Drama Review – Amadeus by Peter Shaffer

The term masterpiece often gets overused into banality in our society. Applying it to Amadeus would be underutilizing it. Fans of great drama and historical fiction can appreciate this offering on multiple levels. It included quirky characters, phenomenal conflict and an unparalleled story line.

Through Amadeus, Mr. Shaffer presented the story of Antonio Salieri: a bitter, selfish narcissist who would defy his God in order to achieve greatness. He manifested this quest through the destruction of an unwitting rival. Initially, this character lived a pious existence devoted to the Lord. I found Mr. Shaffer’s story a bit of a twist on the Faust legend. Instead of selling his soul to the devil, the composer consecrated his life to the Almighty. In return he expected his deity to make him the greatest musician of his day. I found this very interesting coming from a character who acknowledged and indulged in his own gluttony.

This sanctimonious bargain sustained Salieri until a prodigy named Mozart entered the scene. The latter character possessed crass and immature mannerisms; undignified traits for a composer. He also had an unparalleled gift for music. As Salieri himself noted upon listening to his work,

It seemed to me I had heard a voice of God—and that it issued from a creature whose own voice I had also heard—and it was the voice of an obscene child! (Page 28)

The Marquis de Sade created a character named Lord Gramwell. This individual sought to violate every social taboo society held. That’s pretty evil. Shaffer’s Salieri gave the ignoble noble a true run for his money. He pursued every conceivable act he could to eliminate his rival. His reason for doing so made him horrifying.

The title made this play an exceptional work of art. Not only did it share Mozart’s middle name it also referenced the traditional meaning of the word. Amadeus translates to “love of God.” Through original writing, the playwright wove this into the story’s main theme.

There are three types of conflict an author may pursue: person against person, person against nature or person against God. Mr. Shaffer chose the latter for this piece. Salieri expressed the following thoughts to conclude Act I.

When I return I’ll tell you about the war I fought with God through his preferred creature—Mozart named Amadeus. In the waging of which, of course, this Creature had to be destroyed. (Page 60)

Nice guy. It’s interesting that on the surface the play seemed to be a semi-autobiographical story about Mozart. Salieri’s conflict with God became the real focus of the drama.

The show’s resolution confused me a bit. In the end, Salieri regretted his eradication of Mozart. In spite of this, he still elevated himself above other people. Earlier in the play he explained the difference between his and his rival’s approaches to music. “We were both ordinary men he and I. Yet he from the ordinary created legends—and I from legends created only the ordinary.” (Page 83) At the end of the play he referred to himself as, “Antonio Salieri: Patron Saint of Mediocrities.” (Page 117) For his last line he commented, “Mediocrities everywhere—now and to come—I absolve you all. Amen!” (Page 118) Even when associating himself with “average” people, the composer needed to feel superior to them. His conferring upon himself the ability to forgive placed himself on the same level as a deity.

Salieri may not have achieved the greatness he craved, but Amadeus did. For Mr. Shaffer’s outstanding work, the play received the Tony Award Winner for Best Play in 1981. I read the playwright’s sixth version of Amadeus. No need for Salieri to absolve him. Even after the show’s very successful initial run the playwright continued revising it. He deserves tremendous credit for his continued commitment to making his work the best it could be. Mr. Shaffer didn’t destroy other plays or playwrights in the process, either.

Drama Review – Equus by Peter Shaffer

Equus contained the most unusual trifecta in the history of theatre. In this Tony Award winning play, Peter Shaffer combined these disparate themes: the merits of psychiatry, sexual repression and equine deification. This is just the short list of themes the playwright addressed. The drama certainly earned the litany of awards it received for creativity alone.

A real life event inspired the play. A friend of Mr. Schaffer’s related a story of a young man who blinded several horses. Without learning the actual reason for this bizarre crime, the playwright took creative license and delivered his own take using a similar though fictitious incident. Equus resulted.

I found the play very complex and recondite. It’s not a light-hearted yarn about horses, that’s for sure. It’s an exploration of Alan Strang’s mind as discovered through his psychiatrist, Martin Dysart. The doctor attempted to uncover the troubled teen’s motivations for his heinous crime. While doing so, Dysart also ruminated on his own profession’s capability to ‘help’ people by ‘curing’ them. As he observed, “Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.” (Page 109) I told you this play had depth to it.

While I have yet to watch Equus performed on stage, the set-up described by the playwright intrigued me. He wrote:

All the cast of Equus sits on stage the entire evening. They get up to perform their scenes, and return when they are done to their places around the set. They are witnesses, assistants—and especially a Chorus. (Page 3)

I also liked how he directed that actors play the roles of horses. The use of people as opposed to props no doubt enhances the drama. Based on the religious references in the play I suspect he had a symbolic reason for that as well.

As I indicated earlier, Equus would perplex general readers due to its unusual story and theatrical staging. Because of these traits I found the play more symbolic than an actual telling of a story.

The dramatis personae seemed more like symbols than characters. (For more of my thoughts on this technique read my reviews of both the theatrical production and novel version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.) Jill Mason served as the sole believable character in the drama. Mr. Shaffer crafted her as a flirtatious teenaged girl. Both Alan’s father’s hypocrisy and his mother’s religious fanaticism seemed contrived. Although he crafted the latter more measured than the former. I interpreted Alan as primarily source material for Dyson’s monologues. This made it very difficult for me to suspend my disbelief while reading the play.

I really despised the choice to open with the psychiatrist’s soliloquy. This struck me as cliché. I didn’t care for this type of beginning in John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God and I didn’t care for it in this story. (I should note that Equus premiered six years prior to the other show.) To be fair: the playwright presented a much wider take on Dyson’s views regarding Alan’s mental state throughout the drama. Of course, we writers know none of that matters if you lose the audience from the beginning.

I’ve heard of the horse whisperer, but the horse worshipper!? For this reason among others Equus wouldn’t appeal to all audiences. For those interested in an intricate psychological journey, it may be worth the read. All others would be better served cleaning a stable.

Drama Review – Proof by David Auburn

Someone postulated that I should read this play. With this theorem in mind, I set out to prove it. After reasoning my way through the text, I came up with the following axiom: David Auburn’s play Proof is a work of genius that readers can appreciate on many levels. As I always strive to write professional reviews, allow me to show the work that went into my proof.

Given: David Auburn wrote Proof.

Prove: Proof showed what the best playwrights can do with complex subject matter.

Statement: Proof possessed many literary techniques that lesser playwrights could debase into banality. David Auburn crafted them with the proficiency of a conductor orchestrating a symphony.

Reason: Even in the opening pages, the dialog made me uncomfortable. The story began as Catherine’s father presented her with a bottle of champagne. How to write this delicately? This party wasn’t as upbeat or as festive as the one Harold Pinter described in The Birthday Party. (Yes, that’s saying something.) The tension in this conversation between Catherine and her father jarred me. Here’s an excerpt.

Robert: A girl who’s drinking from the bottle shouldn’t complain. Don’t guzzle it. It’s an elegant beverage. Sip.

Catherine: (Offering the bottle) Do you-

Robert: No. Go ahead.

Catherine: You sure?

Robert: Yeah. It’s your birthday.

Catherine: Happy Birthday to me.

Robert: What are you going to do on your birthday?

Catherine: Drink this. Have some.

Robert: No. I hope you’re not spending your birthday alone.

Catherine: I’m not alone.

Robert: I don’t count.

Catherine: Why not?

Robert: I’m your old man. Go out with some friends.

Catherine: Right.

Robert: Your friends aren’t taking you out?

Catherine: Because in order to for your friends to take you out you generally have to have friends.

Robert: (Dismissive) Oh-

Catherine: It’s funny how that works. (Page 7)

I almost had to close the book and walk away from it. The tension made me that uncomfortable.

Statement: Auburn’s proficient use of foreshadowing set a new standard for it.

Reason: I won’t give away spoilers. I will comment that on several occasions in the text, seemingly innocent lines or obscure observations became clever harbingers of things to come. In fact, a veiled one appeared in the lines I quoted above. I’d hope people reading Proof for the first time experience the same astonishment that I did. It made the story that much more engaging.

Statement: In the midst of a complex plot, the playwright still managed to connect with his audience on an emotional level.

Reason: This story had some parallels with the book and film A Beautiful Mind. Robert was a brilliant mathematician with schizophrenia. Unlike John Nash, Robert’s disorder rendered him incompetent and unable to practice his craft: for a time. Then his mental health improved. He expressed great optimism about his being “back in the game” in the following exchange with Catherine. She, being the dutiful daughter, had sacrificed her personal happiness to take care of him. This discussion took place after he insisted Catherine read a “major result” for which he’d just written a proof.

Catherine: Dad. Let’s go inside.

Robert: The gaps might make it hard to follow. We can talk it through.

Catherine: You’re cold. Let’s go in.

Robert: Maybe we could work on this together. This might be a great place to start. What about it? What do you think? Let’s talk it through.

Catherine: Not now. I’m cold too. It’s really freezing out here. Let’s go inside.

Robert: I’m telling you it’s stifling in there, goddamn it. The radiators. Look, read out the first couple of lines. That’s how we start: you read, and we go line by line, out loud, through the argument. See if there’s a better way, a shorter way. Let’s collaborate.

Catherine: No. Come on.

Robert: I’ve been waiting years for this. This is something I want to do. Come on, let’s do some work together.

Catherine: We can’t do it out here. It’s freezing cold. I’m taking you in.

Robert: Not until we talk about the proof.

Catherine: No.

Robert: Goddamnit, Catherine, open the goddamn book and read me the lines.

(Beat. Catherine opens the book. She reads slowly without inflection.)

Catherine: “Let X equal the quantities of all quantities of X. Let X equal the cold. It is cold in December. The months of cold equal November through February. There are four months of cold and four of heat leaving four months of indeterminate temperature….” (Pages 73 – 74)

I’m not an emotional person. When I read Catherine’s recitation of the “proof” I could almost feel my heart breaking in my chest. Kudos to the playwright on crafting this scene so well.

Statement: Proof showed what the best playwrights can do with complex subject matter.

Reason: The story contained many plot twists. They revolved around the personalities of intricate characters. The playwright also managed to work in standard literary techniques and apply them brilliantly. In acknowledgement of these efforts, Proof received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2001.

Q. E. D.


Drama Review – Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire

The worst tragedy that any person can experience is losing a child. This 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning drama delved into the impact of such a loss on a young family. The result was a moving exploration of a couple struggling to cope with their grief and at times each other. While somber in tone, Rabbit Hole still served as an excellent read.

At first I struggled to get into the story. It began with Becca folding clothes while her sister, Izzy, prattled about her recent fisticuffs. It took several pages before the playwright made any reference to a child. He did so in a very subtle way. Here’s an exchange between Becca and Izzy. This took place after the latter announced her pregnancy.

Becca: I’m washing all these clothes to give to Goodwill. I might as well save them for you. In case you have a boy. No sense in my giving these away.

Izzy: I don’t know, Bec. They’re in baby clothes for so long, it’d be a few years before he could even fit into this stuff.

Becca: It comes up very quickly. You wouldn’t even believe it.

Izzy: Plus we don’t have a lot of room to…

Becca: That’s okay. I’ll keep them here. In the basement. You’ll be happy I saved them.

Izzy: But what if it’s a girl?

Becca: Then I’ll bring them down to Goodwill. What’s the big deal? You’re gonna thank me. A couple years worth of free clothes here. Think of the money you’re gonna save.

Izzy: It’s not about the money.

Becca: Well it should be. You need to start thinking about stuff like that, Iz. Especially if the dad’s a musician. It costs a lot to raise a child.

Izzy: It’d be weird, that’s all. If it’s a boy. To see him running around in Danny’s clothes. (Beat) I would feel weird. You would too, I think. (Beat) I’m sorry. (Pages 24 – 25)

A former screenwriting professor I know gave me some great advice. “The best way to drive exposition is through conflict.” The playwright nailed it here. Izzy kept trying to avoid the issue of Danny’s death while Becca inadvertently forced her to mention it. Later in the same passage, Izzy said “I know the timing really sucks,” in reference to her pregnancy. By contrast, the pace in this passage was exceptional.

At this point I realized that the story would focus on grief and bereavement. I liked the way that we never saw Danny. He passed eight months prior to the opening exchange. I applauded the playwright’s decision to avoid the hackneyed “hero dies after a valiant struggle” plot line. This gave Rabbit Hole that much more impact.

When the play began I assumed the drama would center on Becca’s efforts to cope. At one point when Howie suggested she return to work she replied, “No I can’t. That’s not who I am anymore. I left all that to be a mom.” (Page 46) That’s a pretty powerful line.

But Mr. Lindsay-Abaire had a twist in store. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of gender roles. Howie’s first scene introduced him using wine and Al Green music to seduce his wife. What a contrast to Becca’s! While the two battled grief in their own ways, Howie became the more emotional of the two. He spent his evenings watching a video tape of Danny and him. When Becca accidentally erased it, Howie became unhinged.

(Losing it.) It’s not just the tape! I’m not talking about the tape, Becca! It’s Taz (the dog), and the paintings, and the clothes, and it’s everything! You have to stop erasing him! You have to stop it! You HAVE TO STOP! (Page 86)

In another unique plot twist, the boy who accidentally hit Danny with his car contacted the family. Jason sent them a letter asking to meet them. Later he stopped by when the family hosted an open house. Howie threw him out. Later Becca met with the boy. That was the only scene in the play where she cried.

Rabbit Hole focused on the bereavement process and how people cope in different ways. Becca delivered the most trenchant observation on the subject. Here’s a comment she directed at Howie.

You’re not in a better place than I am, you’re just in a different place. And that sucks that we can’t be there for each other right now, but that’s just the way it is. (Page 87)

While an otherwise superb work of art, I did have one criticism of the play. I thought the playwright added some gratuitous references to pop culture. Izzy worked at Applebees. Becca worked at Sotheby’s before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Izzy had a Three Stooges shower curtain. While I understand any writer strives to make his work relatable, these examples were a bit much for my taste.

A few days ago, I watched a local community theater group perform this play. The show was very powerful and really affected me. It led me to remember times when I experienced grief and how I coped with it. I think all this led me to re-read Rabbit Hole as a form of closure. How many dramatic works can inspire people like that? While an uncomfortable subject matter, I’d still encourage people to try it. It’s a phenomenal example of brilliant writing.

Drama Review: No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Hell-is other people!” Garcin exclaimed. To be trapped it a room until the day-after-the –end-of-eternity with the three characters from No Exit, it would be. In this iconoclastic play, Jean-Paul Sartre constructed a complex paradigm for eternal damnation. His version lacked the expected fire, brimstone and horned guy with a pitchfork. Inez observed: “We’ll serve as torturers for each other.” (Page 17) How’s that for perdition?

“A drawing room in the Second Empire style” comprised this “hell”. (Page 3) It contained three sofas, a “massive bronze ornament” on the mantelpiece, and a door with a bell. Sometimes the latter worked, other times it didn’t. I applaud Sartre for coming up with a unique take. Most authors and playwrights would’ve “borrowed” Dante’s version from The Inferno.  This dramatist brilliantly exercised his imagination. (Let this be a lesson to the rest of us authors out there.)

The depth of the characters impressed me. The playwright didn’t resort to clichés or banalities, here. Each one entailed a great deal of intricacy and thought. In life Garcin ran a pacifist newspaper. Inez’s lesbian sexual orientation no doubt shocked audiences when the play premiered in 1944. Estelle showed her vanity upon realizing the room lacked a mirror. The drama developed as these characters attempted to discover why they ended up in Hell. I really liked the layers the playwright added to their stories. I thought the development outstanding, also. I didn’t read any bland exposition in the text.

I don’t like to give away spoilers, but I really enjoyed Garcin’s painful moment of self-discovery. I might be guilty of some schadenfreude here. I take solace in the fact I experienced it because of a fictional character.

Garcin: Can one possibly be a coward when one’s deliberately courted danger at every turn? And can one judge a life by a single action?

Inez: Why not? For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses—because a hero, of course, can do no wrong. An easy method, obviously. The a day came when you were up against it, the red light of real danger—and you took the train to Mexico. (Page 43)

Ouch! That was raw; but, then again, this was Hell.

I also enjoyed the interesting plot twist near the final curtain. Throughout the play the characters couldn’t open the door. This added to the theme that each couldn’t escape each other’s company. Near the end of the drama the door opened. None of the characters chose to leave. It made me wonder if the playwright included a “Hell is ourselves” subtext.

I did have one issue with No Exit.  Several times characters referred to the bronze ornament on the mantelpiece. At no point did anyone describe it. My curiosity piqued as to what it was, exactly. I’m not sure if Sartre left it vague so the show’s directors had some leeway with it. At any rate, based on the distinct personality types the characters showed, I would’ve liked a vivid depiction of the bronze ornament.

No Exit is just as inimitable today as it was when it premiered in 1944. I’d encourage those interested in either drama or literature to experience it. After all: unlike the characters, readers have the option of leaving the room should they find it too unpleasant.   

Drama Review – Fences by August Wilson

Without question, Troy Maxson deserves to be ranked among the most complex protagonists in literature. He’s a blue collar Willy Loman, a bit less crass than Stanley Kowalski, and a family man in the vein of Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad from Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy. This character’s intricacies made my reading of August Wilson’s Fences both enriching and quite surprising. I’m shocked that I hadn’t encountered it before.

Maxon presented himself as the very epitome of responsible behavior… at least by his standards. In addition to confronting the racism of the era, he also encountered the challenges of raising a family in 1950’s Pittsburgh. Here’s a sample of an exchange he had with his son.

Troy: (Racial epithet), as long as you in my house, you put that sir on the end of it when you talk to me.

Cory: Yes…sir.

Troy: You eat every day.

Cory: Yessir!

Troy: Got a roof over your head.

Cory: Yessir!

Troy: Got clothes on your back.

Cory: Yessir.

Troy: Why do you think that is?

Cory: Cause of you.

Troy: Aw, hell I know it’s cause of me…but why do you think that is?

Cory: (Hesitant) Cause you like me.

Troy: Like you? I go out every morning…busting my butt…putting up with them crackers every day…cause I like you? You the biggest fool I ever saw. (Pause) It’s my job. It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family. (Pages 37 – 38)

The playwright didn’t model this 50’s dad off of Ward Cleaver. Troy’s father didn’t fit that description, either. I enjoyed the way Wilson kept tying in the ‘responsibility’ theme with family.

Troy: Sometimes I wish I hadn’t known my daddy. He ain’t cared nothing about no kids. A kid to him wasn’t nothing. All he wanted was for you to learn how to walk so he could start you to working. When it came time for eating…he ate first. If there was anything left over, that’s what you got. Man would sit down and eat two chickens and give you the wing. (Page 50)

            Did I mention that Troy directed this speech at his son Lyons? He did have a bit of a happy ending to this tale. Here’s Troy’s explanation as to why his father didn’t leave, in spite of his obvious unhappiness working as a sharecropper.

Troy: How he gonna leave with eleven kids? And here he gonna go? He ain’t knew how to do nothing but farm. No, he was trapped and I think he knew it. But I’ll say this for him…he felt a responsibility toward us. Maybe he ain’t treated us the way I felt he should have…but without that responsibility he could have walked off and left us…made his own way. (Page 51)

Troy harbored the following minatory thoughts on his dad. He delivered them after recollecting a brutal beating he suffered at his father’s hands.

Troy:…”Part of that cutting down was when I got to the place where I could feel him kicking in my blood and knew that the only thing that separated us was a matter of a few years. (Page 53)

            Wilson fully fleshed-out his protagonist’s values. He best illustrated them in the following discussion between Troy and his best-friend Bono. I really liked the way the playwright crafted this exchange. Reminiscent of the great Harold Pinter, an ostensibly trivial conversation developed into a crucial plot point.

Bono: Rose is a good woman, Troy.

Troy: Hell, (racial epithet), I know she a good woman. I been married to her for eighteen years. What you got on you mind, Bono?

Bono: I just say she a good woman. Just like I say anything. I ain’t got to have nothing on my mind.

Troy: You just gonna say she a good woman and leave it hanging out there like that? Why you telling me she a good woman?

Bono: She loves you, Troy. Rose loves you.

Troy: You saying I don’t measure up? That’s what you trying to say. I don’t measure up cause I’m seeing this other gal. I know what you trying to say. (Pages 62- 63)

The playwright did an exceptional job tying the whole story together at the end. The following dialogue occurred between Troy’s wife and their son.

Rose: You just like him. You got him in you good.

Corey: Don’t tell me that Mama.

Rose: You Troy Maxson all over again.

Corey: I don’t want to be Troy Maxson. I want to be me.

Rose: You can’t be nobody but who you are, Corey. (Page 97)

I’m hoping to see Fences performed someday. Troy Maxson is such a fascinating character. I’d enjoy the opportunity of watching a master thespian animate him. For now, I’ll have to settle for August Wilson’s poetic portray of him in words. That’s pretty good consolation.  

Drama Review – Doubt by John Patrick Shanley

Doubt requires more courage than conviction does, and more energy; because conviction is a resting place and doubt is infinite—it is a passionate exercise.

John Patrick Shanley March 2005

            I have no doubt, that Doubt is one of the best written plays I’ve ever read. John Patrick Shanley crafted a masterpiece without clearly depicting the main story sparks. The ending left me confused and troubled. It reflected the play’s title perfectly. I’ve seen this play performed and read it once before. I found it so powerful that I couldn’t resist delving into it again.

Doubt served as the theme of Fr. Flynn’s opening monolog.  I liked the way the playwright established the setting and theme of the play at the very beginning. I still mentally harken back to the beginning of Hamlet whenever I read a play. Lines and lines of dialog where characters prattled on about how dark the night and that they’re standing in front of a castle really seared into my memory. (I do take solace in the fact that even the Bard could’ve improved as a writer.) Shanley avoided this error. The fourth line in the play read: “Last year President Kennedy was assassinated.” (Page 5) What an exceptional way to quickly establish the time frame.

The play contained an outstanding protagonist and antagonist, but with a twist. Shanley drew them so well that I’m not sure which role each main character played. Sister Aloysius served as a hardline reactionary to the changes occurring in the Church. She opposed the use of the song “Frosty the Snowman” in the Christmas show. It “espouses a pagan belief in magic”, she asseverated. (Page 29) I thought it clever how she informed Sister James not to focus so much on teaching history. Yet, in the play Sister Aloysius referred to Socrates (Page 12) and Sparta (Page 36). She did so while, in essence, telling Sister James how to do her job. I found her choice of examples intriguing. Wasn’t Jesus a teacher, too?

Fr. Flynn served as her opposite. He supported a friendlier, more accessible clergy. He recommended adding secular tunes to the Christmas pageant. He coached the boys’ basketball team. After practice he invited them to the rectory. The priest even paid special attention to the lone African-American child at the school, Donald Muller. The latter ignited the main story spark.

Sister Aloysius suspected that the priest had an inappropriate relationship with the boy. There being no Chris Hansens at St. Nicholas school, she opted to investigate the matter herself. The drama unfolded around her efforts to confirm her (unfounded) allegations. Fr. Flynn always responded with a reasonable (sounding) explanation for all her suspicions.

To further enhance the story, the priest admitted being a fabulist to Sister James. Again, he followed this revelation with a reasonable (sounding) explanation. He claimed making up stories for his sermons “in the tradition of the parable.” (Page 38) Why?

What actually happens in life is beyond interpretation. The truth makes for a bad sermon. It tends to be confusing and have no clear conclusion. (Page 39)

The playwright did an exceptional job keeping me engaged. The more I read, the more I had doubts about both characters’ behavior. It took special talent to continue building this tension through the entire play; accomplishing this while relating few verifiable facts took extraordinary skill.

I have little doubt that the ending won’t satisfy some readers. I would remind them of Shanley’s own words:

You may come out of my play uncertain. You may want to be sure. Look down on that feeling. We’ve got to learn to live with a full measure of uncertainty. There is no last word. That’s the silence under the chatter of our time.

To absorb the essence of these words, read Doubt.  

Book Review – Sports Play by Elfride Jelinek

(American) Football season kicked off this past weekend here in the United States. I thought it a propitious time to review Elfride Jelinek’s Sports Play. The tone of this work shows that Ms. Jelinek is not sharing my passion for athletics this autumn. While reading this play the word esoteric came to mind various times. The playwright chose a rather unusual way to express her anti-sports world view.

I didn’t care for the paucity of interaction between characters in this drama. The structure of this work entailed a character presenting a long, drawn out speech; almost bordering on a soliloquy. The playwright even explained as much in an interview included in the text.

In spite of the fact my plays often look like prose, as they consist of long blocks of monologues, they are actually not prose. My plays are texts written to be spoken, while prose narrates. Plays are designed for collective reception, prose for individual reception. So you can’t simply say my plays are a kind of prose since they don’t narrate anything. They talk. They speak. Although recently I’ve noticed that the differences are blurring. My prose is increasingly becoming “speaking”. (Location 239)

I failed to get a sense of “speaking” in many of the long “monologues”. Because of that, I didn’t witness much interaction between the characters. That made the reading very difficult, especially since, as the playwright even acknowledged, it didn’t have a plot. While I thought the text challenging to get through, I did feel relieved I didn’t have to memorize and present it to an audience.

I thought the stage direction very creative. The playwright instructed the leader of the chorus to wear an earpiece in order to receive sports scores during the production. She directed him to interrupt the play and update the audience as scores came in. I liked this because it added to the sense of sports being an all-encompassing presence in our lives. While morbid, I thought having either a still photo or moving clips of Arnold Schwarzenegger while ANDI lamented his life a good way to add a visual element to his lugubrious musings.

I liked the creative uses of language in the English translation. Alliteration such as “fallen fighters” (Location 668) and expressions such as, “Where were your valuable values produced?” made some of the monologues a bit easier to ingest. Lines like, “Ambition is man’s strongest drive,” (Location 2490) knocked it out of the park.

I mentioned before about my inability to connect with the characters due to the monologues and paucity of interaction. The lack of names for some of the characters prevented me from doing so, as well. One person was named “Other”. Another character was referred to as “First”. Granted, the playwright included these identifiers for the benefit of the director. No one referred to these characters by those names during the story, but still.

Sports Play is not for everybody, not even for those who share the author’s “anti-sports” attitude. I’d describe as a philosophical treatise on the nature of sport and the role it plays in society as opposed to a dramatic production. It’s a shame, because this is a great theme that skilled authors—of which Ms. Jelinek certainly is–can do a lot with and develop into something memorable. This work wasn’t even “in the ballpark” on that one. “Nothing but sport and sport and sport on our minds,”Elfi Electra said. (Location 591) I wish this playwright had something else on hers when she wrote this piece.

Drama Review – Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet

Out of respect for sensitive readers, I shall not mimic Mr. Mamet’s raw use of vernacular during the course of this review.

Glengarry Glen Ross explored the harsh, cut throat world of real estate sales. Through the drama’s presentation Mr. Mamet took a trip into the cul-de-sacs and tenements at the depths of the human psyche. The playwright melded the techniques of wit, humor and cynicism to provide an engaging illustration of cold-hard realism.

When one envisions people behaving at their self-serving worst, professions such as politicians, corporate executives or blogging drama critics come to mind. The telling choice of real estate illustrated much. These characters were modern “everymen”, with all the fears and flaws that drive a man to his worst. (Oddly, the play contained no female characters.) If the Marquis de Sade had been around in 1982, he would’ve struggled to create characters the likes of Richard Roma and Dave Moss.

One of the pitfalls of writing drama entails limiting the author’s ability to truly show a character’s essence. This is especially true for the written version. It didn’t inhibit Mamet at all. In fact, he thrived. The best example I’ve ever read of how to show a character’s true essence follows. Below Dave Moss attempted to talk George Aaranow into committing a robbery for him.

Moss: Listen to this. I have an alibi, I’m going to the Como Inn, why? Why? The place gets robbed, they’re going to come looking for me. Why? Because I probably did it. Are you going to turn me in? (Pause) George? Are you going to turn me in?
Aaronow: What if you don’t get caught?
Moss: They come to you, you going to turn me in?
Aaronow: Why would they come to me?
Moss: They’re going to come to everyone.
Aaronow: Why would I do it?
Moss: You wouldn’t, George, that’s why I’m talking to you. Answer me. They come to you. You going to turn me in?
Aaronow: No.
Moss: Are you sure?
Aaranow: Yes. I’m sure.
Moss: Then listen to this: I have to get those leads tonight. That’s something I have to do. If I’m not at the movies…if I’m not eating over at the inn…If I don’t do this then I have to come in here…
Aaranow:…then you don’t have to come in…
Moss:…and rob the place…
Aaranow:..I thought we were only talking….
Moss:…they take me, then. They’re going to ask me who were my accomplices.
Aaranow: Me?
Moss: Absolutely.
Aaranow: That’s ridiculous.
Moss: Well, to the law, you’re an accessory. Before the fact.
Aaranow: I didn’t ask to be.
Moss: The tough luck, George, because you are.
Aaranow: Why? Why, because you only told me about it?
Moss: That’s right. (Page 44)

While the play described a fictitious real estate office, I could swear I bought a car off of Moss at some point. He certainly knew how to talk people into doing what he wanted.

I read a number of other outstanding uses of language. Due to the length of the preceding passage, I’ll only reference one. At one point, master exploiter Richard Roma said, “Always tell the truth. It’s the easiest thing to remember.” (Page 61) He later showed monumental skill as a fabulist nearly conning someone out of $82K. In this case, I know I definitely bought a car off of this guy.

Mamet’s character development impressed me the most. I mentioned Roma and Moss already, but I found Shelly “The Machine” Levine the most thought-provoking. From the playwright’s depiction, I visualized him as a cross between Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman and “Old Gil” from The Simpsons television series. The guy took the concept of a loser to a whole new depth. (I won’t give spoilers.) I applaud Mamet for keeping me interested in this character’s fate in spite of his pathetic nature.

While I greatly enjoyed the play, I had two criticisms. First, I didn’t like the title. I’ve seen the movie and read the play and didn’t understand. I looked it up on Wikipedia and the entry said it came from two different real estate developments the salesmen attempted to peddle. The author’s intention escaped me both times. (For those unaware: Mamet also wrote the screenplay for the movie version.)

I also didn’t like the way the true office thief got caught. It came across as extremely contrived and too convenient. (I won’t express the identity of the thief or his revelation for those unfamiliar with the work.) I thought the rest of the play outstanding, so this lapse at a critical point in the story stood out.

While the narrative showed that one should “always be closing”, I couldn’t put the play down once. Now that I’ve finished, I’m heading out for damned Chinese food. Aw, that’s one lapse into swearing. Not bad for a Mamet fan.

Drama Review – Abortion by Eugene O’Neill

Quite possibly, the most traumatic choice a person can face in life is the decision to have an abortion. The repercussions can haunt a person for the remainder of one’s life. Who better to write a fictional account of a topic this horrible than Eugene O’Neill? In 1914, he did just that. As only O’Neill could, he presented a dramatic work that unified both the carefree nature of youth along with the harsh reality of the consequences of it.

This is an interesting review for me. I thought the characters one dimensional and stereotypical. Yet, I still enjoyed the play. It took a high level of skill from the dramatist to manage this feat. The fact I read the piece in only twenty minutes may have helped in this regard, as well.

The drama centered on Jack Townsend, a popular college athlete with a great life ahead of him. I thought O’Neill’s choice of conflict creative. Instead of resorting to the trite “he’s got a great future and gets a girl pregnant,” the tale dealt with events that transpired after the event and following Jack’s response to the unexpected pregnancy. I give O’Neill credit for not resorting to a banal story arc.

The overall narrative reminded me a bit of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In Dreiser’s story, a man with the opportunity to move up in society by marrying a wealthy woman impregnates a poor girl with whom he worked.  Abortion pre-dated it by eleven years. Jack longed to marry the more sophisticated Evelyn, but the after effects of his affair with a secretary interfered. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for those who wish to read it or see it performed.

I really liked the choice of Jack as a protagonist. I thought O’Neill’s decision to make him a college athlete outstanding. Attending college is widely held in high regard. In addition, we live in a society that glorifies sports people. Interestingly, though, it’s difficult to consult the news without seeing a story about one who’s behaving badly. O’Neill wrote Abortion one hundred years ago! It amazed me to read about the same kind of mentality in American life. Not surprising, after the major tragic event of the play, the students sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Jack.

On a personal level, I consider myself pro-life. I do not believe it’s right to terminate a pregnancy through abortion. That’s what I think. What I know is that I don’t have the right to force my views on others. There are some issues that are best left between a person and his/her conscience and/or his/her god. I find it troubling that in a nation where SCOTUS has ruled that abortion is legal under the Constitution, many states have resorted to bizarre contortions of zoning laws to make it illegal in everything but name. O’Neill’s tragedy about back-alley abortion clinics and the ruined lives that result from them provided a much sadder commentary on our own time than his.