"There’s blood. Blood everywhere.”
As I was wandering alone at night on a desolate winding path, I was met by a nurse. She took me by the hand, and without speaking, led me into a gazebo-like structure. And locked the door behind us.
She motioned for me to sit down, and when I did, she took off my mask; something we were told not to do. Then taking my hand she began to press her thumb into my palm, and I thought some kind of reading was forthcoming. But instead, she then turned to a table, and upon turning back, was holding a cup from which she began to spoon feed me tea. All the while silent… all the while, her eyes so piercing. What did she want?
After about three spoonfuls, she gave me the cup. But before I could drink from it, she grabbed my arm tightly, and pressing in close to me, hotly whispered in my ear, a horrible story of a newborn baby whose parents were brutally murdered. She concluded by saying, “There’s blood. Blood everywhere.” With that, I put my mask back on. It was time to go.
Welcome to just one more current example of live performance avant-garde theater.
Be it a six and a half hour reading of The Great Gatsby as described last month, or now with Sleep No More—in which the story of Macbeth is re-imagined in a 1930’s film noire setting—the envelope of “the play” as we know it, continues to be pushed. Pushed to the point where it no longer even resembles an envelope.
It has been said of this production: think Shakespeare meets Hitchcock (with a nod to Rebecca), meets Stanley Kubrick (with a nod to Eyes Wide Shut), with a dash of David Lynch for good measure. Therefore I knew going in, that something quite unique was afoot. But Sleep No More (SNM) exceeded anything I might have imagined.
Aside from the nurse encounter, a mad Lady Macbeth would later grab my hand while racing down the hall and up three flights of stairs, mumbling to me incoherently, with a mob of people in Venetian masks—aka other audience members—following us in hot pursuit. She would not let go until she reached her destination— a bathtub in the asylum from which she would remove her gown, and totally naked, immerse herself while feverishly trying to wash the blood off her hands.
Macbeth himself would also later (or before?) wind up attempting the same sort of fruitless cleansing.
The idea of non-linear theater, in which scenes are played simultaneously from room to room (meaning an audience can only deduce the full story, by piecing together what they have seen with what they can gather by comparing notes with others), is not new. It was done as early as 1987 when Tamara premiered in LA, and had a great nine year run. A friend and actress, Theresa Saldana, had a leading role in that production. But all comparisons end there.
SNM differs in so many ways from Tamara, or for that matter, any other performances I have ever seen. For one thing, it is virtually wordless (save say, a “nurse” whispering in your ear). The scenes are often driven instead, by modern dance choreography, that is by turn, extremely violent or sensual, or simultaneously both. All but three in the nineteen member cast, are trained dancers.
All the while, the audience must wear those masks, as well as remain absolutely silent throughout the proceedings. Yet, as in my case, some might come into very direct interplay with the actors. And all of this, is accompanied by a perpetual soundtrack of eerie and ominous music. Particularly haunting, is the song “The Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square,” given what is transpiring while it is sung.
The “stage” encompasses three large warehouses combined, spanning five floors, housing 93 rooms, across 100,000 square feet, and has been fictitiously named the McKittrick Hotel after the one in Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And each room is differently themed and adorned in meticulous detail, as some of these pictures might indicate.
At the conclusion, which can come after as long as a three hour commitment, one feels spent. Yet exhilarated.
The audience then gathers in a 1930’s styled nightclub for a drink and live entertainment of songs from that era, as they seek out friends with whom to share their reactions and experiences. The masks have come off.
My reaction was one of having stumbled through a dream that you can’t quite shake, that while disjointed, seems so real. And unlike a video game which seeks to create a “virtual reality,” SNM with its hands on approach, creates what you might call “real reality,” if that makes any sense. Which might explain why it has drawn young people in droves. Historically, they have not been playgoers in any traditional sense. But this resonates with them.
It also seems that if “the play is no longer the thing…,” to countermand the Bard, and that performer and audience have become one, not only in this but in so many other arenas—how else to explain 150 million blogs?—we are creating whole new ways to express our inner life and psyche. A “heavy” thought. But the sort that experiences like that of SNM can stimulate.
Phone Booth: A Sighting
They are not easy to find. Virtually as extinct as the dinosaur, so goes the telephone booth. Especially those made of wood. But at Peter McManus, a neighborhood Irish bar in Chelsea in Manhattan, two sit side by side like an old married couple.
It was in this bar one night in October of ’76, when a man walked in with a gun. Standing alongside my stool, he pointed it at the TV screen above. The place became instantly silent. What does one do under such surreal circumstances? I held my breath. If a fired shot— a dead TV. And there goes the final inning of this legendary deciding playoff game between the Yankees and the Royals. But I digress.
Meanwhile back in the phone booth, why would anyone care about its passing? Or of any inanimate object for that matter? Perhaps because they sometimes speak to where we once were, and to where we have since gone?
On that note, I reprise a poem that I posted here over six years ago. It has been substantially reworked, as it is said that a poem is never really finished, just abandoned.
Once There Were Phone Booths
with accordion doors.
And a seat and a shelf
and the Yellow Pages—
some listings missing
those mostly sought.
Ripped from the spine with intent and malice?
Or someone in search of the Chop Suey Palace.
A savored piece of social exchange
and you brought to the premises
a pocketful of change.
And smoked while in there
the hard core kind:
Camels, Chesterfields, Luckies, Pall Malls
“Outstanding and… they are mild.”
In the beginning there was the first-hand smoke.
Second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-
Then the seventh seal of the eighth-hand smoke
till one looked as if Jacob Marley’s ghost
enshrouded in translucent robe
and that signature in exhalation:
the perfect chains of o…o…O…O…O.
You sat there smoking
“another five cents please”
while making time with a princess
you met last week in Queens.
She had to leave with her friend.
So it seems.
They always traveled in pairs—
one loose, one plain.
Your call tonight caught the former in curlers
tending to toenails
O’ to stay here on line forever.
Lost in seduction and blowing smoke
before unfolding that door to adulthood
with its cancers and commitments
its clothes at the cleaners—
and just who is
this tyrannosaurus ass?
on the tempered glass?
Go away! The day
will come of roaming
in search of signals for cellular phones
as we sip spring water from plastic bottles
for the short and long haul,
the princes and princesses
no longer on call.
Quote of the Month
Photo by Ron Vazzano May 1, 2012©
Same-sex Marriages and Sherlock Holmes
There is a familiar quote by Sherlock Holmes on the power of deduction, that I am often reminded of which reads:
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth."
It appears in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s, The Sign of the Four published in 1890, which is one of four novels (and 56 short stories) in the Holmes series.
Usually, this concept comes into play for me when trying to solve some sort of knotty puzzle. Like that of the Saturday New York Times crossword— a killer. (Can the answer to 36 Down really be klutz?).
But I’ve also thought of variations on this quote, as it might apply in other contexts. And with President Obama’s affirmation last month, that he now believes in same-sex marriage—after previously using the word “evolving” when discussing the issue—I thought of this Holmes quote once again.
In effect, when you eliminate all the objections to the issue through a reasoning process and not just an emotional one—which invariably happens when anything at first glance seems to go against the grain—one is left with: same-sex marriage not only makes sense, but was inevitable. And a majority of Americans seemed to have reached that same conclusion.
It has already been a year since New York became the largest state to pass a law allowing same-sex marriage (Bursting With Pride So Gay; JULY, 2011 MUSE-LETTER). One of the core objections that Governor Cuomo’s signing of the bill into law overrode, is the “need to uphold the sacredness of the institution of marriage.” It has been hard to keep a straight face in the face of this impassioned expressed concern.
Sacred? If so, wouldn’t one expect a positive outcome of these historical heterosexual unions? Yet over 50% of them end in divorce, giving “sacred” a bad name. And “Till death do us part?” Then I guess Mickey Rooney must have nine lives.
Even an overwhelming majority of Catholics (of whom I am included) approve of divorce. And this in a church that once held the threat of excommunication over the heads of those who chose that path. (Or in effect, had that path chosen for them.)
Then there’s the issue of procreation, which holds no water (pun intended). If that is the purpose of marriage, then what to make of couples who are childless by choice? Or by anatomical issues? Or by virtue of marriages late in life?
"Marriage has been around forever, and embraced by all societies!"
To which an obvious response might be, so too was slavery around for a long time. So too was the second-class status of women embraced by virtually all societies at one time or another. Some still..
It’s not natural,” cry others.
So too was the feeling about interracial marriages as recent as say 1968, when…” 72% of Americans disapproved of marriage between whites and non-whites. A year after the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law in Loving v. Virginia.” (The New Yorker May 21, 2012). A year after I got out of college.
"It goes against God’s will!"
Then why did he or she make so many gay people?
If you do the math, according to commonly held percentage estimates, there are over a half billion people in the world who are gay or lesbian. One would hold that a number of that size does not suggest the words “accident” or “aberration” or anything against “God’s will!
Or if you choose to take a more secular look at the issue, you cannot get around the tenets of this country that begin with words like “We the people…” and encapsulations that read: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” in which no qualifiers are made as to who might engage in that pursuit. And for people in love, that pursuit often ends in a desire to be married.
It is interesting to note, that so many of those who decry any form of government intervention or regulation regarding our personal lives—some to the point of contempt—are now sanctioning government to do that very thing here.
When you have eliminated all the objections, what remains, however improbable this might have seemed at one time, must be true.
Same-sex marriage? Elementary my dear Watson.
God Comes on Little Cat Feet
after Carl Sandburg
In a Tijuana church,
its hand-painted windows
doing their best
to resemble stained glass,
fading and chipping,
let in more light.