Diderot, Garrick, King Lear

ROACH: Yes, well Diderot comments on that in the Paradox of the Actor, which you alluded to a moment ago. It was a demonstration of facial physiognomy, of control over the face and its expression, that paralleled a pianist playing scales. Garrick started on one emotion, and then ran his face through nine distinct emotions, recognizable, stopped, and ran his face back down through the same sequence, but in reverse, just as you would play a scale on the piano.

BOGAEV: Wow. And these two screens are kind of like a frame, a picture frame or a door frame?

ROACH: Yeah, they’re like a proscenium to frame his face. So it was just the face coming through. And that—to your point about did he need a full-body posture or movement to work his magic—the answer is as long as it was close enough, he could do it with his face alone.

BOGAEV: So, talk about a rubber face. So Diderot, as you say, wrote these passages in the Paradox that he attributed to Garrick and Garrick’s voice. He has Garrick talking about acting and also about the type of person that an actor should envision himself portraying, and he talks about an ideal man, as opposed to playing oneself. Garrick says that if you play only yourself, you’ll be a crappy actor, a mediocre actor.

ROACH: Yes, yes. That’s exactly…  You’ll be mediocre. It is a being that you imagine, that you bring into being, by the force of your creative imagination. And when you think of it, it’s an extraordinary thing to, as it were, give birth to a human being who’s not yourself, but the distillation of all that you have observed and remembered and felt, and then can recombine to put it into the two hours’ traffic of our stage.

BOGAEV: Can you give us some examples of where you see this in action?

ROACH: Diderot…

BOGAEV: For instance, he did Lear.

ROACH: Yes, yes. So that would be a good example because it was one of his most famous and successful Shakespearean roles. And he left a note behind, it was actually to the French when he was giving his parlor exhibition of Lear, and he explained how he came to his understanding of the crushing tragedy of Lear’s loss of his daughter. Garrick had heard tell of a madman who was kept confined in a private home nearby where Garrick lived, and he got permission to study the gestures of this madman, which consisted of an impassioned reenactment of a terrible event. And again and again and again, this poor man would go over this, a traumatized memory that he kept repeating and repeating. Evidently, he’d been holding his child in his arms on an upper story window while a parade went by outside, and he lost his grip on his little girl, and she fell to her death in the street below. His tragedy was reenacting this. Garrick had the insight that this was the Lear action. Garrick would reenact this madman’s gestures and then coolly step back and say, “Thus it was I learned to imitate madness.”

Joseph Roach interviewed by Barbara Bogaev
Shakespeare Unlimited

https://www.folger.edu/shakespeare-unlimited/joseph-roach-acting

Ballad of Tom Hill

For years now, Tom Hill and I have been about as friendly as a doorman and tenant can be. It’s not just that we discuss baseball and politics, or people in the building. When we both have free time we talk about a mutual obsession — Mississip­pi. I spent about a year there as a civil rights worker and a journalist. Tom, who now lives in the Bronx, was raised on a plantation in the Delta, during the last, violent impoverished years of segregation. Emmett Till was one of his best friends. Indeed, he was with Till until about 7 p.m. on the horrible, legendary 1955 night when Till was murdered allegedly for whistling at a white woman.

Tom’s life incorporates the sea changes that have swept through Mississippi and New York over the past 25 years. It is the story of a brave man’s attempt to deal with two dangerous, difficult environ­ments. It’s not just a doorman’s story. It is a capsule version of a crucial segment of American history.

Paul Cowan, October 8, 1980
https://www.villagevoice.com/2020/03/25/the-ballad-of-tom-hill/

15 American Plays It’d Be Great to See Revived | The Village Voice

Everybody knows theater critics are useless. All year round, they occupy free seats, and in return they do nothing but complain, complain, complain. Why, you ask, can’t they do something useful for a change?

So I was complaining (as usual), a few weeks back (Voice, May 23), about having to review the same plays over and over, when the world, so I claimed, was “full of unperformed great plays” deserving revival. In response, I only got press releases announcing that next season, like the last one, would be full of familiar titles. Some of them worth seeing again, no doubt, but not exactly unperformed rarities likely to fill a desperate hunger in our collective theatrical soul. Why can’t our theater find at least a few less well-known plays that are worth a fresh look?

That drove me, shockingly, to do something useful: compile my list of plays we rarely or never see—plays we should be seeing, because they add some quality, which our theater currently lacks.

A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare. Everyone’s favorite theatrical fantasist spun this dizzying web of words for the Signature’s all-Guare season. The dying U.S. Grant, ruthless general and hapless President, struggles to make sense of his life, nursemaided by his would-be publisher, Mark Twain, and a host of Gilded Age figures low and high. I’d gladly take this exhilarating trip again.

  • Sin (A Cardinal Deposed) (2004) by Michael Murphy.
  • The Danube (1984) and The Conduct of Life (1985) by María Irene Fornés
  • Ready for the River (1991) by Neal Bell
  • The Fabulous Miss Marie (1971) by Ed Bullins.
  • In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (1969) by Tennessee Williams.
  • Who’ll Save the Plowboy? (1962) by Frank D. Gilroy.
  • The Gingham Dog (1969) by Lanford Wilson.
  • Lagrima del Diablo (The Devil’s Tear) (1980) by Dan Owens.
  • Boy on the Straight-Back Chair (1969) by Ronald Tavel.
  • The Cocktail Hour (1988) by A.R. Gurney.
  • The Ceremony of Innocence (1967)
  • The Credeaux Canvas (2001) by Keith Bunin.
  • A Few Stout Individuals (2002) by John Guare.
  • Zero Positive (1988) by Harry Kondoleon.

MICHAEL FEINGOLD, JULY 4, 2012
https://www.villagevoice.com/2012/07/04/15-american-plays-itd-be-great-to-see-revived/

William S. Burroughs Talks With Tennessee Williams | The Village Voice

Although they were both born in St. Louis within three years of each other, William Burroughs did not meet Tennessee Williams until 1960, when they were briefly introduced at a table in the Cafe de Paris in Tangiers, by Paul and Jane Bowles. Burroughs had read and admired Williams’s short stories, and later in the ’60s Tennessee was known to quote at length from Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. But despite their mutual acquaintances (including the Bowleses and the painter Brion Gysin), they were not to meet again until 1975, at a gathering of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Their first conversation of any length took place at a party after a Burroughs reading at Notre Dame University earlier this year, and there they talked and carried on like old friends.

Tennessee’s new play, Vieux Carre, opens tonight on Broadway. Burroughs and I attended a preview two Saturdays ago. The next day we visited him at the Hotel Elysee, where he has maintained a spacious flat on the 12th floor for some time. It was late afternoon, and as I arrived, a few minutes after Burroughs, they were already seated at the opposite ends of a sofa. Tennessee seemed chipper; he got up to show us a pastel gouache he had just completed on his terrace that morning. Two bottles of wine arrived, and Burroughs and Williams resumed their talk.

James Grauerholz

Orpheus Holds His Own: William Burroughs Talks with Tennessee Williams May 16, 1977, https://www.villagevoice.com/2020/02/16/william-s-burroughs-talks-with-tennessee-williams/

No Man is an Island. John Donne, Meditation 17

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

That is what I am familiar with.  It’s part of a longer piece apparently:

Meditation #17 By John Donne From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1623), XVII:
Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris (Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.)

Perchance, he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Wikisource

John Simon on Beckett’s Happy Days

“The play, as you should know, concerns Winnie, waist-deep in the sod at the center of a mound overgrown with withered grass; and then, in the second act, chin-deep. While she still can, she spends her days fussing with the toiletries in her large bag, a parasol, and, occasionally, her husband, Willie. He lives in a hole on the other side of the mound, is still fully mobile but extremely uncommunicative. Mostly he reads his newspaper, mutters to himself, and now and then says a word or two to Winnie. She, however, is cheerful—insanely cheerful under the circumstances—and keeps up a steady patter of observations, reflections, recollections, and sometimes even snatches of half-remembered poetry and songs. She has a gun in her satchel, but suicide is out of the question; even when she is in it up to her head, even when Willie can no longer climb the mound to touch her, she goes on contentedly, garrulously, gossipily, ecstatically jabbering about the infinite mercies of existence.

Happy Days is both a masterly literary metaphor and a powerful stage image. An image, moreover, that sustains itself through a series of small but brilliant variations for one and a quarter hours—the duration of the play and, it would seem, of human life, with which it manages to become co-extensive. This is not the place—and decidedly not the space—for a full discussion of the play, but I must quote two magisterial moments from it. The first occurs in Act I when, describing how an ant disports itself, Winnie elicits Willie’s pun, “Formication.” Blissfully, she exclaims: “How can one better magnify the Almighty than by sniggering with him at his little jokes, particularly the poorer ones?” A whole world view, a philosophy of life, a theology even, are encapsulated in that remark.”

John Simon on Theater: Criticism 1974-2003

The Sklar Brothers – What’s In My Bag?

The Sklar Brothers go shopping at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles. Their latest podcasts ‘View From The Cheap Seats’ and ‘Dumb People Town’ are available now.

Check out their picks:
Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride (LP)
http://bit.ly/3bSvNNv
Orville Peck – Pony (LP)
http://bit.ly/2SLbUR6
A Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (LP) http://bit.ly/2wC8EPr
Bob Dylan – Street Legal (LP) http://bit.ly/39NK3Fx
Belle & Sebastian – The Boy With The Arab Strap (LP) http://bit.ly/2SZHglW
The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You (LP)
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (LP) http://bit.ly/3bXlS9g
Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co. [10th Anniversary Edition] (LP) http://bit.ly/2v2miL6

The Superfluous Man

The superfluous man (Russian: лишний человек, líshniy chelovék, “unnecessary person”) is an 1840s and 1850s Russian literary concept derived from the Byronic hero. It refers to an individual, perhaps talented and capable, who does not fit into social norms. In most cases, this person is born into wealth and privilege. Typical characteristics are disregard for social values, cynicism, and existential boredom; typical behaviors are gambling, drinking, romantic intrigues and duels. He is often unmindful, indifferent or unempathetic with society’s issues and can carelessly distress others with his actions, despite his position of power. He will often use his power for his own comfort and security and will have very little interest in being charitable or using it for the greater good.

Russian critics such as Vissarion Belinsky viewed the superfluous man as a byproduct of Nicholas I’s reign, when the best educated men would not enter the discredited government service and, lacking other options for self-realization, doomed themselves to live out their life in passivity. Scholar David Patterson describes the superfluous man as “not just…another literary type but…a paradigm of a person who has lost a point, a place, a presence in life” before concluding that “the superfluous man is a homeless man”.

The superfluous man is often in contrast politically with the great man.

Beavis and Butthead – The Rolling Stone Interview

The stupid and ugly have one advantage in life: Teachers expect nothing from them, so they can fly under the usual indoctrination that accompanies education. Thus the stupid and ugly — if they aren’t entirely stupid — have a greater chance of being original. They are allowed to speak the truth because no one cares what they say. Because they are stupid, they are free.

You don’t have to go to college to know the definition of “redundant.” What I’m saying is that essentially what you’re saying is “I like stuff that I like.”
Beavis: Yeah. Huh-huh. Me, too.
Butt-Head: Also, I don’t like stuff that sucks, either.

But nobody likes stuff that sucks!
Butt-Head: Then why does so much stuff suck?
Beavis: Yeah. College boy! Huh-huh, huh-huh.


What advice do you have for America’s youth?
Beavis: Uh . . . sometimes at the arcade? If you rub your feet on the ground and touch the coin slot, it makes a spark and you get a free game. Huh-huh.
Butt-Head: Huh-huh. Uh … I got one. Like if you go to school and, like, study and stuff? And grow up and get a job at a company and, like, get promoted? You have to go there and do stuff that sucks for the rest of your life.
Beavis: Yeah. You’ll be trapped, just like those worms in that grasshopper’s butt. Huh-huh, huh-huh. And then people will whip you, and you’ll come crawling out and —
Butt-Head: Shut up, Beavis! Huh-huh. But what I was saying is, if you act like us and just do stuff that’s cool? Like sit around and watch TV and burn stuff?
Beavis: And choke your chicken. Huh-huh-huh.
Butt-Head: Yeah. Huh-huh. And choke your chicken. Then, Rolling Stone magazine will come and kiss your butt!

Beavis and Butt-Head: The Voice of a Generation
Charles M Young
AUGUST 19, 1993
Rolling Stone

Visitation Rites: The Elusive Tradition of Plague Lit – Village Voice

Pestilence may have an old-world ring, but epidemics were, until quite recently, a recurring feature of urban life in America, as well as a force in such emblematic events as the Civil War and the great westward trek. Congress could not be convened in 1793 until George Washington rode through the streets of Philadelphia to assure himself that an outbreak of yellow fever, which had decimated the city, was under control. As J.H. Powell’s riveting account of that outbreak, Bring Out Your Dead, reveals, the barbaric responses we associate with AIDS were commonplace in 1793: Refugees were stoned, shot, or left to starve as they wandered the countryside; newspapers from the capital were boiled in vinegar before anyone would read them; and the task of caring for the afflicted and burying the dead fell largely to impoverished blacks. This is an America you will not read about in fiction. There are no epics about the epidemics that struck New Orleans with such regularity that the death rate in that city remained higher than the birthrate for the entire 19th century; no chronicles of the devastation that disease wrought upon the ’49ers as they headed west. You can read all about cannibalism on the Donner Pass, but not about diarrhea.

Richard Goldstein,
AIDSspeak: A Plague of Words
Visitation Rites — The Elusive Tradition of Plague Lit
VLS, October 13, 1987
Village Voice