What sort of friend are you: four Monday drama reviews

I should have said to him, you’re supposed to be my friend, what sort of friend are you, Serge, if you don’t think your friends are special? — ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza

‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
80 pages; Faber and Faber; March 1997
Play

Agnes of God by John Pielmeier
111 pages; Nelson Doubleday Inc.; January 1982
Play

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
168 pages; Signet; September 1958
Play

Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello
112 pages; Signet Classics; 1921
Play

Have you seen those lists going around Facebook? The ones where you can click on how many of the top 100 movies you’ve seen, or top 100 candies you’ve eaten, or whatever the hell, and see how your score compares with your friends? (Well, you can see how your score compares with your friends if you share them on Facebook, which I never do, because I think that’s spammy. I’m weird about what I post on Facebook. Don’t ask.)

The other day, one of my theater friends posted this, which was pertinent to my interests. You’d think I’d seen/read/worked on a lot of these plays, right? I’ve worked in theater since I was 13 on and off; I majored in theater; I was an artistic director at a theater; I review theater for the paper. I’m like a theater DYNAMO. So how many had I seen/read/worked on?

53. FIFTY-THREE! Out of a HUNDRED! Total travesty. I was the reddest of face. So I decided, how better to end the year than with catching up with some plays? If for no other reason than to up that totally shameful number from 53? My word, 53, that’s the worst.

I read four in very quick succession. That’s what I love about reading plays; you can knock one out in an hour or so. (I like watching them better; I always like watching a play better than reading one. But reading is second-best, and second-best is nothing to scoff at.) I chose from all over the place; from almost 100 years ago to very recent work.

Six Characters in Search of an Author is something I’ve heard about, of course, but never read. (It’s an absurdist play; I’m not a fan of such things. I tend to avoid them.) It wasn’t as bad as I’d worried it would be for all this time, but I wasn’t in love. I was impressed with how forward-thinking it was for a play written in 1921, however. A theater group is rehearsing a play and six people walk in from the street; they say they’re characters from an unfinished work looking for an author to finish their story. They win over the manager of the group with their story and his actors begin to perform the characters’ story on the stage. (The story is actually very racy; I can only imagine that it was quite scandalous in 1921. Prostitution, incest, and death!) Overall, though, I really like to connect to characters in a play, and this wasn’t that type of play; although I liked the idea, and admired the mind behind it, it wasn’t my thing.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I KNOW! How have I not read this? Or seen the movie? Or seen a production of it? I love Tennessee Williams! Like, kind of passionately! I was totally glad I finally read this. It was typical Williams – all the smoldering passion, all the repressed homosexuality, all the misogyny, all the steamy southern locales, all the drinking, all the scanty clothing, all the sweatiness, all the mommy issues. I need to find the movie and watch a young Paul Newman and a young Elizabeth Taylor as Brick and Maggie the Cat. Lots of issues in this one; lots of deep things to think about and chew on. Highly approve. This made me happy. (Yes, a totally dark, depressing, twisty play made me happy. You can NOT be surprised about this.)

I KNOW. Worst cover ever. I couldn’t find a better photo. Sorry, world!

Agnes of God was something I thought I read in college, but I realized I hadn’t. It was actually quite good. I was worried it would be very “OMG NUNS GONE WILD” but it was a little more Mariette in Ecstasy than that, so I was pleased. (If you haven’t read Mariette in Ecstasy, I totally recommend it. It’s fantastic.) A young nun is found passed out in her room, having just given birth; a dead baby is in her wastebasket. No one in the convent knew she was pregnant; no one knows what happened to the baby; no one knows who the baby’s father could be. Agnes is sent to a psychiatrist to find out what truly happened; when the psychiatrist meets with the Mother Superior, she finds out that the Mother Superior thinks Agnes might be touched by God – and the psychiatrist is very devoutly (no pun intended) athiest. Another play with a lot of big ideas; I think if it’d been written now, instead of thirty years ago, it might have gone a little further and been a little more hard-hitting. I liked it, though. I can see why it was scandalous. (Totally banned by the Pope, you guys! Whoo!)

Finally, ‘Art’. (I don’t know about the quotes, either. They’re in the title. I assume because the art in question in the play is dubious art, therefore making the quotes ironic?) I like Reza; I saw her God of Carnage a couple of years ago and was blown away. She writes very dark, very heavy pieces. ‘Art’ is about a man who buys a very expensive piece of art; it’s all-white, with some vague diagonal lines on it. His two best friends react in in ways he was not expecting to the purchase. The play is as much about their reaction and the nature of friendship as it is about the nature of art and our reaction to that. It’s deep, and it’s intelligent, and it’s a little painful to read, at times, and I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as I loved God of Carnage. (Although I liked the insight into male friendship; I find the dynamics of friendship fascinating.)

My favorite of these: probably Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (I do love me some Williams.) None were at all bad, though.

Excellent drama experiment. So. A., how many of the plays on that list have YOU seen/read/performed in, and B., have you any interest in reading any that you haven’t? Or would you rather watch them than read them? I’m honestly curious.

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16 comments

  1. Charleen

    “Yes, a totally dark, depressing, twisty play made me happy. You can NOT be surprised about this.”

    Not in the slightest.

    Umm… my score is 7. My high school performed The Importance of Being Ernest, Noises Off, and Taming of the Shrew. I took a Shakespeare class in college and studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, and Richard III. And then I counted Romeo & Juliet because it’s the only one from high school English class I actually remember (because, duh, it’s Romeo & Juliet). Counting other stuff from high school lit would probably push me to about ten, but… considering I can barely remember which ones we studied and which ones I just have vague general knowledge of, I probably shouldn’t count them.

    Also, Amadeus isn’t just a movie?

    • Charleen

      Oh! I realized I never answered your question about watching vs reading… I’d much rather watch a play. Having the actors’ performances instead of just the words makes all the difference to me.

      • lucysfootball

        I agree. If I have no choice but read, so be it…or if I’ve watched it, and loved the language, I’ll read it…but given the option, I’d rather watch. I love the nuances of the performances and watching it come to life in front of me.

    • lucysfootball

      Ha! Knew I wasn’t fooling anyone. Dark and twisty is my favorite.

      Amadeus is a wonderful play. Even better than the movie. Much more subtle. (I love the movie, don’t get me wrong, but the play is really brilliant.)

  2. becomingcliche

    I can’t open the list, but I think it’s because the universe is telling me I’ve probably read two of them. I’m not so good at the play-reading. Which is weird because I spent years doing the play-acting. I would maybe like to do a “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” watch-along sometime. I am sadly ignorant when it comes to plays. Sadly.

    • lucysfootball

      It’s not sad! A lot of people haven’t read plays. They’re not a common thing to read, I find. (They’re almost always checked into the library when I look for them!) Have you seen Brando’s “Streetcar?” If not, I highly recommend it. He’s amazing in that. (And so pretty!)

        • lucysfootball

          Oh, it’s a brilliant play, and that’s such an amazing movie version. Brando was made for that part. And it has Vivian Leigh from Gone with the Wind. And so many huge issues to chew on while watching…alcoholism, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, homosexuality, rape…I could go on, but I won’t. I think you’d really enjoy it. It’s deep and intelligent and oh, is Brando pretty. Sigh sigh sigh.

  3. cynthiaw

    36 – and I counted movies because WTF?

    And, I would totally rather watch than read plays. And, actually, sometimes I like the movie better. For example – HAMLET – they cut a lot of the boring stuff out of the movies.

    • lucysfootball

      I had a couple of theater friends in the 80s and 90s on that list. Sigh. Envy.

      I like to watch film versions of things, to see what they do with them. I loved the version of Hamlet with Patrick Stewart and David Tennant. I found that brilliant.

  4. earthandink

    Twenty-four! That’s terrible. Of course, if they included musicals. Well. I would kick ass on a musicals list.

    Saw Angels in America first run (looked up dates, hmm.. Now I question the first run thing … however, the rest of this is accurate) It was very, very long. Good. But omg, so long. So that one was memorable.

    I like Tennessee. I was okay with Agnes. (The cover made me go aww, Samuel French’s … because I like their store. Aww.)

    I think I would like ‘Art’. Six characters …. mmmm, probably not. You have to be really, really, really a talented genius for me to like that sort of thing. But I did like the quote.

    Fun. What really concerns me, though, is that Rory Gilmore is better read than I am: http://www.listchallenges.com/rory-gilmore-reading-challenge

      • lucysfootball

        I would have said that, too, when I was younger. I think now I’m torn between seeing it in the audience and working on it from the light booth; then you get to watch it every night, and you get to watch it evolve over the run of the show (or, I suppose, DEvolve, depending on the show and the actors!)

    • lucysfootball

      I read Angels, but haven’t seen it. I always seem to come to town just as it’s closed. It’s weird. I miss it by weeks.

      Reza is wonderful, and a quick read – I do think you’d like her. I’d give Six Characters a miss. It’s a classic, and I get why, but it left me kind of cold.

      I can’t even get through that Gilmore challenge. I got about halfway, and I’d read about half of those books. I’ll just comfort myself with the fact I never watched that show, and she was fictional. Yeah, that’s it. Fictional.

    • lucysfootball

      Thank you! He really is. I’ve loved everything of his that I’ve read or seen. He had such a mastery of the language and of subtlety – he was writing about such touchy subjects in a time when that was such a taboo, and he did that with such a deft hand.

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