Thursday, September 11, 2008
From the nightstand
Currently re-reading a book on drama that should interest writers, actors, artists of all stripes and anyone with an affinity for discovering the what how why of being-ness, because David Mamet is a writer who culls broadly, eclectically, relevantly, and that's the way I like it. It's what my Bucky Fuller obsessed friend, Maurice, calls being "a comprehensivist," and he flatters me by inclusion in that society. I caution him that my knowledge is broad but not often deep, though I'd also like to defend dilettantes by saying that originally it was not a bad word - it just meant that one "delighted" in things.
I highly recommend this petit-tome which, weighing in at a wispy sub-featherweight 81 pages, packs a palpable punch. Mamet states, "The purpose of theater, like magic, like religion... is to inspire cleansing awe," and is an essential function of human nature.
Now, I confess I am not a big fan of The Theater, save a good production of Shakespeare or Shaw, and generally loathe the little black box experience, which in LA is rife with mediocre and struggling actors and writers (in this metropolis we all know them), which creates a sub-genre my friend, Judy, refers to as "The Theater of Obligation. It's seldom pretty. But in a broader sense, I am probably too fidgety for the theater, opera, ballet and the symphony, of which I received heavy dose as a child.
Quite frankly, I prefer the plebian experience of a high-tech picture show, greasy popcorn, candy wrappers and all that rot-gut. Because although the thespians will try to take the high-ground and privilege theater as the highest form, while relegating the status of film to mere 'entertainment', they can keep breathing their rarefied air. To me good drama is good drama, and I have yet to be transported watching a play in any way that resembles the immersive dream-like state of a really good movie. But then, I told you I was superficial like that.
In any case, I was amused by this passage early in the book which clearly frames what is so aggravating to sentient beings about election years and politics generally. This is not a new story:
"Bad dramaturgy can be found in the palaver of politicians who have somewhere between nothing much and nothing to say. They traduce the process and speak, rather, of the subjective and nebulous: they speak of the Future. They speak of tomorrow, they speak of the American Way, Our Mission, Progress, Change.
These are mildly or less mildly inflammatory terms (they mean "Rise up," or "Rise Up and Rush Around Boldly") that stand in for drama. They are placeholders in the dramatic progression, and they function similarly to sex scenes or car chases in a trash film--they are related to no real problem and are inserted as modular treats in a story devoid of content.
(We may assume, similarly, that as Democrats and Republicans respond to each other's positions by screaming "scandal," their positions are essentially identical.)"*
So if you don't know what a pig in a poke is, my suggestion is wield the knife, cut the twine, and look in the bag, because usually it's the junk vending street peddlers who are hollering "quality." Artifice can easily masquerade as High Art, and Corruption can don a cloak of Moral Superiority, while Truth might be languishing in a broadly dismissed and denigrated Romantic Comedy or Action film. And you can't dress up a pig, even if she's charmant, because a pig's just a pig, and sometimes she's really a cat. In that case, even if it's a quaternary protein structure of mixed metaphor, ironically, you really do have a good drama on your hands.
(Our local theater company - can we stomach it? Si, se puede!)
*David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama1998.