Tag Archives: Mercenaries

Conspirators in Chains

We see Simone Weil’s vision of torture, the prisoners awaiting torture and certain death in the street …

DL: it’s a fairly classical torture scene –

CW: I’ll say!

[sympathy for knees is raised as a locus of both suffering and politics]

DL: Blasted is the other big hit of last year, along with Black Watch.

W11: how is political theatre different from political theatre?

DL: more importantly, how is the situation of being in a theatre political, period?

[précis of Blasted by Señor Krupp …]

DL: Blasted considers the audience as a mass, as a body – and it considers that classic off-stage dramaturgy isn’t enough.  it’s a different – more adversarial – take on the audience

SS: I liked it, but it didn’t fuck me up.  I spent more time thinking about what a cool thing it was to be pulled off onstage than on the larger political impact

K: (to DL) why do you get frustrated with that response?  why isn’t that a reasonable response to violence?

DL: I have huge questions about – on one hand I think it’s sophomoric, but on the other, Kane had real political aims

W3: I had read it before, and it did fuck me up royally – both seeing it and having it in my head afterwards.  maybe it’s just being sensitized by Tarantino movies, but seeing it on stage does make it much more vivid – it seems like we’re going through it as a culture

MD: I thought it was a tremendous production.  and though it did make the audience aware of their bodies, I don’t think it’s the only play to do that – other plays don’t reduce people to eyeballs.  there’s something that happens in a live space that’s fundamentally different from watching a film

DL: okay, but if you’re shattered by that play, is that what we want?

MD: who’s that “we?”  sarah kane?

DL: but in a play like Blasted there’s a difference stance toward the audience.  is there a difference with regard to that experience than another, less aggressive, less adversarial sort of play? There are a lot of different approaches – a Brechtian one where you want people to think critically, there’s a Blasted one where you leave people shell-shocked – many others – it says a lot about how you think of those people.

W12: now that there’s so much media available to people,  it’s not enough to just put it out there.  there’s a duty to make sure that people see it beyond a limited audience.  people should do what they expect their audience to do.  also, who knows what an audience has been through?

DL: but that’s the Weil thing again – who of us are going to fight in Spain?

W1: what are your responsibilities in showing graphic events on stage, such as rape – especially when there’s a chance there are rape victims in the audience?  but also, I don’t know if you can put the burden of audience interest on the artists – that doesn’t seem entirely fair.

DL: do you have to be an activist or do you have to perform and write?

W7: how often do shows paper the house?  it’s very hard to get anyone to come to the theatre, especially political theatre.

M7: it might be that the job of communicating is less of an issue now – it’s not enough to isolate a cause, because the laundry list of causes seems virtually endless …

PL: but what does theatre do well?  for some of these questions theatre isn’t the right vehicle.  it’s fantastic for conveying an in-body experience, but not for everything else –


These Big Children

DL: I do want to do one more scene before we break – a different kind of scene, which shows a different perspective, that of the perpetrators planning the coup.  We’ve talked a lot about empathy with regard to these other scenes, using that – and character psychology – as an entry point.  This scene turns that impulse somewhat on its head, simply because what we bring to it – ideas about these men, or men like them – is very different …

[Jeff and Jon stride the Bell Tower for the Very Last Time!]

DL: it’s not a scene that needs updating or recostuming … but still, there’s injustice all around us.  We no longer yell at the stage, or yell when we leave … but Jaffier, he’s something of a perfect audience member … he hears about these atrocities, and he steps up to do something.  Which makes me wonder – when we’re in a theatre – if we’re doing enough?

Which is a good place for an intermission.

Radical Empathy

From the corner of my eye, I notice Colleen making the moves to go, while DL is getting to the more interesting connections between Simone and the Doing of Things.

Blasted comes up–David knows the angle to play, to the other “teacher” here, the BlueShirtWoman…He talks about the Weils riding the bus w/o socks (they did leave their shoes on). Do you guys now about Blasted?

JK talks about Blasted, so the theater students can follow.  The switch from a Classical Style to a literalism, as HH Munro would call it, the Schartz-Metterklune Method. Ultra-realism. We can’t stage a Blasted scene here–you can only do it when there is a proscenium, a border of unreality to stage the reality reality. Sarah Kane started to write this violent obscene-scene after tv…

After watching Bosnia on tv? Is vomiting in response as good as giving money? We all must witness what has happened on earth: to turn away is a moral and also an aesthetic failure. Arthaud, Blasted, Kushner. Levels, degrees of poitical theater: different realtionships to bodies and seats!

Bodies and seats. The way I am going to make you learn is by fucking you up, or guiding you quietly, or…?

Or is it about the author’s psychology, offers Kara, which leads us back into an interior space.

In part it depends on the times; casting can be political, too. That any number of things can be politicized.

It is significant that J speaks this. No one comments on this–though he seems to be inviting it.

“I don’t enjoy Sarah Kane.” The difference between radicalization and alienation: we are back to this old argument. Do we really want to activate the citizenry?

Do we?

Are we really back here again?

Am I going to be okay getting down the ladder? Am I drunk? Beer: half gone. On table: beers almost all gone. Lubricant, indeed.

Weil is trying to experience it as REAL-ly as possible.

I should have eaten more than rice crackers…and Colleen is gone from the table! That means this is about to end! Just as we are getting interested!

DL discusses the concept of radical empathy as transcending statehood, and entering into the space of the personal and mystical.

The impact of theater, says MW, Bodies and Seats…the most effective political theater has a certain opacity and poetry. It is about transmitting something beyond distraction, placations, and opiates. Angels in America reached people–that is a political thing.

(How aware am I that all this is going, all this great discussion—and DL has engineered the next level of hierarchy to be sprung upon us. There is Colleen, gearing up for our pleasure, and his–for Art. For the dictates of a form which require a performance to END. The director can encourage us to interrogate the form, to defy it, but he also must enforce its formal properties–he knows it must end, and mush as he shows even his mother to her seat in a courtly way, so he too is seeing us home, to the end of our evening, in a courtly way. Whether anyone is aware ofi t or not, we are being lead just when we most feel we are free to discuss ).

The film Milk vs. the documentary comes up

–you are talking about budget, speaks the Lady Poet. You love Milk. I can’t believe the movie is better than the documentary…despite the fact that it is a confection, a budgetary confection.

How Can We Not Admit to Anything?

The spectacle of mercenaries chained together, awaiting torture and death …

DL: in a retrograde, conventional way it’s a great scene – through basic stage mechanisms, you feel bad for these guys who, earlier, you knew to be killers.  one of the things that theatre has going for it is that you are in the same space, that it’s an atomized experience as opposed to tv – and even negatively, the comment that nothing makes you more ready to scream than something like Impressionism on Broadway.

[the examples of Black Watch and then Blasted, the latter of which is described by Mr. Krupp …]

W8 makes the comparison between the lives and afflictions of Sarah Kane and Simone Weil …

W10: for an American audience, do they know how to do anything other than throw up or give money?  is the problem more with an audience that can’t imagine any other course of action?

DL: if you’re an artist, where do you situate yourself on the spectrum of direct action?

W8: what about theatre that isn’t explicitly political?  what about just art or just dance – what’s the problem with regard to theatre?

DL: when people say political theatre or political art – is it anything more than a marketing ploy?

W1: also, giving money or puking – it’s an ejaculatory vision of response, it seems really limited

MJ: yes, there’s a whole range of reactions that are intensely human that we should allow for – the act of compassion at the end of Blasted, for example

W10: there’s a category of response that’s also not about you or your feelings, but about whether the kid in Bosnia might be able to pull himself together – that the object of your attention is still there, despite your reaction

M1: certainly it can all be an excuse

MJ: or that you tell yourself that merely feeling something is the equivalent of a political act …

You Can’t Protect Them – That’s Fatal

DL: Okay, let’s look at a scene that isn’t historical in this same way – it’s not caught up in these questions of context at all – which maybe allows us to see these issues, and these questions of intention, from a different perspective …

[We watch Renaud & Jaffier on the bell-tower …]

DL: This is a different kind of political – you’re getting straight information, and nor is the policy dated … how do you feel about these guys?  The first two scenes are about victims, and circumstances of victimization.  Here you’ve got policies, advocated by two sympathetic people –

W5: Why do you think they’re sympathetic?

DL: well, they’re not moustache-twiddling.  She does write everyone with an eye to their specific grievance …

JH: Also, knowing they fail lends an air of pathos – it’s more like Scarface

DL: Also, would writing something right-wing, sympathetic to Rumsfeld, would that be more provocative?

JG: But the opposite of liberalism isn’t necessarily conservativism.  As much as I might like to be in a reactionary’s head, I’m not sure that it can’t be posed in other ways.  I mean, lots of plays by liberals present a savage Hobbesian view of things.

DL: Even though I’m not advocating for quantifyiable effects, but if you spread sympathy around too much, can you still advocate for change?

W6/BF: I think it would be more effective if you did spread things around and let people make up their own minds – and you open things up to other constituencies?

EK: What if you fuck up?  What if you present something that’s taken the wrong way?  (e.g. Fritz Lang and “M” …)

M3: But there are a lot of ways to make theatre political – if you want to make political change, you can register voters, not do theatre at all.  Or we could take this down to the projects.  Doing theatre is what makes a culture worth saving.

W1: Is political theatre about making the invisible visible – I mean, taking this to the projects would expose this piece in an entirely new way.

DL: [introducing Jermey Gellert’s New Musuem piece …]

M2:But what’s political about it?  Why couldn’t it be two people from South Carolina?

M5: but you can react to people from SC, but you can’t really react to the Iraqis, if you’re human – you can’t.

DL: Strangely you have more of a reaction to the theatre piece because there’s more room around it.

W1: the interaction is also determined by the museum – to be you can be as active there.  when you’re watching theatre – watching a character – you’re bouncing aro0und within yourself.

DL: But it doesn’t seem like anyone’s mounting a defence of anything like traditional political theatre – being in an auditorium, in the dark –

W1: but doesn’t that depend on what it is?  I would think that all kinds of things can be done that could conceivably be very effective in a traditional performance context.  You totally can do it.

Neo-Cons Shackled Together

An examination of consequences: we see four conspirators in chains, outside the prison, awaiting torture and execution …

In my heart I have borne a secret empire
In this prison, before daybreak, in a moment,
The two hands of an executioner will become my universe

DL: Maybe because suffering is something Weil’s fluent in, she makes these guys symnpathetic in their last moments.  Any sense of vindictiveness you might have seems mitigated by watching them suffer.  This seems like good 20th century dramaturgy, to have complexity in villains.  But does this sympathy undermine the politics?

W2: Shakespeare does it – e.g. RIII – that’s good drama.

DL: But is it good politics?  What does empathizing with the bad guy do?  What do you want out of it/out of your theatre?  Is agitating against an obvious villain more effective?

W5: isn’t this about laws?  isn’t this about the Geneva Convention?  We don’t only engage through empathy – we have ideas, we see here cycles of violence – and since politics is about power, it seems naturally political.

M4: who cares if the text seems political, inherently?  we can all read something into it – what do you as artists get out of it, or how do you want an audience to respond?  all of these themes apply to the greeks as much to brecht.

DL: Fair enough.  And “who cares?” is a really good place for an intermission.

Quaint Ideas

DL: Let’s switch to a different scene.  The dramaturgy here is pretty conventional – it’s about victims, and the stories seem abstract, as if they somehow happened by accident.  But here’s a scene between two perpetrators, where we realize that none of this was an accident at all …

[Jon Krupp as Renaud, Jeff Beihl as Jaffier, strut their rhetorical stuff on the top of the Bell Tower, observing the unities as they expound the mechanics of conquering a city …]

DL: it doesn’t seem to be a sympathy-based scene, but it’s clearly political, in terms of content … so what does it do that the first scenes don’t?  Does it act in a different way?

W1: But why does it have to be political?  It seems like you’re looking for a shred of worth to validate your attention to the play?  It all seems like an apology for paying attention to it in the first place?

DL: Not at all – it’s not about politics validating the play, but more the other way around.  The play offers a lot of different scenes that allow us to ask a lot of different questions about political theatre.  She’s dealing with her circumstances in a way that people are trying to do now, all the time. For example, Renaud’s analysis – is it sound?

W2: Well, if Jaffier is that ignorant about a sack, I don’t know what business he has being in command … but anyway, it does seem like she’s talking about the French experience with regard to the German invasion.

[and here we have a sidebar about the German intentions with regard to sacking France: acquisition of wine, of art, the establishment of Vichy, etc.]

DL: But does this analysis hold beyond 1940?

M3: It also sets up a dichotomy between the perpetrators – one isn’t sure about what to do, while the other is.

DL: description of Public Theatre production of Henry V in the Delecorte, with Liev Schreiber restyled in Iraq – sort of like GWB, sort of not – the whole thing blurring by the end into nonsense.  So what do we have here?  Rumsfeld and Powell – and Powell ends up selling  them out?  Okay … let’s do another scene …