Some inciteful analysis from TPM Cafe on Joe Lieberman's slow motion meltdown.
Discussed Below: Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon (illustrated by John Cassaday).
Astonishing X-Men is a new series title in the X-Men comic book franchise. The title Astonishing X-men has been applied twice before to limited edition X-Men series and is now being reused for an ongoing series of X-Men comics by ultimate-geek Joss Whedon. Whedon, whom you've probably heard of, created the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly as well as the film Serenity and the forthcoming Wonderwoman.
The X-Men are probably Marvel Comics most popular super heros after Spider-Man. They are a superhero team made up of Mutants. Mutants are human beings who have super-powers, and often some kind of deformity. The X-Men are a team of good mutants, who conflictedly (and angstily) defend human beings from all sorts of dangers. The aforementioned conflict and angst comes from the fact that human rutinely try to legally regulate/exterminate/discriminate against the "mutant menace". They were fairly clearly conceived as an allegory for the struggle of african americans to gain civil rights and equality. This is taken further by the fact that the mutants are lead by a Martin Luther King Jr. figure named Professor Charles Xavier, who teaches them to control the powers and use the for good, and the fact that historically, their main enemy has been Magneto, an exaggerated Malcolm X figure (and holocaust survivor) who wishes to win against humans "by any means necessary". Shortly before I stopped reading X-Men, they embraced the fight for gay rights in a very controversial speech given by Prof. X in New York City, in which he linked the fight for Mutant Civil Rights with the fight for gender equality, racial equality, and sexual equality. Many letter writers were not particularly pleased with this. I remember Dave H. and I sitting in my parent's office reading a letter to the editor in which someone wrote that as a black man, he was offended that his fight for civil rights was being linked with a perversion like homosexuality. Intersectionality... we hardly knew ye.
If you really needed that above paragraph to explain who the X-Men are... boy are you in trouble if you try to read Astonishing X-Men. In order to fully understand the graphic novel and what Whedon is doing, you will not only need to know who the X-Men are, you will need to be fairly well versed in them.
Can you define (roughly)/have some vague sense of the following terms from the X-Men universe?: Professor Xavier, Magneto, Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Kitty Pride, Emma Frost, Sentinels, Genosha, Beast, The Danger Room, The Brood, Mutant Apocalypse, Jean Grey, Phoenix. Those are only a handful of the references Whedon makes. One of the rather amazing things that Whedon does is take the rather ridiculously complicated mythology of the X-Men (which involves, if you'll remember correctly, time travel, different dimensions, frequent visits from aliens etc.) and just takes it all as a given. He doesn't over-complicate it, and neither does he try to explain much of it, these characters simply exist in a world where all the over-heated plots of the X-Men have already happened. Wikipedia, helpfully, has definitions for all of the above (I needed a refresher course on the history of Genosha) but it helps if you have some first hand experience with it. And there's one joke in there that you won't get unless you happened to read the six part mini-series in which Wolverine and Kitty Pride go to Japan to confront an old enemy of Wolverine and learn how to be ninja/samurais (I read it. Twice. Thanks, bro). It's also worth noting that Whedon references the rest of the Marvel Universe as well, and cross over characters from other comics (one first tier, one decidedly second) show up in both series collected in AXM. There are also references to other series including The Avengers (although thankfully, not The Defenders) I won't spoil the surprise of who shows up. Sorry.
The specific time period of the X-Men that is referenced the most is the Chris Claremont period. Chris Claremont wrote for The Uncanny X-Men from 1976-1991 and is widely credited as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) superhero comic writer working at Marvel ever. Astonishing is very clearly conceived as picking up where Claremont left off. The lack of mention of, post-Claremont characters is good evidence of this as is the fact that on the inside jacket cover, it mentions that Whedon conceived of the series as a return to Claremont-era greatness.
One this the inside jacket cover doesn't really mention is that the book that collects the first two series of Astonishing X-Men. AXM is not a graphic novel, it is a collection of what is basically like two somewhat-interrelated seasons of a television show. In other words, they aren't the same story. When i read AXM late at night, unable to sleep and too fried for Les Mis, this was rather confusing. I started wondering... where did all that stuff from the first half of this book go? Did he just abandon it? Not only that... but the hardcover book only collects the first two series. A third has already been written and a fourth is underway. As far as I know, the series remains open ended. The book ends with a little teaser ending to keep you reading (it works) and the plots of the first two series aren't so much resolved as... progressed.
And what are those plots? Well. In Series One, Prof. Xavier is nowhere to be seen. The X-Men can contact him, but aren't. He's on sabbatical, actually, from his school for gifted youngsters. In his place are Cyclops, the team leader of the X-Men (I always liked his brother, Havok, more, frankly) and his new girlfriend Emma Frost. Emma Frost, you might remember, used to be evil. Like, totally evil. She's not anymore. Or... is she? Is of course the question that overhangs the entire book. Emma Frost is an extremely powerful telepath who can also turn her skin into diamonds. Anyway... Cyclops decides that teaching isn't enough and it's time to get the X-Men back together.
The X-Men in this book is a team comprised of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Kitty Pride, Wolverine (of course), The Beast and, eventually Colossus (with some assists from Lockheed). It's a tight group. Unmentioned in the book are Nightcrawler, Storm, Rogue and Gambit (didn't Storm die at some point?) as well as lesser-known X-Men like Bishop, Forge, Jubilee and Cable. The younger mutant teams like X-Factor and the New Mutants don't really exist in AXM. Jean Grey is, of course, dead, and this is frequently mentioned as it causes some rifts between Emma and Cyclops. There are some new mutant students who show up, one (quite sad case) named Wing, as well as a bunch of psychic children used in frequently eerie, Kubrickian manner.
The first series in the book is about the X-Men getting back together, only to immediately be faced with two perils-- a mutant vaccine which can turn mutants into normal people (homo superior to homo sapiens) and an alien named Ord from "The Breakworld" who is trying to get rid of all mutants. The way these plots come together is quite clever, and so once again I shall leave it alone. The first series, although it has quite a bit of combat in it, is more of a character driven drama, with a particular section detailing Beast's dilemmas about whether or not to become human really quite touching. Actually, the whole first series is quite emotionally affecting, especially a section dealing with the return of Colossus. I am told that (minus aliens) this first series was fairly completely ripped off to make X-Men 3, which I still haven't seen.
The second series involves The Danger Room gaining consciousness and rebelling, attempting to kill all of the X-Men. It is, essentially, one giant bad-ass, 10 issue long death-match and is thus fucking insane. It's almost as if Whedon, having taken time to establish character and mood, is content to now just show a level of action and violence and danger that you almost weren't sure he was capable of. Interestingly enough, this is the same trick pulled by Michael Mann in Miami Vice who, begins and ends the film with incredible amounts of highly stylized violence, and sticks about an hour to an hour and a half of pure mood and character development in between.
Anxiety of influence time: The two obvious things influencing AXM beyond X-Men comics are Ghost in the Shell and Alan Moore's Watchmen. In fact, series one could be seen as Whedon's riff on Watchmen, while the second one is his riff on Ghost in the Shell (the manga as much as the film).
At this point, you've probably decided whether or not you want to read it, but let us talk about some signature Joss Whedon stuff going on here. First, his characters are (of course) smart-asses, and even Ord of the Breakworld has at least one rather hilarious moment of dopey humor. In fact, one of the odd things about Ord is that he's kinda stupid. He's a total badass, and a bloodthirsty killer... but he is absolutely an idiot. This is one of the oddities of Whedon... he bothers to make his villains complicated. Ord actually turns out to have a fairly compelling reason to want to kill all of the mutants, and turns out to not be very bright. Chiwetel Ejiofor in Serenity is a similarly fascinating (and oddly understandable) villain. The plot progresses slowly, and the plot arcs are long. Said plot-arcs aren't resolved in these first two series... all of the threats in part one are still around (just subdued) and part two introduces some new dangers right at the end.
Back to the smart-ass thing. The odd thing... okay, the problematic thing for me about Whedon is that his characters, no matter who they are, no matter what the setting always have the same sense of humor, namely, Whedon's, a kind of clever wit that is easily summed up in your associations with the word repartee. This has always gotten in the way of my embracing Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Simply put, the hermetically sealed geek fantasy of the show, embodied in the fact that it seems people by characters who all talk exactly the same, keeps me from getting engaged in the characters. Although I can marvel at Whedon's brilliance as a writer and as a plotter (especially), I can never engage on any kind of emotional level with the people who populate Buffy because none of them seem like people. He grew out of this to some extent in Firefly which has the same smart-assedness, but confined to one character (Wash). By confining it to him, it makes it seem more believable, and thus, actually, Wash becomes a beloved character. (This is not to say that Firefly's other characters aren't funny, they are... but in a humor that comes from them instead of the other way around). In X-Men, the Whedon comedy is back, but this time placed into the mouths of characters I already know and love and... frankly... Beast isn't supposed to talk like that.
To what extent do we, the reader, own our myths? Is the above complaint even valid? That I read the X-Men growing up, that it nurtured me through a fairly difficult middle school experience... that it bonded me and my two friends during said time period to each other and functioned as a shield from all the idiots who just didn't get it!... that it was also one of the few things during the same time period that my athletic, popular, bad-ass brother had in common with little theater geek me... that my progressivism can in some ways be traced to the X-Men... does any of this stuff give me the reader to say that the characters wouldn't talk like that? Or is part of respecting the considerable skill (and, I would argue, perhaps genius) of Whedon as a writer is allowing him ownership of, reinvention of these very things I loved as a child? In other words, who is supposed to be compromising with whom on this one?
What makes this even trickier is that Joss Whedon is the ultimate fan. In fact, he's a fan's-fan. If he were a movie... he'd be a Mark Wahlberg vehicle (The wanna be... who got to be). As a result, there is not only a lavish fandom to his writing, but he is also writing to deliberately engage with the already existing and inspire new found lavish fandom. This is both his strength and his achilles heel. He makes the kind of entertainments that people get obsessed with, but that often fail to catch on beyond those people. He, in other words, is a "cult" artist. Here, however, he is engaging with someone else's cult, namely Marvel's, but more specifically, Chris Claremont's, in a way that he hasn't done before. Buffy, Angel and Firefly are all original creations. So he is both expressing his fandom for the series (especially in the interplay of odd references to things like The Brood) and claiming ownership over the very thing he's a fan of. Try unpacking that tricky relationship.
And, although I have devoted a few paragraphs to discussing it... that particular quibble is actually kind of small. Astonishing X-Men is not as good as Firefly but it is still quite an achievement. AXM did a rather amazing job of making me that lonely kid again. Which was the perfect way to embrace it at two in the morning, unable to sleep. There's something both forward looking and nostalgic about it that's difficult to describe. I don't really read superhero comics anymore (other than Super F*ckers by James Kolchalka which, honestly, is about the funniest bit of purileness outside of South Park), so it was rather astonishing to me that the book managed to engage me on the same level of wonderment... or, I suppose, astonishment. That I was worried for the X-Men, and wanted them to succeed, and didn't want the vaccine to work and, in otherwords, somewhat identified with these preposterous creations, just like the younger me... the difficult kid who caused problems at school who sympathized with the X-Men because they were outsiders because they were special, just like I kept telling myself I was.
Went to see Miami Vice last night with Dave H. from RRT, Abe Goldfarb and the lovely Anne (along with, apparently, $25 million worth of other people). Rather than write a review (especially considering there are two spot-on reviews, one from A.O. Scott in the NY Times and one from Dana Stevens in Slate). Instead, let me simply say this:
Do you like the films of Michael Mann? Do you think Heat, The Insider, Manhunter and Collateral are good films? If you like any of those, even if you didn't like all of them... go see Miami Vice. If Mann's films irritate you, for the love of god don't go see this movie. I thought it was awesome (literally) and was actually quite overwhelmed by the film as an aesthetic experience (again: perhaps i can goad Abe into writing more on this point), but if you find Mann's films pompous, turgid, too butch whatever... just stay home. This film ain't gonna convince ya.
I actually will also say that if you happen to be someone who is fairly unfamiliar with Michael Mann... this film might be a good place to start. It has pretty much all of the positive and negative qualities of any of his films on full and glorious display (and may I say, at this point, while I recognize the drawbacks of his films... on some level I just don't care?) plus a newfound kineticism that makes it a little easier to swallow.
Jesus Christ, it's... like... raining anti-semitism around here.
Apparently, when Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving recently, he offerend, apropos of nothing, this bit of wisdom whilst sitting in the back of a patrol car:
"F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world...are you a Jew?"
So... remember when a lot of people were worried about anti-semitism in The Passion of the Christ and the Jew-Baiting that Gibson implemented to sell the film? Perhaps we were on to something, eh?
Oh, and for further fun with anti-semitism... guess what the police did with the arrest report that documented his outburst? The scrubbed it. That's right. Read all about it (including a .pdf of the original, unredacted version) here.
UPDATE: Josh Marshall, of TPM who has been chronicling and dealing with quite a bit of anti-semitism himself of late, has further coverage here, where he notes that while the AP and CNN mention that Gibson is reported to have said some horrible things, won't report what horrible things he is alleged to have said. Let's think about that (along with Abe's note in the comments) shall we?
Finally got to see one of Aszym's plays Food For Fish at the Kraine, and finally got to meet the man himself. Both were great. James Comtois has done a very good job of discussing the play here. So I'll leave it to him rather than plagarizing everything he said about it.
Also... I'm doing a lot of housework this weekend. Not a whole heckuva lotta time to blog. Abe has teased me with a review of Lady In The Water. Hopefully he'll have it posted today!
While I decide what to write about next (and how to write about it) let me offer you this interesting and very readable blogpost about how Ethanol is part of the problem, not part of the solution, to CO2 emissions etc.
About Oliver Ston'e 9/11 movie World Trade Center, of course! I've already written about it's truly shockingly exploitative preview (which I had the distinct non-pleasure of watching prior to a screening of Lady in the Water which Abe, Anne and I went to)... who's comin' with me! i will, sarge! cue the nu-metal inspirational music! ooo, maggie gyllenhaaaaalllll! and the shadow of a plane flying across a building that wasn't built yet! yippee! America saw some stuff that day! these guys saw some other stuff! I think, honestly, nothing bothered me more than its ability to actually emotionally affect me through pure manipulative button-pushing. And no, I am not opposed to using 9/11 as subject matter in any medium. I think it has an unfortunate habit of being an overall negative influence on people's art (I'm told Flight 93 is a glorious exception to this).
Anyway.. As if all that weren't enough, check out this NYTimes article. Turns out the marketing campaign is being waged by the same guys responsible for the Swift Boating of John Kerry! Awesome! And not only that, syndicated stuffed-shirt Cal Thomas says: “[World Trade Center is] one of the greatest pro-American, pro-family, pro-faith, pro-male, flag-waving, God Bless America films you will ever see.”
So let us continue with our chronicle of how anti-semitism turns anti-semites into nonsensical baboons (note the baboon community: I mean no offense. Rock on, my red-assed bretheren!) Today's installment comes from an e-mail writer to Josh Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo website. He quotes the e-mail here (emphasis moi):
The proprietor of a liberal blog on the possibility I may not agree with Juan Cole on what's going on in Lebanon: "For many of us who are not Jewish, you lose us right there. For good. Very transparent. Poof. You - as a commentator - simply cannot post critical comments about Israel and continue normal social relations with your Jewish community. Ergo, you flip."
Now, to briefly try to give the proprietor of the liberal blog a little bit of credit, I think there's some chance that he/she is trying to expose/own up to a mindset rather than state that mindset as legitimate and logical. But it's unclear in the quote. (And let us also set aside that logically this is ridiculous. Invalidating someone's opinion based solely on their ethic or cultural background is prima facie nonsensical. Just as nonsensical as my saying Well, since you're not a Jew you have no right to criticize or even talk about Israel, 'cause you don't know what it's like to be me, dude!)
In the interest of edification, however, let us briefly look at this sentiment and the number of assumptions built in. The first is that Jews have a monolithic attitude towards Israel. Speaking as a non-zionist Jew, who comes from a family of non-zionist Jews, and has a younger brother who is an Orthodox Non-Zionist Jew, the attitudes of Jews in the United States are not monolithic. The attitudes of Jews on television and in other MSM outlets, on the hand, tend to be.
The second assumption is that Jews' primary loyalty is to "Jewish Communities". This idea, that Jews are not part of everyday society, and "keep to themselves" and only worry about other Jews, and serve the needs of Jews above the needs of society... the idea of "divided loyalty" which was publicly fretted about when Joe Lieberman was nominated VP is about as old an anti-semitic myth as there could be. It is also (to wax historical) a way of blaming the victim: confine Jews to living in certain areas (through housing codes etc.) and also confine them to certain industries and jobs (such as money-lending) and then blame them for always living together and handling money.
Third is that Jews don't tolerate dissent. Historically, this is a complete misrepresentation of Jewish culture. Jewish culture is, in some ways, built on the idea of having a multiplicity of opinions. It is because Judaism isn't as thoroughly dogmatic a religion as, say, Catholicism. Much of the scholarship which forms the basis of Jewish theology-- The Midrash-- chronicles debates and questions about various parts of the Bible (I've only read one on Adam & Eve, more thoroughly studied Jews can probably help me out on this one). The Midrash aren't dogmatic edicts of set opinion, however. They're rollicking interpretational debate from Rabbis and their representatives. They read sort of like the minutes of a meeting, and at no point is an interpretation deemed "correct". But to get away from history for a second. I have many Jewish friends who are Zionists. We're still friends. Sometimes we talk and debate about it, but not always. And there are plenty of Zionists who still think what Israel is doing is wrong. Understandable, perhaps. But wrong. Just like there are plenty of Zionists who stood up against the occupation, against the security wall, against the demolition of Palestinian homes. Not all Jews are Zionists. And not all Zionists are Likudniks.
It interests me that I have managed to find in less than a week all of these instances of anti-semitism in various forms (neo-nazis, liberal bloggers, conservative news outlets etc.) without actually trying very hard to find them. It's almost like they've found me. It's not like I'm trawling. Odd And distressing, considering what's going on in the world right now.
Two things which are truly startling. The first is this list of statistics from the DPC highlighitng in grim detail exactly how much of afailure our policy in Iraq is. And the other is this essay (with exegesis here by Glenn Greenwald) by David Frum, major Iraq-war booster, co-author (along with Richard Perle) of a book calling for war with Iran, and (if I remember correctly) former Bush speechwriter/coiner of "axis of evil" in which he (to quote Glenn here): all but admits that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has been a failure, and says that the only realistic goal we can hope to achieve is preventing Iraq from becoming a training ground for Al Qaeda -- a goal which was already achieved, of course, prior to our invasion. Both are worth reading and contemplating. PS: Sorry for the light posting today. More soon!
Don't know if you're interested in seeing a little experiment in collaborative theater, but I will definitely be checking out Untitled Intentional Exercise #1 at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater tonight.
UIE #1 is a collaboration between Australian and American artists, including Australia's "Stuck Pig Squealing", my good friend (and no relation) Oliver Butler and playwright Mac Wellman (!).For a certain other theater blogger's take on the night (he saw it last night) check out Big Media George.
Come check it out, it should be awesome. And if we haven't met before, come up and introduce yourself! I'll be the one with the square head, oversized mouth and sharklike, gaping maw. Untitled Intentional Exercise #1 -- Thursday, July 27th, 8PM.
Performed at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater
The Ontological Theater is located in St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street, New York City
On 2nd Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets
Just a quick note-- Eric Miles Glover weighs in on Pig Farm here. Also received an e-mail reminding me that arts blogger and critic Terry Teachout gave Pig Farm a glowing review, which you can find here.
UPDATE: Terry does us one better by not only linking to us (thanks, Terry!) calling us one of his favorite stagebloggers (right back atcha, Terry!) but also posting his own review of Pig Farm from back when he saw it as a member of the legitimate press.Whatta mensch. Read all about it here.
Went to see History Boys last night. Thought about posting a more in-depth analysis/reaction/review of the show it (in a nutshell-- it's good, but it gets less and less good the more you think about it. The acting and staging are universally excellent) but I wanted to talk about something else today.
I wanted to ask the following question: Why aren't we taking sexual abuse seriously on our stages?
The History Boys is the second mega-smash-hit play in as many years on Broadway that soft-peddles the issue entirely. The other one is, of course, Doubt. As I have a feeling not everyone's with me on this one, let me explain, starting with Doubt.
Doubt is a play that concerns a mystery over whether or not a boy has been raped by a Priest, but uses said potential-rape as a plot device, rather than a subject. Doubt, you see, is about... well... its title. And it is a good play in many ways with lots to recommend about it and, yes, it's good to see a play of idea on Broadway... but... in the end, what sticks in my craw is that the play treats whether or not a person is absolutist and certain in their beliefs or ambiguous and full of doubs as more important than whether or not a child has been raped. The potential-rape is, in some ways, only tangentially related to what is going on in the play. Alison Crogan highlights this in her review of the Australian production of Doubt when she writes
The major topic of discussion will inevitably be whether or not Flynn is guilty of sexual abuse, but in fact that question is irrelevant to Shanley's ends, just as the absent child in the play is a tool for everyone else's moral agonising...At no point does this play expose the molten emotional core of the crime which is at the centre of its plot. It carefully steps around it, concentrating on the moral dilemmas faced by each of the characters. But without any real sense of what's at stake - whether it's Aloysius's unjustified smearing of an innocent man's reputation, or the life-long damage caused by child sexual abuse - Doubt's moral "theme" remains just that: an abstract idea.
I didn't really think hard about this until I read Alison's review. And I think it's striking and worth noting that it was a female reviewer who, out of all the reviews I've read of the play, wrote the one review that was able to pinpoint for me exactly why I felt there was a gaping hole in the center of Shanley's play. (This is yet another argument for more female reviewers in our major publications).
Now with History Boys which presents a teacher named Hector who molests his charges as something completely harmless and even kind of funny. The only act of sexual aggression ever portrayed on stage is a student rather intensely hitting on his new history teacher. The lengths to which Alan Bennett's script goes to excuse and justify the molestation of high school students is rather striking when you look at it. They are over 18 at the time of the start of the play. Hector is old, fat and pathetic. The students find it "funny". One student is disappointed that Hector doesn't go after him, only to be told that he isn't old enough. The only thing he ever does is grope their balls while riding on a motorcycle. One student is so upset at Hector being fired for molesting him that he blackmails the headmaster into taking Hector back. The students are both sexually aggressive and sexually curious, the teachers are neither. The headmaster is giant twat, and the clear villain of the play, while Hector is its complicated hero. One of the students he molests says that it makes Hector a joke. And on and on and on.
Let's pause for a moment and look at this portrait. Honestly, for a moment, does this seem like a realistic portrait (and that's an important question since this is a naturalistic play). A teacher who likes to molest his charges... but only when they're old enough... and he only gropes their balls while riding a motorcycle. I call bullshit on Alan Bennett. This is just bullshit of the highest order. Paired with the aforementioned episode of a student seducing a teacher, the play in some ways feels like one giant explaining away of sexual abuse. The one scene where a female teacher tells Hector that she loves him but he's full of shit and she's disgusted with him is not enough. That is self-serving innoculation on Bennett's part, and it makes it all the more obvious that Bennett was worried that people would have serious objections to his non-portrayal of sexual abuse. People like Hector in real life don't confine themselves to 18 year olds, nor do they confine themselves to cupping bollocks on a motorcycle. And I doubt that teenagers just view it as some kind of grim annoyance, the part of studying with their beloved teacher that is a drag.
If I sound sanctimonious, it is because sexual abuse, particularly (but not exclusively) of female children by male family members and authority figures, is an epidemic in this country. As artists we need to take that epidemic seriously, and not mess around. This is not to say that I advocate simplistic visions or afterschool specials. One of the amazing things about Paula Vogel's How I Learned To Drive is that it takes sexual abuse extremely seriously while not dehumanizing the abuser. It treats it as a complicated subject, and allows for a diverse set of reactions, even allowing for some tenderness while not forgetting to actually , you know, address that there's a kid being sexually abused and that said sexual abuse has real fall-out. Nicky Silver's Pterodactyls deals with child sexual abuse, while still remaining an extremely-dark comedy. It shows the fallout of said abuse, but through the exaggerated lens of a character who has lost all memory of her childhood.
I haven't seen The Color Purple musical on Broadway. I'd be interested to know how the musical deals with Celie's father's abuse of her. But I really wonder why we aren't taking sexual abuse seriosuly on Broadway, and what it'll take to do so. Over to you all in the comments.
UPDATE (V): Our first weigh-in comes from the always exciteable Mr. Excitement. You can read his take on the night (and the show) here. And James Comtois, author of the great Adventures of Nervous-Boy, A Penny Dreadful weighs in here. Ian Hill has a lengthy and personal response to the show here that manages to cover several of the things I cut out of here for brevity's sake! And Joshua James is torn between his desire to like the play and the fact that he didn't real like the play. And Dan Trujillo muses about what happens when theaters don't give their subscribers what they were expecting here. Matt Freeman wants to talk about why this play isn't fining the right audience for it here. (we'll be posting more links here as more takes on the show come in!)
NOTE II: Interested in seeing the show? Well, now you can get discount tickets. Just use the code PFINTE to get 35% off the ticket price! Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org
I first saw Pig Farm in previews, on press night, with a wild audience that really got into the show. They really dug Greg Kotis' absurdist humor and John Rando's farcical staging. I wrote a post the day after saying I hadn't seen a funnier show in years, or enjoyed myself more at the theater in recent memory. So it was with some trepidation that I entered the Laura Pels theater on blogger night.
My concerns were thus: Would I like the show the second time? Would I find it as funny? Was it worth championing as I had? What would the audience's reaction be and how would it shape mine? This last question is very important. I don't know if audience's realize how much their opinion of something is shaped before they even go into the theater. Pig Farm got a very negative review in the New York Times. The impact of that on an audience's (especially a subscription audience's) reaction on a show should not be underestimated. Simply put: the house was set up to dislike the play. Most of the people there were there as subscribers-- fulfilling an obligation, getting their money's worth-- and not people who had thought about the show and chosen to go to it for whatever reasons. So how would their response shape mine? It's hard to laugh if you're the only one in the theater.
Count me relieved then, to say that while audience reaction was decidedly split 50-50, I still had a grand ole time. Did I still find it the most enjoyable night at the theater I had had in years? No. But this is due to (a) having the suprise taken away by seeing it again and (b) not being there on such a rock-n-roll night like the press preview I saw. I still completely recommend seeing it, it's a great show with idiosyncratic writing, skilled performances and finely honed staging.
Pig Farm is about a... well... a pig farm. Tom (John Ellison Conlee) owns the farm with his wife Tina (Katie Finnernan), and staffs the farm with a work-release boy from juvie hall named Tim (Logan Marshall-Green). Tom, Tim and Tina are all preparing for the annual pig count, a day when "the G-men" from the EPA come to count the pigs on the farm. Tom has to submit his own count. If the count is off, he could lose his farm. Once the EPA Agent, Teddy (the always awesome Dennis O'Hare) shows up, utter and complete chaos ensues as the four characters all try to get what they want. Tom wants a successful farm, Tina wants a baby (and doesn't seem to care who the father is), Tim wants Tina and his freedom and Teddy... well, who knows what Teddy wants.
That's about all the plot I'm willing to give you, as the antics that ensue are both surprising and somewhat incidental. The play's main purpose is to get you to laugh and enjoy yourself, and it accomplishes this with skill while not being cheap. Playwright Greg Kotis' wit and subtle subversion seem to know no bounds-- he is doing a parodic take on the typical subscriber show (of the Steinbeck/Inge variety) while mocking both big government liberalism and anti-government conservatism. He mocks the big city and the little farm country. And he does all of it through a sense of humor whose closest three comparisons I can find are Ionesco, Nicky Silver and Richard Maxwell.
Kotis' humor builds slowly through the creation of running gags. In fact, most of the text is in some way a running gag-- characters repeat the same phrases in changing contexts constantly, they'll repeat a phrase inserting "goddamn" in it, all the characters (and all the offstage characters) have names that begin with T etc. This means as an audience member you have to have some faith in the show, as it builds slowly to a point where the pot is at a rolling boil and the water is overflowing and you catch yourself laughing ridiculously hard. And he's not afraid to throw in some slapstick as well.
Rando's staging and the cast's performances underscore this. Although Denis O'Hare probably does the most comedic schtick over the course of the play, the play firmly belongs to Finnernan and Conlee. Conlee is quite the charismatic presense on stage-- large and shockingly graceful, with, as one audience member put it that night "totally awesome hair and beard"-- and he's able to play Kotis' pretzel-monologues as if they made perfect sense. Katie Finnernan easily matches up with him, able to play both the comedy and the pathos of the largely ignored but universally desired Tina. Logan Marshall-Green doesn't quite match up over the course of the show-- he overreaches at times, and isn't quite able to constanty relax into the constantly-high-stakes, ironic way of playing the text. He also doesn't appear sixteen for a minute, largely due to his low baritone voice.
Like I said, this second performance did not quite measure up to what I loved about the first. It seemed a slightly-low-energy show, paired with an unsupportive audience who did the cast no favors. That being said, I still really enjoyed myself and heartily recommend it. Is Pig Farm deep? No. But it's a ton of fun.
Also, apropos of nothing, I just wanted to quickly say that while we do bitch a lot about the Big Three Theaters in NYC, Roundabout did present two world premiers by not particularly well known playwrights this season. One was Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade and the other is Pig Farm. I count Kotis as not particularly well known because, although Urinetown was a big, Tony-award-winning deal, Pig Farm is a lot closer to what he normally does. They also put up the money and got the start power involved to mount a rather large-scale reimagining of Threepenny Opera. I didn't see Mr. Marmalade and I hated Threepenny, but it's just worth noticing that perhaps the picture is a little more complicated than we would like to think.
Oh, and also, real quick, to address that NY Times review (sorry, I couldn't help myself). The way you can tell very quickly that Isherwood either really doesn't know what he's talking about, is an obsessive anglophile, or just took such a dismissive attitude towards the play that he didn't really bother to watch it, is that he compares Pig Farm to the oevre of Martin McDonagh. Extensively. He even writes "Whether Mr. Kotis intends 'Pig Farm' to be a parody of Mr. McDonagh's distinctive oeuvre is not entirely clear, actually". Pig Farm has absolutely nothing to do with the works of McDonagh. It comes from a rich, quite American tradition of the rural potboiler, connected to plays like Buried Child and books like The Grapes of Wrath. It is a parody of, or riff on, lyical rural-American realism. The only thing it really shares with McDonagh's work is that it is tres violent. But the two authors have completely different sensibilities. So, I guess what I'm saying here is, I don't think that review is a particularly good way to judge whether or not you want to see the show. There are other reviews-- positive and negative-- that manage to engage with the material, and you should check those out.
Pig Farm, written by Greg Kotis, directed by John Rando, plays at the Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th St. For tickets, just use the code PFINTE to get 35% off the ticket price. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org
Still don't believe anti-semitism is all around us? Read this little article from Religious Right outfit Agape Press (h/t John) about Democrats unease with religion. There's a lot of problems with this article. For one thing, it seeks to equate real Christian faith with being anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion and anti-stem cell research, as opposed to beig open to the real panoply of Christian faiths we have today.
But the along comes a section about Senator Chuck Schumer, who called people trying to enforce a stem-cell research ban "theocrats". Strong language (and I applaud him for it, I might add). Here's what Bill Fancher and Jody Brown have to say about Schmer (emphasis mine):
"Charles Schumer... has come under fire for remarks he made during a bioethics debate last week. Schumer, who was born into a Jewish family, chastised people of all faiths who opposed embryonic stem-cell research (ESCR), calling them "theocrats" and saying it is un-American to try and push their views on the issue."
You see... the people who want to stop the Christian Right... they're bad Jews. And they hate Christianity and Christians. Know how you can tell? Because they're decended from the people who killed Jesus. (Oh, and to any anti-semites who might be reading this... that was sarcasm, not a confession).
So here's a question, reader... this is my third post on anti-semitism in like three days. Very little comments action on these posts. Can I ask... does the subject not interest you? do you think I'm over reacting? Would you rather not talk about it? What's going on, dear reader?
Whew... long title, short chapter!
And that long title is... To Entrust Is Sometimes To Abandon
This is the shortest section (thus far) of the book. But a mere eleven pages! Victor, how concise of you!
Anyone familiar with the musical will know this section (I believe..it's been awhile) as the part where Fantine sings On My Own and then gives her daughter Cossette (And some money) to two seemingly-kindly innkeepers. This is one moment when I am sad that I know the plot of this book, because obviously the fact that the innkeepers (The Thernadiers) are absolute scoundrels is meant to be a surprise.
Quickly, the plot: Fantine is going to the city of M______ Sur M_______. The problem is that she has a small illegitimate c____ as a result of all that f______ she was doing with that rich d_____b__ in the last section. Rather than bring the child with her, as it would cause some scandal, and really she isn't in a place to take care of her, she find a kindly woman who is playing with her own children (Mrs. Thernadier) and drops Cossette off with her, with a promise to pay a monthly stipend of seven francs.
No sooner does Fantine disappear on her way to M_____ Sur M_____, but we hear Mr. Thernadier compare his own children to a mousetrap. For the money that Fantine gives the Thernadiers with Cossette will also pay off his debts. For you see, he is a not-particularly-successful scoundrel and inn-keeper.
There's not much more to say about this section other than (a) the "master of the house" is not nearly as charming (thus far) as B'way would lead you to believe and (b) Hugo blames his skullduggery entirely on his class status. Or rather, on his lack of class status. For you see, the Thernadiers are neither lower nor middle class. They belong to that group that, either through rising from one or falling from the other, is stuck in between. How this makes the Thernadier's depraved, I'm not sure. Or perhaps Hugo is saying only the amoral end up like this!. Either way, it puzzles. I shall try to re-read the section and see if I can make heads or tails of it.
And Mrs. Thernadier! She loves her own children, and hates Cossette. Hugo wryly remarks on how lucky the Thernadier children are that Cossette came along because now all negative impulses of the mother can be taken out on her instead of on the biological kids. Cossette's clothes are pawned to pay off more debts, and she dresses in rags and eats with the pets under the table. No castles on clouds. Yet. Thank god.
Okay, that's it on these eleven pages. The next section takes us to what's happened in the meatime with J___ V__J____ who just happens to live in the city of M_____ Sur M_____ where F______e is w______ing to as I w_____ this blog po_t!
PS: Anyone with more 19th century literature experience: what is the blanking out of place names about?
Sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the Gods and say Thanks, universe, for your bizarre coincidences.
No sooner had I written a post highlighting some incoherent ranting from Bill O'Reily about evil Jewish Leftists who want to destroy America but I get an e-mail from a reader alerting me to some anti-semetic ramblings on a Wagner Google Group. Now, I know what you're thinking... what's so special about anti-semitism on a Wagner Google Group? Wouldn't that be like flypaper for Anti-Semites?
Well, dear reader... I highlight it because the subject of the incoherent rant is none other than this blog.
I know, WTF, right?
In 2005, George asked some questions of directors on his blog. I responded by treating the questions as an itnerview and answering them. One of the assertions (that the text is one of the many parts in a finished object called the Play, and that the text serves the Play as much as the director does) lead another blogger named AC Douglas to take rather public issue with how I view the director-writer-everything-else relationship in a post that was... um... sharply worded. In response to this, my frequent guest-blogger (and very close friend) Abe Goldfarb wrote a rather long (and... um... sharply worded) "review" of AC Douglas' website and tastes.
Here, however, is Wagner lover and anti-semite Claire McIntosh's take on the whole dustup:
This Blog article from 2005 illustrates the Jewish debasing of white European culture, and is also amusing as you have one pushy and obnoxious Jew - A.C. Douglas - advocating "tradition" in opera stagings, and another - Abe Goldfarb - furious over the idea that Jews should trash goy culture at every opportunity. It's Jew vs. Jew. And very nasty and personal. Very instructive!
Now... I've reread both ACD's and Abe's posts on the issue... and I don't understand for the life of me what she's talking about. I think, after having reread this several times and talked to Abe about it that what she is saying is that ACD is debasing white European culture by arguing against (presumably Goyish) re-interpretation of the classics while Abe Goldfarb is yelling at ACD for being a knee-jerk anti-Christian zealot. There are a number of things wrong with this (for one thing... how does she know that ACD is Jewish? I don't know if he's Jewish or not. I mean, Abe's name might as well be Jewbraham Jewfarb... but ACD?). For another thing... what in the Sam Hell is she talking about here? It actually just makes no sense.
Another interpretation is that she thinks that ACD is debasing a Christian theater director, and Abe is rising to the defense of said Christian Director. The director in this instance would be... well... me.
I hate to break your heart, Claire. But I'm a big ole Jew. My mom's Jewish. My dad's a Christian Scientist. I have a big hooked nose and curly hair. I'm proud to be a Jew. And an atheist, BTW. Christian Scientists, BTW, were (along with Jews) put to death during the Holocaust. Of course, as I found out after doing a little hunting you (predictably) don't believe that that particular event actually happened despite overwhelming documentary evidence that it did.
This is one of the few times that I've had up close and personal experience with overt anti-semitism in my life. The other big one involved my life being threatened in a bodega by a rather large Puerto Rican man explicitly because I am a Jew. Anti-semitism in its more covert forms, permeates our society, from the Good Jews/Bad Jews example I brought up earlier this week, to the lack of portrayals of working class Jews anywhere in the popular imagination to many and various other sundry examples.
But what fascinates me about Claire and Bill's Excellent Jewbashing Adventure is that anti-semitism seems to turn people in ranting gibbering chimpanzees. Claire's diagnosis of Abe and ACD's argument not only has nothing to do with what they were talking about, it also makes no sense. Bill O'Reilly's comment that:
You got a lot of Jewish liberals, a lot of Jewish far-left people, who basically feel that, you know, you don't have a right to go after terrorists because it's our fault, the United States' fault. And some say it's Israel's fault because we've been mean to them, therefore they have a right to do whatever they want -- behead people on camera, all this terrible stuff. OK? That's a far-left position.
is similarly nonsensical. Now it's a transcript of something said live, not written down, but parse "some say it's Israel's fault because we've been mean to them, therefore they have a right to do whatever they want--behead people on camera, all this terrible stuff. Ok? That's a far-left position" for me. Please. The best I can make of it to translate is this: "Some far-Left Jews argue that everything bad that happens to Israel is Israel's fault because we-- and here I mean Israel and the United States, because their interests are in fact so totally aligned that Israel might as well be the 51st state-- we have done some bad things to Arabs. Therefore Arabs have the right to behead people on camera and do terrible things to them."
I don't know of a single person who doesn't work for a terrorist organization who would ever make this argument. I certainly don't know any Jews who would make this argument. And I know some Far-Left Jews! I even know a couple of Communists who hate America and all it stands for! (Note to The Department of Homeland Security-- I do know a couple of communists, but the hate America part was a joke).
Anywho... Back to being a big ole Jew... I just want to put the snark half of my brain down for a moment and really seriously address this. Over the past few years, I have become much more cognizant of my Jewishness and of what that means. What it means to be a Jew in this country. In this world. What it means to be less than a century away from an organized slaughter of my people that came a lot closer to succeeding that I would like. And that was only like the latest in a long line of organized slaughters of Jews. What it means to have certain assumptions made about me the moment I enter a room, working on some kind of subliminal level, simply because I'm a Jew. Learning how to play the look, I'll make adorable self-depricating jokes like Jon Stewart does and you'll learn to love me game.
When I see things like Claire McIntosh's writing in the Wagner news group, I feel a need to respond. In the holocaust denying post that I linked to earlier, she posts a number of "facts" that support her racist worldview, along with the sentiment that since no one will respond to these "Facts" and instead wants to supress them thye must be true, I thought... well, I'll respond to them. I even had a post in my head where I did. Where I geared up for that fight, going one by one and debunking what she said.
I still might post it, but I realized that there isn't a thing in the world I could say that would convince her. I'd be doing it for my benefit, for the benefit of my readers, as practice for dealing with anti-semitism (and racism... she has some fun "facts" about african americans up there too) etc. But for now that just feels like a manifestation of my rage and heartbreak that sentiments like hers still exist in the world. And that rage and heartbreak is itself a manifestation of how powerless I feel to really do much about it other than live my life, and hope the next time I'm in bodega and someone wants to kill me for being a Jew, I get out of there alive.