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
Agnes of God by John Pielmeier
111 pages; Nelson Doubleday Inc.; January 1982
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
168 pages; Signet; September 1958
Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello
112 pages; Signet Classics; 1921
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.)
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.