the wife of the man of many wiles

Believe what you want to. Believe that I wove,
If you wish, twenty years, and waited, while you
Were knee-deep in blood, hip-deep in goddesses.

I’ve not much to show for twenty years’ weaving—
I have but one half-finished cloth at the loom.
Perhaps it’s the lengthy, meticulous grieving.

Explain how you want to. Believe I unraveled
At night what I stitched in the slow siesta,
How I kept them all waiting for me to finish,

The suitors, you call them. Believe what you want to.
Believe that they waited for me to finish,
Believe I beguiled them with nightly un-doings.

Believe what you want to. That they never touched me.
Believe your own stories, as you would have me do,
How you only survived by the wise infidelities.

Believe that each day you wrote me a letter
That never arrived. Kill all the damn suitors
If you think it will make you feel better.

A.E. Stallings, 2002

play thirty eight: black medea

The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.
The Canadian premiere at Obsidian Theatre.

Author: Wesley Enoch

Published: 2007

Synopsis: “Black Medea is Wesley Enoch’s richly poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Medea. Blending the cultures of Ancient Greek and Indigenous storytelling, Enoch weaves a commentary on contemporary Aboriginal experience.” (Synopsis taken from here).

What moved me: The brilliance of this work is the deftness with which Enoch has insinuated the Medea narrative into the indigenous Australian landscape. Just as Medea helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, so here does Medea help her love gain mining access to the ancient land of which her community act as guardians.

I also loved the space Enoch creates for the theatre-makers to enter into this work, with significant chunks of text given in images instead of speech.

Also, the vastness of this image:

MEDEA: I had a dream. I dreamt I was staring into the desert and felt I would never be alone. In this dream my mother’s standing there smiling, her hair playing in the wind. She doesn’t say anything, she looks at me with a quiet smile. Beside her stands my grandmother. She looks just like my mother only she’s got more history in her face. Her hair’s tied back. This woman of law and language, standing ankle deep in the sand. Behind her another woman, looking at me, I can see my reflection in her eyes. She looks familiar. Her skin’s dark and weathered. Beside her another woman, and another and another, and then I can see an ocean of women stretching back out into the desert, stretching out to the horizon making the sand dark…standing facing me, looking to me.

play thirty five: fewer emergencies

fewer emergenciesAuthor: Martin Crimp

Published: 2005

Synopsis: “A group of people sit and tell stories. The first is about a woman who realises her marriage is a mistake but stays, colluding with her husband in living a public lie while wreaking damage and violence behind closed doors. In the second a Dunblane type massacre has occurred; in the third the couple’s child from the first piece is locked in a tower while outside violence apparently rages.” Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

What moved me: I have never encountered a script with so little authorial prescription. There are no characters given by Crimp, just numbered voices. Time is “blank”, as is space. The only directive in the first story is that Voice 1 must be female.

What to make of this ‘blankness’? It allows an inner space to expand that is almost a floating island, free of the specifics of material certainty. It lends itself more to radio drama than the stage. How, then, to translate this into the sheer materiality of a production? How to tie it down with bodies but maintain a sense of the text being a horizon-seeking missile?

It reminded me of Tow Holloway’s work. Both share a sense of a series of screens being lifted one by one as the narrative unfolds, each to reveal a new image that reshapes all you had previously assumed about the playworld.

play twenty four: uncle vanya

The terrible Yeliena.
The vampiric Yeliena.

Author: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1899

Translator: Elisaveta Fen

Synopsis: The gout-ridden professor Serebriakov has retired to his country estate with his much younger wife Yeliena Andryeevna. His daughter from his first marriage, Sonia, and her uncle, Vanya, have looked after his affairs but gradually realise that his much-lauded career, which they have tirelessly supported, has been a sham. The old sophist and the beautiful, bored, listless Yeliena gradually infect the family with their aimless ways, before a rupture in the emotional equilibrium of the group forces them to depart.

What moved me: What might be most moving about this work is Chekhov’s prescience about our collective responsibility for the environment. Astrov (another doctor!) is committed to sustainable living, not only in his treatment of patients but also in his role as a landowner.

ASTROV: […] Anyone who can burn up all that beauty in a stove, who can destroy something that we cannot create, must be a barbarian incapable of reason. Man is endowed with reason and creative power so that he can increase what has been given him, but up to the present he’s been destroying and not creating. There are fewer and fewer forests, the rivers are drying up, the wild creatures are almost exterminated, the climate is being ruined, and the land is getting poorer and more hideous every day. [To VOINITSKY.] I can see your ironic expression, and I believe that what I say doesn’t seem at all serious to you, and…and maybe it is just crankiness….All the same when I go walking by the woods that belong to the peasants, the woods I saved from being cut down, or when I hear the rustling of the young trees I planted with my own hands, I’m conscious of the fact that the climate is to some extent in my power too, and that if mankind is happy in a thousand years’ time, I’ll be responsible for it even though only to a very minute extent. […]

Yeliena sucks this conviction from him in her general malaise – that black hole of purposelessness that plagues so many of Chekhov’s humans. His universe is pockmarked with these black holes and yet I would not characterise it as pessimistic. It’s perhaps both more hopeful and more resigned – we must each find our purpose and hold onto it as best we can, for the slightest wind will shake it from our hands.

play twenty two: ivanov

Chekhov. What a babe.
Chekhov. What a babe.

Writer: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1887

Suggested by: with this new week comes our first suggestion for the play-a-day club. Colin Ho, Amy Satchell, and Chris Hay suggested a chronological reading of Chekhov’s major works (Ivanov, The Seagull, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard) in order to track the development of Chekhov as an artist (as well as of naturalism as a form).

Synopsis: Estate-holder Nikolai Ivanov, a once vital man now wasted by depression, slowly infects the network of relationships in which he is enmeshed with his ennui.

What moved me:  Both Chekhov’s protagonist and the repetitive content of most of the work’s dialogue – everyone is bored, always bored and waiting for diversion – is deeply frustrating and so perhaps perfectly provokes the same dissipation in the spectator that is being felt onstage.

His inexplicable falling out of love with his consumptive Jewish wife Sarah (leaving aside the mildly disturbing seam of antisemitism that runs throughout the work) is a prime example.

IVANOV: […] Aniuta is a remarkable, an extraordinary woman. She changed her religion for my sake, left her father and mother, gave up her money, and if I’d asked for a hundred more sacrifices, she would have made them without blinking an eyelid. As for me – well, there’s nothing remarkable about me, and I’ve sacrificed nothing. However, it’s a long story…The gist of the matter, my dear Doctor, is that…[hesitates] that, to put it briefly, I was passionately in love with her when I got married and I swore I’d love her for ever, but…Well, five years have passed, and she still loves me, but I…[Makes a helpless gesture with his hands.] Here you are, telling me that she’s soon going to die, and I don’t feel any love or pity but just a sort of indifference and lassitude….To anyone looking at me it must seem dreadful; I don’t understand myself what’s happening to me….

The seed of brilliance in this work is how deftly Chekhov handles crowded rooms – keeping each thread separate and yet entangled. I’m sure this will develop over the next few plays.