Sunday, August 21, 2016


Last night I dreamed I was trying to make the circle peace sign with glue and glitter for Prince and he was patiently waiting, I did it over and over. Moved the glue and dusted it with glitter but I couldn't get it right. And Prince couldn't think how it went either and it was all very puzzling, so we googled it, and it was like the idea of peace was not available on the internet, the symbol was not image in a search. I woke up this morning sure that it meant that war is so much upon us, too much upon us - my body is churning with refugees of war, Trump and Brexit - dark things. And that's what comes out of the neural networks - a sign that peace is hard to find.

Then in the dream Tina Fay and I were cleaning up, and we were not pleased with the mess but we were very efficient cleaners.

I have been thinking about Joan, the eldest daughter of King John because in this version of getting the Magna Carta signed that I am working on - a play -- I think she's the hero. I want her to be like Tina Fay cleaning up.

I want to write a play bout the meeting memorialised in this plaque. It takes place in Bury St Edmunds (a town in Suffolk in England pretty near Cambridge) on 20 November 1214 when Stephen Langton called a meeting of the barons unhappy with King John (not all, more were neutral than were rebelling)  - he was charged by the Pope to bring peace to England. Largely so that the Pope could get King John out crusading - Innocent needs the money hustle or whatever. So Stephen sees if maybe they can clear up the terrible fighting and bloodshed under King John's reign by all agreeing to a charter - a contract. This became the Magna Carta. The charter itself was a disaster but the way the general problem got solved paved the way for the most virtuous creation of civilization - the rule of law.  I think Joan was key to making this happen. She's in her twenties and has three years experience going back and forth between her father the King and her husband Llywelyn the Great - the beloved prince of North Wales . Joan has in fact just negotiated this big hostage release in the Marches. Apparently South Wales/Borderland was a total terrorist disaster in those times.

So I see her beautiful and big and currently suffering from traumatic stress disorder because the has been way too close to too many killings. Truly sardonic. Unable to find the peace sign and pissed about it. I see her of course thinking circles around her father, her husband, the Archbishop Stephen Langton and even her sort of stepmother, Isabella of Gloucester.

The Plaque doesn't mention women, but I think they were calling the shots. First Joan and then Isabella. Isabella of Gloucester is the first wife of John, they separated because they were third cousins which isn't allowed under canonical law.  She was around when Joan was little as the first legit wife of King John, though. Isabella is no slouch and a free thinker who has listened to the scriptures.  Isabella I think came to Bury with her new husband Geoffrey de Mandville.  Her husband wants a new King because this one is ruining him with dowry and tax. Isabella is fond of John, they parted well, she doesn't want him killed, but this nonsense ruining her husband has to stop.

But more powerful than Joan and Isabella at this secret meeting is Clementinia. Joan's real mother. The only thing we know about her is her name, which is deeply thrilling. She has to come to the meeting at the end and lay it on the line in a Julie Cope, Johnny Rooster, pagan powerful kind of way: no more war, you idiots. In my mind she lives in the woods in Norfolk in a small matriarchal pagan tribe that existed completely off the books back then. She is the bringer of mercy.

I think of the way these three women would make a charter possible and for one thing, it involves resourcefulness and Robert Fitzwalter's wine cellar. It also involves a primal understanding of what is sacred. Freedom as sacred. Laws in service to life, not life in service to laws. Those women wanted to live in a world where it is possible to find the peace sign. As do I. Although it was great to see Prince.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I've come to look for America

When I hear the National Anthem in my head it is always Whitney at the Superbowl,  casually soaring in her high waisted jeans.  She gets to "the land of the free" then my neural network switches and in the basement of the fraternity in Animal House Otis Redding is finishing Louie, Louie, really a great drunken show, drawing it out and a rat-like man in a toga punches "YEAH YEAH... YEAH YEAH" straight from the basement between Whitney's "land of the free" and "home of the brave". Then I am on the Metro in 1996 in DC on the 4th of July chanting "USA... USA" coming home from the fireworks but the misguided aggression behind the chant isn't menacing, it isn't dangerous, it is an innocuous celebration of a law dork who venerates men being created equal with certain inalienable rights.

Now in a haze of painkillers and instant news I hear Paul Simon singing gently about America, we've all come to look for America, but it is the part about being empty and aching that reverberates through me as I recline in a hot Epsom salt bath and try to see a good end, try to see a happy ending to the story but I don't see it. I don't know if I should stop looking. I don't think every age feels themselves on the brink of much worse times to come but I wonder if my grandchildren will have hot baths and delivered groceries and I wonder how long it will take to find clean drinking water and homes for the refugees and I am overwhelmed with pain wondering how history will view us all and I am grateful for those who stand and serve in Calais and Dunkirk at the camps for surely their battle rivals the ones 100 years ago.

The darkness in Europe is spreading and raising like an internal injury, a bruise, and polls do not comfort me for something seems to be coming, something dark, the boys in the basement with their testosterone and togas.  We did not look after the common good, and now the common good is weak. We were casual like Whitney, taking for granted our magnificent gifts, imagining that we had put behind us the darkness that we had relegated to cartoon Nazis and Commies. Now we are distracted, in a haze of consumerism and painkillers that leaves us grateful - grateful (!) that a neo-liberal will be president, so dark is her opponent.

We are bipolar. We are at two poles. If Trump is bad, she is good. If she is bad, Trump is good. We are choked on this limited narrative. We are hamstrung by the system that forces us not to vote our hearts but vote strategically. I know what Cburchill said about democracy, that it was the worst system except compared to every other system but I tire of this too. I am tired of it being bipolar. I am tired of my peers thinking that voting matters in this stinking, cosseted bastion of privilege that is Washington. Meanwhile airstrikes in Syria continue. Bombs explode in Baghdad. The alleged coup attempt in Turkey, the camps, the millions of people in camps.

When I hear the National Anthem in my head it is always Whitney at the Superbowl,  casually soaring in her high waisted jeans and I have come to her to look for America.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fringe Report

Three days at the Fringe.

Edinburgh is so lovely. Edinburgh at the Fringe is like New York City in a romcom. It’s the real star.

We started with Mark Thomas at Traverse in Red Shed. Thomas recalls being asked in an interview where his political beliefs came from and what pours out is a poignant tale of a miner’s strike in 1984 and an ode to his Labour Club, the owners of the Red Shed. As a piece of theatre, it was fantastic. In terms of political action, I thought he might have missed a trick. He has the audience sing songs of solidarity, but it is all in the old-fashioned and I believe unhelpful binary model: Tories are the enemy and we are the good guys. That narrative is boring as shit and untrue. The Tories are people with legitimate interests and hearts. Real solidarity to change the problems of this world doesn’t come from emphasizing our differences, but from embracing our common ground. I tire of preaching solely to the converted. I wonder if Thomas does too.  I wonder if Thomas has read Micah White’s book End of Protest -  he seemed to be advocating local action – local power. Interesting how activists seem to reach the same conclusions separately.  

I then went to a play by the amateur group Kirkintilloch players called Her Slightest Touch. This two-hander is a prostitute meeting a john in her flat.  The script was balanced, the acting will be better later in the run. What I liked about the play was its small moments. A jewel to be polished..

That evening we rounded things up with Mark Watson’s show I’m Not Here – standup comedy loosely based on a harrowing trip to Australia. I liked it, he is reliable.  To tell you the truth, I am recovering from whooping cough, not drinking much, so the comedians seem less funny this year.

Rob Drummond’s new show In Fidelity was the first of six Saturday shows. It really did not live up to the high expectations I had after the incomparable genius of Bullet Catch, the last show of his that I saw. Many people used a lot of audience participation in their shows, In Fidelity sees the singles in the audience weeded down to two who then go on a date on the stage. It has some good moments. It does. A subplot is Rob joining on a ‘research’ mission and some flirtation that arises from it. That subplot seemed forced but the audience discussion about cheating on people – infidelity – was quite interesting.  He ends talking about his wife’s pregnancy. I’ve been to enough Fringes to really roll my eyes at that one. I mean really. Every performer who is expecting a child honestly thinks they need to communicate the life-changing wonder of it all. Sigh. They do not. Especially when it’s a bit shoehorned in.

After Rob we went to Goggles – a show about fish and friendship by two sweet women. It was a mostly engaging devised story with intermittent powerful observations. “There is something unsafe about the word ‘security’” was my favourite. The dynamics of female friendship are made theatrical. No small feat.  Plus the show has bubbles. Bubbles.

Next, The Duke. This is  show Hoipolloi are running starring Shon Dale-Jones as himself. It’s a free show seeking donations for the Save the Children Refugee fund. He tells the tale seated, with a sound board and a microphone. I am a great admirer of his work and sometimes I despair of actually writing anything that is as good as what I see from them. Shon weaves together working on a screenplay, his mother breaking a china Duke of Wellington and the stories of the refugees in a story that is part fictional but very authentic. Never maudlin but quite harrowing. He wrote the piece because he was questioning what good his work was in the face of the very scary world we live in. I question it too.  I have been to the Fringe about 18 times and the call to solidarity and social change is always made, but never followed. I put it to you – which is better for the world- a play where the performance is donated and the audience gives money to help the refugees or a play is that stirs people to solidarity but fades in fifteen minutes.  Perhaps the former. Don’t miss this one. Pleasance Attic at 3:30.

After The Duke I went to see Love and Canine Integration, Guy Masterson’s new comedy one man show. Based on the true story of Nelson, a Spitz, his future wife’s dog, it covers  smuggling and a great deal of dog urine. It’s a hoot.  Assembly Roxy at 17:40.

Next to Des Bishop, an Irish-American comedian. Rough and choppy but funny and smart. It was almost like a sociology comedy act. This man was raised in Queens but moved to Ireland when his mother thought he was developing a drinking problem at the age of 14. To Ireland. Definitely worth seeing. Pleasance 20:00

Then a lovely play by Daniel Kitson, still really in development, called Mouse: The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought. It reminded me of an Enda Walsh play with the use of recorded sound, it unfolded as a kind of philosophical fable about human nature and life.

The next morning our merry band kicked off with Jane Eyre – an autobiographical one woman show. While there was much to admire in the fine performance, it sort of didn’t work for me. Rebecca Vaughn has an enraptured following, and they adored it. I guess I don’t think the story lends itself to this format and it felt very long.

After that the new David Grieg musical Glasgow Girls. Sadly this got a pretty big thumbs down from the crowd. While the story of teenagers who band together to fight deportation of an asylum-seeking friend is a good one, it is told rather unsubtly. And as regular readers of this blog know, I have no time for mediocre songs in a musical. It did have a couple decent songs and the choreography was good. Of course the stories of dawn raids by G4S dragging families whose asylum status had been refused back to their country had me in tears, that is some serious police-state shit.  But what good are my tears? Is anyone else tired of going to see plays about injustice and never doing anything to right the wrongs? I don’t think anyone is actually helping the asylum seekers by going to see a play. I know theatre and activism are separate – and strong activism makes weak theatre. I know that. God, I sat through so many bloody – literally bloody – plays about the Iraq war in the 04-09 era. Maybe just knowing the stories is worth something? Not much in this dangerous world.

Last show was probably the best. Angel. The story of a Syrian woman – a would be law student- whose father taught her how to shoot who became a sniper fighting Daesh in Syria, looking for her father and defending her home.  Harrowing and riveting – the subject and the performance.  Masterful use of pauses and darkness. The actor was really present every second of the work, never rushing, inhabiting each character she played so thoroughly we somehow hardly noticed.  Much credit is due the writing, which was tight and funny with nary a needless word. It passes the Bechdel test one million times.