Today was my third reading of Hekabe (Euripides; school assignment). Rather than submitting you to another report on it here is the first page of Anne Carson’s introduction of ‘Grief Lessons’.
Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief. Ask a headhunter why he cuts off human heads. He’ll say that rage impels him and rage is born of grief. The act of severing and tossing away the victim’s head enables him to throw away the anger of all his bereavements. Perhaps you think this does not apply to you. Yet you recall the day your wife, driving you to your mother’s funeral, turned left instead of right at the intersection and you had to scream at her so loud other drivers turned to look. When you tore off her head and threw it out the window they nodded, changed gears, drove away.
Grief and rage – you need to contain that, to put a frame around it, where it can play itself out without you or your kin having to die. There is a theory that watching unbearable stories about other people lost in rage and grief is good for you – may cleanse you of your darkness. Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you. You sacrifice them to action. And this sacrifice is a mode of deepest intimacy of you with your own life. Within it you watch [yourself] act out the present or possible organisation of your nature. You can be aware of your own awareness of this nature as you never are at the moment of experience. The actor, by reiterating you, sacrifices a moment of his own life in order to give you a story of yours.
Anne Carson, “Grief Lessons: Four Plays – Euripides”, New York: New York Review of Books, 7.
Synopsis: a series of vignettes that allow us to encounter over 100 characters as they struggle to negotiate intimacy in the face of our rapidly advancing world.
What moved me: I saw the New York Theatre Workshop production of this work at the beginning of 2014 and I was gobsmacked. I’d never seen Churchill onstage before and now here before me were maybe 50 scenes being played out, with a complete overhaul of the stage between each one. A swing-set, an airport, a bed. It unrolled with steadily increasing depth – like she was dipping her hand under somebody’s skin.
What I found shocking when I read the script was how little she has prescribed in this vision. No setting, no stage directions, no character delineation. Just her words.
Synopsis: “Two couples set out to betray their partners…
A lover returns from the past and a husband doesn’t answer the phone… A woman disappears and a neighbour is the prime suspect… Contracts are broken between intimates and powerful bonds are formed between strangers.
In Andrew Bovell’s masterfully interconnected polyphony, an evocative mystery unravels at the same time as a devastating tale of disconnection between individuals, partners and communities.” (Taken from Australian Plays, which can be accessed here.)
What moved me: what moved me is the reason I cannot choose an image for this play. It is a polyphony: a simultaneous combination of a number of parts, each forming their own melody whilst also harmonising with each other. The sensation of reading this play, or listening to this play, is of being enmeshed in a musical tapestry in which you must choose a strand for your ears to pay attention to whilst you are surrounded by the throb of the weave.