Plays by Deborah Freeman

I have completed `Remedies,` a play about M E.  Background research...

Writing Groups

I am setting up a new writing group in East Finchley, to be held in the atmospheric location of an East Finchley...

Novels by Deborah Freeman

 A few years back. I answered an ad on the Radio 3 website, from the conceptual art company, Blast Theory...

Poems by Deborah Freeman

These appeared in the journal Jewish Renaissance, 2008.  `Fish.` `Fasting.` `Open a Gate for Us. ` `After the...

On Two plays and a Novel. Tuesday November 1st 2016

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 Since last blog I have seen two plays. Of the moment, of our time, presented by top writers, directors, producers of London Town and the USA.

First:  The Red Barn, at the National, a play by David Hare based on a novel, La Main, by Georges Simenon.  The second, The Intelligent Homosexual`s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, or iHo. By Tony Kushner, directed at Hampstead Theatre by Michael Boyd.

Having lived in London now for 3 years, I realise how rarely I got to see plays as they came out. I`m still relishing the opportunities.

But my hang-up, you could say (Jeff does,) obsession, with one particular issue in plays, mainly plays written by men which most still are ...my hang-up about the over-use of what I call `the motif of the dead wife or mother,` well, it is on permanent `alert` here.

In The Red Barn I was initially bothered by what critics praised most – the expensive and noisy depiction of a violent storm, on-stage.

This bothered me because I am naïve about theatre. If a character shivers and says `I`m cold,` I believe her/him instantly. Seeing the three characters fight their way through Loud Blizzard Land, with ambitiously staged flashings, thunderings, blowings of wind, still didn`t make me believe that on the stage of the National Theatre I was seeing a real blizzard. Instead I saw an expensive and noisy depiction of one. Give me a good actor shivering, and a `woooo…` of sound FX wind, and I am easily persuaded of the reality of a storm in a play.

The mysterious, alienated tones of the characters, the sets in black and white, and the storyline being thin,  - as was actress Elizabeth Debicki, who for some reason was required to bare her breasts - none of this bothered me. That was the style of the piece, thought through and done very well.

Then, half way through the play Donald Dodd, (actor Mark Strong,) angrily encountered his disappointed father, (Michael Elwyn.) And I spotted it immediately. Thrown casually into the dialogue. There had been a mother, a Mrs Dodd - presumably so doddery she`d died years earlier. Of course she had, I whispered to Jeff, who is now used to my over-sensitivity to the killing off of mothers in theatre.  

Not that her premature death was recounted as in any way significant. Imagining that a difficult relationship with a mother might have contributed in any way to the anomie, the alienation, the uncertainty of Donald Dodd, was no more than some wild ultra-feminist fantasy on my part. How could a difficult relationship with a mother have the slightest connection with a man`s difficult relationships with women? And as for his living wife, Ingrid… Donald Dodd killed her with his gun as the play ended.

iHo, by American Tony Kushner was a three hour virtuoso theatre experience. A virtuoso performance by an astonishing cast. (So this is what Debbie Aldridge has been up to in Hungary.)

The show stunned me into a sense of excited and profound illiteracy. Paul Taylor in The Independent says the play comes from America`s ` great tradition of brutal, realist family drama,`  and writes that the evening `consists, in part of raucous, rampantly well-read dialectical slanging matches and brain-knottingly baroque family entanglements…`

It escaped my notice during the actual performance, each witty line challenged, overshadowed by some other witty line, often shouted, the anger, emotion, wit, politics with big and small p`s. But on arrival home and after studying the programme carefully, I had to look up apophatic and kataphatic… Great words.  

I am currently reading the third of the great Elena Ferrante`s Neapolitan Quartet. This one called `Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.`  A superb read. On the front a blurb-quote calls it `One of modern fiction`s richest portraits of a friendship,` but I am finding it, particularly the third volume, something more like `The Intelligent Woman`s  Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a key to feminism…`  In this book, as in Kushner`s play, the personal is the political. Visceral scenes of societal and personal successes and failures – with women in it who grow from children to serious, struggling mothers, academics, (I know, you can be both,) and everything in between.

Somewhere in the play, about a well-read retired Communist longshoreman, someone mentions that the mother in the play, mother of Pill, Maria and Lex Marcantonio, had died in childbirth.  There was an older woman character, Gus Marcantonio`s sister, who we gathered had been around the world sourcing cults and ideologies, returning to America we`re not quite sure when, whose character, I fear seemed to me like that of a minor chorus, or even (dare I say it?) the token older woman.

The Intelligent Homosexual`s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, is a brilliant play. Knowing more about the history of radical Italian culture in the USA of yesterday would have been helpful, but the programme certainly helped.

And yet, at the heart of the play was the old elephant in the room, which, for me, damaged the piece artistically, even though I could live to a hundred and ten and never write anything a tenth as good as Tony Kushner. That old familiar mother-shaped hole, that empty space, at the heart of London`s contemporary man-made theatre scene.

 

 

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