16 October 2006

Eurydice; Jesus Camp

For all that I complain about the lack of perks at my job (or talk about things that aren't perks as if they were, because there aren't any real ones to enjoy), there is one nice thing this year - a travel budget. My boss goes to London about twice a year to hobnob with writers and literary agents, and this year we've insituted a junior version of that for me, except my London is the Northeast - anywhere I can get to in half a day with a train ticket. The idea is that I'll build relationships with literary managers in regional theatres so that when they have some hot new play, they'll let me know. (This is what we do because we're too poor to do commissions or option plays.) Of course, when the Times has already gotten up there to tell everyone about some hot new play, it's really just be using my travel budget to see it. But! I totally knew about her first. (See above.) And anyway, I got my tickets three days before the soft but firm lovemaking review in the Times. (And the woman with whom I'd have wanted to relationship-build - well that sounds dirty - was on vacation, so I'll have to go up to see Mistakes Madeline Made next month. That's a great thing about this wee travel budget - it's more about meeting people than scouting plays, so I can go see fifty productions of A Christmas Carol if I want, and as long as I have coffee with someone cool, I'm covered.)

New Haven is gorgeous. Okay, the Yale campus. The rest is really gross. Although I know I wouldn't have gone to Yale, I still wish I hadn't been so easily swayed by my dad's, "You don't want to go here. The architecture is too depressing." But as much as having Yale Rep on my campus might have been nice, their undergrad theatre is fucked, and I wouldn't have gone there even if I had applied and gotten in.

So James and I daytripped up, shared a corn muffin with some chickadees on the edge of campus, and went on in. I don't think I can really write a review of this play, or rather, I don't think I want to. I guess I'm somewhere between Isherwood's fawning and David Cote's uncertainty. I agree with everything David says, except I don't have his ambivalence. But loving Sarah's writing is a little different from loving any random stunning play. I saw her small production of Melancholy Play at the end of my first year of college. Acted in mostly by undergrads a year or two older than me, people I knew as friends, presented in a theater that was really an old cafeteria basement. And I was blown away. I can't find the dates to check whether I saw this before Jordan Harrison's Kid-Simple, but I'm pretty sure Melnacholy Play was first. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before, and I still don't know how to describe it. There was a slightly anachronistic aesthetic; a directness to how the characters spoke; a sense of play and poetry; no fear of the magical or strange. Most of all, there was something alive about the language, an energy in it that I can't describe or explain, but is something I've come to associate with playwrights from Brown's MFA program. I don't know how to explain it, or why some people have it and others don't, but there's a freshness to it, and a magic - Matthew Derby's fiction (another Brown MFA) has it, too.

Melancholy Play
(like Kid-Simple) stuck with me long after I saw it, and that thing that I couldn't pin down, the newness, the energy humming in the language, was, I think, something I was trying to find in all of my writing afterwards. I never wrote like Sarah (or Jordan), but her work was like a revelation to me, a flash of sunlight or a breath of fresh air or a splash of cold water or a slap in the face. So now, a handful of years later, to re-encounter that, it's not something I can critically assess. That particular style is much too close to me, much too important to me, for me to be able to look at it like any other play. I wasn't awash in tears like Isherwood or some other people I've heard from, but from the moment we walked in the theatre and saw that crooked, towering wall of blue tile, I knew that it was what I remembered. I don't know the right words to explain it, but this production's coming to New York, so most of you will get to see it in a year or so. (I don't know if Sarah's The Clean House, now at Lincoln Center, is in the same realm, or is a slightly naturalized/grounded version of her more experimental/precocious thing, but I'm seeing it next month (!!) and will report back then.)

* * *

Sunday afternoon, James, Michael and I saw Jesus Camp. Holy fucking shit. One of the most upsetting things I've seen in a long time. My reaction probably made stronger by the fact that just two days ago I'd read a Salon interview with Richard Dawkins. ("Everybody nowadays is an atheist about Thor and Apollo. Some of us just go one god further.") But even without Dawkins' atheistic presence in the back of my head, I would have been outraged. Okay, for the most part upset, occasionally amused, and sometimes frightened. But then when you see kids - eight or ten years old - sobbing in religious rapture, it's hard not to see it as exploitation. (I was also punching against my legs in outrage when an Evangelical mom homeschooled her son about global warming, and how it's a ruse. Sure, teach them that evolution's a lie - there's at least the creationist counter to it. But how is global warming a problem for Jesus?? It's science! What the fuck!!?) Kids have ridiculously powerful imaginations. And these kids are being taken advantage of. It's beyond indoctrinatine - it's manipulation of their emotional suggestibility. It's one (wrong) thing to take advantage of the fact that kids are impressionable - tell them a thing, they'll believe it. But to use the fact that their emotional imaginations are so pliable, that they're so able to get themselves so worked up, and to lead them to sobbing, repenting for sins (they're eight!) - I think it's abhorrently wrong. Yes, there's the ideological disagreements, all the science stuff, and my fear in the face of this massive organization that in so many ways is at odds with what I believe and is working to sway the path of this country in their direction, but the passions of the Evangelical kids hit me much harder, much deeper. This is a really great film, and for the most part I want to say, "This is an important film to see. It's important to know this is going on. Go see it," but since there's no An Inconvenient Truth-style Here's-What-You-Can-Do to be had as the credits roll, I can't 100% recommend that you put yourself through it. Of course, I'm especially sensitive with this sort of crap, and I wouldn't have wanted the film to end with a Here's-How-To-Fight-Back, because it really was an impartial presentation, and I so respect the filmmakers for that. So yes, see it... but don't get into a "discussion" about religion with your friends in the Union Square Trader Joe's. I guess that would be my advice.


Mark said...

Man, where do you work? Sounds like you have great perks, actually,

Rocco said...

You were serious about the travel budget?? I thought you were kidding. Like, "haha...my non-profit job gives me a budget to travel".

I'm Definately going up for MISTAKES MADELINE MADE. Definately.

Perhaps you'd be interested in reading The Meriwether Report.

Jaime said...

I guess I am lucky. It's a new thing this year, so I haven't gotten to really take it for a spin, if that's something that can be done with travel budgets. But ungrateful girl that I am, I just keep wishing they'd cover my theatre tickets in the city. (They do that at Lincoln Center. I'll never stop being jealous.)

parabasis said...


Is it definitely coming to NYC next year? I had heard a rumor and a source told me they were keeping their fingers crossed... but is it definitely happening?

Jaime said...

There's no signed deal (and I don't know that the New York transfer is sure to be next season) but from what I've heared, there isn't uncertainty that it'll get here - it's just a question of where. I'm not getting my info from Sarah herself or anything, but not too far removed, and it's more second-hand information than rumor.