Saturday, November 21, 2015

What Moment?

This is an interesting piece in the LA Times on a topic I've been pondering a lot lately.

I don't see this as any kind of "moment in American playwriting." Fearless writers didn't just appear suddenly in the last couple of years. They're always around. What happened is that it became trendy to produce this kind of work in the New York non-profit theaters that champion the work of young writers. By "this kind of work," I mean plays that are essentially about politics, or even about a certain political stance, and just use narrative as something to hang the politics on. These plays exist less to tell a story about people's lives and relationships than to make a point -- about racism, about homophobia, misogyny, religion, capitalism, colonialism, etc.

Maybe it's less a difference of type than of degree, I don't know. A Streetcar Named Desire and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? have plenty to say about class and gender. But you don't leave those plays feeling like you've been to an undergraduate lecture. Whatever messages are there are subtle and, for that reason, I would argue, more powerful, more lasting. If something is handed to us we value it less than if we had to make an effort to find it.

I don't know what's "fearless" about this "new" kind of play. It's incredibly popular in the circle in which it gets attention, wins awards and grants, gets produced. Is it fearless for me to post a clip of Rachel Maddow going off on Republicans on my Facebook page, when all my friends agree with me? It seems to me lately that it's much riskier to not be making explicitly liberal political work, because nobody's interested.

I like some of these plays, dislike some of them, but what I'm waiting for is the next moment, the one where we can get back to telling stories about people, without the need to hammer a political point, without all the dog whistles reassuring us that our politics are correct. Lord knows I love the politics, and I'll talk to you till the sun comes up about the political implications of a play. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, colonialism, religion, and the rest are some of my very favorite topics. But I'm weary of being lectured to in the theater.

Polemic often has to rely on over-simplification in order to be persuasive. But human beings in the world -- which is what I think plays should be about -- are endlessly complex.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Past, Etc.

I'm sitting here feeling weepy and sad, happy and nostalgic. Like one does on a rainy Thursday afternoon in the city. Some poet or other said that there can never be too much love. I disagree, on logical grounds. The more love, the more loss, and I know for sure that, at least for my taste, there definitely can be too much loss.

I haven't had much success writing the last couple months, nothing I sit down to write about seems important enough to spend the time. For a long time I couldn't concentrate to read, either, but slowly I'm finding myself able to calm my mind enough to read fiction if it's not too dense.

I'm reading Dancer From the Dance. I want to say re-reading, because I'm almost nearly certain I've read it before, but I have no recollection. In my twenties, I frequented A Different Light book store on Hudson and burned through the gay canon. Rechy's City of Night and Numbers, all the Edmund White, all the Isherwood, E.M. Forster's Maurice, all the Genet. Somehow I skipped Faggots. I think even at that age I'd heard that Larry Kramer was reactionary and to be avoided, and besides I leaned more toward the transgressive, like Pat Califia's Macho Sluts, all of Dennis Cooper, and a lot of non-fiction, including a great book of essays on leather culture called Urban Aboriginals which contained an explanation of why fist-fucking feels good that I can practically quote to this day.

So I may have read Dancer from the Dance then but I know for sure that, though I'm sure I would have loved the gorgeous camp, the glimpse of a rarified world that maybe I thought myself a part of but really only glanced the death throes of, I was in no state to appreciate the deep sadness of it, the absolute realness of the longing and grief.

People who know me, or who don't know me but read the things I write here, must think I'm obsessed with the sadness of aging and loss, the passage of time, and I guess often I am. I don't know how one could be 54 years old and not.

I saw two plays last week. One was a new musical. I write musicals, so I'm supposed to keep up with what's new and this one got a lot of positive attention, so ... I hated this show, thought it was just all hip, cute surface with nothing to say, and I somewhat condescendingly attributed its shallowness to the youth of its creators, though as I type this I realize I have no idea how old they are, I'm just surmising based on the fact that the music sounded like Mumford and Sons but with no happy songs.

And the other show I saw, which made me laugh harder than I've laughed in ages and sob, too, was a new play called "Steve," produced by the New Group, about a group of, basically, theater queens in New York and their lesbian friend who is dying of cancer. I loved this play.

C and I are spending Thanksgiving with my family in Indiana. When you get married and have 2 families you want to spend holidays with, you come up with a system, and our system for Thanksgiving, successful so far, has been to alternate years. This year, which only coincidentally happens to be the first Thanksgiving after my mother's death, is our year to go to Indiana. So for the last several days, my brother and sister and I have been coordinating menu and travel plans and trying to get used to saying "Dad's house."