Friday, May 29, 2015

Omaha 8

May 29, 2015

Early on the day of my reading. The Mainstage readings so far have been flawed but excellent. I hope that much for mine, but fear that all of a sudden it will be revealed as a piece of claptrap that will leave people wondering, “how the hell did THIS get chosen?” Unlike most of the work this week, mine has no knotty philosophical problems, no intellectual intricacy. Will it seem unique in simplicity, or just dumb? The first of the Mainstage plays was The Wolves, a sensational piece about a girls’ soccer team. So far we are the vanguard of simplemindedness. I’ve seen my four responders in action twice now: two of the women are wise, perceptive, helpful; the other two are, in this context anyhow, useless. One goes on an on about the play that she has written in her head that was somehow suggested by the one we just saw; the other cannot form an English sentence. It’s the good ones I fear. What if they see through to the soul of my unworthiness? What if I can’t control myself and slap one of the bad ones across the face?

K was dissatisfied with dinner last night, and so organized a trip to Sullivan’s steakhouse downtown. I was so happy to see a chunk of Omaha that I all but peed myself with eagerness. I, however, had been satisfied with dinner, so while they were having famous Omaha steaks, I was having a salad, which I nevertheless threw up in a dark corner of a parking lot in Omaha’s block of charming bistros. Add Omaha to that list. After some taxi drama, home to much talk in our living room about the theater, L and K and I, L promising to get K’s scripts (his show has already been read) to all his contacts in LA, something that no one has ever once done for me. Try to put that aside. Try to think it will be my turn tonight, after my genius is revealed, which is the alternative possible outcome of the reading this afternoon.
Bought a lump of magnifying crystal in a variety store in Omaha. Don’t know why.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Omaha 7

May 28, 2015

Clouds again after a day of shine. My heel was a little better, and I was frantic with cabin fever, so I set out on foot a little way from campus. Came to the Sonic drive-in you can see from here, and sat down and had me a diet cherry limeade– surprisingly refreshing– and contemplated how comfortable I was in the redneck drive-in beside the highway roaring with semis.

Made a friend of Chicago playwright E, and went to see her play, and it bothered me, and is perhaps partially responsible for my restlessness through the night. A rape victim becomes a homeless harpy who relates all matters in her life to the rape. She abandons husband and daughter. There is never a rapeless moment in her life, no relationship not measured by whether a person is fully on board with her fury or not. She has slaughtered children in Iraq, but that doesn’t haunt her dreams; the wrong done to her does. She had insured that there was nothing in her life but rape. When someone in the play suggested “try to get past it,” the audience hissed audibly. When she commits a brutality intentionally equal to that done to her, the audience suggests that it’s “not enough.” I didn’t get it. I kept my mouth shut because I didn’t get it, obviously. If the Restoring Angel came to her and said, “All things can be restored to you if you leave off rage and vengeance,” she would have kept her rage and vengeance and gone on living in her Chevy, self-exiled, and the audience seemed to be with her. Unless they were just jollying the clearly excitable playwright.

I wonder why my life isn’t better than it is, since I seize every ghostly promise of redemption. Or maybe that’s why it’s not worse.

I’m a little tired of people trying to win arguments, or rule discussions, with the phrase, “You just don’t get it,” as if they were privy to special wisdom lying outside the parameters of normal scrutiny which makes their prejudices somehow sacred. Four people said of the male character in the play that he avoided monstrous culpability only because “he didn’t fully comprehend his male privilege.” The very unverifiability of that–in all directions-- makes it irresistible to people who want to win without increasing understanding.

Sat home last night working on my new Nighthawks play. Hobbled too far.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Omaha 6

May 27, 2015

Thought I had awakened late, but instead there is a blazing sun in the sky, and for the first time things look as they ought.

Hobbling home after rehearsal last night, stood in one spot and watched (or rather heard) the nighthawks wheeling above me. From the Midwest I miss nighthawks and red-winged blackbirds.

Though the second lead was absent and 19 pages went unrehearsed, last night’s rehearsal made me feel better about the enterprise. It will fly, and the merits or demerits of the event will be mine rather than (as I had feared) the performance’s. M is inexhaustible and detail-oriented, but labors certain points in an odd way. Her across-the-board insistence on beayTEE rather than beauDee and the like gives the show a precise and inappropriate conservatory feel. These kids are English-as-a-second language factory workers. Though she claims never to give a line reading ( I do; it saves time) she will tell an actor how to pitch a syllable, where in her voice to place the syllable, how must uptick to give to the ending pitch. . . all notes I would not tolerate, but which beginning actors (as most of mine are) apparently will endure. No great performances, but uniformly good ones. I note that, of all my plays, this one relies least on bravura skills from actors, so all that came to even keel.

Saw two excellent plays yesterday, one about a driven career artist who unexpectedly becomes pregnant, another based on the supposition that Hamlet did not act on his father’s entreaty, and it’s thirty years later in Elsinore, and Hamlet is marrying Ophelia and Fortinbras’ daughter. Didn’t expect that one to work, but it did. Terrible melancholy during the artist one, as though my own whole life were in review, and found, to my own shattering surprise, wanting. Rehearsal allowed me to miss what was apparently the gawd-awfulest piece of crap that anyone had ever seen. My roommates came through the door rolling their eyes. It was meant to be the crowning achievement of some cherished local playwright, and perhaps it was.

Do not like sharing a bathroom with strangers.

Everyone is convivial, approachable, and if there are cliques, I do not feel excluded by them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Omaha 5

May 26, 2015

I rise later each morning, my housemates still later after me. Slow everything down to fit the time. Because of my foot, I’m even denied the ancient solace of long walking and exploring. I wait for evening so I can watch the nighthawks high up. I wondered for a moment at dinner if I might even be a little homesick. Speaking of dinner, the design people gathered around me at it and shared their design ideas for Washington Place. Their ideas were bold and wonderful. Part of the boldness and wonder comes, as they themselves said, from actually being listened to, from being included in the compass of artists rather than bidden in later as technicians. The play workshops are beginning to blend together. I saw three yesterday. The first I went to because it was sci-fi, and how often do you see that? My hopes were high, but, oddly for a play set during an alien invasion, nothing happened. It was one of those female wet dreams where a host of men stand around trying to please and properly honor an outstanding woman, who insists on her own will because it is her own will, and is somehow still to be considered noble even though her selfishness annihilates a race. Talked to the playwright afterwards and she is sweet and smart. The second was the best I’ve seen yet, about a family whose son was a heinous criminal– a boy rapist-- who commits suicide. How to mourn someone you loved who turns out to be a monster? Compelling. Wept at the end. The third was the second of a kind I assume–because both were by women– to be an aspect of feminist theater at the moment: a cast not only eliminating men but, in one case, eliminating mention of them, a form like a game show or a TV variety show where a number of images can be presented in quick succession, wittily written and very funny from moment to moment, but coming to nothing. I suppose the “coming to nothing” part is quite intentional, and meant to underline the patriarchal taint of plot and meaning. It COULDN’T have been just a fault. The “special instructions” posted by the playwright made clear that she meant only to be praised. I couldn’t submit my comment sheet, partially because it was so scornful, partially because I wondered if, perhaps, I simply didn’t know how to watch the material properly. In the evening there was a “play slam” of short pieces in the Mule Barn, which were wonderful so long as I could endure to stand upon my throbbing foot and watch them. Philoctetes. Slammed down enough Bailey’s to go to sleep.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Omaha 4

May 25, 2015

Sweet Ireland votes for gay marriage, the first such plebiscite in the world. Bless it forever.

I keep feeling boredom loom like a cloud on the horizon (with the real clouds which I have not lifted since I arrived) but it never quite descends. One stretches out the moments, settles in for conversations longer than one could endure if one had all one’s resources at hand. Hobbling from site to site on my tortured heel adds a certain thickness to events as well. They food is exquisite and abundant. Saw three full-length plays yesterday. In conversation afterward I realized I liked them better than others did, and better before discussion than after. The first was about a gay marriage, witty and plotty, but little more than a Modern Family episode, if a good one. Then it was a lunch seminar on using the energy of your socio-political indignation to make plays. If the women actually meant or practiced what they were saying, then it was a seminar in how to write truly and especially bad theater. Then a seminar on using my socio-political indignation to make plays (I took these because my dramaturg taught them). The second play (to which I was again lured by the influence of my dramaturg) was an avant-garde feminist TV spoof, which I thought was wonderful for the first forty minutes, but when it hit hour two, was praying for the roof to cave in. Just fucking know when to stop. Interestingly, at the outset we were warned that the one comment which the playwright would not find helpful would be one involving possible cuts. We all resist what we know we need, trying to make it look like a choice rather than a flaw. This experience was complicated by the dressed-like-a-parrot harpy behind me who laughed piercingly, commented aloud, and generally tried to wrench the focus of the event onto herself. You fail to punch such people in the mouth because you think maybe, just maybe, it is some kind of genuine and heartfelt response, but it never really is. The third play, after supper, was outside on the wet lawn under the mottled gray and gray skies, and involved a baseball field. . . somewhere. . .with which both Cy Young and Willa Cather were involved. Or something like that. The sound system failed, and the poetry was impenetrable (imagine a wedding between John Greenleaf Whittier and Dylan Thomas) and one section got a laughing fit over the absurdity of it all. But it somehow managed to be a pleasant experience, watching the guys move out on the field, being surrounded by the curious, twittering martens, and, high, high overhead, buzzing nighthawks heading for the prairie.

Conversation late in the living room after. Politics. Art.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Omaha 3

May 24, 2015

Left campus with Lara, my director, at 10 AM yesterday, did not return till 11:30 PM. This event represented one of the things I loathe most in life, which is not to be in control of my own coming and going, to be stranded in another person’s schedule. That aside, it was a learning experience. Lara is one of the most committed theater people I have ever met, small and bristling energy, always with several projects at once, that one cannot quite unwind one from the other in the narrative. Not only is she directing the reading Washington Place, but she is stage-managing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Omaha Community Theater. At breakfast we had to stand beside our cooling food while some local criticized the Albee because the fights (which one wouldn’t have noticed, as it turns out) were not convincing, because he hadn’t choreographed them. He said that in so many words. Lara was patient. I got a tour of the Omaha CT, which she claimed is the largest in the US, and it certainly looked gigantic compared to anywhere I have worked. She gave me the million dollar tour, which to some degree was energy wasted, because I stopped retaining the flood of information pretty early on. She pointed out the myriad apparatuses and areas that I sail blindly by on the way to the stage to say my lines. She is the complete theater person and I– as I note whenever the issue comes up– am not. I create plays and characters, and the rest runs by magic, so far as I’m concerned. In directing my play she has employed that detail-oriented meticulousness, and I am grateful. It will be done as well as the actors will allow, and they are good enough. The boy playing Avi is so sweet and had such a beautiful voice he will carry that part. The take was too solemn and subdued, and I never quite got used to the accents (the Yiddish sounds like Norwegian to me), but all that could be a function of its not being performance level yet. Is the play itself any good? Must ask myself that later.

Walked across the highways to have a lonely meal at Fuddricker’s while Lara prepared for Virginia Woolf. Red neck Omaha is even red-neckier than red neck Asheville.

Their performance of Virginia Woolf was outstanding, the Martha the best one I have ever seen. Better is hard to imagine. Every note, every tone, every turn she hit right. No one was inept. Their Honey is my Yetta. I’ve played George twice now, and remembered while this George was speaking all my lines, all my blocking and onstage emotions, all the differences between this production and those.

But the play is–one cringes to say–really not very important for as long and as loud as it is. As Nick describes Martha, Albee swings wild and hard, and even when he connects it’s with nothing substantive. There are no real problems or dilemmas in the play, no real characters (well, Nick, maybe), only braying caricatures through which the playwright seeks to make vehemence seem like passion. It’s a play about nobody, whose brutal slog cannot end in catharsis because no real issue has ever been addressed. Albee may be the greatest of all playwrights who have nothing to say. Nor did he learn. My experience at A Delicate Balance in New York was the same, or worse, because I had actually bought the ticket. I think VW holds the stage first because an audience is typically well-disposed, and will accept something they are told is a masterpiece as one for as long as they can. Second, it has become, like Hamlet or much of Shaw’s work, a touchstone for actors, a rite of passage which delights us actors and delights audiences with the bravura touches of each new interpretation. Still, I will never have those three hours back. . . .

Howard was working in the living room when I got home. We had a long talk about theater, during which I was disadvantaged because his experience is many times over mine. He once helped Liza Minelli walk across a stage. His best friend is the lovely lad, Tony, I saw bravely beating the waves of On the Town under him. Howard said of Virginia Woolf that the problems those people have are so white than even most white people can’t relate. I liked that.

On the grounds of the Community Theater were at least a dozen rabbits.

I’m so far from my context that I almost forgot today is Pentecost.

Omaha 2

May 23, 2015

Did take that nap, did retire finally before 9 Pm, and slept all the way to what I call morning, though the other slumberers in this house would evidently disagree. Robins sang all through the night, as they do under my streetlamp at home. My misgivings about this week were melted by the few hours after I arrived. Went to a gathering at the President’s house, where I met some of my fellows, all jolly and friendly and full of enthusiasm for past years together. I seemed to be the only freshman, but I felt sufficiently at home. I do not yet know the hierarchy, who are honored playwrights, who are featured playwrights, who are guests, who are actors, who are administrators, though the distinctions do not seem to mean much to anyone, so all is well. One of the– administrators I guess-- understood our car-less plight and took us shopping. I bought nothing but liquor. Must emphasize that last night was lovely, a river of dreams each one sweeter and stranger than the last, sleep as recreation rather than a strict necessity, as I think I made up for the previous night’s sleeplessness on the plane. I must feel comfortable. I must feel somewhat at home.

The campus is studded by the most bountiful herb-robert I’ve ever seen.

The bird you notice is the purple marten, friendly, fluttering near the ground, close, as though to take a good look at you, twittering its confiding twitter.