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: Teenage Milla is dying of cancer when she strikes up a friendship at Central Train Station with Moses, a junkie who helps stop her nose bleed. Their flowering relationship is watched with apprehension by her parents Anna and Henry, who have their own problems with substance abuse. Ultimately, he can pose no great threat in these final months, and we watch as those in Milla’s orbit try to deal with her imminent absence.
What moved me: strangely, in this deeply moving work it was the food that moved me most. Attention is drawn to the figs ripening on the windowsill so we notice that time is running out. There is a moment where Anna – this highly-strung, very-lost mother – chokes on sausage rind, and another where she peels a boiled egg very carefully before smashing it into her mouth whole. There’s something about the irrationality of grief – the arbitrariness of what it throws into relief – that strikes a chord with these brightly-lit moments.
Synopsis: A Darwin family try to deal with their grief as it ripples out from the most recent death in their community. Young Ruben, Joe, and Jarrod had a good thing going with their patched up fishing boat, the Front Yard Challenge. Disaster strikes even harder, then, when Joe decides to kill himself. Ruben is unable to shake his sense of responsibility for Joe’s decision and it takes a great coming together of his family to not let his grief chew him and spit him out as nothing but sad bones.
What moved me: I heard Chris Mead speak recently about the importance of understanding dramaturgy more dynamically than we currently do – that we should think of it as the membrane of a living organism rather than as a slab of meat that can be sectioned into plot, character, themes, etc.
Reading ‘Brothers Wreck’ immediately brought this image of an organism to mind. This play is a living, breathing beast, a working muscle pumping blood that is covered in a fine membrane of grief, grief which also shoots its roots (or tentacles) down into the beast itself. I had to wrestle with this text. I know Darwin – the sticky air, and the people who have had to deal with death every day of their lives. As I read, I cried, in sadness but also in wonder at how alive it was, at its vitality, at its youth and its sad-bone-weariness. Alberts made the strength of the “skin-ship system” of the play beat as steady as a heart and made me long to be part of something with such a close weave.