Saturday, September 16, 2006

Huh, wa, errrrrrr...

I just saw this play at the Atlantic and I want to talk about it but I kind of don't know what to say.

Basics: It's called Birth and Afterbirth. It's by Tina Howe. According to the conversation I overheard in the ladies' at intermission it was written in the 70s but this is its first production.

I feel like I'm supposed to know more about Tina Howe. I think JAM maybe did a paper on her when he was at NYU but I don't think I ever read any of the paper. I have the vaguest memories of reading her plays and not having a bleeding clue what was going on. But in that way where you feel like you know that something important is going on and you should be able to work it out but you're just not quite smart enough.

Howe, at least in this play, seems to be a sort of Eugene Ionesco + Caryl Churchill + David Mamet sort of a pudding.

Yes, I know that sounds both impossible and unpalatable but it's the truth.

I spent the whole first act feeling exactly like I felt when I read her plays (if I did indeed read her plays and I really think that I've read at least one and it definitely wasn't this one). There was some symbolism going on but it was all very out there but no one was really paying attention to the complete weirdness of it (Ionesco). It was funny but in a cruel and sometimes horrible way (Mamet). But it at least seemed clear that we were supposed to be empathizing with the chick (Churchill).

How would you like a little plot to go with your confusion?

Very basically a family celebrates their son's 4th birthday. The first act is the early morning with just the 3 of them and the second act is the evening when a childless couple joins them for a birthday party.

Weird shit happens. The mother keeps scratching her head and handfuls of sand fall out of her hair. The childless woman goes into some sort of fit which is supposed to simulate the childbirth she's afraid to go through. Oh and, the 4 year old is played by a full grown overweight man. I want to know where they got those pajamas they had him in, I'm so getting a pair for my next boyfriend.

By the end I think I did get some of it but not in a coherent, or fully realized way. I suppose that might be OK with Ms. Howe. Maybe she just wants to give people impressions and leave them to work out the details on their own. As an artist I love to do that to people. As an audience member that makes me want to thwack the artist over the head with something heavy, like, for instance, the fucking video camera that the annoying dad in the play was obsessed with.

I don't think that the director was able to clarify the world of the play. It's not the real world but it's got one foot in it. Not an easy task. As a result the women in the play weren't, I think, fully grasped by the actresses. Moments were very good but the throughline was wobbly. Which, of course, made me want to try out one of the roles. Now, get out your cigars, your notepads, your trains and your tunnels: of the 2 female characters I'm more drawn to the mother. She's got a beautiful struggle going on within her and she ought to make the audience both despise her and despair for her sanity, you know, in a loving way. Plus, dude, her hair is rigged with sand and she loses a tooth right on stage in the last scene. The other woman also has a lot to work with and, if I'm not just overlaying all my blog reading on the part, her arc is about miscarriage and adoption and loss both because of her own choices and her circumstances. It's not a bad part, I just don't want to do all the roll on the floor comedy.

Like I said, I don't really know what to say about it. I went alone and didn't have anyone to bounce it off of so I needed to vomit forth what I thought.

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