Saturday, September 17, 2016

Toting the Gin Bottles Out after Midnight

Edward Albee's dead and the moment takes a certain tone of 20th century theater with him--a realism acid-bathed in just enough cynicism to make it shine all the more frightfully brightly. His passing has hit me more than I would have guessed it would, so I'm going to do something he never would and get all sentimental.

Way back when I was in college at Johns Hopkins I had numerous opportunities to meet famous writers--one of the advantages of being part of the Writing Seminars in a small school best known for its med school, you just didn't have too many other writerly people around hoping to hang with the stars. That meant getting to meet the likes of Borges and Barthelme and Edward Albee in small groups.

Luckily for me I was young enough not to quite grasp what meeting such people meant. In the case of Albee, this was the early '80s so he was in his "lost years," so to speak, and his glories of Virginia Woolf and Zoo Story happened back when I was still in diapers practically. He got to seem a bit of a living museum piece, even if he was only probably my age now. (Harumph.) Still, at the dinner before his talk on campus, he was urbane and droll and I can still see the twinkle of his eyes, as if the world was ever-enjoyable and devourable and something he could turn into drama.

At one point I recall us discussing much-beloved Dr. Richard Macksey, professor of Humanities. In addition to being a wonderful teacher, Macksey is independently wealthy. Albee commented on Macksey’s son arriving at his book signing with first editions of all of Albee’s plays. The talk moved on to Macksey’s wealth, for which we all offered opinions: inheritance, a scientific invention, and Albee’s refinement of the latter, that the good professor had invented the Macksey (sic) pad.

And to shift gears without benefit of a writerly clutch, here's what I wrote in 2005, after getting to see a powerful production of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? at the Taper in Los Angeles. It seems as fitting an obit as I can offer.

They fought with their words, their bodies and their deeds
doin' the things that they want to
When they finished fighting, they exited the stage
doin' the things that they want to
I was firmly struck by the way they had behaved
doin' the things that they want to

--Lou Reed

We saw Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? this weekend, and it put me in mind of Lou Reed's take on Sam Sheppard, and the old joke, "Sure it's searing, but so's a microwave," and how nothing beats the shear lump-throating voyeurism of watching a couple go at it with everything at stake, whether in Macbeth or Albee's own Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage.

If you get a chance to see the play, do. So many questions it wrestles with, or it leaves you to wrestle with--what's so uncomfortable about it isn't a man in love with a goat but the blurt-like laughter the audience has to let out at the bitterest of invective (for just one instance, the line "Goat Fuckers Anonymous" seems hilarious in context), our only release as we wonder what love is and what its limits are, how much we are animals, how fragile a bulwark art is for anything, how much we want to tell stories we believe in, how much we can do if we think we can get away with it, how much we think we can get away with, period.

Without too much of a spoiler, the ending is about as devastating as theater can be, a tableau of Biblical, sacrificial, Greek tragic and Freudianly Oedipal power. And when there's power, there's always loss.

No comments:

Post a Comment