Tag Archives: allegory

Ultimate Indulgences

Mid-conversation, the lights go down and Simone Weil appears, or at least her hastily-garbed doppelganger, a pacing scourge.  Her challenges carom off the walls with a lacerating ferocity.

She strides off, boots echoing into the silence …

DL: Thank you guys for coming.

Applause …

… and we’re done.  Salut.

The Jobs Aren’t as Nannies

The second scene plays out, the nakedness of the pathos enforcing a certain tone shift in the audience – or at least the understanding that outright laughter would be rude – but still any flick of irony in the scene finds a hopeful ripple around the table.  Lights up.

W5: her revenge got lost – the emotional basis of it.

MD: there’s something specific about having a list, in the first scene, it’s more emotionally evocative

W6: also in the second scene, there’s something mitigated about the ending – as if Venice can’t be completely destroyed, that part of the contempory vision means less scope.

EK: the second scene seems like journalism.  with the first scene, you’re dealing with values and morals that seem out of time, while updating just alerts to you a current problem, not a timeless one.

DL: Okay, but what does that involvement in the first scene inspire you to do – save 17th century courtesans?

PL: Does the 2nd version make you save 20th century prostitutes?

W5: well, the whole notion of being “ruined” in the first scene is outdated, and maybe we do need something to be updated

W4: I stop being sympathetic to the 1st courtesan when she starts in on her revenge against other women.  I don’t think the 2nd one is asking the mercs to do anything they wouldn’t do anyway.  I can sympathize with her because it doesn’t have the same consequences.

DL: every time you stage shakespeare this happens: are you doing it with ruffs, or updated (e.g. Ruined) – why make the move to update?

M1: when you update a classic often something is lost.  I think the first version isn’t as overtly political, but it’s more memorable.  You can’t brush it aside like you would a news story.

W5: too often people try update things by just finding a contemporary analogue, but that doesn’t necessarily carry forward the dramaturgy or the language, etc.  just focusing on the content leaves out all kinds of other things, the structure –

M2: Didn’t we just go through the Courtesan scene with taxpayers and AIG?

W6: the second scene takes away options.

DL: But doesn’t it implicate you?

W4: the first one is more emotional, but the second is more political, more Brechtian

DL: some people cite the 1st scene as Brechtian because of historical distance, with the 2nd as more political relevant – it’s two very different views of political theatre.  People who do these adaptations obviously think that the former isn’t enough – they think you need this information.

MAD: but Ruined seems different from updating Shakespeare, which seems to be the impulse of artiustic directors not trusting their audience to make the connection themselves between the play and their lives.  Ruined seems much more about a writer’s imagination, whereas the updating Shakespeare is about people not understanding or distrusting imagination’s role.

PL: Also, with the updating, there’s an enormous contempt for the past – that people can only take it in as costume drama, as estheticized spectacle.

DL: can’t you also say that the urgency of the present overwhelms the spectre of the past …

[further discussion of Ruined, defense of Lynn Nottage, it doesn’t depend on Mother Courage, etc.]

DL: Granted.  Another angle on this, trying to bridge the tensions between these two  views is documentary theatre, which has its own conventions …

You can just turn off the tv. What is theater going to make you do?

The happily skeptical woman in the blue shirt is invested in the second scene, and is careful not to insult the translation of the first scene.

She is trying to criticize it, but maybe she feels self conscious that someone in the House had a hand in it. She asks–Who translated it? And how old was Weil when she wrote it?

She must be thinking that perhaps whatever is “wrong” with the scene from Venice Saved can be blamed on the infelicities of a bad translation (blame the translator!) or on the inconsistencies of a teenage mind (she is hoping Weil wrote this as a precocious 12 year old?).

Her reaction foregrounds how hard it is to be openly critical; how can she say she despises this scene and also locate that judgment in her own critical skills. She needs more evidence that her judgment is objective in some way, and dso, beyond reproach.  She’s not ready to just put forth that she dislikes the scene; she needs to qualify it. When it becomes clear to her that she is going to have to stand by her own subjective stance, she back-pedals–What, you guys translated it? Simone Weil was the same age as me when she wrote it? Uh, thanks. Awesome…it’s really a good scene, Don’t Mind Me! She pulls in her critique when it seems as if it might hurt the feelings of Anyone. Consider an unpleasant hypothesis: You do not like this scene because perhaps your taste is molded by The Young and the Restless, West Wing, ER, 24, whereas the taste of our benefactress SW was shaped by different kinds of diversions–Homer? Racine? Euripides? Does this mean that good taste and bad taste are political categories? That there is no aesthetic judgment possible in political theater?

 But she struggles to locate her dislike of the first scene. Her students are here with her, so she must seem unimpeachable in her views, perhaps. Why not just say the second scene is a piece of daytime melodrama? Why assume that Weil’s scene is perfect as it is? Why so afraid to like or dislike? To critique? Is it political to risk revealing your ignorance, and not apologize for it?

As the light dims for Bell Tower scene, we wonder, up here: will this seminar ever evolve from the conversation with the professor to the conversation between the audience members? What controls that dynamic?

Why do we obey the rules even against our own will, as the conspirators are saying? When we are not even aware that no one has given us any rules?

How Many Good and Beautiful Human Beings

The cast runs through the first snippets of Weil’s text, highlighting both its problematic elements and its strengths.  At this point we shift into gear with the Courtesan scene (“I was sixteen years old …”) and kick off the discussion proper:

DL: it’s a good place to start, as it’s a fairly classic scene … is it political?  In the ways we were talking about?

MJ: I would say yes … [example of theory vs. practical example] it seems like it’s got all sorts of things going on –

M4/will: confusing ideas of justice with revenge

M5/mark: victims and victimizers – the idea of someone who’s been hurt who, instead o wanting to help, commits herself to hurting others in the same way.  it raises the spectre of terrorism and oppression

W1: Venice also seem like an allegorical choice – for her to hate Venice is to hate a city that’s very concretely around her – it’s political in a structural way

DL: but we can’t see it – it’s 17th century

W1: that’s the allegory

MJ: like in archeology – a fragment gives you the shape of the pot

DL: okay, but one thing that happens in theatre is that these things get updated …

See Everyone in this City as a Toy

Jaffier: “So there’s no going back.”

Renaud: (Smiles.) “Back … where?”

DL: Does that ring more true?

M2: It does seem to fill in the gaps – of perspective – that we feel in the Courtesan’s vision of things.

M7: I think the occupation that he’s describing is what the Nazis did in Europe (if not France) – e.g., destroying Tolstoy’s house – it was a very conscious decision to destroy their culture.

SC: it also tracks directly to Rumsfeld.

DL: Which raises the question, if you’re thinking about theatrically – what’s the motive behind this kind of updating, of wanting the piece to map directly onto present circumstances …

W6: with Godot in NOLA, Paul Chan spent a lot of time in that community – it was also about activating those people through the work – just getting an audience to the show was a big thing

CW: Even if it was a NY production that was brought there.

Emilia: I think there’s are an element of hubris to it – “I want to watch a piece about me – that reflects my perspective -”

CW: Or is it simply a desire to see something that you connect with?  for people in the 9th ward, that could be huge –

M2: it also depends on what the audience brings to it – what you project upon this depends on what your own media context is, whether you read the times or watch fox news …

DL: but also, what does a vision of 17th century venice offer to you, really?

Hanny: there was fascism in Venice, doesn’t that mean we ought to be talking about iraq pre-invasion as much as after?

DL: the oft-stated desire for someone to write ‘a decent political play from the pov of the right.’  the updated version is something to make people think that they do something in their own world, but showing them their world in the play.

[Seven Jewish Children @ NYTW – and Geoffrey Scott is in the haus!]

DL: does the requirement for a donation push the play into the area of propapanda?

W8: although I approve of it – I think it is propaganda

GS: there are many ways that Caryl Churchill wanted people to handle this.  we didn’t actually pass around the hat, but provided information – internally there was discomfort within the organization with requiring a donation.

DL: but doesn’t that neutralize the political content?  doesn’t it contain the possible results?

GS: we thought that if you required a donation we would exclude people who disagreed, that it would actually prevent a possible dialogue, by allowing sections of the audience to excuse themselves

DL: can political theatre have any kind of salutary effect without a talk-back?

M4: the play can’t make the decision for me, with regard to action – that has to be up to the audience

DL: doesn’t that set the bar pretty low for art?

M4: but that might be a good thing.  don’t we know what those conversations – about advocacy – are like already?

W1: more people are likely to read an article about one person dying in the Tsunami than one about a thousand people. if something is localized in an individual it’s easier to understand.  I think political theatre has a hard time because it seems like it’s always going for the cause first and the person – the individual stories – second.

DL: that’s a great point to pause on … and we can come back with a couple common responses to that very real problem.

Their Vacant Eyes Will Seek in Vain

The mercenary commander Jaffier [Jeff Beihl] looks down on Venice from the Bell Tower, debating its fate, which he holds in his hands … “Am I permitted to be as insensitive as the sun … I who can see the city that must perish?”

The tone shifts in the room – from exposition and gentle mockery we’ve now settled into a genuine mood of contemplation.  The last words hang in the air … and we shift into another theatrical gear altogether.  Lights come down.  Three actors enter the white playing area, and begin the first full scene … a Venetian Courtesan and two mercenaries.

DL: So … is this scene political?

Woman 1: It’s pitiful. The way you’ve described Simone Weil and her work is all about pity.

CW: I don’t feel sorry for Weil.  She’s got contradictions, but –

W1: How can you step in boiling oil by accident?!

DL: Okay, let’s table that – back to the scene for the moment …

Women 2: I don’t think it’s political – it’s a personal point of view, a story of personal experience.

DL: But doesn’t that come out of a political situation?

W2: I don’t see it – it’s all about her.

DL: Okay, let’s compare it with something else …

Systems and Coherence

GLK: “17th century Venice is a police state, notorious for torture, protected by mercenaries … as this characterization contains more ambiguity than Weil’s other writings, the play resists immediate application as an allegory for the 1940 German invasion of France, and more than this resists any easy application for our own circumstances now …”