Monday, September 8, 2008

Crouching Playwright, Hidden Flip Flops

Here's a phrase I wasn't ever expecting to use:

My weekend got off to an amazing start because of a man wearing cargo pants and flip flops.

I know, you are thinking that perhaps I got lucky at a sports bar. Or just at the airport bar.

That would be something, I suppose.

Though not actually something good.

But more mind-blowing than these disturbing possibilities is the bona fide truth. Saturday morning, I went to a performance art workshop led by a man wearing cargo pants and flip flops.

It turns out he is a flipping genius.

Despite the sartorial je ne sais quoi (or more actually, il ne sait couture).

Tim Crouch — whose name I keep mispronouncing as Crooch, a sign I have truly acclimated to Portland — is a Brit playwright/actor (People always look at you when you say that, like you're indecisive or something he complained. What? Couldn't make it as an actor, so you thought you'd try the writing thing?).

He used to just be an actor. Then he tried writing a play.

No need to call out Frank Rich, as Crouch gives his own review of the work. It was a miserable piece of shit.

I do not think he is exaggerating, although all I know of the m.p. of s. is its title. Vanya Kundilini.
Happily, he gave up on that one, had a pre-midlife crisis (age 38, thanks for asking), got involved with some hippie dippie alternative to the Boy Scouts which inspired him to write another play entirely, about a boy who raises his arm above his head and never puts it down again.

The boy is played by Mr. Crouch. Who does not raise his arm above his head at all during the performance. The boy's family are played by random objects collected from audience members at the beginning of each performance.

You're right, it does maybe still sound like I was drinking at a sports bar.

But I'm pretty sure that when reference is made in a sports bar to a urinal:
1. It is not an allusion to the work of Marcel Duchamp
2. It is not pronounced your-RHINE-all

Piss me a German river, that is one heckuva fountain!

Not surprisingly, the actor-turned-playwright is concerned with the relationship between author and authority, specifically in terms of how meaning is made in theater.

By not putting my arm above my head during the performance he explained I let the audience coauthor the action at the heart of the piece.

This reminded me of when I was 7 or 8 years old, and my sister won tickets to a concert by some Israeli folk-rock group at the Westbury Music Fair.

When you're Jews on Long Island and it's the 70s, that is a hot night on the town.

Which makes you wonder why my sister took me.

But she did. I remember very little of the show, except for a rocking version of the Shechecheyanu and the moment at intermission when a couple three rows in front of us was making out passionately, and I stage whispered to my sister in a "funny Jewish accent" (not my usual one, this was put on for extra comedic effect) Please Harry, we're the audience, not the show.

Which I've always thought was pretty hilarious for a 7 or 8 year old.

It turns out, though, Tim Crouch disagrees. The audience is the show. Or rather, the audience makes the meaning of the show, at least in part.

Sounds like a fish out of water. Or really a Stanley Fish out of theater, although Crouch did proclaim theory all a load of bollocks. Which is why he had the sense to drop out of a Ph.D. program when some other great macaronis, I mean great minds, of our generation did not.

None of this can explain how unbelievably brilliant and moving Crouch's play England, which the Cheese and I saw tonight, is.

Suffice it to say, it is the best play ever written in which two actors (one male, one female) simultaneously play the same patient dying young from prolonged heart disease.

I could go on about how in the very earliest Greek dramas there were only two characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. How having two actors play a single character at the same time in a modern play sets the protagonist/antagonist tension within the character's own divided psyche - divided specifically between Eros and Thanatos. How the audience is transformed into the chorus through the intense interaction of the actors with audience members. How the literal sacrifice at the heart of Greek tragedy, the scapegoat, becomes writ large in this play about who dies for whose resurrection.

But I won't.

Instead I'll say: do not judge a playwright by his footgear, or you'll just find yourself flipflopping along.

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