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.

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