Tuesday, July 19, 2016

humanity, my apologies, my generation accidentally set democracy on fire

They broke the unions a long time ago, or the unions broke themselves. Courts are for the rich now, and police are militarized against free speech. Sixty five million of us are homeless, made so by wars and oppression. Bombing is endless. The sky needs to be cleaned and we put money in bombs. Humans are hungry and cold and overworked and bewitched by screens into a deliriously fast-paced consumerism, where we make ourselves consumer products with makeup. We make our homes consumer products. We feel we are nearly powerless against these forces.

We have done it.

We have killed democracy.

We deserve Trump. Because what did the educated and wealthy, the intellectuals of my generation? What have we done? Served our own wealth and no higher ideal than that. Served our own families. We have perfect lives inside our secure homes.

And if you don't feel guilty, great, I don't think guilt really accomplishes anything, I am not looking for remorse, we must be relentlessly forward looking now.  But you have to admit I am completely right about some things. 

Our children must leave our homes and go out into the world. We have been horribly neglectful of democracy, of the integrity of our own souls, the needs of the world. We ignored our freedoms and let capitalism erode the time we had to think about these things. We let corporations steal way too much of our humanity. Our dignity. And we worship money. We let Trump happen. We let May happen. We let Brexit happen. We let that damned Trident vote today happen.

Wake up. The camps in Calais and Dunkirk are camps that will shame us as bystanders  - across the globe - for the length of history. No one knows because the press aren’t interested (shame on the BBC) but the volunteers return from the camps with horrible stories of people going missing, of children missing, of deliberately set fires. We have no idea what is really going on. I can’t shut up about the camps. They are everything.

Borders and militarized police and immigration quotas and walls and bans – these are coming and we all lose power and freedom. I am at the Thomas Paine level. I think we all need to be. “When my country was set on fire about my ears, it was time to stir. It was time for every man to stir”

Two years ago I was writing the playwright notes for Bill Clinton Hercules.

Look to the world stage. A storm is coming. Governments collapse. Cities fall into desolation. Facism looms in Europe. A Taliban rises in America, armed with corporate religious beliefs out of the reach of the rule of law.

First point, I have seen this coming for a while you dorks. It’s worse than you are letting yourselves believe.

Second, I painted Bill as the guy who could pull us out of this tailspin. But it’s you. I made Clinton his best self but you can see me too, Rachel weeping for her children, and I am just like you. The play is a sort of duet about peace and freedom between the playwright and the character. What is your best self? Let me give you a hint: the heroism of Hercules is your heroism. You are like Bill Clinton who is like Hercules started: a human with a mother.  You reading this right now.

Why don’t you and I put something in place as Trump finishes off the rickety dysfunctional system?  

Let’s make a plan.

And if these great revolutionary figures of the past could do it, we have to be able to do it.  In the end they are people who rise to greatness. We need people to rise to greatness who are filled with virtue, willing to execute a new plan. Trump is our tax on tea, isn’t he?

I see a shadow – I see darkness spread and perhaps darker days are coming before we get out of this mess – but I am already looking ahead to the light that comes after this darkness. I am looking ahead to ways to push the light forward. The absence of wars. The cleaning of the sky. Hillary will get my vote- but when she loses? What happens to us then?

It’s time for this generation to vindicate ourselves.

I think we should be like Hercules and go to the Oracle to get some answers. We are in a plague of violence worse than frogs. There is blood in the streets. So close your eyes like Justice is blindfolded and try to get some clarity on the big picture with some prayer and meditiation. It’s hard with all the on-screen interruptions but more than ever we need quiet contemplation. We need to pray. Let’s ask all our allies to help: natural or supernatural, fictional or real. Pray to your God for a miracle. Or ask an angel if you know any. Implore them, beseech them, bring the whole world to God in prayer, confess your sins, find the revolution inside yourself.  Believe ee cummings when he says that miracles are to come. TO COME.

Ask God for peace and justice in the world. And then forsake war and money.

Don’t sign a petition. Don’t write your MP/Congressman. Believe me they don’t know what to do. This Trident vote continues the inarguable and overwhelming evidence that the entire government in the UK is simply not fit for purpose.

And every rich government that refuses the refugees it has created is not fit for purpose.

And every government that does not put the health of the earth for future generations first is not fit for purpose.

The problems of the Earth are all of our problems. And what allegiance do you even feel to the hollow shells of Congress and Whitehall?


Time for a new plan. Let’s start by asking for more light. Ask the world for some healing. Ask the world for more light. Ask your Goddess, your Earth, your Nirvana, Jesus, Prince, yourself, the higher power in AA, a Steak & Honour burger, whatever you believe in, look for great things. Ask for great things. Ask for peace. Ask God to bring peace.  Want it. Start by visualizing the kind of world you want. Imagine.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Congratulations on the Gooseberry Fool, Shame about the Jury Trials

To read my second piece in The American click here

To hear the lovely Saturday Live BBC interview, click here - I start spouting off around 1:09.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Reviews

So the woman who played Daughter in Wedding at Cana is a NY actorine named Jenny Scheffer Stevens. She is a hardworking powerhouse and did so much with Lisa's and my script. Truly impressive. She was just in other play in NY, Animals Out of Paper. It got this incredible two-page spread in the NY Times, with like four pictures of her. She posted on FB that she hoped it was good, she wouldn't be reading it. I messaged her immediately. How can you not read a two page spread in the NY Times about a play you are in, I demanded.

 Good reviews hurt my performance and poor reviews hurt my feelings, she said, and these are dangers.  Wow. So I wrote to my Kerching dramaturg Jason Kuller and he sent me these great Woody Allen quotes arguing brilliantly that reading reviews had no upside, so it was a waste of time.

This inspired me to forgo reading reviews of Bill Clinton Hercules in London on the same theory.  I did not read any reviews until the reviews started coming out. I have zero will power.

The first three were four star and glowing. Then I read a bad review at 6:30 a.m. this morning. The reviewer called the show sappy.

And it is true there are a few real Jimmy Stewart/Elwood Dowd moments in the script: "Jimmy Carter taught me to uphold the Constitution; uphold the rule of law. But all that seems old-fashioned now."

But sappy? What is going on?

My friend the playwright Callie Kimball said that she just didn't take reviews seriously. If you take the good ones seriously, she explained, you have to take the bad ones seriously. So just don't do it.

In truth my faith in reviewers has been shaken - not in reviews of my plays but the fact that I have met them and spoken to them. Given them ibuprofen to ease their crippling hangovers at Chekov or Kane. Inquired if they were old enough to vote at Ravenhill and Greig.

Even so, it is hard to take Callie's advice to heart. Where I come from, all criticism is true and all praise is misguided. So why is it true? Why would it be true that the play was sappy? I suspect the high-mindedness engenders this idea that the play is sappy. The whole play is centered on Seamus Heaney's line from Cure at Troy: History says do not hope this side of the grave. But once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.

These ideas of hope and justice -  people think they are sappy now. When Occupy was happening, and I tweeted about virtues like hope and justice, I would often be accused of saying things that don't mean anything. Hope and justice - meaningless concepts; non-words.  But those words have exactly as much energy and truth as we give them.  Thinking about how to have hope and how to achieve justice are the most important tasks before us, and it wouldn't hurt to go back to the basics, read what the Greeks and the Irish poets had to say.   I mean really, isn't that what we want to leave our children? Hope and justice? Aren't they just parts of love?

Maybe people who call these ideas sappy are at such a consumerist disconnect from their own best interests that it is like Amazon and Starbucks and Apple own their souls. We live in Kim Kardashian's time. The purely human ideals - whether they come from God or gods or heroes - are somehow beside the point. This is especially true when the point of your life is to amass wealth and attention..  Love, peace, hope, justice and heroes are only beside the point if you are a corporation. Or only serve their interests.

Did you see what I did there? Blame the whole world for the bad review?

I promise I won't read any of them until the next one comes out.







Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Flick by Annie Baker

The Flick doesn't refer to a particular movie, it refers to film in a projector, which is still photographs intercut with dark frames.  From light to dark to light. That is the flick. The theater audience sits facing the house of a cinema. That's the stage. Above the cinema seats is the projection booth. A movie is projected into the theater audience, flickers, changes of light, stirring music.

This play won the Pulitzer, it's at the Dorfman at the National which they have turned into this massive open-air bar. The South Bank was really humming on Friday night as we settled down to the play. A lot has been written about it, but I want to send my own love letter.

This play is a slow burn. The three main characters, the staff of a suburban Massachusetts movie theater are Sam, Avery and Rose. They're drawn so perfectly by Ms Baker and acted so carefully by the actorines (copyright Callie Kimball) that they are still with me, on Wednesday afternoon. The play is mesmerizing. It's more effort to watch than a series of explosions or a car chase or a mutant fly, because the slightest veering of attention means you miss the unfolding of the rich unspoken drama. And it's rich unspoken drama of cleaning up Subway sandwich lettuce from the floor of a movie theatre. Or the way Sam won't make eye contact with Rose. Or the way Avery sits hunched over, speaking to his shrink long distance in what has to be the best monologue in a contemporary play since Jerusalem.

A play about the way we love movies is just the thing right now if you ask me. Avery loves movies - and in an astonishing monologue recounts a dream where entrance to heaven is contingent on finding the one movie that expresses your life and love.  The love for movies somehow crowds out real life though. Sam loves Rose, but Rose points out it has nothing to do with her. He loves this idea of her, he doesn't know her.  His Rose is not real. Just as if she was in a movie. Avery loves film and protests their cinema - The Flick - changing to digital. We see the change at the end. There is no flick anymore, just the cool blue-white light of the pixels, a laser constantly over our heads, a light like a star. It's far less complicated. And far less full of the true dark and light of being a human and therefore of love. Is film more real than digital?

Yesterday was the crappiest day. I was biking around all day in the rain trying to do a million things including shopping for clothes - gah! - for Thursday night when my play is on. I picked up my daughter from school and we rode to the Junction to pick up more flyers. As we approached the Junction, we biked over the cobblestones while singing Bicycle Built For Two really slowly like a dirge. This allows us to hear the vibrations. Our voices being moved by the tires over the cobblestones. It's hilarious. All of a sudden I was really happy, and not at all suffering over how many people will be at the play. I was in a moment with a person and we were enjoying a simple thing together, a small consipracy, a connection. Some fun goddamnit.  Suddenly a joyful triumphant feeling.

In the movie The Flick these three characters commit a very low level crime. Class war decides which one takes the fall. But at the very end, at the last moment, when it seems the play will end dark, it isn't dark. There is a small conspiracy. That small conspiracy, the final forty-five seconds of the play gave me that vast, joyful triumphant feeling.  Was it relief? Truth? True dark and light?

Friday, March 18, 2016

renovation

The rental house is a deathtrap of wires in a cramped space. If the clothes dryer is on in the back room, the vent has to go out the window and it quickly becomes too cold for me to work. My days are a too-fast anxiety-ridden blur of tile choices, writing projects, parenting. I am rich, I know that, I am rich in life, there is much to it, I am enriched by it. I feel like I paid the true cost of my success in effort, but the older I get and the more I think about it, I don't even trust my feelings in the matter, as deeply shaped as they were by the culture of the times. I do feel like I worked for what I got in life. Honestly, though, I think everyone feels like that, even people who are completely wrong about feeling like that, like David Cameron. I am sure George Osborne and Chris Grayling think they worked bloody hard. And in their own way, they did. But I find world inequality increasingly suspect, and increasingly a burden on my ethical load - which is something that sadly, in a very good U.S. education ethics, moral philosophy and jurisprudence rarely came up. Understanding the history of privilege is understanding a better future. Not to say we don't go with money and capitalism in the end. I don't think there is a better means of distributing goods and developing innovations. But capitalism has captured democracy instead of being its handmaiden, and our legal fictions have become our Skynet. We don't even see the seconds of our lives drawn away by it.

Every day I watch the rule of law being stolen from democracies by corporations. Every day I see democracies being weakened inexorably by the theft.  What is really my fair share of land and water and food and electricity? I cannot condone the measure given to me by the consumerist culture enslaved to shareholder return. I cannot condone that measure. Which is perfect, because somehow my stasis is being at war with myself.  And I can beat myself up for the guestroom even as I delight in the vision of the thick, soft carpet samples. Plus a whole new area of self-criticism has opened up in this process - my taste! Very early on when forcing myself to adapt to the idea of that PhD level of British culture - hiring builders - I noticed that I spurned almost everyone else's aesthetic choices with a vitriol that surprised even me. I mean, I almost couldn't wait until I got out of the house - where the residents had offered us coffee- to excoriate the tiles. Instant, near-violent judgment. That's my style. So I have to live with this shrieking harridan if I make a bad tile choice and she has to see it every day. That's what I'm up against. Plus a million anxiety-inducing problems: the roof is rotting, the pipes are lead and must be replaced, the electrical wiring makes this place a deathtrap (I'll tell you what I told the electrician: every electrician I have ever hired, in every place in the UK I've lived, has told me it was a deathtrap that should immediately be rewired).

But you know they are making a beautiful house.

It's all the choices that are death by a thousand paper cuts. It's like writing and this is why a very wise person told me if I could do anything else instead of being a writer I should certainly do that instead. Second guessing of every word, idea, choice, tile. A writer is someone who has developed a tolerance of this exhausting process. Thomas Mann was right. A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. And maybe someone for whom life is more difficult than other people. If only that came with a huge economic return. And if only I could get some confidence in my tile choices.




Thursday, March 3, 2016

Hangmen by Martin McDonagh (spoilers)

The last time I saw a new play by Martin McDonagh I was pregnant with my son. He turned 12 last month. The play I'd seen sober and needing to pee more than a decade ago was Pillowman, starring David Tenant at the National. In a lifetime of attending plays, Pillowman remains in the top three greatest nights of theater.

McDonagh plays are ferocious. (So are his movies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths) I remember going to see Lieutenant of Inishmore when I first arrived in London and then going back to see it the next week. That's the only time I have done that with a play and that's because the casual violence, the trueness of the characters, the wit of the dialogue, the rollicking pace of the plot - this elated me. Wide-eyed, joyful and jealous. That's me after a McDonagh play. Witty, violent, true, perfectly plotted -  these are the hallmarks, I think, of McDonagh's writing. McDonagh himself calls theatre "the worst of all the art forms". I sure that this is why his plays are so good.

So last night I caught his new play Hangmen at the Wyndham.  It starts with a scene of a hanging in 1963, a man protesting his innocence of the crime - something to do with messing with girls in Norfolk - and also wishing he could get the best hangman, Pierrepont, instead of his second-rate executioner, Harry Wade. Two years later, hanging has been abolished,  Harry Wade is a publican in the north of England. His wife Alice drinks gin in the background and his 15-year-old daughter Shirley mopes. He gives a vain, revisionist interview about his hanging career - trying to prove his superiority to Pierrepont. During the interview, the real guilty party from 1963, a sort of Guy Ritchie-esque Mooney convinces the hangman's 15-year-old daughter to go on a drive.

When McDonagh was writing his earlier plays about the Troubles in Ireland I definitely sensed more love in the writing than I do now. The Greek Chorus of alcoholics at the pub - the police inspector, an old geezer, a self-confessed drunk - are sad, shiftless, misshapen people. They are hollow. Harry Wade is a tragic wasted life, and his delusional vanity seems drawn from the one thing he had - the power to kill people for the state. I wonder if McDonagh thinks they are related - that the neurotically masked self-loathing of Wade comes from his license to kill. Or whether, maybe, the job hardly attracts healthy people. Not that anyone was healthy in the 60's up north. It was all pints and peanuts and cigarettes apparently.

How Wade handles Mooney, gets back his daughter and takes the backlash from Pierrepont who arrives having read the interview is hugely entertaining, but I certainly didn't love any of the characters. Nor did they really love each other. What I loved was seeing the parallels, the shadows, the connections between them. The depiction of the strange half-life women lived then. I also loved that the fiery monologue of an angrily defensive Shirley was so genuinely vibrant against a stage full of beige middle-aged men. I could almost love her abductor, Mooney (a scene with him in a cafe is just about perfect: "Don’t worry. I may have my quirks but I’m not an animal. Or am I? One for the courts to discuss"). What I loved the most was the exhiliration of seeing a play - oh no - I have to say it - perfectly executed.