A View from the Bridge: The Poison of Honor

If you are planning to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge, I would encourage you not to read the following as even those familiar with the play will benefit from the shocks created by the staging.

For a year in college, I had a boyfriend who was tall and thin, more angular than delicate. I brought him home for Thanksgiving that year, and he slept, without argument on the floor of my parents living room, as they required. That they would not allow us to have a conversation in my bedroom with the door even  partially closed was the subject of argument, but only between myself and my father. The boy, a Southener, was achingly well-behaved.

Two days into the trip my parents informed me that they thought he was gay (he wasn’t), because he was thin. And it wasn’t what they wanted for me; that he’d give me AIDS. And they disinvited him from our home in which he was already staying in. Ashamed and awkward, I packed our things, and we drove back to Washington, D.C. A few months later, we’d broken up, because I was having an affair with barrel-chested man much older than me. That man had a wife too, but after the matter of the too skinny college boy, if I’d told my parents, they likely only would have been reassured.

It was with that story buried in a pretty large pile of weird, difficult drama in my Sicilian-Jewish family, that last night Patty and I went to see the Young Vic production of A View from the Bridge. If you’re not familiar with the play, it tells the story of Eddie Carbone as he freaks out when Catherine,  the niece he raised as a daughter (and is now inappropriately attracted to), beings to date Rodolpho, a Sicilian immigrant who “just ain’t right” (he dances, he sings, he makes dresses, and he doesn’t fight back in a manner deemed correct when Eddie kisses him).

Sound familiar? Yeah.  I thought so too.

But despite having actually seen other productions of the play before, it had never registered to me just how much I knew this story personally. Mid 20th-century drama is often staged with stifling domesticity and focuses so much on the ordinariness of men that it becomes difficult to see how these stories actually revolve around non-male presences in the narrative.

Ivo van Hove’s production eschews naturalism for acute simplicity and an almost ritualistic performance of Greek tragedy. Opening with Eddie and another dockworker showering and dressing after a shift, the play immediately forces the audience to look at and appreciate male flesh in a way that was for me — again, raised in that Sicilian household — wildly uncomfortable.

To stare at a man way a man would stare at a woman is to feminize him, and this production of A View from the Bridge brings that home as all the characters assess the show’s men constantly — who is strong, who is desirable, who looks like a man should. The audience, made complicit in this gaze, squirms (truly, a highlight of seeing the show from the seats on stage — and this is where you should see it from) is hearing the bulk of the audience gasp, and even cry out in shock at several key moments. This was as extraordinary and terrifying as anything presented by the players.

While the emotional arcs of the play can seem peculiar, — Eddie, in particular, tends to go from 0 to 60 in rage — I can only say that the volatility felt truthful to the home I was raised in. The way Catherine shrinks into herself after these outbursts, I suspect also seems disproportionate to some audience members, but the reaction read to me as less to anger and more to volatility, and I should know, as a girl who can’t bear to be startled.

Perhaps most astounding though — other than how any actor can be asked to give the performance Mark Strong gives in this show 8 times a week — is the culmination of the show’s design, in which the shower that opens the show closes it, this time, with blood raining down into the final tableau of a melee in which Eddie is stabbed by one of the cousins. It’s a holy moment, at least if you’ve spent any time around the bloodily painted saint statues of Sicily. It’s also what should be an obvious moment — the water that rains down in the opening a gun that goes off with the blood raining down in the closing — but so wrapped up are we in the demand that we look at these characters, and their bodies, we miss it.

I should note, the blood, while surely some random theatrical compound, has a stench. Much like, one supposes, the poison of honor.

 

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Let the Right One In: The Nothing That Lives Next Door

On Saturday night, I went to see Let the Right One In at St. Ann’s Warehouse in NYC. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s novel and film, both by the same name, the play tells the story of a peculiar friendship between Oskar, a young boy, and Eli, who seems like a young girl who lives next door.

Odds are, you know what happens next.  The film was something of a minor sensation when it came out, and you probably recall that the girl is actually a vampire.

Except, not really.

For one thing, she’s not exactly a girl.  “I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy. I’m not anything, I’m nothing!” she says at one point.  And she might not be a vampire either.  That word is never uttered in the course of the play, and at the moment it’s about to be she insists ferociously that she’s “Not that! Never that!”

The piece is filled with unanswered questions — about Eli’s gender both now and in the past, about what she is and how she got that way, about the reasons for her flat and abrasive affect, and about her motives.  One of the most weirdly shocking moments of the piece is when she insists to Oskar she has money, and then proves it by pulling a Faberge egg out of the trunk in which she sleeps.  The egg is never addressed further and barely explained (“What’s it for?” Oskar asks.  “For having,” Eli says, both disinterested and certain). But despite its mystery, that egg feels indicative of the great wrongness that has led to the current circumstances of murder in a small town, isolation, and the desperation of friendship.

Presented in a dreamy movement-heavy manner with a filmic score, Let the Right One In is consistently seductive, but in a manner completely inconsistent with vampire mythos.  There is no desire for glamor or eternal life here.  Instead the desire engendered by the play focuses on the methodical nature life in a small town, the strength to do what it is necessary, and the silencing power of snow.

Oskar’s encounters with bullies that help drive an otherwise languid narrative towards a jarring conclusion may be difficult for some audience members to endure. A significant number of effects involve copious stage blood, and one — thanks to the addition of excellent light and sound work — is genuinely terrifying thanks to the startle factor.

The performances are uniformly brave, but Rebecca Benson‘s demanding work as Eli possesses a disturbing intricacy that gyrates between flat and fey.

Ultimately, the show is driven by silence and physical language. And while the audience engages it as an often amused collective (Both Oskar and Eli are, at times, hilarious; and we are addressed in turn as concerned citizens and frightened children by police authorities as the murders in the town are investigated), after it was over it was difficult to speak, as if over its two-and-a-half hours we had all moved from identifying with Oskar to becoming something just a little bit like Eli.

Strange, hard to describe theater, but wildly recommended.  The show was supposed to have closed this past weekend, but is now running at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 8.

Pop-culture, witches, and fame @ The Bell House, October 13, 2014

witches

This coming Monday, I’ll be one of the presenters at  BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES, a live podcast recording and variety show at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  I’ll be talking about American Horror Story: Coven and what is has to say about notorious women, witchcraft and fame.  (Hint: Fame is the worst).

The event has gotten some press on Gothamist and other high-traffic sites, so I do recommend getting advance tickets.  While this is not at all a book event for me, I will have a couple of copies of Starling on hand in case anyone wants to grab one after. If there’s something else from my catalog you want, please drop a comment here so I know to bring it with me.

 

BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES
MON, OCTOBER 13, 2014
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House – Brooklyn, New York
$8.00 / 21+


Tickets available online and at the door

“All Of Them Witches” is the third in a series of live variety shows by Kseniya Yarosh & Eleanor Kagan, the hosts of the Brooklyn-based film podcast, Bonnie & Maude.

Sure to boil the blood and alight the brain, join us for an exploration of witches as seen in movies, television, and pop culture. From green-skinned, be-broomstick’d villains to benevolent sources of high female power, from goddesses of nature to Satan-worshippers, to actual practitioners of Wicca…celluloid representations of witches are contradictory, to say the least. Scholars, artists, and film enthusiasts from all walks of life will toil up some trouble, and revisit favorite on-screen moments of witchcraft in Bewitched,Buffy, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, and more.

Presenters: Tom Blunt, Lyra Hill, Eleanor Kagan, Racheline Maltese, Rosie Schaap,Tenebrous Kate, Cassie Wagler, Kseniya Yarosh

Music throughout the show will be performed by Brooklyn-based chamber pop singer AK, and the 8-piece, all-female a cappella group Femme Rhythm.

Exciting word related things

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

Julius Caesar: But Brutus Says He Was Ambitious

Friends keep telling me to see Donmar Warehouse’s all-female production of Julius Caesar set in a women’s prison.  It’s a lovely recommendation, and a funny one, since I actually saw it just a day or two after it opened. That I haven’t, until tonight, found my way to writing about it speaks perhaps to its impact on me as as much as to my schedule.

Although it felt muddled at times in terms of devices — Was this Julius Caesar set in or performed in a women’s prison?  Was the rupturing of the forth wall about placing us in the prison or having prison escape its bounds? — the heightened reality and evocation of war through petty politics and electric guitars evoked more Oz than Orange is the New Black, and the acting was uniformly stellar.

But nothing mattered so much as the performance of one of Mark Antony’s critical speeches, which continues to haunt me some four weeks later.  The role is performed by Cush Jumbo (my Whovian readers may remember her as Lois Habiba in Torchwood: Children of Earth). In it, he (the production does not change pronouns for these women) attempts to make sense of why Julius Cesar has had to die, while also grieving his friend.

But Brutus says he was ambitious is repeated throughout the speech with increasing bewilderment, contempt, and even bitter acceptance by Mark Antony.  It’s always been a powerful moment, but in this production, it carried even more force — justifying both the all-female cast and dwarfing the other elements of the production both stylistic and narrative.

Nothing in the play felt like it mattered more than that speech as I watched it, and four weeks later, I remain in the same place — clutching at the indictment of Antony’s words, at a woman pronouncing ambition (and gossip) the reason for the death of another woman. A group of women decided Caesar was ambitious and whispered about it, curse and sentence.

The nature of the ambition, the form of its execution, was ultimately rendered irrelevant, because of how the moment forced the audience to confront its own beliefs not just about ambition in general, but about competition and ambition amongst women.  It is not comfortable and requires an eye towards misogyny both internalized and external.

Since seeing the production, but Brutus says he was ambitious has become something of an internal catch phrase for me, a reminder of the spaces between ambition as generalized virtue, gendered sin, and useful tool for specific achievement amid the also often gendered consequences of desire.

Having been reminded of these spaces, however, I am left with no answer, not for Caesar, not for the Donmar’s production which reaches far and stumbles often (mostly around the characters that were also female in the original text), and not for myself.  But I do keep wondering if there was some way Caesar could have wanted the world — a world, any world, no matter how small — politely, and if that would have made any difference.

Julius Caesar runs through November 9 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY.  Catch it if you can.

Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues

It’s baaaaImageaack!

Please join us for an evening of cabaret as Dogboy & Justine alumni and friends once again bring Broadway to its knees by putting a naughty, kinky twist on musical theater classics with Kinkstarter II: The 7 Deadly Virtues.

The event will be at the historic Stonewall Inn on Monday, March 18, 2013 at 9pm. The Stonewall Inn is located at 53 Christopher Street in New York City.

There’s no cover and a two drink minimum for this event as we pass the hat in support of Dogboy & Justine‘s ongoing development.

Last time we did this it involved a BDSM striptease version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the mouse was a dude.  Do you really need more incentive?

8: Realer than real

I’ve been watching the big star-studded benefit performance of 8 in bits and pieces since it was performed and broadcast on the Internet. I’ve been fighting not just against time zones and travel but a series of remarkably spotty Internet connections to do so.

Obviously, the piece is interesting to me for what it is as its core – mostly actual text from the Prop 8 hearings. While the transcripts are accessible to the public, video of the proceedings has not been and really, who reads transcripts like this anyway? Sure, we all know someone who does, but the fact is most of us just don’t.

What’s really interesting to me about 8 – other than that it exists and that the cast of this particular performance involved enough A-listers (among others) to command some serious attention, is the way it straddles the line between fact and fiction, and the way it reminds us, constantly, about both. 8 is relentlessly knowing about its content and the context of the stars who have performed in it.

I also know that it being a staged reading can throw people. Why don’t the actors know their lines better? and Ugh, I can hear them turning pages. I’m by and large no fan of staged readings myself. They’re a useful vehicle for some material and often enjoyable, even if I personally prefer a more immersive experience when I got to the theater.

However, in the case of 8, I love that it’s a staged reading, because it reminds us, at every moment, that these are the words of real people, not characters, that we are hearing, and that the documents exist for us to find life and truth in. It also means that every moment on stage reminds us that this is what we were not allowed to see.

8‘s casting is also fascinating and chilling. I’m only talking about the recent benefit performance in Los Angeles right now, but watching Jane Lynch (who is openly gay) portray, with a truly ferocious anger that’s as frightened as it is frightening, a leader in the anti-equality movement is just about one of the most wrenching and exhausting things I’ve ever seen.

And while it’s humorous in its way, Lynch in such a role is also a sneaky nod to the suspicion that many of us have that at least some vehemently anti-gay individuals may be struggling with their own experience of same-sex attraction and taking it out on the rest of us.

So 8 is a weird animal. It’s largely a preaching to the choir show that tells us nothing we didn’t already know, at least in the abstract. Were there any surprises in Chris Colfer’s performance as Ryan Kendall, a witness in the case who was enrolled in reparative therapy by his family? No. But did I feel shocked and unable to breathe during those two and a half minutes he was on stage anyway? Yes.

On some level, 8 may be a more effective tool than the video of the actual proceedings we’ll never get. Because 8 is not just an act of information, but of protest, and it makes the courtroom environment as vibrant and dramatic as most people expect from TV but quickly learn it rarely is in non-fiction life after an experience or two of jury duty.

8 will go on to have performances with celebrity casts in other cities in all probability, as well as be performed in smaller cities and towns and colleges as an act of information, protest and fundraising, much as The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues have been and continue to be. There is also talk of it being turned into a film.

What I’m curious about is what 8 can do beyond preaching to the choir (and raising money). Do you know anyone who has watched it and gone from silent support of equality to activism or contribution? And more than that, have you seen it change anyone’s minds? I’m really curious to know people’s personal experiences with it.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen the Los Angeles performance yet, it is currently available online for the next few days only. I’d urge you to check it out, even if you are already deeply familiar with this case and its issues.