Thursday, November 29, 2018
The Registry opened (and closed) almost a year ago. Since then I haven't been able to write a single word. Somewhere between politics and administration every creative impulse in me died. I used to think four projects ahead. Now, when I think about writing, all I hear is silence.
I paused the Milena Group. I sold the costumes. I Swedish-Death-Cleaned the house. I stopped eating out or going to events. I started a kitchen renovation which slowly extended to the outside of the house and the roof. I lived in a construction zone for months. I thought, this is it. This is how one dies on the inside. I was ready. While waiting to die a slow but elegant death, I patched myself up with quotes from The New Age (still one of my favorite Peter Weller films): "Yes, yes, we are going to die; but what are we going to wear?"
I knew one thing for sure: I was no longer capable of months of rehearsal, two gruesome weeks of tech and dress, finding venues, lighting designers, and large casts...not while also teaching and doing administrative work. But NOT doing theatre seemed equally deadly. I wrote: "I have nothing to say; there's no one I admire, no one I love. I don't have relationships, I have Human Resources. I don't have friends, I have father confessors. And although I eat and sleep uninterrupted, I feel like a refugee in my own life, surviving on the surface of things. The space around me is an obstacle course. No one approaches. A sinister egoism triggered by collective unhappiness distorts the profile of almost everyone I know. My political history repeats itself and I have nowhere to run. The barbarians are no longer at the gates. We are the barbarians."
And then three things happened in rapid succession:
- One of my graduate students, someone I've been meaning to collaborate with for a while, was late for class. She walked in hurriedly, anxious, and sat down in the front row. Then almost immediately she stopped moving. Something about that frantic entrance followed by an almost immediate stillness made a lasting impression.
- Another graduate student, a girl I worked with when she was still an undergrad, walked down the corridor at a slow pace, entered the office, and picked up her mail. She turned to look around and, for a brief moment, stood perfectly still. And in that moment she looked like someone who didn't belong in this century - a Victorian heroine shocked at the crassness of our times.Then she unfroze and walked away.
- The house painter spoke.
Let me rephrase that: I'd heard him speak before since we talked often, (in that entire renovation crew he was the only one I liked), but that evening I paid attention to his voice, and found out he was a blues musician. I listened to his songs.
And then it all came together: the women, their not-belonging, their slow merging into one another, Bergman's Persona, the silence, my inability to write, the distant melody of a waltz, the collective unhappiness, a list of bizarre celebrity suicides, and the man in the background, a disembodied voice making pronouncements about happiness, thriving on the surface of things. "Everyone is everyone." Narrative threads, fragmentary lives, people who could have meant something to one another had they paid attention to the colossal significance of their encounter. A chase, a chasing - a fugue.
Days later, a ten minute staged reading (with the painter's recorded voice in the background), performed at an art gallery - no costumes, no pressure, no lights - convinced me that this was possible, working this small, without the agitation of a big production but with (surprisingly!) the same impact on the audience. And so the flat line turned into a heartbeat. And the ten minute reading is slowly evolving into a performance event I plan to stage exactly like this, in a small art gallery, with a few table lamps and all of us sitting on slightly uncomfortable chairs with our texts in our laps, ready for a significant encounter. I say "all of us" because I am the third woman. The girls and I, and my house painter/musician, and a soundtrack with the music he's composing for us.
Fugue: An Event - happening this spring at an art gallery near you.
Thursday, December 28, 2017
THE REGISTRY opens (and closes) in ten days. I worry about everything: not having rehearsed for six weeks, having three days to put it all together with a cast who’s never done this before; planning two-three rehearsals on every one of those three days (including a morning rehearsal on the day of the show). Will that exhaust everyone or create a good working rhythm? I have no idea. Our last two rehearsals, mid-November, were complete opposites: a great, upbeat, spectacular rehearsal followed, on the next day, by a tepid one presented before a trial audience of two.
I can’t lie: I’m tired. This year has exhausted me. I say, “This is the last play for a while, perhaps for good.” My friends laugh, say “yeah, yeah,” and point out I’ve said this before. I have, but out of frustration not exhaustion, and always before changing direction. I used to think four projects ahead; I used to have stories that had to be told; I used to try not to write lines for the new play while working on the current one. Not anymore. I’ve got nothing. No stories line up waiting to be told after THE REGISTRY. Beyond this production lies a silence I haven’t experienced before, deafening in its finality.
Things have changed. The world has changed, but so did my immediate landscape. I have no access to performing venues other than completely reinventing large auditoriums on campus. I did that in May, for Revision. It was great, but I don’t plan to do it again. Tech crews I trust are hard to find. People I trust enough to work with are scarce. I often wonder what it would be like to have nothing to worry about but the actual play, to have everything at my disposal and the money to pay for it. I guess I’ll never know.
For now, once THE REGISTRY closes its gates, I’m taking a break from theatre. It’s a beautiful, but treacherous field and we (theatre and I) need a trial separation.
I want THE REGISTRY to be perfect. Not in that loud, declamatory way that often kills the spirit of a play, but in a way that connects its subject (love, bureaucracy) with every single member of the audience. I want the questions posed by THE REGISTRY to haunt people long after they leave the theatre. A character in THE REGISTRY, whose employment file is classified in its entirety because she might be God, asks: “What is the story you’re trying to tell?” It’s the most important question of the play: identity as narrative; identity defined by narrative. We all have stories to tell. “We’re all stories after all.”
During the opening of THE REGISTRY art exhibit, a couple noticed the line written on the sails of a large ship, and read it out loud. “What is the story you’re trying to tell?” They stood before the ship for a long time, possibly thinking of answers. They left the exhibit holding hands. If our stories coincide, we are lucky.
There is so much I’d like to share with the anonymous audience of THE REGISTRY…A woman at the art show told me she’d read about my previous production, Revision, but its autobiographical nature scared her, so she didn’t go. All fiction is autobiography, I wanted to paraphrase Virginia. Every play is personal – never business. Perhaps one day the theatre world will agree with me. Until then, I’ll worry about THE REGISTRY and its world, about what I’d like to leave behind, should this be my last play. But the anonymous audience of THE REGISTRY will know nothing of this. Ten days from now they’ll come to the theatre, take their seats, open the program and read
THE REGISTRY is the most fractured play I’ve ever done. I wrote it during the most difficult semester I’ve had here, between meetings; (during meetings…); walking home from school writing lines in my head; during five minute coffee breaks at the end of which I’d find notes pinned to my office door: “I came by your office but you weren’t there!!!”; standing in line at the grocery store on the rare occasions I had time to shop for real food; and, sometimes, ten minutes before rehearsal. This semester – this past year – left us all breathless, a little short on kindness, a little tense.
I thought, “Time lost patience.” I thought, “The world is out of joint.” I thought, “This is the Age of Kafka.” With everyone on edge more than usual, I feel I wrote this play under siege, torn between the illusion that I was writing a bureaucratic satire, a revenge comedy, and the reality that, in the end, I couldn’t decide if bureaucracy is a necessary evil, or a way to level creativity and intelligence to the ground.
As the head of a large academic department, I am – technically – a bureaucrat. As a creative writer, I find the language and practices of the bureaucracy absurd and demoralizing. As an expat coming from the worst dictatorship in Eastern Europe, I know the lengths to which a bureaucratic empire would go to protect its policies. And so THE REGISTRY begged to be written, if for no other reason than to expose this unresolved duality: I am both a bureaucrat and a creative writer. Could I call myself a creative bureaucrat? (Of course not: the Empire would crumble!)
I’ve learned several things from my past: that at the heart of every conglomerate (be it corporation or government) there’s a flourishing bureaucracy; that numbing people’s minds with the impossibility of extracting anything from a bureaucracy prevents them from asking larger questions; that our lives often depend on a piece of paper, a petty rule, or a signature.
The most terrifying scenario I can imagine is a bureaucracy in charge of our romantic encounters. This is what THE REGISTRY is about: a giant bureaucracy staffed with fantastical beings who make decisions about human love; a place that can never be reached, that never grants audiences, but punishes everyone for not following rules whose small print has not yet been released.
I believe in order and the necessity of rules, but not in inflexible regulations enforced at the expense of the individual. I don’t know if THE REGISTRY solves any of my dilemmas, but writing it felt like therapy, like a talking cure that reminded me that laughter is the best antidote to absurdity because it demolishes fear. And without the threat of fear, even the most elaborate bureaucracy collapses eventually. It’s something to look forward to, I think.
Sunday, November 5, 2017
It seems selfish, somehow, with everything that’s happening in the world, to talk about a play - to think, conceive of, and work on a play. On the other hand, we all need coping mechanisms. This is mine.
Have the world leaders (read: dictators) sealed your fate with their egomaniacal tendencies? Do a play! Have you invested a year of your life in someone’s well-being only to realize that you barely make their acquaintance list? Do a play. Are you, generally, attracted to narcissistic psycho-pricks who use you as a sounding-board for their rehearsed tragedies? Do a play. Is there an issue whose resolution would significantly contribute to the happiness of those around you? Do a play.
So: I’m doing a play.
You know I’m fond of lists. Lists are organizing principles, and I’ve always celebrated those. If I were to make a list of all the things I hoped to achieve, and all the things I have actually achieved with this play, I’d have something like this.
- Things I’d hoped to achieve: clarity (why take on an administrative job?); revenge (take that, administration!)
- What I’ve actually achieved: finally understanding Foucault’s line “About this ambiguity, I am ambiguous”)
I began writing The Registry thinking of revenge. I wanted to talk about what it feels like to be called “the administration” while having absolutely no power to change anything. I wanted to explain what humiliation feels like – apologizing to everybody about everything: meetings scheduled at the last moment (not by you); absurd rules (you have to implement); absurd schedules (you have to monitor); ridiculous deadlines (you have not imposed, but must enforce).
I realized (recently) that I have quite a bit of pride, and that it hurts to have to apologize for things I haven’t done: I’m sorry you’ve missed your deadline (though I still need your findings – how awkward…let me apologize for the awkwardness as well); I’m sorry this absurd rule (which I have not imposed ) must be followed; I’m sorry you think my email is intrusive (it’s just a reminder); I’m sorry you lead a miserable life (which makes you absolutely miserable); I’m sorry you have to take your unhappiness out on me…I apologize.
I apologize all day long. It is exhausting. At the same time - nobody apologizes to me. It’s as if the administrative dimension has somehow erased the human one…There are days when I go home and question everything, not just my decision to be part of an administrative aggregate.
So what do I do to stay sane, to keep going? I do a play.
There are no heroes or villains in The Registry, only overworked, super-apologetic, exhausted figures in charge of Departments of Eternal Regret. I thought I was writing a revenge play about the bureaucracy. I was not. As things stand now, The Registry merely ponders the realities of the bureaucratic system while testing the limits of sentiment. (Remember the premise: what would happen if love relationships were regulated by an administrative branch of a fantastical government?)
The Registry takes no prisoners. It looks for explanations, for rare moments of clarity. No one is to blame. Everyone is to blame. Everyone is everyone.
I continue to be amazed by the professionalism of this cast. I ask them to review their lines before every rehearsal. They do. I train them to think like actors, to understand that the only thing that matters in acting is that you listen to what the other has to say. Don’t rush in with your lines. Think of it as a response, a reaction. Reaction is so much more difficult to portray since it is more subtle than pure action. Reaction is a process, like impulse.
We blocked the last scenes of The Registry today: the voluntary-mandatory therapy sessions; the voluntary-mandatory art sessions; the invasion of privacy; the destruction of free will.
The Registry talks about some of the things I grew up with in one of the most tyrannical dictatorships in Eastern Europe. The fact that some of these issues have echoes in 21st century America is unsettling…but that’s a discussion for another day.
This is one of the most receptive, intuitive, and intelligent casts I’ve ever worked with. They come prepared; they take direction easily; they adapt to strange and hostile spaces.
I honestly don’t know how we’ll put this play together in three days, on a stage we’ve not rehearsed on, after a six-week break. But I know The Registry will come back to life like a demented Phoenix whose destiny has not yet been fulfilled.
When that day comes, watching it unfold, I will be happy.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017
I don’t know why I am obsessed with the things that I’m obsessed with, and I can’t change or redirect my obsessions, but at least I’m aware of them in every play. Does awareness count?
The first Registry rehearsal happened tonight and although this is a tale of bureaucracy and romance, a large-scale play (the opposite of Revision), my obsessions remain the same: relationships, failures, fantastical beings.
We started with 20 pages of text – a huge victory for me. Usually, I barely have a few pages on the first rehearsal. What I didn’t tell the cast is that everything we read tonight was written in the past ten hours. I didn’t have time to write before today (beginning of the semester madness), but I wasn’t worried: I’ve carried The Registry in my head for so long, I knew it was just a matter of sitting down and writing it. I stopped after 20 pages because it was 5 pm and we had rehearsal at 6, not because I was done.
Before reading the script I tried to go over what I call “the unhappiness list,” mainly because almost everyone in the cast is new. Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of things that can potentially make people unhappy: my rhythm, my process, underestimating the amount of work that goes into the making of a play. The cast has seen some of the plays I’ve done, but we’ve not worked together on stage. I forget how difficult it is to explain to newcomers how The Milena Theatre Group works. The principles of Creative Writing come to mind. I can tell and tell, but until I show, until they experience the process, the description alone doesn’t count.
I say: the text evolves, it changes, it grows with you. I say: we improvise this scene, and only when I have enough (the best!) material, that’s when the scene gets written. I say: the script will be complete at the end of the rehearsal process, not before. More difficult things to say: please leave your life at the door when you enter the rehearsal space. It makes all the difference. This is why I don’t have intermissions, so the public won’t leave the performance space and remember their problems. It is difficult, almost impossible to ask this of a cast. Stuff, real life stuff, happens all the time, and I am not prepared for it. I can’t explain, not in a way that makes sense to anyone new to the process, that I get ready for a rehearsal hours in advance, that an hour before I sit in the empty room and think of nothing else but the play, that I draw diagrams of the stage, imagine every movement and every voice inflection, that I listen to the soundtrack obsessively choreographing every scene in my mind, that once people come in, I no longer see their true identities but those of their characters. It’s a little bit like being in a trance (I’ve never been in a trance…) Perhaps it sounds merciless. It probably is. But I don’t know how to do a play otherwise.
Months after a show, I meet people who tell me they’re still thinking about the latest play. They tell me there’s something haunting about the Milena Group productions. I think this is where it comes from: this total immersion in the reality of the play, without the need to look back. Remember Orpheus and Eurydice? That’s how he loses her forever: by not believing in that fantastical promise, by turning back to verify reality, by forgetting to play his part. Rehearsals are the anti-Orpheus. Don’t ever look back. Pause reality. Forget…
After we read the script – basically the opening of The Registry – we spent a little time improvising with superb results. I saw a company’s rehearsal once where the actors stood in a circle paying each other compliments for about 15 minutes. “You have grown so much as an actor these past three weeks…” “I love how kind you are…” “You have such pretty hair…” Were they honest? Perhaps. I grasp the scope of such an exercise (bonding, building confidence), but do these things really work? That image – people in a circle taking turns to say nice things to each other – stayed with me and I knew I’d use it in a play someday. The Registry is perfect for this: a collective of semi-fantastical clerks in charge of human relationships, starting every day with uplifting circle-compliments. That’s what our improv was about. “Your stapler is really polished.” “Oh, thank you, I’ve had it since my undergrad days…And can I say how impressed I am with your organized desk?” “Thank you! I’m really trying…I’m so grateful for your respect of deadlines. It makes my life so much easier,” and so on. When the head of HR told the youngest female employee (whose nickname is Baby): “Baby, I like how you pound that stamper,” and she replied “Thank you! That’s because my ink pad is really moist,” (ok, so it's not that kind of play, but - still funny for a first improv) I knew that, once again, I had assembled the perfect cast. There was some nostalgia there as well: some of the people in the cast are graduating this year, some will start their PhD exams, some are half-way through their dissertation. I’ll never work with some of them again. Perhaps this is our last play. The stage manager graduates as well, my right-hand girl, irreplaceable, intuitive, amazingly reliable. This is our fourth play together. I keep saying this: nobody truly knows anybody until they do a play together. Nobody really knows me until we meet on stage.
The stage is set. Rehearsals have begun. Questions (all the questions) will be asked, and answered, crises will happen, solutions will be found. There is a joy – almost a giddiness – I feel at the start of The Registry that I don't remember experiencing before. Perhaps it’s the subject (a comedy of bureaucratic revenge); perhaps it’s the people; perhaps it’s that I get reunited with my first lighting designer after more than five years. Perhaps it’s all these things.
If this production will haunt someone, it will not be us, it will not be me. Let it be you, then.
Monday, June 26, 2017
For years now, I’ve been thinking 3-4 projects ahead, as I continued to experiment with something Bonnie Marranca calls, in Plays for the End of the Century, “a theatre of the first person.” Personal. Addictive. Cleansing. Basically therapy (why pay for therapy when you can stage it?)
Long before starting Noir, I knew that a love story with the Angel of Death would take me to Chekhov’s world of unrequited love, and then to the biggest idealist of them all, Quijote. These were the plays of the trilogy called The Falling. Then followed the most autobiographical play ever, Revision, and its finality, its irreversible nature, ended the first person cycle.
While working on Revision I tried really hard not to think of the next play. I failed. I was writing scenes for The Registry in my head while learning lines for Revision. The whole thing felt like imprisonment or self-sabotage. Days after Revision closed, I had the character files for The Registry complete.
So what is the Registry? A slippery bureaucratic empire, a potentially fantastical organization in charge of people’s souls. The branch we get to see in the play is in charge of love affairs, romantic encounters, soulmate scenarios. Ideally, everyone on file should be paired with the perfect partner, but the place is understaffed, and its clerks are overworked, so mistakes are made quite frequently. Grim angels in a suit, the clerks of the Registry work inside a place that looks like Kafka for lovers or Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Imagine The Castle with a coke machine. Or Metropolis with an artist's model, and a psychiatrist on staff, for voluntary (mandatory) art and therapy sessions.
The Registry understands the century and has adapted to it. It has a vigorous social media presence using a Facebook-like network called Skyway.com to advertise its services (and secretly follow the private lives of its employees). It assigns multiple case workers to the more difficult files, and maintains a page called soulcrush.com where people can advertise their desires and expound on their unique qualities such as the fact that they enjoy long walks on the beach, and would like to consume cheese in the company of attractive and intelligent people. “Who is the crush of your soul?” is the network’s tagline and many of the Registry’s employees believe it to be truly catchy.
The characters are: Ada G. Ash, a Client in search of a modern day Mr. Darcy; Gianni Cassanova, the Artist’s Model (with a Ph.D in Philosophy); Suzi Might, Director of Accounting and an Expert in Risk Management; Betty Grail (Baby), a Registry Records clerk and Initial Interview Specialist; Athena Drake, Psychiatrist and Closet Romance Novelist; Vitto Salieri (Sal), Chief Human Resources Officer and Chair of the Committee on Committees, and God whose employment file is entirely classified.
The story has to be simple: a misplaced piece of paper, a detail, will get someone killed.
The subtext is simple: of love and bureaucracy – something as elemental and easy to comprehend as death and taxes.
The paratext is what I’m most excited about. If I get to stage this play downtown and have access not just to the stage but to the corridors and some gallery space as well, the world of The Registry will start to unfold weeks before the show, as the offices of soulcrush.com and Skyway Enterprises (“Our way or the Skyway” is another catchy motto) will invite future spectators to play. They’ll be able to describe their perfect partner, leave notes, take selfies inside the Registry Headquarters, post them online, receive responses to their inquiries, and so on and so on…the possibilities are endless.
As usual, the cast is perfect, and being completely familiar with their inflection, presence, walk, idiosyncrasies, and talents, I am writing lines with their persona in mind.
So these are the people. This is the plan. I am using real bureaucratic correspondence – emails and memos I have received whose content I will adapt to the needs of The Registry – that convinced me that bureaucracy has indeed the power of life and death over us mortals, and that its language can often annihilate sentiment. What happens to our more and more pallid understanding of love and relationships under the lens of a bureaucracy of the Registry’s proportions?
The stage is set. Rehearsals begin in August. The Registry has opened its doors.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
I have burns on the tips of my fingers from attaching strips of satin to the wires of a crinoline, with the help of a glue gun. The crinoline cage is now the exoskeleton of a killer mermaid, a cage of metal and fabric that contains and sustains her body – an anatomical impossibility even in the realm of fantastical beings.
I’ve always been more interested in the inner life of things - inner structures, complex architectures, scaffoldings. The skeleton, not the body. The armature, not the sculpture. The truth, not the padding. For some reason that I couldn’t explain before, I wanted the mermaid in Revision to wear her skeleton like a garment, on the outside. Forget improbabilities, think of the beauty of the thing. For the Milena Theatre Group, this isn’t a new tendency. An early attempt at a short film (Elsewhere) and one of our first productions (Scar) featured breastplates and other molds of the actors’ bodies, empty, beautiful carcasses made of wire and tissue, inside which the actors crawled, for safety, thus managing to transform the shapes of their bodies under the eyes of the audience.
Our rehearsal process too begins with the skeleton of a play, an idea, a thought we think to its ultimate conclusion as rehearsals progress. Rehearsals are miraculous things: thinking herself free from the director’s gaze during a break, the actor will often do or say something surprising - a continuous movement, an elegant capitulation, an unusual turn of phrase – which are then incorporated into the performance. This is how each production takes shape.
I always feel strange trying to explain my process to outsiders, not because I believe they have no business learning about it, but because, most of the times, I see the misunderstanding in their eyes, as they’re trying to quantify and rename what we do in a way that will make them feel better about their own work. But there isn’t a set vocabulary for what we do. I work with the entire being, not just the bag of tricks the actor has to offer – that’s all there is to it.
I was thinking about the evolution of the Milena Group today while gluing satin to wire. Seventeen years of productions, sixteen plays all deconstructing the idea of theatre, all exposing what was once hidden: the skeleton upon which a production builds. I like the bare bones of things. The armature, the scaffolding, the skeleton – are like the desert: there’s no place to hide. I’m on the verge of a structural shift, I think. When I started the Milena Group, I promised myself never to settle, never to forget that what I do on stage is my research into a field that keeps changing in the telling. There is a need for new theatre vocabularies, and loud declarations of political principles or outrage at the state of the world changes little. In order to focus, I’ve been trying to work small for a while. Revision does a little of that. The next play, The Registry, will be a departure from that principle, because each play chooses its format and methodologies, and The Registry will need ample space to unfold. But after that, I want to return to the idea of table magic. There’s a scene in Vanya on 42nd Street where, during a final rehearsal, a few friends of the director sit at a large table on stage. At the other end of the table, the actors, in street clothes, perform a scene oblivious to anyone’s presence. There is something terribly honest, stripped of pretension about doing Chekhov this way, around the dinner table, among friends or strangers who’ve gone through similar emotions and understand that what they are witnessing is life – unmasked, unspectacular, exposed.
I seem to have less and less access to a proper theatre, but at the same time, I seem to have less need of it. I would have simplified Revision much more, had the two films which are part of the play, not set the bar so high, visually. I didn’t want the audience to experience a disappointment, moving from screen to stage, had I not attempted to transform it.
Let’s not forget. I’m in a school auditorium, on a pale, narrow stage, surrounded by beige walls. My first reaction to the space was crying. But then I stopped that nonsense and looked to the work of that admirable guild, the Architects, who always inspire me because they manage to look at the body of a building and see its skeleton. So I’ll do what Frank Gehry did to another unfriendly interior meant to accommodate an opera: crumple paper and let it take over the space. Since the writer is also present in Revision, surrounded by hundreds of crumpled manuscript pages – writing is revision – why not turn the entire space into a giant discarded page?
So that’s the plan: a desert citadel made by a cardboard artist, a set overtaken by manuscript pages, a killer mermaid who discards her exoskeleton to make “snow” angels in the papers that litter the stage, and a woman carrying three bags and a chandelier through the desert, because one should never travel distances without a classy lighting source.
Faced with the prospect of hanging lights on ladders placed strategically throughout the room, the lighting designer suggested a return to the basics: installing “footlights” (read outdoor string lights) along the front edge of the stage. Why not?
In the process of working on Revision all sorts of reevaluations have taken place: of spaces, of possibilities, of relationships. As always, everything that appeared insurmountable at first, turned into the most creative of solutions. Reduced to their bare bones, interiors always prove friendly. The same cannot be said about people, but then again, I find that spaces keep memories better than anyone I know. “Memory: the space in which a thing happens for a second time.”
Frank Gehry's set for Don Giovanni
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
"You whom we love, you do not see us, you do not hear us…We are messengers who bring closeness to those who are distant. We are messengers who bring the light to those who are in darkness. We are messengers who bring the word to those who question. We are neither the light, nor the message. We are the messengers. We are nothing.” (Far Away, So Close)
Wim Wenders’ angels look down at the busy streets of Berlin from an impossible distance, perched on the shoulder of a colossal statue whose head rests beyond the clouds. The lines above are from the opening of Far Away, So Close, a movie theoretically about angels, practically about our salvation through the belief in the fantastical as it exists in the people we love.
Wenders, like me, is partial to very cool-looking angels, in long, black coats, and dusters that catch the wind at every turn. There is something obsessive about the way they listen to everyone’s thoughts in a crowded library, on a bus, or in the street. The chorus of voices, a polyphony of sorts, is the only connection between the inhabitants of the city.
Why am I talking about angels? Because angels have the courage to love, and ever since I started working on this play, I’ve been thinking about elemental emotions: love and hate, love and exile (is exile an emotion?), love and its anatomy, its archaeology, its rhythms. It was Wim Wenders who said, “Everything I loved, I’ve had to defend.” I understand him completely. (Should Revision be called A Defense?)
Here is my dilemma: since a love declaration creates no sense of obligation, why aren’t more people confessing to it? Is it the fear of ridicule, of vulnerability, or does it take less effort to be indifferent? To hate?
I love the desert. I love the sea (parts one and three of Revision). Saying it exposes me to sandstorms and hurricanes. In other words, confessing could kill me. But NOT confessing would kill me too. So the question is, how would I rather die: telling the truth or lying?
In Q I say “Every play is a hostage negotiation. Even if we survive at the end, we’re never the same.” But every play is a love declaration as well. Does this mean that every love declaration takes hostages? (And why does “a declaration of love” and “a declaration of war” use the same noun? Should we call it a love advisory instead?)
Remember Wenders’ angels. Now pause that thought.
Think of Mallarme’s Livre – the book of books, the project he worked on for years without ever truly explaining or finishing it – an impossibility. A book to capture the nothing of the nothing that we are, a book about the love of that restful, pulsating void.
Revision terrifies me. It is my play of plays (The Play) about everything I love and have to defend. It is about the courage to confess to loving impossible things, and impossible people, and never giving up on them.
What separates tragedy from melodrama? At times, the absence of a door through which one can make a dignified exit.
I want my play to devastate. I want to have the courage of angels in every sentence. I want to watch you watching it, like Hamlet watched Claudius (though Hamlet asked Horatio to watch the king for him – why would he do that? Delegate? Ah, how far we are from scopophilia…)
I think we are experiencing a different kind of Fall – the Fall of language, tied to an inexplicable fear of sentiment, of contact, which renders us speechless when it comes to caring. Oh, the vocabularies we have for hate, for outrage, for malice. Not for affection (that I can say “I love cheese” and “I love you” using the same verb is pitiful).
I am at an impasse. I say: never start a play with a mission, with an agenda. To be relevant, one has to expose a detail, not the universe. My dilemma: inside me a universe is raging and I don’t know how to turn it into a casual occurrence.
I think I’m writing a manifesto. I’ve split open a circumstance and words are pouring out. But a play is not an avalanche. It is a controlled experiment, a place where patients are treated but not cured, the safest and deadliest of quarantines.
I want you to be my eternal spectator. I want to live importantly so I can understand your relevance. I want to change the course of your destiny. I want the world to go blind when you close your eyes.
...but if I said that to an audience, who would ever come to the theatre?
I am the playwright. I am the messenger. To you, I am nothing.