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Posts Tagged ‘drama’

Another Bartleby, and Other News

October 23, 2014 | by

Black_Country_–_Borinage

Constantin Meunier, Pays noire (Black Country—Borinage), ca. 1893, oil on canvas.

  • “On a winter’s day in 1482 a scholar had an embarrassing disaster, leaving a blood-red blot of ink on the pristine page of a valuable book. He then compounded his crime by confessing, adding a note in the same red ink still legible after 532 years. On the desecrated page of the Historiae Romanae Decades, printed in Venice in 1470, he wrote: ‘Ita macula’—this stain—‘I stupidly made on the first of December 1482.’ ”
  • On George Whitman, the eccentric founder of Shakespeare and Company: “He could be welcoming. He could be gruff. He could be charismatic. He could be aloof … This was, after all, a man who on occasion expressed himself by throwing books at people, sometimes affectionately, sometimes less so—a love-hate gesture, or so it sounds, not unlike Ignatz Mouse hurling bricks at an eternally besotted Krazy Kat.”
  • Novelists, here is your picaresque, contemporary Bartleby: an Italian coal miner who shirked work for thirty-five years and is now collecting his pension. “I invented everything—amnesia, pains, hemorrhoids, I used to lurch around as if I was drunk. I bumped my thumb on a wall and obviously you can’t work with a swollen thumb … Other times I would rub coal dust into my eyes. I just didn’t like the work—being a miner was not the job for me.”
  • Let’s trade fossil casts: “In the first part of the twentieth century, casts of fossil specimens were key to paleo sciences. Because actual fossils were too valuable and rare to ship to international researchers, casts of fossils circulated in their stead … Paleoanthropologists would offer to trade casts of ‘their’ fossils to other researchers in different areas of the world, who had different looking specimens—the casts became a social currency.”
  • In praise of reading plays: “A great published script makes you understand what the play is, at its heart. Not just what a certain production was like, though it also ought to do a good job of that. It makes you understand how the play feels as a living work of art—how it sounds and behaves inside your head, a mental effort that matters more in reading a play than in reading any other kind of literature.”

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If Looks Could Kill

December 19, 2013 | by

Melville House captions this “vintage bookmobile drama,” and we challenge you to imagine exactly what was going through the brunette’s head. Or, more to the point, why.

vintagebookmobiledrama

 

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Arthur Miller Reads Death of a Salesman, February 1955

May 23, 2012 | by

From the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center’s archives.

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The End of The Date

July 19, 2010 | by

An epilogue.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

10:35 P.M. I spot Amelia and Anne in the crowd walking back to the ferry. Amelia thinks that Stepan Trofimovich must really have been supposed to look like Marx: when he was dying in Varvara Petrovna’s arms, that was nascent Marxism being stifled in the embrace of the serf-based order. Heat lightning flashes above the bay. J. points out the roof of the Merrill Lynch building where he once interned for a twenty-three-year-old investment banker and realized that the corporate world was not for him. We are joined by The New York Post writer, who knows J. from journalism school. She has already submitted her six-inch article via cell phone.

10:45 P.M. Inside the ferry, it’s incredibly hot and stuffy. As in some strange dream, the actors are there too, sitting on benches along the walls. Some of them no longer resemble their characters, while others appear virtually unchanged. Stepan Trofimovich still has a wild black beard and wild white hair. Maybe he was born that way. His presence, I realize, makes me vaguely uneasy—as if part of me fears that he might start coughing and dying again.

10:55 P.M. In the past ten minutes, the ferry hasn’t gotten any less hot, stuffy, or stationary. “Maybe they have to dismantle the set before the boat can start,” J. suggests, producing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

11:00 P.M. “You know what I’m really craving now, is breakfast cereal,” J. remarks.

“Oh, really?” I reply. “I’m craving an enormous glass of Scotch.”

“Well, sure, that would be OK too. But just picture a big bowl of raisin bran, with cold milk. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?”

I give the matter some thought. “It sounds totally irrelevant to my life and problems,” I confess.

11:05 P.M. J. introduces me to the Post reporter. “I saw you in the audience,” she tells me. “You were writing the whole entire time!” I explain that I was taking notes for a minute-by-minute account, designed for the insatiably curious readers of The Paris Review website. “Now I have to go home and write it up,” I say, in tones that came out sounding more despondent than I had intended.

“Next time you shouldn’t take so many notes,” she says. “The more notes you take, the more notes you have to read later. You’re just creating more work for yourself.”

I give this advice some thought. “Thanks for the tip,” I say. Read More »

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My 12-Hour Blind Date: The Play Begins

July 14, 2010 | by

Part two of a four-part review.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

11:05 A.M. The play starts. I’m briefly excited. It’s strange to see Dostoevsky’s weird, garrulous narrator—weird, in the book, because he knows all this stuff he couldn’t possibly know, and narrates in first-person plural (“we”) from the perspective of the townspeople—represented by a slight bearded Italian, who appears playing the piano. He explains that the little piece he is playing is called “Franco-Prussian War,” and that he and his friends use it to cover up the sound of their discussion about freethinking. He’s a good actor and not bad at playing the piano.

11:20 A.M. The exposition is taking forever. The poor narrator. He has to introduce so many characters! First he sets up the friendship between Stepan Trofimovich and Varvara Petrovna (the older characters). Then he has to introduce the circle of freethinkers. There are like eight of them. Then there is the young generation: Stepan Trofimovich’s son, Pyotr, and Varvara Petrovna’s son, Nikolai, and Varvara Petrovna’s ward, Dasha, who is the sister of one of the freethinkers, and then Varvara Petrovna’s friend’s daughter, Liza. Liza and Nikolai and Dasha have been having a love triangle in Switzerland.

11:30 A.M. It’s interesting how important Switzerland is in the novel. You never actually see anything that happens there, but the characters talk about it. That works well in a play.

11:32 A.M. The eight freethinkers are having a reunion at Stepan Trofimovich’s house. They keep greeting each other by name, but it’s impossible to tell them apart, especially since there is a time lag with the supertitles.

11:37 A.M. When will these freethinkers stop reveling? And is the one with glasses Virginsky or Liputin? The narrator is playing an accordion.

11:45 A.M. The one with glasses is Shigalyov. Nikolai comes in. He’s just back from Switzerland. He’s supposed to be this charismatic demonic diabolically handsome character with an empty soul, who ruins everyone’s lives out of his spiritual emptiness. The actor is doing a good job of appearing empty, but that’s it. He looks like a skinny Brad Pitt, complete with the strange beard. I do not find him charismatic.

12:10 A.M. Varvara Petrovna is calling Dasha an idiot. “Crrretina! Crrretina!” she shouts. The seven-year-old girl in the audience is clinging to her mother’s neck and whispering something in her ear, very intently. The LA Times critic sighs and shifts his weight. I wince and try to scoot back in my chair, but collide with the knees of the person behind me (a man wearing shorts), probably causing him acute pain. I feel one with the awesome cycle of life.

12:20 P.M. “Captain Lebyadkin whips his pretty, lame, retarded younger sister,” someone remarks. Now that was an efficient sentence.

12:30 P.M. Stepan Trofimovich doesn’t want to marry Dasha, but the wedding is scheduled for Sunday. “Couldn’t there be a week with no Sunday? Couldn’t God cancel Sunday, just once, to prove to an atheist that he exists?”

I think that was the first funny line. People have been laughing at every other line though. Whenever anyone mentions anything related to theater (like when Varvara Petrovna calls Stepan Trofimovich a “bad actor”), they chuckle knowingly. I find this annoying, even though I know it’s really just a form of politeness. Read More »

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My 12-Hour Blind Date, With Dostoevsky

July 13, 2010 | by

A review in four parts.

Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

9:15 A.M. Sitting in a taxi on the FDR Drive, I wonder how life has brought me to this point. I’m headed for a ferry to take me to a warehouse on Governor’s Island to watch a twelve-hour staging of Dostoevsky’s Demons, in Italian. How life brought me to this point is that I recently wrote a book called The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them ($10.20 on Amazon—I’m just saying), which includes a nonfictional retelling of Dostoevsky’s weirdest novel, The Demons (formerly translated as The Possessed), set in the Stanford comparative literature PhD program, where I was once a graduate student, and where we were all once possessed by a combination of dangerous literary-theoretical ideas and a demonic Nikolai Stavrogin-like classmate.

9:25 A.M. Disembarking at the Maritime Building, I look around for the Lincoln Center publicist, who told me she would be wearing a straw hat. Inconveniently, I forgot my ticket in San Francisco, which is where I live, and where it is currently 6:20 A.M. There are about five hundred women here wearing straw hats. I am both jet-lagged and hung over, having flown in thirty-six hours ago for my college roommate’s wedding. At 4:00 A.M. yesterday morning I was stuck with the bride’s little brother in a broken, vomit-filled elevator in Koreatown, trying to leave a karaoke bar which I believe shared its broken, vomit-filled elevator with a medium-end brothel.

9:27 A.M. Well, the ferry doesn’t actually leave until ten, so I decide I have time for a cigarette. A college-aged Lincoln Center employee in a yellow shirt is holding a yellow sign that says “DEMONS – SLIP 1.” An older man approaches this young person with a paternal chuckle. “That’s excellent, I have to say. Really very good,” he observes. “Thanks,” says the young man with the sign.

9:28 A.M. I have lit a cigarette and am staring at Staten Island, thinking about my problems, when I am approached by a tall, remarkably handsome young man wearing sunglasses, white pants, a polo shirt, trail-runners, and a safari hat. He is carrying a copy of the Times. He asks if I am Elif. I realize that this is my blind date. I had almost forgotten about my blind date! The thing is, a total stranger wrote to me in May, saying that he had bought two of the seven hundred tickets to this coveted performance on the morning they went on sale (“A 12-Hour Play, and Endless Bragging Rights,” read the Times headline), only to discover that none of his friends wanted to join him on Governors Island for a twelve-hour-long performance of The Demons scheduled to coincide with the World Cup finals. So, he thought of me! Needless to say I was enormously flattered, although at that point I already had a ticket from The Paris Review. “Maybe we can hang out on the ferry,” I suggested. After introducing himself (how did he recognize me?), my date announces that his pants have come unbuttoned. “This is not how I wanted to make a first impression,” he observed, buttoning his pants. Read More »

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