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.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Fantastical Skin

There’s a moment in the documentary China: Through the Looking Glass (I don’t remember if I talked about it here or in one of my regular Facebook posts which lately have taken the form of flash essays – you know, like flash fiction only essay) when employees in the Costume Institute at the Met open a giant crate and take out a super heavy, bejeweled cape with a train, one of those designer affairs that took months to stitch and costs more than I’ll make in a lifetime. They approach the piece wearing white gloves and disposable lab coats whose opacity makes the employees look rather esoteric, like extras in a sci-fi film where no expense was spared in the costume department, and everyone moves silently, with creepy splendor, behind huge panes of glass, attending to some experiment that might wipe out the human race.

There was something strange and very beautiful about people in white coats (the asylum of fashion?) touching the most lavish fabrics and designs, and it made me think of the impossible task of the costume designer in the theatre. The director has only words to communicate shape, color, symbol (all costumes should be extensions of the characters), when in reality there are so many more things that need to be talked about: the three hundred shades of the same pigment, the rustling of the fabric, the way it trails, holds its composure, moves with the light…I love costumes. Not costumes that wear the characters, but costumes that become a second skin, a better skin, and allow the body underneath to discover movements that were not possible before.

As usual, I have very little money (I mean, I have more money than I had for previous productions, but in the grand scheme of things, I have very little money…) and yet the girls need to look spectacular. Girls. Plural. Yes, they’ve multiplied. But no one’s really shocked, are they? All my plays grow in the telling – I wouldn’t know how to write otherwise – and a play about me finding a purpose in exile (purpose = theatre) has to pay homage to the second skin, the fantastical skin, the outer personality layer: the costume. And how can I do that and not show respect for the item of clothing the actor puts on, ideally in a movement that resembles a ritual?

And so fictional me (the girl) acquired a dresser on stage, an esoteric figure in white, whose face is covered by a gauzy layer of fabric, whose hands are protected by white gloves, a silent figure who glides through the space carrying the girl’s clothes the way the believers carry the relics of saints. I imagine a series of beautiful tableaux vivants in which the dresser and the dressed pause to admire each other’s work. The pause is very important. At the end of each choreographed moment, they have to hold the image, so that the spectators can fill their eyes with its beauty and significance.

I see the girl as a reluctant mermaid (“here, by the rocks, in the foreground...”) behind the scrim, on her platform –  while the dresser reaches for her in front of the scrim, a figure frozen in longing. One hidden, in silhouette, one revealed by the light, exposed.

I see the girl dancing with her dresser – a waltz distorted by the excruciating lingering of Butoh, each step deconstructed, each turn a longing for stillness. I think of Butoh as the regret of movement. I think of it as a complement to silence. I think of it as hiding in the light.

The presence of the second girl allows me to do what I do best: to step back and look, to manipulate silhouettes so that their interaction tells a story without the need for language; to delight in the possibilities of light, the fading of a single sound, the substantial complexity of a blackout. This way I can remain on stage as I truly am: a voice, a body of work, a narrative frame. I can’t lie: I also enjoy immensely that my fictional self now has a fictional self. I love stagings into the abyss, I like the open-endedness of it all.

In profile, the dresser has to look a little menacing. Something about her headpiece has to communicate the possibility of terror because there is a very thin line separating the horrific from the sublime. This is why we can move so abruptly from love to hate (and back?), this is why truly fantastical monsters are always beautiful. For the dresser I’m thinking of a headpiece similar in shape to that of Pyramid Head in Silent Hill, but white and semi-transparent. Or antlers. I mean, if we are to dream big, there’s always Alexander McQueen.

I remember reading, as a child, fairy tales about self-sacrificing mermaids or serpent maidens ready to shed their skin for true love. I remember thinking no, don’t do it. Don’t hide your skin where they can find and destroy it. He who is meant to love you, will love you with the serpent skin, with the mermaid tail, with the fantastical layer that protects you from the real...But the girls never listened and the fairy tales never saved them, and so with burnt skin and broken hearts they always returned to the sea, to the forest.

Well, not this time. This time we keep the real contained, behind bars. This time the fantastical skin stays on, in all its glorious terror.

Friday, September 23, 2016

An Inventory


I care about you because you are beautiful the way cities at night are beautiful.
It’s an image I understand only as a falling, an adventure into spaces I fear I have no business occupying, and yet inhabit for the simple reason that I care about you.

You see me, and this opacity allows me to feel safe in a way that I haven’t felt (safe) in a very long time. It’s not a safety of objects but of location – a place I call home, an arrival.
I care about you because although you understand nothing, you understand me on an elemental level (of each thing ask what it is in itself – its nature) in a way that doesn’t require a mapping of my deficiencies: an inability to live small, to feel less, to hold my tongue.
I care about you because you represent a harmony - like Hieronymus Bosch’s perfect spheres: the ultimate correspondence of content and surface.
I like the transgressions reflected, singularly, in the way you look at things.
I care about you because, in your presence, I speak of acts whose memory is enough to sever me. (Looking at you I remember two things: that idiotic discussion of Madame Bovary’s eyes and the fact that they constantly change color – like Flaubert didn’t know what he was doing, and kept giving her dark eyes, blue eyes, hazel eyes - Nobody thought: it’s a reflection of the fireplace; and that I would lie if I said I didn’t want to keep looking at you until the world dies)
You are kind, endangered, and vague - an anomaly compared to others - and I care that you care about the discarded, the underdogs, the sad.
I care about you because you feel whole in a way only the damaged feel (whole). You are comprehensive.
I care about you because you remind me of everything I used to love (the act of loving, prosthetic memory; endearment).
I care about you because you contain the landscapes you find necessary - the mountains, the water - the way Whitman owned the rooftops of this world. (I love everything)
I care about you in a way that bends me around obstacles like sound waves bend around corners.
I care about you despite rumors to the contrary (and the pettiness of the just), in a way that reminds me that I am alive, still human, and very, very sad.
I care about you. This is the reason.                     

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Of Magical Transgressions

I was talking about E.T.A. Hoffmann the other day, about growing up with his utterly risqué fairy tales that involved nutcrackers, and mice, and slightly pedophiliac uncles who mended clocks and wore glass wigs, and students running through parks late at night, followed by serpent women with green eyes and promising lips...in other words totally appropriate bedtime stories for resilient Romanian children.

And yet his stories didn't damage me. On the contrary, they made me love the fantastical (and nutcrackers!), and made it very easy for me, I think, to accept the magical transgressions of a book like One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which a man bewitched by the beautiful Remedios is always followed around by hundreds of yellow butterflies...

The strange, and the beautifully pathological have always been my refuge. I’m attracted to other people’s damage like a bee to honey (in other words, like an insect to its regurgitation). This explains, perhaps, the central "freak" in all my plays: the solitary male character whose behavior fascinates and repels. He has no peer, no mate, no equal though he desperately tries for a normality which looks pathetic from the outside, and merely painful from within. In him, I gather the shadow-selves of all the damaged men I’ve known (and a few I wish I had encountered), in an attempt to capture, in one single character, everything I find beautiful: a tragic impulse reflected in the eyes, repressed violence, failure, vulnerability. I can’t help it: other people’s tragedy triggers in me an affection I cannot control.

I’ve loved, unapologetically, every freak in every single play I’ve done: Larry Tarkowsky shouting his loneliness from the perpetually live Habitat Radio in The Happiness Machine; Gray, whose emotions were triggered, then extracted with maximum cruelty by the staff of the Institute for the National Suppression of Emotion through Combined Technologies (I.N.S.E.C.T.) in The Silentio Project; Urmuz, who shot himself in the temple after completing his masterpiece, a three-page excruciating novel; S. Night, the Private Eye (Private I?) who set up shop in an abandoned lamp factory and fell in love with his second client, the Angel of Death, in Noir…and Kean…Kean, the Fool, Kean, the Magnificent, Kean the Forlorn in Q. Of all, I’ve loved Kean the most because he belongs to the theatre.

Thinking about Hoffmann, and heroic Nutcrackers, and Eternal Students lost in the contemplation of the Cosmic Female Sublime (I’m channeling Emily Dickinson tonight with all these caps), and the man accompanied by clouds of yellow butterflies…thinking about the fantastical world in my head without which I’d choke as if deprived of air, I realize the impossible task of a project like Revision. How will I say all this? How will I show it? A vivisection? (It’s been a long-standing dream of mine to split open a character on stage and take out of her body fantastical beings, one by one – Hieronymus Bosch is my god. I thrive inside his landscapes). But more to the point, how will I build a play in the absence of its male character? Oh, how my friends, the feminists, will scowl. Do not be angry, my friends: this is a legitimate question. I cannot write in the absence of the thing I love, and I love the freak. Revision is an agglomeration of exceptions: a play which is not a play, where the freak is me, not a man, not someone whose damage I understand completely, not someone whose tragedy inspires love.

There are days when colossal landscapes clash in my imagination, and out of that collision a figure emerges. Revision is not about that; it’s about the shards, the things the break in the contact between the two planes – reality and fiction. Perhaps this is a circular journey, and I have merely retraced my steps. One memory (that came up recently in a story), is of the day of my departure – leaving my country (the habitat?) after 30 years, with two suitcases and a four year old who had never tasted an orange. The memory: locking the door of my grandmother’s house lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves, placing the key under the mat for someone to find eventually, knowing I’d never go back, feeling the loss of those books in a physical way I will never be able to describe. Perhaps a more brutal Fahrenheit 451? My books, my loves, my library of Alexandria…I am Quijote. I am Alice. I am looking for Kean.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Conversation

Part II: Memory (fragment)

The phone rings. GIRL picks up.

GIRL: I thought I was a silent character. Now you’re calling me?
ME: Problem?
GIRL: I am you.
ME: Yes. Fictionalized.
GIRL: You are me.
ME: We’ve established this.
GIRL: You’re calling me. How is this possible?
ME: Do you watch Dr. Who?
GIRL: Time travel.
ME: Revision.
GIRL: Is this like a 12 step program? Are you calling to apologize?
ME: For what? I’ve been pretty good to me.
GIRL: What about the child?
ME: You’re not my daughter.
GIRL: No? I’m versatile. Besides, being just you is boring.
ME: Thanks.
GIRL: She forgave you? For leaving her with strangers, for forgetting her birthday, for always thinking of yourself?
ME: No…I don’t know.
GIRL: So you admit it.
ME: That’s not why I called.
GIRL: Why did you call?
ME: Is there something wrong with me? For not being able to lie? For calling things what they are? For demanding absolutes.
GIRL: Ugh, absolutes. Now you’re asking for trouble.
ME: Why? Why can’t I say, this is what I think, and this is what I’m going to do about it. Clear. To the point. Why can’t I say, I don’t believe you, I don’t understand how you can have two versions of the same reality, one euphoric, for the cheering crowds, and one meant to elicit concern. I don’t understand how you can be both annoyed and ecstatic. Both fulfilled and starved. Both glorious and insecure.
GIRL: What are we talking about?
ME: I mean, you’re either having dinner, or starting a revolution. You can’t do both.
GIRL: Why not?
ME: Because that’s how you end up with kitchen philosophy. You’re either consumed or complacent. Stranger or saint. Hero or traitor.
GIRL: But the hero always becomes the traitor in the end. You said that.
ME: But I didn’t believe it! I often say things because they sound good not because I believe every word. It’s called wit.
GIRL: Is it? Then what do you call the things you should have said but didn’t, so later, when you replay the conversation in your head and insert the lines that will crush your opponent, you feel even worse for not having thought of them at the right moment. What do you call that?
ME: Delayed wit. I have that too. It’s a disease, like nostalgia. (Beat) I often think I write plays to get back at people.
GIRL: Is this true?
ME: No…I write plays to have conversations I would never have otherwise.
GIRL: Okay. So what happened? You experienced a disappointment?
ME: More like a landslide.
GIRL: Well.
ME: What?
GIRL: That’s everybody. Everybody lets everybody down all the time. It’s like a law of physics only nastier. You start cherishing the people who only disappoint you on occasion. They’re your best friends. It’s not like we’re spoiled for choice or anything. Have you ever looked at people in elevators? Of course not. You don’t see anybody in a crowd. But people in elevators, all stuck together, so uncomfortable because their bodies touch, start talking nonsense, mostly about the weather, “Nice weather we’re having,” or “oh, isn’t it rather hot for this time of year?” and you think “rather hot,” first, who talks like that and, second, it’s 110 degrees, what the fuck are you talking about, of course it’s hot, and our bodies are in such close proximity, and this elevator never stops, and you smell. That’s how people really feel about each other. And if the elevator crashes, they’ll try to save themselves, maybe send a child up, out of shame. That’s what we call fellow-feeling. You think you’re the only one who’s disappointed? You want me to talk about driving, and honking at people doing insanely stupid things, and putting my life in danger because they felt like being assholes that day? I bet that’s probably why you don’t drive. Or, like, one of twelve reasons. (Beat) And I’m also mad at screenwriters. It’s like they’ve never been to college or took a writing class. All the professors in their films have insanely huge offices with Persian rugs and cappuccino machines, and giant windows, and they’re totally rude to their students, and teach only in amphitheatres - on the rare occasions they do teach – and if they’re poets or fiction writers – because nobody writes plays in movies – they forget to wear shoes on campus, and never direct a dissertation or go to a meeting. Where do those screenwriters get their material, that’s what I want to know? And when we get over it, and suspend our disbelief, and start caring for those absurd characters, the ending sucks. Like, hire someone good at endings if you suck at them, don’t put your audience through that disappointment at the end of each series. (Beat) And then there are the times when I compliment someone and say, I like your earrings, or your lipstick or whatever, and they tell me they like my shirt, I’m not sure if they actually like my shirt or just say that to return the compliment, because when I say, I like your earrings, I’m totally honest, but I don’t know about other people, because there are some compliment-returners out there. And I think, my god, what if everyone is like that? I guess I really just don’t like not knowing things, but also feel like you have to trust people at some point, but if you do it too often then you’re naïve, so how many times is too often and how many times is enough? All I’m saying is, I can’t win. (Beat) You can’t win. (Beat) What were we talking about?
ME: Men.
GIRL: Were we? I had no idea.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Master of Secrets

In my eternal love of paradoxes, I discovered the following correspondence: the opacity of things makes me think of their transparency. Saying “the opacity of things” makes me think of Foucault’s badly translated The Order of Things (which should be The Words and the Things, but who am I to quarrel with translators?)

The Order of Things makes me think of the List as an organizing principle, which makes me think of Borges’ ridiculous list of impossible animals, whose absurd, giggly nature triggers Foucault’s book (or, at least, the impulse behind it). Borges’ list presents animals divided into: “(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) suckling pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.” Foucault laughs all the way to the printing press. He says: “In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.”

One great leap. Revision is that leap and I, the leaper, am contemplating the abyss underneath while making memory lists.

Revision is about superimposed images (personalities) and transparency (opacity). Me and the girl, me and the desert man, the sea monster to whom I tell my story. Visually, on stage, the concept is simple. I talk to the man in the lighting booth (who never answers). I coincide with the girl (who never speaks).The girl wearing her Victorian tuxedo jacket, perfectly tailored, turns her back to the audience to regard an image on the screen (I am very fond of the word “regard” because it implies looking, the gaze, but also the admiration – “in high regard” – one has for what one is looking at. The look and the looked at exchange a mutually appreciative glance).

On the back of the girl’s jacket, a projection: the puppet-like, miniature image of herself. As an all-encompassing repertory of images (my own), the girl contains an image of herself. At some point she emerges from the fort (a colossally tall fort – possibly suspended from the lighting rig…how would we accomplish this in performance?) with a doll which is a replica of herself (and, indirectly of me). Superimposition. A duplication ad infinitum. Transparency.

What is the girl looking at, on the screen/scrim? As a transition to Part III, The Sea, she’s looking at a ship of fools made of the sea (A Magritte image). A ghost ship made of the matter it comes in contact with – water. A chameleon ship, then. A shipwreck, a ghost depository. We carry our own ghosts on our backs. Looking forward, the girl is looking back. The look, the regard, is a revision of the real.
The image of the girl coincides with the image of the ship, the way the man coincides with the monster in Part III, but also in The Tempest, where Caliban’s position (the way he is perceived, regarded) changes to the point of ambiguity. This and the quest are the only two motifs that interest me. Yes, I am shallow and greedy, and from each text, which is a system of communication plugged into a larger system of communication (the Library, the World), I only take what interests me at the moment. I am told that is superficial. Okay, then. I am superficial.

(Technical parenthesis: in medieval drama a Master of Secrets was responsible for something that would translate roughly to special effects today. For the Greeks, the god in the machine was a problem-solver. Put the two terms together and you get…the modern Tech Director, the god from the machine, the Master of all Secrets)

Yesterday, over the course of hours of conversation (why can’t I have brief exchanges with this man?), I told the Master of Secrets about my vocabulary deficiencies which point to larger, systemic deficiencies. I have no vocabulary for the stage, not in the transplant language I’ve been practicing, not in English. I know what I want, I understand what I see, I see simultaneously, inside my head and on stage, but I have no words for the lighting I want, for the stage paraphernalia, for anything more complex than the division of stage areas. Why? Because at the moment of my forking paths, when I chose English over Theatre as a graduate degree, I abandoned everything in favor of language and writing, determined to never sound like an interloper who writes in a borrowed language, on borrowed time. This possession (appropriation) took all my energy, all my devotion. And so I’ve worked for decades staging plays here, strangely, without ever having the slightest difficulty with tech guys, but also without the slightest trace of technical theatre terminology. My confession did not bring the relief I expected. At some point, we all disappoint.

(A note: I confess everything to the man in the lighting booth not because I find him intimidating – such level of imagination and professionalism is to be applauded, not feared – but because his complete control of the production’s technical aspects gives me the courage to confess. In other words: to be in good hands, one needs to inform “the hands” of the precise nature of the cargo)

After that I went through my day a little worse for wear. In the evening, all I had to show for it was a list of larger questions about transparency and superimposition because Revision is a never-ending dialogue between my character, on stage, and the Master of Secrets in the lighting booth; because Revision is a confession of my deficiencies, a list of survival techniques in seductive but potentially dangerous territories (the desert, the sea, the stage); because Revision is my capitulation of secrecy. And who else would I tell but the Master of Secrets, the keeper of all stage illusions?

Monday, July 18, 2016

In Reach: On Directing

In Reach was the title of an art show that affected me profoundly. The artist, a sculptor I’d worked with on several Milena Group productions, had built, in the middle of a large exhibit space, a tree of gigantic proportions, with fantastical branches made of fabric and newspaper print, a tree alive with its own, as yet unexplored possibilities, whose silhouette projected on the immaculate wall shadows of a beauty I cannot explain. All I know is that, entering the exhibit, I noticed two things: the fact that the tree trunk was a female silhouette evolving into branches and shadows, and the fact that the shadows that trembled slightly with the movement of the crowd reminded me of the exquisite slow rhythm of Butoh dancers.

The artist’s statement connected the female tree with disease, but also with a cure accompanied by the possible disfigurement of the body – often the result of invasive surgical procedures. I thought, here is the wound and the knife inflicting it, disease and cure as one strategy for survival. What truly matters is the mark they leave behind.

It was then that I thought of another exhibit whose name I no longer remember, an art installation in Cincinnati where the artist had juxtaposed images of bodies prepped for surgery whose maps were drawn directly on the skin, with images of natural disasters that had scarred the landscape: earthquakes, avalanches, volcano eruptions. Maybe I’m making some of this up. Memory plays tricks on me quite often. Maybe all of this has happened. In Flaubert’s Parrot, Julian Barnes says, “what happened to the truth was not recorded.” It never is.

Why am I talking about this? Because for weeks now, I’ve been working on the script of the Milena Group’s new production, Revision, and I’ve experienced a loss of control, as if a shadow self (not me) has come out to play, bored with its captivity. The script has had more titles than I care to remember. In the end, I opted for Revision because memory is nothing but a revision of the truth.

In the previous post I talked about the film. Vaguely. Now I know what the show, this odd performance-reading-screening will look like. Three distinct parts: a short film about the desert (exile in the desert); a short descent into autobiography (my narrating, on stage, events from my life before and after becoming an expat); a short film about the sea (a state of eternal shipwreckedness). The desert and the sea bookend the reality of expatriation, and are the fictional projections of the truths uttered on stage. Of course I’m terrified. First I thought the fear came from the actual confessions…but no. It’s not that. It’s the blindness that comes with my being both actor and director. Everything I do on stage is subservient to the beauty of the image. How will I see myself? Even if I have a stand-in, her silhouette is not mine, her gestures are not mine. I will direct blind, having to trust (blindly!) the man in the lighting booth. Control. Directing is about control. Not tyranny over people, but the absolute control of the image and its evolution, from moment to moment, on stage. Every play I do tells three simultaneous stories: the immediate one expressed in dialogue; the one that gives it shape (the spectacle); and the one that gives it resonance (music, sound). How will I be able to direct in the absence of seeing?

When I direct a play I am a mass of contradictions: I know what I’m doing and I second guess what I’m doing (this stops, immediately, when the image that’s in my head, or an interpretation of it, materializes on stage). I think in metaphors. I explain everything in images. I don’t know what I want but I know what I don’t want. I have no preconceived ideas, no fixed rhythm in my head. The rhythm of each piece takes shape slowly in rehearsal.

I am a creature of habit. For a decade I’ve worked with the same artists (set designers, lighting people, actors). I had to communicate little. Words were not necessary; we understood each other. But ever since I felt the compulsion to tell the story of my exile to one man, as if, in his capacity to listen and memorize my stories, he was playing a part that had been written for him, inexplicably, even before we met, everything I thought I knew changed. Once I started telling him about my past, I couldn’t stop. One story became ten, and then a script, and two short films, and then suddenly, all my obsessions crawled to the surface of speech, and I found myself without a mask. I felt free, for the first time, absolutely, irrevocably free. And I felt afraid. I felt independent, and I felt connected to him, the keeper of my stories, in a way, I suppose, that people almost drowning feel toward their rescuers. This is how Revision began. And once it started, it could not be stopped.

This is what I know so far. There are two women jn Revision: me, and a fictional representation of me (the girl). The girl is beautiful, graceful, diminutive – the opposite of me, physically. In the two fictional parts of the production, she exists only on screen. In the middle part, as I confront reality, she walks on stage, carrying bags (a sign of homelessness and wandering), and a gigantic chandelier.
I have a million questions about the process, about combining film and performance, about the soundtrack’s fluctuations, about the possibilities of light. I’m working with people who don’t know me. I have to find a new vocabulary for everything I see when I close my eyes. I know, I know: this is how every play is made. A bunch of strangers get together and find a common rhythm in three weeks, and some feel like stabbing others, and then on opening night, they all get along and profess their love for one another. Well, has anyone wondered why there’s so much bad theatre out there? Could this alienation effect (My apologies, Herr Brecht) have anything to do with it?

The more I write, the more I need to talk. Before I talk to the audience, I have to talk to someone I trust. I have become impatient, reckless, abrupt. Summer is coming to an end, time is no longer patient. What I want takes time, and isolation, and possibly a lack of concern for the outside world because I’ve been moving toward this project for years, with increasingly autobiographical and meta-theatrical projects, until this avalanche of memories took over and asked to become a play. But this is not how the world works. Even the art of theatre takes into account social graces. I am afraid that this thing I’ve kept bottled up for over 20 years is changing me. It is not a play. It is an act of reaching toward another.

I am in reach. I have arrived at an impasse. But as the exhibits, and the books I’ve learned from taught me, flight begins with the impossibility of flight and the disease is often its own cure.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Perhaps S. is right. Perhaps my need to be understood clearly, utterly, and completely, to remove any shadow of doubt from my actions and interactions, is my form of insecurity. My fear: being misunderstood, being used as a textbook, without feelings, without emotions. There is a lot at stake here. What is at stake: the concept of home, of belonging.

I split, I split, I’m splitting. I want to be whole, contained by a single landscape to which I belong entirely. Is there such a landscape? Will I ever find peace?

This is what I now understand about my film:

-that its script will mimic the form of a textbook, an instruction manual (like a survival guide, a travelogue, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “This time, there will be no witnesses.”)
-that its title, following the Quijote’s elaborate and absurdly long chapter designations, will be elaborate and absurdly long, something like The Internal Exile’s Guide to Survival in the Desert with an Apocryphal Sequel Describing Similar Techniques for Survival at Sea.
-that the woman’s voice (when will people stop calling women “females” and men “males,” like the terms are interchangeable? They’re not. Do your bloody homework) will be clinical, detached, precise, as she catalogues landscapes and ways of surviving them
-that the man’s voice, asking important, elemental questions, will be the opposite of that. That the two will never address each other directly, demonstrating the well-known fact that communication is an illusion, that the purpose of the other is to expose you to your own, humbling solitude.

Imagine the following dialogue:

"SHE: The necessity for this script is to be found in the following considerations:
-that after 25 years as an exile, I felt the need to clarify the term
-that I met you
-that I finally understood the split inside me after reading a book that explained, quite unapologetically, the difference between tourists and travelers. Tourists plan their return trip from the beginning; travelers care little about retracing their steps. Thus tourism is closer to a full circle, to that movement of revolution that always accompanies social change, when a disappointing political regime is replaced by another, disappointing political regime in a dizzying movement whose endless repetition we call progress;
- that the need to define my position as an expat presented itself when, after months of poring over you, as if you were the rare edition of an exemplary book, I realized I wanted to come home
-that home itself was a term I would have to redefine as it had, in me, neither spatial nor temporal anchors
-that the successful nature of this definition (a revision of sorts) rested, partly, on the success of our collaboration which would be guaranteed only by a complete lack of secrecy
-that you who know nothing of the place I come from, you who feel so resolved inside your beautiful illusions, you who have found your way to me by understanding that everything I know, I know from books, and that there are only two landscapes you compete with – the desert and the sea; you must have understood the risk I’m taking here, and yet you stayed, knowing that my biggest fear is not stagnation, but the monstrous untimeliness of things.
-that I would like to disturb you on an elemental level not just because it’s you, but because I’ve never troubled anybody like that except maybe that 23 year old who left on my doorstep, wild flowers incased in a block of ice he’d fashioned himself, and when I didn’t believe his intensity, he shaved his head and went on a pilgrimage but not before saying “One day you’ll regret this.” I regret this.
HE: Are you writing to me?
SHE: I’m always writing to you. I am an exile in exile, like the man in that Italian novel, who found himself shipwrecked on a shipwreck. Imagine the disappointment. Faced with his imminent death, he discovered the shipwreck was a library, a floating book depository, a tomb. So he read, and he wrote letters which survived him. What else could he do? This script will not survive me, but I must write it for you, for me, for the fact that this imaginary conversation (because I’ll never send you this letter so you’ll never know what I think of you) happens in the desert, a place where, they say, nobody gets lost. People die or go mad, but the desert always returns them after a while. I read that in a book."

For years, now, I’ve evaluated everyone else's insecurity. Perhaps this is a film about mine.
Another obsession: to vivisect a character, split her open, show her insides, shout “Don’t you see she has nothing to hide?”  Perhaps this is a film about that.

Insecurity, honesty, exile.
An experiment: what happens when the kind stranger across the table, the one you’ve decided to open up to, without boundaries, without shame, without expectations, reminds you that you are nothing but a kind stranger?

Perhaps this is the beauty of that equilibrium, that equality you so desperately seek.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

We split, we split, we split!

A little while ago I made a vague attempt to explain to a group of strangers my understanding of the possibilities of The Tempest. I wanted to use The Tempest as a frame and talk about connections (I was in the process of connecting with someone, utterly, for the first time in years); about the way the waters relate to the desert, about how they are both opposing landscapes with the ability to kill.

Influenced by Craig (who was nothing but a Quijote of his time), Peter Brook directed The Tempest three times (or two - I can't remember), pausing for decades between productions. I envy that silence. But more than anything, I envy the fact that Brook had the luxury to experiment, that his circumstances were such that when he treated the stage both as a refuge and as a laboratory (research), people understood, and did not question him.

In his version of The Tempest that I like the most, actors carry fragile ships on their heads and move inside perfectly empty spaces, watched, from above (a scaffolding?) by the rest of the cast. (I had made a little wood figurine with a ship attached to its head for that talk, but when the time came to reveal it, I hesitated too long, and the moment passed, and I felt foolish. I still have it - the figurine, not the foolishness - hanging from my chandelier, in punishment.

The Tempest. Later, John Gielgud (Craig's nephew, it turns out), played Prospero in Greenaway's exasperatingly beautiful Prospero's Books: "We split, we split, we split."

I split, I split, I'm splitting: between landscapes that seduce, and landscapes that kill; between endless and disappearing landscapes; between people who attract me, like the desert, and their treacherous side (the waters); between a desire to live forever, and a colossal fear of old age.

This is what this piece is about. My mistakes, my hesitations, my permanent status as an internal émigré. Somehow, mermaids are also involved. "Here by the rocks, in the foreground, a mermaid is to lie, half-dead."

And so the experiment begins: writing a script that is not a play, the story of a woman trapped between two landscapes, a film-and-reading spectacle of sorts whose nature will reveal itself to me later, because form follows content and has a responsibility to it, the way we have a responsibility for form.

Here, by the rocks, in the foreground…