids could see right through that. Things that are fun, nobody needs to tell you they’re fun. Sex? Drugs? Rock n’ Roll?

How the hell did this happen? Stay tune for Act Two.

Ralf Remshardt is the ensemble maestro. The strongest element by far in this production is the unified effect of its ensemble. Its versatility, adaptability, range, emotional commitment, chemistry, and above all, its energy, all are extraordinary. Pauline Kael complained that Truffaut’s movie was boring, the performances flat. This beats the hell out of that. The ensemble maintains a frenetic pace throughout, always surprising, inventive.

The Firemen are all fit as a fiddle, recruited no doubt with an eye toward their physical prowess as well as their mental agility and infectious camaraderie.

We are treated to gem after gem of characterization. Each performance pops.

Niall McGinty as Montag begins the play as its narrator, speaking directly to us, but Bradbury drops that conceit then and there, and we never hear directly from Montag again. But McGinty makes it matter not in the least as he fully gains our confidence, in a way Oskar Werner never could, as a regular Guy. We trust every moment, every move, every response, as honest and true, all happening to this Guy Montag in the Future. Damn.

Jay Nixon and Niall McGinty

Of course, Bradbury is not Brecht. Although the notion of book burning is normally associated with fascism, Bradbury steers away from any overt political statement. Fire Chief Beatty, revealed as a closeted bibliophile himself, inveighs against “minorities,” predominantly defined by color, and he and his white subordinate, the crackerjack rookie Holden played by Jack McKenny, join together in terrorizing their comrade Black, played by Jay Nixon who is Black. So, it seems there is a persistent racism alive in this future, whatever its ruling ideology, and yet Beatty rages with a fulsome literary fusillade at a world where everyone is equal, society has been flattened. It’s spectacular. David Patrick Ford makes a herculean effort to reconcile all that as the Chief goes off on a Guinness Book rant that completely clears the air of any logic we had going so far. With every fiber of his being Ford shows you that burning books will make you fucking crazy!

Meanwhile Montag’s wife Millie, played by the enthralling Katelyn Crall, has been hilariously ensnared by a media image of herself, so marvelously lampooning her self-fandom that you can’t take your eyes off her unable to keep her eyes off herself.

Mirabile dictu, she’s not alone. Her friends Alice and Helen, piquantly played by Jacqueline St. Pierre and Roxanne Fay, arrive for an afternoon media-gasm, now comprising the Three Stoogettes, and they are a stitch.

Bradbury had to come up with a raisonneur to counter Chief Beatty, and he found one in the English Department. Retired Professor Farber is Clarisse’s grandfather and Montag’s conduit to the Land of the Book People. David Carey Foster dons him appropriately with sensitivity, passion, and just the right amount of sophisticated naivete to fuck it all up.

Aristotle listed spectacle as the least of the six elements of drama – after plot, character, thought, diction, and sound – each requiring a greater complexity of mind than the one below. Spectacle is also the most basic of the elements. You have to see it to believe it.

Fahrenheit 451 is spectacular, literally. There’s not much plays can do visually to compete with movies, but they can still try, and this one does. All the bells and whistles of stage techno are flashed to good effect, this being after all the Future. The wizardry of
the scenic design by Mihai Ciupe with its scorched severe geometrical set, Bob Robins’ sharp lighting, the pulsing projection design by FIVE OHM,  the futuristic fashion show of costume design by Amanda Jones, all make Fahrenheit 451 flat-out fun to watch.

Elaine Shoaf, supplied the props of the play, which is to say credibly imagining the Things of the Future, the Firemen’s apparatus et al. as well as relics of the past which have survived – chiefly the books to be burned, including significantly the bible. The bible comes up for burning too. How about that? It is after all just a book. By the way it’s considered back luck to use a real bible onstage, just as it is to wear green or say the name of the Scottish play.

When the books come to be burned, the first thing to be noticed is how beautiful they are, how beautiful a large bookcase is, how like stained glass with the light shining through, its colors and patterns so varied and straight. And the woman who defends them, Mrs. Hudson, so movingly portrayed by Roxanne Fay, knows that and so much more, that if all the world’s books were to suddenly disappear, it’s what inside them that would be lost, not just the past, but everything we could know but won’t, condemning us to perpetual ignorance, and so she immolates herself as the Buddhist monk did on TV to protest the Vietnam War.

Remshardt has staged the play with absolute speed and precision. It moves. The Hippodrome’s thrust stage, with audience on three sides has no curtain and the set must provide for sight lines from three directions. Think about it. Everything that happens in a scene has to be seen from three directions. Now see how marvelously Remshardt and his ensemble have thought about it. Watch how characters pop up unexpectedly out of nowhere.

Fahrenheit 451 is wonderful to hear. That would be Aristotle’s elements of sound and diction. The sound is a sublime underscoring and atmospheric experience achieved through the original score by Jing Zhao and sound design by Amanda Nipper.

As for diction, the play is well-spoken by the players without the benefit of mics taped to their faces – not because they don’t need them in the future, but because they don’t need them now.

As for the element of Thought – that’s largely Bradbury’s concern. He gives us a lot to think about, and the Hipp does a hell of a lot with it. Pauline Kael complained about Truffaut’s movie that it was more fun to talk about than to watch. The Hippodrome’s production of Fahrenheit 451 lets you have plenty of both.

Fahrenheit 451 runs through September 25 at the Hippodrome 

 

Solving the Problem of Existence

“It is after all, as good a way as any of solving the problem of existence to go near enough to the things and people that have appeared to us as beautiful and mysterious from a distance to be able to satisfy ourselves that they have neither mystery nor beauty. It is one of the systems of mental hygiene among which we are free to choose our own, a system which is perhaps not to be recommended too strongly, but gives us a certain tranquility with which to spend the remains of life, and also – since it enables us to regret nothing, by assuring us that we have attained to the best, and that the best was nothing out of the ordinary – with which to resign ourselves to death.” – Marcel Proust

Coming soon to the Center of the Universe

Coming soon to the Center of the Universe

Tom Miller at the Center of the Universe with Hall of Fools

Public screening of The Seven Sides of Shakespeare, a film by Tom Miller     

To be followed by its long-awaited general release!

https://sevensides.weebly.com/?fbclid=IwAR33aU4VOCwfGLh9xefNvqIJoXDCHH2KxvV0TEVbEoVdJ0h2e04eYB5ZRHQ

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Narrated by Shamrock McShane

Adventures of Huckelberry Finn

https://feeds.acast.com/public/shows/629e12da03e41800122d41b6

Ummu

A play by Tom Miller. This production is not a revival but rather a re-envisioning of Tom’s play to match our proclivities. Tom and I like to meet up at the Center of the Universe and drink coffee or beer and rehearse our plays out in the open as if they are real life. We discovered it while working on our temporarily abandoned production of David Mamet’s Duck Variations, (which we may revise in some manner, in the somewhat unlikely event that Mamet is struck blind on the road to Damascus and recants his persecution of teachers, or we perform an act of subversion). Rehearsing these duets out in the open as we do gives the enterprise a metadramatic impulse that carries over in performance. You rehearse as though there is no audience. There are people who can see you and hear you, but there is no audience. You’re not buskers, you’re not playing instruments or singing songs or reciting poetry; you’re actors. This is isn’t something you see every day. We’ll be using the same technique with God’s Spies.

Ummu is a psychological drama that explores the dark side of the creative mind and turns the artist into his own worst enemy, whose mystery is unraveled by his therapist, aided and abetted by a femme fatal of his own creation.

THIS WON’T BE HAPPENING

In Black and White and Color

How vast is this novel? How vast is the novel? Because that’s all I’m going for here. War and Peace. In Search of Lost Time. Those are my models. This is my coming-of-age novel, my bildungsroman. It’s the story of Daniel Aloysius McDwyn (DAM) (here Comes Everybody) in the middle of his family in the middle of the country in the middle of the century in the middle of things. I’ll throw Finnegans Wake in there too, because the story spins with God timelessly into the depths of the past only to emerge in Biblical times or back with the Greeks, formally entering American History in 1768 with the birth of Edward Fenwick to a family of slave-owners. He couldn’t help it. What are you going to do? You own slaves. And you want to be a priest. This ought to be good. Ed Fenwick ends up the first Bishop of Cincinnati, a huge territory of the Midwest, establishes the first Dominican province in the USA, all bankrolled by slavery. And we’re not done yet. Stopping just short of sainthood, the spirit of Fenwick floats into the 20th century where it graces the medieval castle on Washington Boulevard in Saints’ Rest, the WASP stronghold on the boarder of Chicago.

An Evening with Frederick Douglass and John Brown/

E. Stanley Richardson, Alachua County’s Poet Laureate, as Frederick Douglass and I as John Brown dramatize the historic friendship of the runaway slave turned freedom fighter and the righteous insurrectionist on the eve of the assault on Harpers Ferry.               

God’s Spies        

He’s lost everything except his best friend. They’re both homeless, wandering from place to place. His kids have turned on him. A big storm is coming. It’s starting to rain. The wind begins to howl.

Back to Schol in the Hall of Fools

Test This

Amanda Powers had completed the computer-based FCAT Reading test but instead of putting her head down and sleeping like the dullards around her she had gone to the notepad on her computer and was writing a short story. It was good one too, about a girl in school, almost like herself, except that one of her eyes was blue and the other was forest green. Not green, mind you, forest green.

“She’s a smart girl.”

Someone says this at every conference. If the parent or guardian doesn’t say it, the teachers will. If the teachers don’t say it, the guidance counselors will. It is said to clear things up. Until that moment it has not been agreed by all parties that education is at least a possibility

“When she puts her effort into it.”

FCAT CENTRAL

“There are many forms of stupidity, and cleverness is the worst.” – Thomas Mann

We were all assembled in the Media Center for the final FCAT training session of all time with the theme from Star Trek blaring and the big screen ablaze with: FCAT THE FINAL FRONTIER. In 2015 the State of Florida would replace the FCAT with the AIR test. I am not making this up. AIR stands for American Institutes for Research and they are eduscammers, profiteers of the highest order, who had scored a 222-million dollar contract to collect data that can be used to drive down teacher salaries.

Our two Guidance counselors had tricked themselves out as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, replete with phasers.

We were just about to undergo the Torture by Power Point, which announced graphically: TO BOLDLY GO . . .

And after needlessly splitting the infinitive the whole thing split, splat, the whole damn thing just crashed, wouldn’t work, despite the fevered and gallant efforts of all the best technological minds we could muster, so it had to be given up. We would have to be trained to administer the final FCAT of all time without the aid of technology.

This year we would have a combination of computer-based testing and paper-based testing and it promised to be a disaster into which we would boldly go. There were not nearly enough computers, so the testing schedule was going to have to be layered.

What is Progress?

Over time it had become apparent to me that if you gave a student a U, you were asking for a parent conference, because what parent would not be concerned if his or her child’s progress was unsatisfactory. This quickly devolved into: who said it was unsatisfactory and why? And that was to be avoided at all costs.

Since the number of Fs had to be kept to an absolute bare minimum, they had to be chosen very carefully. Only the surest bet to fail any reasonable assessment of literacy combined with a complete and total lack of effort, to even attempt the task, could be assigned an F among all the worthy candidates.

I had come to limit my choices on Progress Reports to S and N. If you Needed Improvement, there was still the possibility that you might fail, so, if you should then fail, it’s not as if you hadn’t been duly warned. In practice the system had devolved to this: S meant the student had done Something. N meant the student had done Nothing.

Discussion Based Questions

In our discussion of Discussion Based Questions, Julie maintained that in the use of Discussion Based Questions, opinionated questions should be avoided.

We all wondered what she meant by that and formulated our own opinions of opinionated questions. What might an opinionated question be?

“When did you stop beating your wife?”

“That’s a leading question, isn’t it?”

“It’s some kind of logical. . .  in formal logic there’s a term. . .”

“What’s an opinionated question?”

“Is Sea World cruel to animals?”

“There,” Julie said. “Perfect. That’s exactly what the media does.”

“But Sea World is cruel to animals.”

“In your opinion. See that’s what the media does. It assumes that Sea World is cruel to animals.”

“Sea World is cruel to animals.”

“That’s beside the point.”

“That is the point. Sea World is cruel to animals, but you were never going to find that out unless somebody at least asked the question.”

“We’re going to have to agree to disagree.”

Sucking Off the Government’s Tit

At our day-long Retreat or Piddledeepee, which was what several of us had taken to calling the Professional Learning Community, while we occupied the Media Center to the exclusion of all other business and while our students by the hundreds back in our classrooms belabored substitutes, we had an earnest discussion of Dr. Seuss, wherein we found ourselves divided over the books’ politics.

Politics aside, Mr. Davenport said that his class of exceptional students had manifested a proclivity for following, like Dante, their Vergil, The Cat in the Hat, but found as well there was a stigma attached to it, and besides, once it had come to light that Mr. Davenport’s class was reading The Cat in the Hat, the administration had mandated that no text be employed that was below grade level. The tortured logic to arrive at this conclusion: kids who were reading below grade level were prohibited from reading texts below grade level.

You gave people an impossible job to do, you waited a while, and then you told them they weren’t doing the job. You evaluated them – that was your job, to see how well they were performing the impossible task. 

Turned out no one was performing the impossible task. They all should have been fired.

Government workers – teachers, policemen, firemen – sucking off the government’s tit.

Safety in Numbers

Jamal was not alone. He was pretty much like everybody else in that none of this shit he was being taught seemed really to matter. His role, just like every other kid in the room, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, rich, poor, was as a consumer. They weren’t going to produce anything of value, because there was no necessity to do so – everything of value had already been produced – for them, in fact more than everything of value had been produced, more than anybody could ever need or want, so nothing was expected of them except to somehow find a way to buy all that shit. By Jamal’s lights, you did that by putting a ball in a hoop, not by putting pen to paper. Who could argue with him? You were trying to teach him, but you lived in a cave yourself.

Testing?

They didn’t think they were supposed to be quiet for more than three minutes at a time, or to be asked to perform a task that took longer than three minutes. Testing was torture to them, primarily for those two reasons, but they had become immune to testing, so that sometimes the only way to get them to shut up for any length of time was to give them a test. They hated taking tests, but they didn’t mind taking tests because at least that was better than having to learn something, at least on the test you could do what you wanted. You could do what you wanted in class too, but the teachers would get on you and write you up and shit.

Not to Be

Hamlet is the darkest play I’ve ever seen at the ART, and I go back all 37 years. I’ve been sitting in pretty much the same seat, downstage right, with my composition book and pen, scribbling away my impressions like a good little writer. With Hamlet by William Shakespeare, directed by Catherine Karow, for the first time I couldn’t even see to get the words on the lines, and a lot of the words ended up on top of each other. Somehow, it was appropriate. Words, words, words. These are dark times.

And we are in Elsinore, where the castle is black. Hamlet is in black and is filled with the blackest of thoughts. Emma Grimm’s virtuoso Hamlet is depressed, disconsolate, beyond broken, so miserably sad, pale as a ghost, that it seems quite natural when the unnatural materializes in the spectral form of King Hamlet, played behind a skeleton mask, alas, depriving us of the knowing visage of Derek Wohlust and the fulness of his textured renderings of the lines. But the point is Hamlet shakes hands with a ghost. They are kindred spirits. But are they kin?

The living are most vibrantly played by Charlie Jolliffe as Claudius, Molly Hull as Ophelia, Chuck Lipsig as the Gravedigger, and Skye Melrose as an effervescent Osric and a mischievous Player Queen. They keep it interesting as well as lively, with a clear and invested reading of Shakespeare’s teeming language, blending sense with sound and fury.

Hamlet can’t be sure of anything. Hamlet was raised by a fool – alas, poor Yorick. But, mind you, in the kingdoms of Shakespeare, the fool is often the wisest man at court.

Unlike Hamlet, who holds his skull and ponders it, we have to imagine poor Yorick, but Chuck Lipsig’s Gravedigger gives us a hearty semblance, a man of infinite jest.

Patrick Riggs & Chuck Lipsig

More and more, it seems like Hamlet was raised by Hamlet. Especially this Hamlet. There’s no one else in the play like Hamlet, although it helps to understand this world a little that Horatio, Hamlet’s noble friend, is played admirably by Caitlin Foster. Hamlet here is like an other-worldly being, appropriately, in the weirded-out world of a play presented in the most weirded-out time any of us have ever seen. It is timeless and timely, a bullseye in Shakespeare staging.

Caitlin Foster & Emma Grimm

Ophelia’s devotion to Hamlet is total, such devotion as if not as to a god, then at least to something spiritual, mystical, a life and death force. Molly Hull commits completely, surrenders herself to Ophelia’s wild despair, wants to live so badly, that her confusion at Hamlet’s horrid rejection of her is dreadful to behold.

In a quiet way, so too is Charlie Jolliffe’s confession as Claudius of all his sins, kneeling before God in the immensity of his royal robes, when Hamlet might well kill him and be done with it, but then Claudius, having confessed, might go to heaven, so what’s the point?

You discover that your uncle murdered your father, but for all you know, your uncle may be your father. You love your mother, but she’s a cheat and a liar, and you can’t trust her.

You’re in love, or you thought you were till all this shit happened, the whole stinking mess makes you want to kill yourself. Are you losing your mind? You act crazy? Are you just acting? Just acting? The world is crazy. You’re just trying to find out the truth. But it doesn’t really matter what the truth is because no matter what it is, it’s going to be bad. So, what’s the point?

That’s the real reason for Hamlet’s play-long hesitancy to act, It’s not indecision; it’s existentialism. To be or not to be? The question is absurd.

The mind of Hamlet is a black hole. That’s why we’re attracted to it. It’s why we’re sucked in. It’s why we’ve been in it since its inception in 1600. We’re never getting out.

With the irony of it all playing out upon Hamlet’s face, that of Emma Grimm, we look our last upon all the plays ever to be played here.

This production is the last to take place in the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre on Main Street, a sacred place in our communal drama, the city life we share in stories performed and attention paid, just as the ancients did in their cities. These are dark times.

“Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Hamlet runs through August 7 at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

Jack and Jill Go!

The story of Jack and Jill is a sad one. It’s not tragic; there’s no catharsis, although there is certainly rising action, climax, and, famously, falling action, but nothing much gets accomplished. That’s the sad part about it. They don’t fetch the pail of water. To hell with the pail of water. They’re both hurt. Friggin’ waste of time!

At the Black C, things get turned upside down and inside out. All we have in life is sadness and joy and desire. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got to feel our way around reality. If we can see with the light of reason, we’ve got a fighting chance. So, counter sadness with joy; or, as the Beatles put it: “Take a sad song and make it better”.

Jack and Jill Go Downtown takes the sad song of Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill and turns it into something so sneakily funny and sharp that you can cut yourself with it.

Photos by Linda Rocha

Among the gathering are Jason Hedges of Heavy Petty, Kim Chalmers, and her mom Jean Chalmers, the esteemed stateswoman, Fernando of the Alligator, the lovely and talented Anna Marie Kirkpatrick, Linda Rocha, Anna’s mother-in-heart, Gerard from the Sl8, Alex Davidowski, the moviemaker, and Michael Garvin, nattily attired as always.

This is all happening for free, by the way, midday theatre at the Black C. Next show Wednesday, July 27, 1pm.

We gather gradually in a circle just inside the Black C, facing the windows. looking onto a sunny and busy Wall Way, Warhol and Tom greeting each of us warmly, midday in the middle of the year in the center of the universe, and the circle keeps expanding until more than a dozen of us have arrived to see Jack and Jill Go Downtown, so we all turn our chairs around and face the stage.

Tom Miller acts naturally, relaxed yet polished, as emcee. He informs us that this piece is in development. The actors will be in a sense discovering the text, as in a radio play. But the fact that he and Warhol are reading from scripts is instantly forgotten when the play begins, and two consummate players enact the drama with a complete semblance of the private lives we all live semi-publicly – in our cars, when we are both outside and within, on the pavement, one place everybody always wants to be leaving.

Jack is driving and Jill is riding, to the tune of a nursery rhyme, in mime. Tom needs his glasses to read, but they are perfect, and they are pink and bright. Jack and Jill are bright. They are complementarily dressed in checks. In fact, the costuming is perfect.

Almost everything at the Black C happens in your mind. The stage is the area where the actors perform, and although it will be in contrast to the street which we had just been looking at through the windows onto Wall Way, we are now facing the opposite way from the street, and yet the stage will now turn into the street.

We witness ourselves in the concern on the driver’s face. The different concern of the passenger’s face is in her gaze, which can wander. His is insistent, hers merely surveys. This is how we must invest our time, which has been called our most precious commodity, but, for God sake, it’s not a commodity!

There’s the navigation and there’s the contemplation of life that goes along with being in your car, your conveyance. It would be more fun to sit in a theater than in a car. They drive downtown. They’re going to the theatre. It’s not far. But then there’s finding a place to park, which is damn near impossible and costs and arm and a leg, and it’s become nightmarishly worse as our universe lurches from analog existence to digital, to the abstract world of numbers, all but the tiniest fraction of which belong to somebody, or more precisely, something else, a corporation – capital.

“That was easy,” Jack mutters. He tends to mutter. He tends to say things under his breath. Just a tad of sarcasm. Jack’s been up the hill before, lots of times, and he always breaks his crown. Fugdat. He just wants to slip a couple of quarters in the damn parking meter and be done with it, but no.

No, a quarter won’t do anymore. No mere thing will do. Only a pure abstraction will suffice. Numbers no longer represent real dollars and cents; the numbers are the thing itself. The gold standard went out worldwide after the Depression. It’s all just numbers! Anything real is only going to get in the way.

Or as somebody once said: All that is solid melts into air.

Outside down Wall Way is the boxification of Gainesville. Ron Cunningham writes persuasively in the Gainesville Sun that it’s better to build vertically, like, say, the Tower of Babel, than to spread our concrete dystopia across all the nature between here and the sea.

Oh no, you have to get the ap. Take out your God-given phone.

Jack is an analog man in a digital world.

Get out and look at the license plate.

The ap wants more information. The ap does. Jesus.

Pricing.

$25 to park.

Now it’s a matter of principle.

The math frustrates all objectives. It’s a free country, right? Nothing is free. Space is not free. Time is not free. The numbers are all against you, the individual, the one you’re all red, white, and blue about. Jack and Jill are just two little people in a car. Their problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

The parking garage is dark and dangerous. It is also the realm of the parking ambassador, who wants $25. Just about anything is going to be at least $25. The quarter has been replaced by 25 dollars of your real money, provided the numbers are transferrable, after which you’ll be 25 real dollars poorer, while the vast quantity too large even to be imagined of the world’s capital will be increased by an amount so infinitesimally small it’s like adding a grain of sand to the beach.

A trip downtown and back. And it turns out that that’s all it is, a trip down and back. Poor Jill never even gets out of the freakin car!

The good old days of quarters.

Dying is a punchline.

Starbucks. The suspense of ordering for Jill. This is a tour de force, both in writing and performance. Warhol Caldwell is one of the most gifted comic actresses you’re ever likely to see live, let alone in a setting as intimate as the Black C. The flair and delicious evisceration of all that is Starbucks that can come just from Starbucks’ own words is piquantly encapsulated in Jill ordering from the menu. Jack just wants a cup of coffee

A third character appears, in our minds, that is – it’s still just the two of them up there on stage. Tom deftly portrays a recurring dialogue between Jack and the Parking Ambassador. It is not pretty, and it gets Jack muttering under his breath.

“I’ve got your picture,” The Parking Ambassador barks back. The Parking Ambassador has the goods on you. You may think you get away, but these forces that the Parking Ambassador represents will come after you, they will track you down. Tom Miller as the Parking Ambassador is funny as hell, appropriate to the circles of hell in the parking garage.

The larger point of this political lunchtime theatre is simply to confront the nature of a city as being human and accessible, a place where real people can live a communal life, enriched by the arts, noting that the vast majority of artists and real people are lucky as hell if they can even afford to live there.

Bravo!

Breakbeat Lehrstücke

Notes on Blackademics by Idris Goodwin

Amanda Edwards is the most efficient of actresses. There is no wasted movement, nothing gratuitous, everything she does and says and expresses is a function of the playwright’s intent. For the University of Florida’s Driveway Theatre Program, playing a one-off at the Fourth Avenue Food Mart, she lends all of her estimable talents to the service of Idris Goodwin’s deliberately provocative Blackademics. She enters the playing area. There is no set to speak of, in fact the setting itself is unreal. Nothing in this play is real – except the ideas. And Amanda Edwards instantly communicates all of that.

How?

By the way she faces us and tells us the problem to be studied, while acting out the thoughts and emotions with energy and clarity. She is Ann, a professor just granted tenure at an elite university, about to celebrate at an exclusive cafe with her dear friend Rachelle (Lola Bond), also a professor, but at the plebian state university, who has not been granted tenure.

As different as east and west, night and day, black and white, there are two ways to act onstage. One way is called representational. That’s the style that’s suited to naturalism, where the audience is privileged to peek in on a slice of life. The actors represent the characters in such a way that you believe they are not in a play, but instead we are looking at real life. The actors are the characters. They look out at the audience, but they don’t see an audience, they see the fourth wall.

Presentational acting, on the other hand, breaks the fourth wall. The actors know that they’re in a play, and they present their characters to the audience, if not objectively, then critically. It is as if, from their inner vantage point, they can comment, offer an informed opinion of the characters.

Bertolt Brecht was enamored of the presentational mode for its immediacy, its tact for cutting through all the bullshit and getting to the point. A play should have something to say.

Amanda Edwards hits the stage with all that presentational style going on, taking us into her confidence, making us complicit. She’s playing an academic, and she’s about to take us all to school. What she knows, and what the character she is playing does not know, is that she will be going to school as well, as will we all.

Brecht was German and he called his radical and experimental form of modernist theatre Lehrstücke or learning/teaching play. Everybody participates and we’re all here to both teach and learn. Idris Goodwin is hip to all that. He’s even added his own twist to it – breakbeat poetry.

Commanding as Amanda Edwards’ stage presence is, Ann is in for a surprise. She finds that out the instant she is greeted by her hostess, the proprietress of the place, a white woman, colorlessly played by Cindy Lasley, but that is precisely the point. It is, to be sure, a thankless role, but all should thank her, Cindy, that is, not Georgia, for making the salient point that being white has absolutely no distinguishing characteristic beyond the power to control damn near everything in the lives of anybody who’s not white. Truly, and literally, a cool hand performance of note.

Our next surprise is discovering that both Ann and Amanda Edwards have met their match in the person of Lola Bond as Rachelle. This is star-pairing. Just as Ann and Rachelle are exceptional professors, Amanda Edwards and Lola Bond are mesmerizing, magnetic performers, which is to say, stars.

It won’t take long for the sparks to fly. They can be happy for one another, at overcoming all the shit racism has so far thrown at them, but then they must confront the compromises it took to get there.

To deal with capitalism, racism, sexism, history, politics, not only seriously and with immediacy, and to take it all very very personally, so that envy and jealousy get added to the mix, all over lunch takes not only talent, but balls.

The stars pick up their cues like old time radio. They are clicking. It’s hip-hop, it’s breakbeat, but it’s also vaudeville. Each beat has been worked out like jugglers perfecting a routine – with knives. Gotta trust each other.

At the same time, as they argue, as they reconcile, and argue again, that Brecht thing kicks in, the lehrstucke, presentational mode. None of these characters are meant to be either likeable or dislikeable. Everybody, the actresses included, is exploring their rivalry, two strong smart women of color.

The time flies by, cleverly staged and choreographed and, most importantly, purposed, by Cristina Palacio.

Did you have to compromise – to be tenured? Well, you’re asked to make changes, not necessarily compromises, more like adaptations, or, well, go along to get along. All seen through the shifting lens of color, of race, and sex. A structure for whom? Souls of Black Folk?

Tenure is an end game. Do you have tenure? Why not?

Is it possible to be an artist first?  In Post-Black America?

It turns into an endurance contest. Rhymes count. Violent, hateful, negative energy. Bad karma. They aren’t people; they’re archetypes.

The play is bubbling with ideas. Ann and Rachelle rhapsodize like living bibliographies surrounded by canons.

Georgia rewards the diners piecemeal with the necessities of dinner, a seat at the table, utensils, say, or the food itself – only if you’re good. Now who gets the first bite? It’s all riding on the debate, the way they are forced to compete, like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in the Battle Royal.

There are different kinds of mind-altering drugs. Ann’s brother has succumbed to coke and heroin. Then there’s the academic drug, what you learn and discover makes you high at first but then there’s the come-down of what you learn about yourself. History is now, and much of it comes down to capital, the determining historical factors. Quid pro quo.

They listen to each other so well.

The Black History Month debate: Is it just 28 days of darkness?

Modernism lives in academia. So does: Embarrassment. Humiliation. Indignity.

Family?

No. Yes. Maybe.

How does it end? (Plot Spoiler.)

Mon Dieu! Mais Non! Huis Clos!

Wikipedia:

The Lehrstücke (German pronunciation: [ˈleːɐ̯ʃtʏkə] (listen); singular Lehrstück) are a radical and experimental form of modernist theatre developed by Bertolt Brecht and his collaborators from the 1920s to the late 1930s. The Lehrstücke stem from Brecht’s epic theatre techniques but as a core principle explore the possibilities of learning through acting, playing roles, adopting postures and attitudes etc. and hence no longer divide between actors and audience. Brecht himself translated the term as learning-play,[1] emphasizing the aspect of learning through participation, whereas the German term could be understood as teaching-play. Reiner Steinweg goes so far as to suggest adopting a term coined by the Brazilian avant garde theatre director Zé CelsoTheatre of Discovery, as being even clearer.[2]

Oedipus Redux

“The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental. It is not realistic. In memory everything happens to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings. I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it.”

That’s the way The Glass Menagerie begins, but it’s also the premise of Oedipus Redux, the dramatic musical composition by Warhol Caldwell and Chuck Martin that stretches rock opera into oratorio, mixing sacred and profane like whiskey and soda.

In his Poetics, Aristotle called Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex the perfect play. Well, shucks, it took him 18 years to write it. But you know what? Fuck that.  

Oedipus Rex, being a play, isn’t from anybody’s point of view. We see the events themselves as they unfold, and we hear from the witnesses firsthand.

Oedipus Redux, on the other hand, is all about the point of view. Jocasta’s, the mother of Oedipus, who was fated to become his wife.

Tom Miller, unseen, is providing atmospherics. Ani Collier, present in spirit while bodily in Bulgaria, is the muse of the Black C and all its revelations. If you ask, what exactly is Black C, it’s Ani Collier, and it manifests itself in all the aspects of art congruent with a space in the heart of the center of the universe, with a high ceiling and good acoustics.

Warhol and Chuck enter. Like almost everything about the Black C in its striking present installation, they are in black and white, like a musical composition itself, with lines and clefs and notes. Chuck Martin, Genius Boy, on electric guitar and vocals. Narration and rap by Warhol. Chuck is the Greek Chorus, full of nihilistic musical commentary, in both song and lyric. The Greeks would recognize his tone as that of wise Silenus, the satyr who counseled:

“Oh, wretched ephemeral race, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is—to die soon.”

If you’ve seen Chuck in concert, you know, he’s singing with a smile on his face. As to style and genre, get ready for, well, just about anything. As Chuck says, “I pack a mammoth slice of Americana and more – R&B, show tunes, rock, jazz, pop, country, and soul.”

This is the hard stuff, the Greeks, they were freakin fearless. You are fated to kill your father and marry your mother. Do you really want to go there? If you want to go to the heart of the matter, you must. Freud recognized this of course. Laurence Olivier thought Freud could help him unravel the puzzle of Hamlet’s mind. This may be the knottiest problem, not just in all of drama, but all of life: how to act in the face of death.

Warhol Caldwell is, quite simply, the Bard. Yes, she is Jocasta telling her story, but her narration from the start is informed by memory. Remember, this is a Memory Play. The Bard is more than Jocasta; the Bard is Memory itself.

Jocasta begs.

This is where it gets close to oratorio. This is what makes us special. The gathering on this night at the Black C has an audience of cognoscenti. They’ve been invited to an art gallery in the heart of the center of the universe. Timeless and timely, a story of kings and queens, murder, incest, in a time of plague and a man who would be king, happening then, happening now, masked, unmasked. We’re here to listen and watch and imagine. And it’s groovy.

In the West. Down in New Mexico, blood red. The Devil.

Sensory language. Jocasta tells us how everything feels, while Chuck Martin’s guitar (does she have a name, like Lucille?) makes us feel it. Chuck can take over the moment with song, or he can fade into the background, and almost subliminally we become aware of his guitar underscoring the narrative. Warhol can feel it too, and it trembles in her voice.

When Homer, the blind poet, was said to have sung his epics, he was accompanied by a lyre and his speech took on a heroic meter. Here Warhol can break into a rap. Hip-hop Hellenes. 

Meta.

The cognoscenti knows it’s Warhol, who directed Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland, all those breathtaking risky Peter Brook moments at the Hippodrome that made the stately mansion more than just a home for Broadway and Off-Broadway hand-me-downs. She is directing now too. Directing herself, staging with her voice, completing the storyboard she and Chuck have so precisely sketched, articulated, and practiced. They are in tune. They share the stage, the spotlight.

After a while you have to remind yourself that it’s just the two of them, Chuck and Warhol, up there.

Underscore, then lead. That is Chuck’s role in the dance. Warhol, on the other, simply lives in the past. It is her dream, her idea, this story has always attracted her, she has been drawn to it like a magnet. They are just two players. There are just two music stands for a set. They are two players and a passion. They are theatre.

Warhol’s skills as an actor have been overshadowed by her prowess as a director, but they are fulsome. She and Mark Chambers used to wail on Tuna Christmas so hard at the Hipp, it wasn’t just funny; it was practically Beckett. (As I recall, they had to talk the authors into letting her play the part, cuz it’s sposed to be played by a man.)

Chuck’s instrument is the guitar. Warhol’s instrument is her voice. The voice that wells out of her elfin form, the contrast sharp as black on white.

The whisper of Texas in her speech instantly westernizes the myth. The American mythos is of the west, the frontier. New Mexico and Sam Shepard flash by.

The wild variety of sounds coaxed by Chuck from his axe tighten the plot’s grip on us. Oedipus Rex is, after all, a detective story, a mystery.

The suspense comes from us being held in suspension, being suspended – raised up above – the anxious sense that we are hovering powerless above an event and action of nature, all of nature – substance, attributes, modes – all that is about to engulf us, and we can’t stop it, and we have no earthly idea how it’s going to change us or obliterate us, which seems the more likely. Seems. We are caught up in the seems. That’s what makes Warhol’s take on it all (she wrote this play), not only different from Sophocles’ play, but different from a play period.

The attraction of one’s own flesh. She had secretly made her own dream boy to fuck and be fucked by.

The plague is there. The plague has always been there, lurking, held at bay, or striking, because of who and what we are, our capacity to respond, our capacity to suffer.

Laius, Jocasta’s murdered husband, a corpse long dead. He left me. It didn’t matter that he was murdered, he left me. And I don’t care. For a wife, being fucked can become an awful duty, a terrible obligation. Men were forced to keep me in their mind, the Queen Bee.

The macabre gods made it happen.

What exactly prompts a son to murder his father? What sets him off? Or vice versa? It could go either way. Laius had tried to kill the infant son. He wanted it done. He couldn’t and didn’t do it by himself.

He thought his son might be disposed of the way Casey Anthony did her baby.

The detective story comes together as Jocasta figures it out first. She’s quicker on the uptake than her son.

The gods have it going on. Something can be done about it, something magical, miraculous, godsent. Fate. Character is fate. Tiresias, the blind seer, being of all genders, all identities, can see it clearly. You can embrace your fate, or you can try to run away from it, in which case you’re going to run right into it.

Either go with Spinoza’s God, who is Nature, where everything is perfect, or you’re stuck with gods who fail you.

Spinoza just watches it all unfold. If you can see what’s happening and understand, you can find yourself in nature, in the unfolding, and adapt, survive, thrive. Your inner conatus gives you a fighting chance.

My last thought: It was all worth it.

The shock of recognition is ours. A ghost has told us this. Only a ghost would know of Oedipus blinding himself with Jocasta’s brooch. And that’s when the love springs.

Tragedy is the ultimate Hurt the People.