Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Dreaming as the summers die..."

                   "In a Wonderland they lie,
                    Dreaming as the days go by,
                    Dreaming as the summers die:

                    Ever drifting down the stream--
                    Lingering in the golden gleam--
                    Life, what is it but a dream?"


Monday, August 17, 2015


The first Quijote rehearsal is in a week and I’m experiencing a sort of paralysis triggered by the magnitude of the project. 

Don Alonso Quijano (my lifelong obsession), meets Alice, (the character I’ve always identified with), in a deadly game of chess. Why? Because Quijote; Or, The Death of Conversation is the last play in a trilogy that began with Noir: A Love Story, a play at the end of which Death played chess with S. Night, the main character, and won. The chess game was my feeble attempt to pay homage to Ingmar Bergman, but also acknowledge that chess puts some order in our collective madness in a way the Marquis de Sade would have appreciated (“Let us put some order in our pleasures” is one of my favorite de Sade quotes...)

So: Quijote plays a game of chess with Alice, and Alice wins (because Alice always does), and then becomes Queen, the way she does at the end of the Looking Glass adventure when, famished, she is introduced to a pudding she’s not allowed to eat (“How would you like to be eaten by someone you’ve just been introduced to?”) 

Honestly, I have no idea if my memories of all things Alice are based on facts (and by facts I mean the fictional text), or if I’ve just made them up. I don’t exactly care. There’s a side to affective memory that I enjoy immensely, ever since I found out that Umberto Eco’s dissertation was the result of a trompe l’oeil. Is this confusing? My apologies. Let me explain. Umberto Eco, the wittiest semiotician in the world, began his career, like all of us, as a grad student tormented by his dissertation. He was writing something about Thomas Aquinas and he was stuck (the way I’m stuck now), and he was strolling through Paris (the way one does when one cannot write one’s dissertation) when he happened upon a second-hand bookstore where he found a book about Aquinas’ aesthetics. He opened the book at random and read a sentence that clarified the scope of his dissertation, so he bought the book, and ran home, and finished the manuscript, and became Magister Ludi Umberto Eco, the greatest semiotician in the world. Years later (post fame) he looked for the sentence that had saved his graduate life. He looked, and looked, but the sentence wasn’t there. He had imagined it out of some desperate philosophical need and, obedient, the sentence had materialized, the way sentences do for Humpty Dumpty, when he needs them most. You see? Full circle. So that’s why I don’t care if the things I remember about Alice are actually in the book. And perhaps that’s why I’m stuck, because I have so much to say: about Quijote, the last dreamer in the postmodern age; about theatre as a mode of singular survival; about disillusionment and fantasy; about Alice who has the courage to follow the white rabbit through the portal that opens inside her dreams; about actors, and directors, and fear, and betrayal, and the extraordinary ability of an empty space to become a space of endless possibility...a stage. Good god, how am I going to put all of this in a play, and make sense?

I write scenes in no particular order. I reread Sartre’s Kean, Pirandello’s Enrico IV, The Quijote, Alice – Through the Looking Glass. I’ve been thinking about this play for years, and yet it’s not coming together. The story is simple: during a rehearsal of The Man of La Mancha, an aging actor loses contact with reality and starts believing he is Don Quijote and, at times, Lear - his two most successful roles. My model for this is Kean, the Regency actor, who lost it during a performance of Othello - his last appearance on the stage - and told his son who was playing Iago, “Oh, god, I’m dying. Charles, talk to them.”  So Henry Kean loses his marbles on the stage and believes that his dresser is Sancho, and the friendly neighborhood barmaid is Dulcinea, and a radio show host named Alice is Alice in Wonderland. The world changes with his perception, and his friends, like those of mad Enrico IV, are afraid to shatter his illusions. Do you remember the plot of Enrico? There’s a fancy dress ball during which Enrico loses his mind. He is dressed as Henry IV and, in his madness, he believes he is the king. His family and friends indulge his madness for years; they dress as members of the court, maintain the charade, only to find out that Enrico had regained lucidity a little after the incident, but had prolonged the farce, for years, because it amused him to see his family in costume, treating him as a king.

You see the difficulty: everything connects. But the most difficult thing for me is the transition between Kean’s reality and his imagination - the world of Quijote, Alice, Lear. I know how the play begins. I know how it ends, with Quijote/Kean on his death bed, having lost the game with Alice (“Oh, god, I’m dying. Talk to them”). But what is in the middle? What treachery, what madness, what unrequited passions, what defeat?

I don’t know yet. I’m searching for the perfect line, for the slow gesture, for the confidence I need to put, in a single play, all my obsessions, all my latest fears, knowing that, miraculously, inexplicably, one day everything will make sense.

Just before his death, Quijote writes the longest love letter in existence. His last line is a sad realization: “With regret, with humility, with horror, I understood that I was not the one you loved.”

The exit line, I believe.