play thirty six: shopping and fucking

shopping

Author: Mark Ravenhill

Published: 1996

Synopsis: “The sexual violence of Shopping and Fucking explores what is possible if consumerism supersedes all other moral codes. To this effect everything, including sex, violence and drugs, is reduced to a mere transaction in an age where shopping centres are the new cathedrals of Western consumerism.” (sourced from good ol’ Wiki)

What moved me: I’ve just finished reading an article by VCA’s Alyson Campbell about the importance of affect theory for tapping into a “body-first” way of knowing to understand theatre both critically and corporeally. Although she explicitly references Crimp and Kane in this analysis, I inevitably read it through the prism of today’s play.

This work does not, I think, reduce language to have an equivalent expressive power to gesture (a hallmark of the Crimp/Kane style focuses on the materiality of speech). It does, however, generate an intensity of feeling that makes me aware that my revulsion to its depiction of sexual violence is shaping my critical judgement. Is it a bad play because it makes my stomach churn? I think it is perhaps the opposite. It is successful because my body tried to physically reject it.

Through rejecting the subject material because of the effectiveness with which it was conveyed, Ravenhill’s work has made me distinguish between content and form in a way I don’t think I have before.

play twenty eight: love me tender

love me tenderAuthor: Tom Holloway

Published: 2010

Synopsis: Father is a fire-fighter, the local hero, and his youngest daughter has just been born. His love for her is unlike any other kind of love – deep, long, protective – but as she heads towards adolescence he has to confront how our hyper-sexual culture is forcing young girls to grow up fast. All this in the midst of the gods’ wrath, who’ve stopped the wind and made the forests burn, forcing him to choose what sacrifice he is willing to live with.

What moved me: My familiarity with the Iphigenia myth upon which this work is based allowed me to see the full extent to which Holloway had allowed it to be infected by an Australian sensibility. Athena’s refusal to allow the wind to blow and so release the Greek fleet on its way to Troy is our craze-inducing heat in which we wait with baited breath for the first fire of the season to break. The fire-fighter is our Agamemnon, who we look to when we need to be saved (and who is an unimpeachable archetype of Australian masculinity).

I also loved the dilation of Holloway’s language. Every scene unravels as a layer of images slathered upon each other – we think it is one thing, but then it becomes another, and another, and another, until we almost stop trying to assume we understand what we are seeing and wait to be told.

play thirteen: angels in america: a gay fantasia on national themes (part one: millennium approaches)

The HBO Angel. Emma Thompson, naturally.
The HBO Angel. Emma Thompson, naturally.

Author: Tony Kushner

Published: 1993 (Pulitzer Prize winner)

Synopsis: Three threads of American living gradually interweave in the cold new era of Reagan and in the face of the catastrophic AIDS crisis. Louis is confronted with his own cowardice as he abandons his lover Prior to struggle with his diagnosis of AIDS alone. Mormon couple Harper and Joe struggle with the constraints of their religion as sexuality and addiction collide. Roy Cohn, a New York arch-conservative lawyer responsible for the death of Ethel Rosenberg, refuses to submit to the label entailed by his deteriorating health.

What moved me: it is incredibly difficult to articulate a single element of this work that is not breathtaking. I think, though, Kushner’s note about the staging is worthy of reproduction here for the perfect framework it creates for the play.

“The play benefits from a pared-down style of representation, with minimal scenery and scene shifts done rapidly (no blackouts!), employing the cast as well as stagehands – which makes for an actor-driven event, as this must be. The moments of magic – the appearance and disappearance of Mr Lies and the ghosts, the Book hallucination, and the ending – are to be fully realised, as bits of wonderful theatrical illusion – which means it’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do, but the magic should at the same time be thoroughly amazing.”