Monday, August 24, 2009

More reading

Last week was obviously wash in terms of my noble ambition of posting everyday. I haven’t posted since Tuesday: that is truly a disgrace. I’ve two read plays in that time but it’s mostly I’ve been fulfilling familial obligations. Anyway, here’s my reading news:

Last Monday I took another trip to the library and picked up four plays. Two about suicidal women, one about the American dream and one about being young and crazy and hopped up on speed (I think, I didn’t know the writer but the cover was very colorful and everything else i got was so heavy). So at present I’ve finished Susan Sontag’s Alice in Bed and David Mamet’s American Buffalo.

Sontag’s Alice in Bed: it’s the story of Henry James’s sister Alice who spent her entire life as a recluse with a mortality obsession, but the play is infused with Alice in Wonderland is a pretty subtle (obvious but not beating you over the head with it) way. It was neither bad nor great, and while it hardly represented a revelation it was rarely a chore to read. The one thing I want to talk about is the second act of the play (I don’t have it in front of me so I’m not positive it was divided into acts, but this was the large middle section) which consisted of an imagined tea party with the 19th century women, living dead and fictional, who Alice admired, gathered to give perspectives on mortality. This is well trod and muddy ground in playwriting; manipulating the voices of one’s idols can be illuminating and give the work both a place in history and a timelessness, or it can be an exercise in intellectual masturbation. Alice in Bed oscillated. The two characters that best represent the extremes were Margaret Fuller and Emily Dickinson. Fuller she got right: the character was solid and well drawn, a pragmatist who believed in life and engaged Alice, holding her position while addressing Alice’s. Dickinson was unbearable (particularly because I saw a friend of mine write her well three years ago), she spouted lines and was totally detached from the scene, wandering in and out without any concern for her fellow characters. I know what charactor/caricature of Dickinson exist in the public consciousness (mine too) but detachment just isn’t good theatre, who cares about a character who doesn’t care about what they’re saying or doing? What was the effect of Sontag’s Dickinson.

Maybe I’ll talk about American Buffalo tomorrow, maybe not.

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