The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Portrait of a Miniseries

October 22, 2015 | by

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve lately fallen down some peculiar Bloomsbury Group rabbit hole. And you wouldn’t be wrong. While I was in London last month—and, incidentally, beginning my own marriage—I reread Nigel Nicolson’s classic Portrait of a MarriageHis parents, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, had an enduring relationship and a successful experiment in unconventional coupling: both were more or less openly gay, they lived often parallel lives, and they remained deeply committed to each other. 

It is with unreserved enthusiasm that I recommend you listen to this record of Vita Sackville-West reading aloud her poetry. She wrote “The Land” at the height of her affair with Virginia Woolf. Her voice is mellifluous and deep and of another era. It’s time travel. Read More »

An Inglorious Slop-pail of a Play

September 8, 2015 | by

Alfred Jarry, cruising.

When the French playwright Alfred Jarry—born on this day in 1873—was fifteen, he enjoyed lampooning his physics teacher, a plump, inept man who so amused his students that he became the subject of Jarry’s first attempt at drama, Les Polonais, staged with marionettes when he was still in short pants. Père Heb, as the physics teacher was called in it, had a prominent gut, a retractable ear, and three teeth (stone, iron, and wood). These features by themselves make him a distinctive figure in the history of French drama. But years later, Jarry revived Heb—as all responsible playwrights do with their juvenilia—making him somehow even more ridiculous, even more obese, and putting him at the center of Ubu Roi, a play so contentious that its premiere, in December 1896, was also its closing night. It lives in the annals of drama because it offended almost everyone who saw it. In this, it prefigured modernism, surrealism, Dadaism, and the theater of the absurd. Read More »

The Play’s the Thing

August 26, 2015 | by

From a 1939 Work Projects Administration Poster.

Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.

Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.) Read More »

We Fucked on a Volcano, and Other News

June 30, 2015 | by


Emilie Eisenhut, Vulkanausbruch, 1827, gouache on paper.

  • “One cannot read a book,” Nabokov famously said, “one can only reread it.” That’s pleasant and all—certainly it flatters our sense of elitism, suggesting that “aesthetic appreciation requires exhaustive knowledge only of the best”—but doesn’t it amount to sophistry? “No reader ever really takes complete control of a book—it’s an illusion—and perhaps to expend vast quantities of energy seeking to do so is a form of impoverishment … Is it really wise to renounce all the impressions that a thousand books could bring, all that living, for the wisdom of five or six?”
  • Today in the age of mechanical reproduction: the Smithsonian is 3-D printing prehistoric skulls. They have no intention of trying to pass off the replicas as authentic—they just want to share more of their skulls with the world, and 3-D printing them is the easiest way to do so. “Still, the proliferation of replicas does stand to diminish the value of the real thing. The museums that own the original skulls depend on income from visitors and model making, so the Smithsonian will limit production and keep the skulls’ 3-D ‘blueprints’ to itself.”
  • Great news for poets! Bots have obviated the need for your art. They are, in fact, your art. Condolences. “I was thinking of writing a poem about bots, but that’s already so ten minutes ago, and anyway, some bot has already written that poem. Does it matter? These days people are writing poems about fucking on volcanoes. ‘We fucked on a volcano.’ How does that help? … You can expand the poetic field to include ‘we fucked on a volcano’ or even ‘the whole week we fucked on a volcano,’ and you can expand it to include bots, and so what? It’s bigger now … everything is.”
  • Relatedly: conversations between bots are nearly indistinguishable from Beckett plays. Bots are dramatists, too.
    Z.: Then leave.
    Y.: How did you know?
    Z.: Just leave.
    Y.: You leave.
    Z.: No.
    Y.: Yes.
    Z.: I don’t even know how.
  • New to the Oxford English Dictionary: twerk, intersectionality, staycation, presidentiable, SCOTUS.

Who Does This Alice Think She Is, Anyway? and Other News

June 11, 2015 | by

An illustration by John Tenniel for The Nursery “Alice,” 1890.

  • Alice, of Wonderland fame, has osmosed right on into the culture and found a life of her own; we no longer need to read Lewis Carroll’s books to feel that we know her. But we should read Carroll—there’s a certain amount of drift between his Wonderland and the one we think we understand. “Conversations about what is real, what is possible, and how rubbery the rules that govern such distinctions turn out to be abound in the tales of Alice. Yet they are sold as children’s books, and rightly so. A philosopher will ask how the identity of the self can be preserved amid the ceaseless flux of experience, but a child—especially a child who is growing so fast that she suddenly fills an entire room—will ask more urgently, as Alice does, ‘Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.’ Children, viewed from one angle, are philosophy in motion.”
  • This Saturday marks Yeats’s sesquicentennial, an occasion celebrated easily enough by reading his poems—but why not read his plays, which are always given short shrift among his work? In a way, they anticipated Beckett: “What happens in a Yeats play can be startling. Purgatory, for example, verges on the lurid. Its material is the rough red wine of sex and violence: a woman’s lust for her groom and their son’s murderous determination to extirpate her sin in blood. Yeats’s genius is to distill that red wine into a fine but heady spirit, a short, incredibly potent theatrical essence that goes straight to both the head and the guts.”
  • Since Jerry Seinfeld declared, earlier this week, that he no longer plays college campuses because they’re “too P.C.”—such a taboo-buster, that Seinfeld, with his wry observations!—many have asked if comedy is in jeopardy. They often lean on the same tired rhetoric about laughter’s potential as a “unifying force”; why? “Comedy isn’t supposed to be anything, except what the comedian tries to make it—harmless, mean, political, dirty, dumb. You wouldn’t say that music or fiction are ‘supposed’ to be anything; so why do we saddle all comedy with a curative democratic mission? Too often we view comedy as a craft, a service brought to us by cheerful comfort-workers, more than the work of serious artists. Thus, when they don’t comfort us, we want to complain to the manager.”
  • “I can remember in the Fifties when Goatman would come by, up near Arab, Ala. The first time I ever saw him we were picking cotton in the fields near Arab and he was coming down the road. You could hear him coming a mile away with all the bells and all the pots and pans rattling. People would come by and say, ‘Goatman’s coming! Goatman’s coming!’ We’d all rush to the end of the cotton row to watch Goatman go by.” That’s Ansel Elkins, quoting her father in a new interview about her poems and the South.
  • Chinese publishers routinely censor their translations of Western books—and the West just as routinely greets this news with a small shrug. “As the anecdotal evidence started to accumulate, it became clear that though cuts tended to be surgically precise, they were also extremely common. Only rarely was there outrage. Many were fatigued by the idea of having to police all their overseas editions. With international publishing, they argued, something is always going to get lost in translation. Many had simply decided to not worry about it.”

4: “Here Was the Famous Voice”

March 27, 2015 | by

“A Farce Written in Human Blood,” pp. 70–89


This is the fourth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon—the anthropologist beyond anthropology, the man who until this chapter had been kept behind the margins as if in the wings, behind a curtain. Because his entrance here, now, is a stage entrance—he’s going to give us a performance.

Here we have a party whose entertainment consists of an anthropologist’s lecture costumed as an anthropologist’s debate—with politicians, about politics—in the thickly caked makeup of a play: “A Farce Written in Human Blood: THE DESTRUCTION OF AFRICA ACCELERATED BY HER BENEFACTORS, PRESENT COMPANY NOT EXCEPTED.” The caps are Rush’s. Then there’s this heading: Act II. But where was Act I? Did we miss it? We did. Our unnamed narrator gives us access to Denoon only after he’s finished (verbally) demolishing capitalism (rather, “excoriating the capitalist development mode for Africa”)—socialism is next.

But before we get into Denoon’s “objections to the socialist remedy for Africa,” let’s ask a question: Why did Rush write this section as a drama? Why not as a thoroughgoing narrated scene? Read More »