Nguyen, She Kills Monsters

One of my greatest regrets in life is that I attended Seton Hill’s freshman orientation day.

The reason I regret this is because it happened on the exact same day as the original production of a close friend’s play, entitled Meet Me in the Middle. Like She Kills Monsters, the play was full of awesome outcasts, monster-slaying, soul-searching, and teenage tragedy, all written, choreographed, and acted out by my own friends. And I left after Act I so I could learn about Donut Thursdays at the Commuter’s Lounge. Aren’t I a responsible student? Curses!

Personal anecdotes aside, the great significance of She Kills Monsters is that it transports the audience into the world of the high-school fantasy nerd, and how real, important moments and bonds arise from fictional circumstances. Tilly’s D&D story may be akin to “high-energy” action sequences of “badassery,” but that doesn’t make it less real of an experience (28). The role-playing world Tilly and her friends devote themselves to isn’t any more ridiculous, strange, or inconsequential than the interests of “normal” teenagers, like the cheerleaders or Agnes herself when she was younger. Agnes comes to learn of this divide and voices her epiphany to Vera:

“Her world was filled with evil jello molds and lesbian demon queens and slacker Gods while mine…had George Michaels and leg-warmers. I didn’t get her. I assumed I would one day–that she’d grow out of all this–that I’d be able to sit around and ask her about normal things like clothes and TV shows and boys…” (71-72).

She realizes that indulging in fantasy games is no more strange or ridiculous than obsessing over clothes or TV, and that it was truly a part of who her sister was. Instead of hoping Tilly would “grow out of it” and become “normal,” she comes to learn that she should have accepted her sister for who she was and not brush off her interests as if they were an annoying phase.

Agnes’s realization is the audience’s takeaway: some people aren’t “normal,” and never will be. For some people, fantasy is what helps them cope and connect to the “real” world. The game, or show, or book, or whatever becomes a significant part of their life, and there’s nothing wrong with that. By opening herself to a new world that is just as weird and silly and unexpected as her own, Agnes strengthens the connection between her and her sister, even if Tilly isn’t physically around anymore, and learns to look at people and life in a different way.

In conclusion, this message is one of the reasons She Kills Monsters is a wonderful play. And another reason it’s so wonderful is THE GREAT MAGE STEVE.

(That is me in every game I’ve ever played. RPGs. Super Mario Galaxy. Chess. Monopoly. Hide and seek. You name it.)

Reference is made to the original production of Meet Me in the Middle, written by Aislinn Lowry and Cassie Mica, directed by Aislinn Lowry.

Source: Nguyen, She Kills Monsters

Academic Article TBA

Radavich, David. “Wilder’s Dramatic Landscape: Alientation Effect Meets the Midwest.” American Drama, vol. 15, no. 1, 1 Jan. 2006, pp. 43–61.

Radavich’s article examines numerous Wilder plays, including Our Town. His claim is that Wilder’s works combine the qualities of Midwestern drama with the qualities of Brechtian drama. Wilder lived and traveled all over the world, but his time in the Midwest impacted his writing style. For example, in Our Town, showing the characters’ daily routines and speech pattern are staples of Midwestern drama, and therefore, Our Town has Midwestern influence even though it takes place in the Northeast. On the other hand, Brechtian drama seeks to distance the the audience from the characters in the play through “defamiliarization” (44-45). This is employed in Our Town through the use of the Stage Manager, the iconic, almost cliche roles, and the lack of setting and props. Wilder used these “Brechtian” techniques to stress the messages of human nature in his stories, not to stress Marxist ideals like Brecht did, which differentiates the two playwrights. And so, it certainly seems that Wilder sought to use both techniques of drama in his plays.

Because it is so close to the end of the year and this article was not exciting and I don’t really have anything else to say about it, here is what happens if you drop Our Town’s Stage Manager into other plays.

 

Source: Academic Article TBA

Onwueme, Shakara: Dance Hall Queen

What makes these characters so life-like is that deep down, they are all terrible people.

It is a universal flaw in human nature: no matter how kind or loving or wise a person is, no matter their morals, faith, or hope, every person has faults and vices that make them seriously annoying. Every character in Shakara: Dance Hall Queen demonstrates this principle.

Take Shakara herself, the arrogant, provocative, careless title character. She resents her mother for abiding the law and protecting her dignity. She asserts her “freedom” by playing the toy for club-going men. She idolizes a merciless woman who worships money gained from illegal drugs. Shakara is a major jerk! But what makes her character believable is her rounded character; jerks are people, too. Although her life values and means of income are misplaced, deep down, all she wants is a better future, and is hopeful to the very end. She is stubborn, yes, but still vulnerable, and as much as she spites her poor mother, there are moments when her sassy teenage shell cracks and their daughter-mother love shines through:

“SHAKARA: …(Voice cracking) Oh, Mama! Others have everything. But not me. Not me. Why? Why? Why?

Omesiete: (Cuddling her.) Your time too will come, Baby” (Loc 315 of 1822).

Out of context, this quote appears to be Shakara asking selfish questions as usual. But if a reader has just finished reading the passionate argument between the mothers and daughters that momentarily subdues to this vulnerable moment, it becomes more meaningful. Shakara shows the audience that despite her hateful boasts, she still depends on her mother and longs for her understanding. The tough “dance-hall queen” persona is a flashy act to cover up her true feelings, which she shares here: she is ashamed and sick of her poverty and the unfairness of life. She is a girl with the body and means of a woman, and she still needs her mother’s comfort in between her spats. Shakara hosts many unlikeable qualities, but they boil down to a very relatable character.

The same goes for everyone else in the play. One of the nicer characters, Omesiete, is just as guilty of jerkiness as Shakara. Omesiete rambles, she contradicts herself, she wastes time on venting her temper instead of trying to end the argument, and she hypocritically gives her daughters rules that she herself does not follow, like telling them not to fight, but then throwing things at Shakara. And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Madam Kofo. The lady gets driven around in a fancy car called “the Beast” and kisses bags of coke in front of her daughter, for crying out loud. That’s, like, the definition of evil woman. But even someone as hatable as Madam Kofo has positive qualities, shown especially at the end where her loyalty to her daughter trumps all her other avarice.

Every character in the story has some personality flaw, whether meanness, greed, hypocrisy, arrogance, carelessness, corruption, or spite, but they also portray admirable qualities, like hopefulness, loyalty, care, repentance, and mercy, sometimes even simultaneously with the bad. And so, even though they might seem like a bunch of total jerkwads, no character is completely bad, adding to the believability and lasting impression of the story.

Source: Onwueme, Shakara: Dance Hall Queen

Miller, Resurrection Blues

Henri, the philosopher of this story, can’t seem to make up his mind about anything. At first, he adamantly protests the crucifixion of the rebel. But then, when he goes to meet Skip, he tells him,

“This man must be hunted down and crucified; because– he still really feels everything. Imagine, Mr. Cheeseboro, if that kind of reverence for life should spread!” (76).

The “he still really feels everything” part is italicized, like Miller’s stage directions, which gives it two possible meanings: either it is said by Henri, referring to the rebel’s feelings, or it is a stage direction describing Henri’s own emotional state as he says the next line about reverence for life.

What brought about this sudden (and passing) change in Henri? He goes from begging Felix to leave this man alone to insisting to greedy Skip that the rebel must be crucified for the world to go on. And yet, he is also trying to persuade Skip to leave in the meantime. So what is the meaning of his seemingly contradictory statement here?

Henri is taking a satirical jab at Skip with this line, as in, “oh, we wouldn’t want love of life to spread, so we better crucify him before it does.” His statement is really about having to crucify the rebel so that the government and views of the people can continue as they are, not because it is something he truly believes. As the profound thinker, it is only his nature to bring up all sides of an issue, and to support his reasoning with confusing allegories, too. It’s his role.

Source: Miller, Resurrection Blues

Academic Article (Your Choice)

There are common viewers and readers of Our Town who enjoy it solely for its sentimental feeling of nostalgia, the charming, “folksy” feeling of Grover’s Corners and its inhabitants (Gunn 112). However, public attachment to the play’s physical setting (place AND time) goes against the very purpose of its sparseness, and therefore detracts from the more profound messages the play contains. To eliminate the overbearing sentimentality Our Town has accumulated over the years, director David Cromer did away with historical accuracy and common conventions while staying true to Thornton Wilder’s original intent.

Since Wilder did not intend for the viewers to obsess over the backgrounds for fear they would distract from the timelessness of the story, Cromer took this a step further and removed distraction from the costumes as well. The play intentionally begins without a curtain or a set so that the essence of the town is what matters to the viewers, as opposed to visual scenery. Likewise, the actors mime props instead of using period-accurate objects and furniture. Despite this, many productions costume their actors in period-appropriate dress, so that even though there is no scenery or set, the audience is still presented with an image of the quaint American past. To reverse this dilemma, Cromer staged his actors in modern, ordinary-looking clothes that fit their characters’ personalities without letting the costume overwhelm the character.

Besides the visual aspects of the play, Cromer also took the dialogue itself into consideration. Much of Wilder’s dialogue can be interpreted as sappy or trite if the actors perform it too literally. In Cromer’s version, typically sentimental scenes, like the conversation between George and Emily at the soda fountain in act II, are either understated in their emotionality or reversed from the manner they are usually portrayed. By having a “complicated emotional reaction” between the characters instead of a warm and fuzzy scene, viewers were left with a “rich emotional dissonance and a multiplicity of ideas” to ponder instead of leaving the theatre thinking the story was simple and quaint (Gunn 115). By altering tradition, Cromer actually stayed truer to Wilder’s original intent of Our Town than the more common, easily-expected productions.

 Gunn, Tony. “Grover’s Corners Gets Sexy: The Appealing Dissonance of David Cromer’s Our Town.” Theatre Symposium, vol. 22, no. 1, 2014, pp. 110–120.

Source: Academic Article (Your Choice)

Our Town

Our Town is said to be “The Great American Play,” (foreword) which makes me feel worse for not really liking it.

I know, I know. It’s “an allegorical representation of all life” (back cover). It’s super profound and stuff. But I still found it boring.

Maybe that’s not true. I did read the intro and parts of the afterword, where Donald Margulies discusses some of the cultural and literary impacts of this play. Our Town may seem cliche now, but like RUR, it was a pioneer of many of its conventions and subject matter, like the Stage Manager, the sparse setting and lack of props, and the talking, un-spooky ghosts of the third act.

I remembered being reminded of a book I read in middle school, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, a double-story set in both the 1930s and the 1910s, and thinking how similar and much more interesting it was than Our Town. Simultaneously, though, I knew the conventions and situations in small town of Manifest were likely inspired by the treatment of the town of Grover’s Corners, such as making the reader care about every character and ending the scene happily, only to let the reader know how many of them died shortly after the happy “ending.” I can’t take for granted that so many of the historical fiction stories I enjoy today must owe their inspiration and success to Our Town.

And then, the whole deep “allegory” thing. Margulies compares Our Town to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” since they’re both touching stories of the everyman’s mortality and as American as apple pie. And I understand how important the moral of the play is, as bleakly told by dead Simon Stimson:

“That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those…of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years” (109).

It’s the heartwarming and heartbreaking journey of an American girl who learns that life is precious and that gratitude for the little things slips a person’s mind until it is too late. It’s an incredible statement that transcends its time period and applies to those in the 21st century. It’s wonderful and beautiful and sad and tragic and ironic, and there are few people who love tragic, ironic endings as much as I do.

And yet, I still thought the play was boring.

Maybe I’ll like it better when I’m all grown up.

Source: Our Town

Waiting for Godot

Once I finished reading through this play for the first time, I was questioning everything about it, from “Is Godot God?” to “Where are they?” to “Are they gay or European?” (Clearly, some of my questions were more academic than others.) Needless to say, after reading, I continued to go back and reread sections, enjoying my confusion. And my impressions changed each time I considered something in a new way.

When I first read Waiting for Godot, I interpreted it as thus: Vladimir and Estragon were in Hell, waiting for God (Godot) to come and end their sentence. After a quick google search of “Waiting for Godot,” however, I decided this was a faulty conclusion to make. And yet, I found plenty of evidence to support my initial impressions of the story. So, even though I interpret it differently now, after our discussion and some research, here are my main reasons for believing Godot was God and our two heroes were in Hell.

One might point out that from the bleak, void setting and lack of action, Gogo and Didi would be in more of a purgatory state than full-out Hell. Although I also considered this, I also reasoned that Hell would not be what one normally expects: fire, pitchforks, and endless torture. But besides physical pain, my idea of “endless torture” also includes the faulty memory seemingly bestowed to Gogo, Didi, and even Pozzo. Not being able to remember what, where, why, and when would freak the heck out of me, like being the original Peter Pan minus the fun, adventure, and renown. Dementia is scary.

On a much less personal note, there is textual evidence that originally convinced me Gogo and Didi were damned souls. For example, there is Vladimir’s referral to Estragon as “His Highness,” to which Gogo replies he slept in a ditch (Beckett 1-2). As I stated in class, I took this seriously when it was most likely sarcasm, but I had a reason: this quip reminded me of the parable of the rich man who was sent to the depths of Hell after he died, quite similar to a royal “Highness” having to sleep in a ditch.

Another striking biblical reference in my mind was the servant boy who worked for Godot, whose job was to “minds the goats” while his brother tended the sheep (Beckett 42). Immediately, I noticed the reference to the New Testament saying to separate the goats from the sheep, meaning to separate the people who scorn God’s words from his followers. (I wish I could elaborate further, but I am not a very good Catholic, and most of what I know of parables comes from The Manga Bible and Godspell.) Since it his job to tend the goats, I inferred this meant Gogo and Didi, his charges, were considered to be “unclean animals,” and therefore citizens of Hell.

And just after, while reading the bible, I discovered Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, / but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” This instantly reminded me of the boy and his brother. Assuming Godot is God, the two boys would be considered his “sons.” The “good” son, who minds the sheep, is said to be the one who is beaten, while the “bad” son who minds the goats is not beaten at all. This interpretation of the proverb implies Godot’s hatred of the one son, to send him to a hatable place like Hell to check on its charges, and his love of the other son, who is not seen, only talked about.

Toward the end of the story, Vladimir muses, “At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on,” which I took as yet another sign that he and Estragon are in the afterlife of the condemned (Beckett 81). In a particular popular Christian-fantasy children’s series that shall go unnamed, the final book ends with the deaths of pretty much all the characters. The “good guys” find themselves in a paradise-like land, along with the “unbelievers.” Yet even though the unbelievers are in the same afterlife as the good guys, they can only see a dim shed and some rotting veggies, not the lovely scene around them. It may not be the most scholarly comparison, but I connected Didi and Gogo’s inability to remember, lack of setting, and surreal nothingness with the possibility that they were in paradise (i.e. Godot’s home, where Godot must be waiting) all along, but unable to see/hear/feel any of it. Which meant forever waiting for something they could never see. Which meant the false hope of that goat boy. Which meant never being able to open their eyes. Which, to me, meant Hell.

After this very long and drawn-out explanation, I have to say that despite my evidence, both reasonable and questionable, my initial convictions about Godot being God and our friends Gogo and Didi residing in Hell are not what the play is about at all. But since there are no definitive answers, I would argue that this interpretation of the play is at least reasonable, if not accurate. Even if my answers are wrong, at least they’re answers.

 

Source: Waiting for Godot

Academic Article (Your Choice)

Haney, William S. “Beckett out of His Mind: the Theatre of the Absurd.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, 2001.

In this highly confusing article about a highly confusing play, Haney explores the metaphysical, of which I know nothing, and how metaphysics play through in Waiting for Godot. From what I can gather, Haney tries to shed light on the fact that Waiting for Godot’s seeming emptiness goes to show how vast it is, in a Zen-like way. He also talks about the hazards of trying to critically categorize a play as nebulous as this, saying:

To say that Waiting for Godot presents a totalizing modernist view in an infinite postmodernist world is therefore to intellectualize it, to (mis)identify consciousness with the activity of the thinking mind, and to belie the impact of Beckett’s play as an aesthetic vehicle for transcending thought in the expansion of consciousness (Haney 47).

In his essay, Haney returns several times to the point that this play cannot and should not be “intellectualized,” citing a notable successful performance of it at a prison as supporting evidence. And yet, by analyzing the metaphysical aspects of the show and scrutinizing the meaning of every possible symbol, Haney seems to be performing the very action he condemns. Perhaps he is spending so many pages discussing these examples simply to show other academics’ thoughts and research on the matter, or maybe his statement cautioning against the intellectualization of the play is more of a suggestion than a rule. Either way, Haney dives into the subconscious, or perhaps unconscious, part of the mind to try and understand all Godot has to offer about the act of understanding (or not understanding).

Source: Academic Article (Your Choice)