Oedipus – No Rating
This is about the fiftieth time I’ve read this play, and I always enjoy it. It’s one of those plays I read when I was moving from being a reader to being a thinker about reading. I even wrote an essay about it in tenth grade. I have no clue what I wrote, but I started it at 10 pm the night before it was due. I had already gone to bed and then I suddenly remembered it. I think I got a B. Anyway, what strikes me about this play and the other two in the cycle is still always how much was expected from the audience to have context at their fingertips. I struggled with the concept of “catharsis” for years because it turns out that my values just don’t happen to be the same as Ancient Athenian culture’s. Crazy right? The catharsis of course is about setting the world right, and even though it’s not really Oedipus’s fault or anything, doesn’t matter. Things have to be fixed/
Another standout thought this time around was just how silly the structure of the plot is when you really think about it. Oedipus NEVER tells anybody about the crazy, violent cortege that tries to murder him just before he shows up in Thebes. He never asks any questions about his situation….just waltzes right in.
Oedipus at Colonus – No Rating
For having read Oedipus about fifty times, if I have ever read this one, I don’t recall it. This play is actually pretty great, as the second in trilogies usually are. Oedipus and his daughters have left Thebes (being exiled and all). His sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, have stayed behind to vie for the throne. This also brings up the question that never really gets settled in these plays: how old are Oedipus and Jocasta, both relative to each other, and to the rest of the cast. This bothers me especially in the first play because Oedipus is old enough to beat the old king, and have children with Jocasta…and then time enough pass…etc etc
Anyway, Oedipus and his daughters arrive in Colonus and meet with king Theseus (yeah, that one) and ask for sanctuary. Oedipus is bad luck of course, but he reminds Theseus of hospitality and compassion. Theseus agrees, and Oedipus promises him some kind of boon when he dies. After time, the war in Thebes arrives at the gate and Creon shows up to stir up trouble. One of the things that really comes to light from this play is how much of a burden people feel those who have suffered are to others. Creon doesn’t care that Oedipus is faultless; he cares that he’s on the downside.
Antigone – No Rating
Well Oedipus is long dead now, and the war in Thebes begins to wind down when both brothers end up dying in their little war. Creon decides to give full funeral rites to Eteocles, leaving Polynices’s body in the field with the express law forbidding anyone to give him rites. Antigone, now in Thebes with her sister Ismene, decides she cannot abide by this law and decides to rebuke the law bury her brother. Creon, being a rules guy, hates this.
Death of a Salesman – I am trying to recall when I might have read this before, because I definitely have. It was probably as part of a theater class I took in college, where I read a dozen or more plays. Anyway, Willy Loman, as you most likely already know, is 63, a salesman, and have been on the road for 34 straight years. He’s tired. He’s so tired that he’s been thinking about killing himself. Recently his wife has found a length of rubber tubing hiding behind the radiator that he wants to use to breath in gas. We also get a lot of flashbacks in the play. We learn about Biff not finishing up school. We learn about Biff catching Willy in an affair. And in the present, we get Willy trying to stay at the office and basically getting fired, and only being offered a sympathy job for much less money than before. What emerges from all this is that Willy wants to die, but he also doesn’t want to leave behind what he thinks is a son he’s screwed up.
It’s not the first American story about the broken business man looking for a way out, but the sheer feeling of alienation Willy feels from how bullshit his job is. He has this mythically created love for an older brother who disappeared into the world when Willy was young. This brother dies in one scene after living the last several decades in Africa doing SOMETHING. But the feeling of conquest and industry that Willy tacks onto this brother’s memory in juxtaposition to Willy’s job creates a contrast that Willy cannot abide.
View from a Bridge – This is an Arthur Miller I hadn’t read before. We are in Brooklyn in the 1940s (NOT NEW YORK!, we’re told). Eddie Carbone is a union guy, a politico really. He’s also a proud Italian American, and these things intersect in his life as he’s been involved in helping undocumented Italian immigrants set up in the US to work jobs because of the state of the Italian economy (after the whole fascism thing). He lives at home with his wife and his 20 year old niece, who he’s been taking care since she was young. Two new immigrants arrive: Marco, a married man with kids from the South, and Rudolfo, a beautiful young blond man from the North. Eddie is immediately uncomfortable with this new one. As you can imagine Rudolfo and Catherine take to one another and Eddie doesn’t approve. We soon learn that there’s more to this than just the normal disapproval. Through some uncomfortable conversations with his wife, we learn that Eddie clearly has more than a passing affection for his niece. It’s not overt, but it’s there. So his vicious reactions to Rudolfo — that he wastes his money, that he sings, that he cooks — are born out of these feelings. Eddie even convinces himself that Rudolfo is gay and only wants a Green card. Whatever Eddie really thinks is clouded of course. One of the things that provides narrative momentum for this story is the use of a narrator in the form of a local lawyer whose role in the play is not disclosed to the very end.
Amadeus – “You’re all up on perches, but it doesn’t hide your assholes” – I love this play; I love the movies. I listened to this version, which came out before the movie and it starred Simon Callow as Mozart and Paul Scofeld as Salieri, and I really wonder why they went with Tom Hulce and F Murray Abraham. Anyway, the play is so much fun. We begin with Salieri writing up his memoir “Did I Do It?”. It takes some before we understand why he wants to write this version of things, but that comes with time. There’s so many great little moments in this play…Salieri describing Mozart as making greatness out of the ordinary as he makes the ordinary out of greatness. Mozart using his father’s death for Don Giovanni’s emotional core. All that.
Something should be said about the historical accuracy of the play. And my comment is: I don’t give a shit. For me, if the play is better than the truth, watch the play.
Pygmalion – Man, I forgot how much better in some ways this is than My Fair Lady. I love the songs, I really do, but the complaints that everybody has about Henry Higgins and Eliza getting together are righteous and valid. Luckily for us, she doesn’t here. Eliza is so palpably angry at the end of this play and when she tells Henry off, it’s real, and not a mask. Sure there’s some kind tension between them, but she is furious at the end. What strikes me about reading this again, is how much action happens off screen. Almost none of the “society” scenes occur like they do in My Fair Lady. But this is consistent with the goals of the play, which is not to show how much better Eliza is at the end, but to interrogate the motives and process.
Deeper and Deeper –
This is an Audible Original in the form of a Podcast interview. It’s also a supplemental to the new season of The Boys, which if you’ve seen, especially this season, it’s all about cross-media jokes and tie-ins, skewering many different forms of media, not just superhero movies. This podcast is an interview with The Deep, who in the previous season was tempted into a cult that is a kind of mix between Scientology and Nxium. It’s more Scientology then Nxium, but I just don’t think they could avoid the temptation of the character being branded as a joke. Anyway, The Deep first appears in the show by “hazing” the new hero addition to the supergroup by coercing her into giving him a blow job. Later, she reveals what he did and he is exiled to Cleveland where his Aquaman like skills are not super helpful. While he’s spiraling he joins the cult who promises him path back to the supergroup. He’s forced to married and eventually leaves the group, painting himself as a victim, who now understands those he victimized. It’s pretty cynical.
He’s just written a memoir and in this podcast he’s promoting it, while using all the empathetic and compassionate language we come to understand in these kinds of tours, and if I can so, that very famous victims (and I would put that in quotations, but I don’t want to be misunderstood — I specifically mean those very famous and connected former cult member who absolutely committed crimes and horrible abuses “but got out” in time to turn evidence on the cult and become media darlings. I am very much thinking about Nxium folks here).
The podcast is weird and funny and a hilarious send up of celebrity (ghost written) memoirs and the media splurge they elicit.