How I Learned to Drive – 4/5 Stars
“Sometimes to tell a secret, you first have to teach a lesson.”
I first read this book in college when I was taking an Intro to Theater class in college where among other things I had to read a bunch of plays and see a bunch of performances. I reread it in part because I know there’s a new performance or maybe recent performance out there.
The title “How I Learned to Drive” refers specifically to some “driving lessons” with the main character’s uncle by marriage, where driving also refers to sexual abuse and sexual precociousness that the character is thrust into by the uncle. The wider family is not much better in a lot of way, though less acute. Her name in the play is “Lil Bit” which is a specific reference to a nickname given to her that described her genitalia as a baby. Another family name in a similar vein is Uncle Peck. The whole family gets in on the act and Lil Bit never seems to have a moment or a privacy to herself until she leaves for college, but also not even then to some degree. This is about growing up in Baltimore in the sixties and beyond (and I think but can’t swear that there’s autobiography here), and it’s about the ways in family not only is your whole world when you’re young, but the ways in which family constructs your whole world and sense of the world throughout your entire life, whether you like it or not, and whether it’s good for you or not. In this particularly case, it seems like the now middle-aged Lil Bit looking back in this play seems to agree, it didn’t do her a lot of favors.
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist – 4/5
“What are you doing here?”
In a lot of works that we call (fairly or not) Kafka-esque, there’s a sense of a nefarious plot behind the scenes that is carefully scripted and crafted, only to presented outwardly to a person or public in the most banal and mundane of ways. It allows for a near casual, and certainly cold cruelty at the heart of any state toward its citizens. For Kafka it tends to rack one’s sense of humanity at a soul-level, even if it’s a basic and even simplistic act. I think about the Gregor’s boss showing up at his house demanding he come to work despite, well, everything.
Here though the script is flipped. A police force has accidentally killed an anarchist while interrogating him. He was sitting on the ledge of a window (a punishment created by the local commandant to inflict slow and painful breaking down) and he fell out. So they have to construct a narrative of what happened, but in such a way as to avoid any blame whatsoever. So a lot of the play is centered around various officials writing the report that explains how the death happened, how it was an accident, and how no one could certainly be blamed for it!
The play is an absurdist comedy, and I found there to many outright laughing moments. It’s also deeply sad and scary, as you could imagine all the different ways this exact scene plays out. Think about how the official wording of police statements in the US always end up saying the exact same thing as well as saying nothing. Think about how the same defense always comes up, the same explanation, and the very discourse of police writing is basically a meme now that an AI could write. But someone is still dead.
Fabulation – 3/5
In this play by Lynn Nottage, we meet Undine at the beginning of her fall from grace. She left home a long time ago to make her way in the world as PR specialist. There’s a scandal, she’s pregnant, and now she must return home because she’s lost the world she so loosely constructed on her out there in the world. As you can imagine the name change plays a large role in the play as her family knows her by her given name, and that she changed her name in order to shun and push away that family it’s a sore spot (I think about the same thing playing out in Alice Walker’s story “Everyday Use” which uses the name changing in the late 1960s as part of Black Power movement to poke fun a little at herself). Anyway, she must now find her new way in this very new and scary world, not of her making this time.
Apparently this play is based on the Book of Ruth from the Old Testament, a story I don’t know all that well, but it’s there. It’s also a play full of jokes, which is fun of course.
The Counselor – 2/5 Stars
My god. That’s how I would start a book I was writing if it were meant to be in the style of Cormac McCarthy novel. You might remember a movie version of this coming out a few years ago starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Ridley Scott (I didn’t watch it because while it looked interesting, the reviews were horrible). They should be horrible; this screenplay is terrible. Sometime in the last twenty years, Cormac McCarthy got the idea that his writing needed to be about ideas. Great! Not an issue! But that often leads his last several pieces (the two new novels The Passenger and Stella Maris, this, and The Sunset Limited) to be primarily works about intense conversations, little plot, and a world-weariness that has also been a part of his writing. There’s always good scenes of narration throughout, and then those conversations. Sometimes they’re really interesting, and sometimes they’re downright sophomoric. Who knows?
Anyway, this screenplay is scene after disconnected scene that either plays out as a scene ripped from a Sicario like movie, a scene in which two characters TALK ABOUT A THING, or a graphic sex scene that starts boring and ends boring (I try not to be prudish, but sex scenes fail so often). Anyway.
The Autumn Garden -4/5
Lillian Hellman is a fascinating writer in no small part because of her interesting life. Her plays can be mixed, though I liked this one. This play takes place in a boarding house in New Orleans (or thereabouts). The play mostly contains middle-aged characters and couples, and enough younger people to bedevil and beguile those aging people. The result is….well, what’s the opposite of a comedy of errors? A farce? Kind of. But anyway, rather than this partially being a comedy about a bunch of drunks throwing a week-long party and lines getting crossed and redrawn like a Woody Allen or Iris Murdoch story, here’s it’s played seriously. The consequences are not dire as in a melodrama, but frustratingly real where the hint of scandal might not ruin someone, but it does mean that they have to leave to try to salvage their unfair new reputation. And of course, alcohol does a lot of the heavy lifting here.
The Little Foxes – 4/5
“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.”
This is a reread for me, and I think I have seen the movie too, but it’s been a long time. We begin with a family in the South, as so many American plays begin with. There’s a sense of time-passing and generations crossing each other because attention has turned toward inheritance and next steps. Regina is married to Horace, and because inheritance only goes to male heirs here, Regina was not awarded the same seed money as her brothers, money they were able to turn into small fortunes. Horace is cautious, overly. He has investments, but rather than securities, he has bonds, those no risk, small return investments that might secure a future, but ain’t making anybody any fortunes.
So her brothers hatch a scheme with a Northern investor, and there’s some important to answer. What percentage of the returns each could expect back and what would be fair? Regina wants in but all she has is those bonds, and they’re not hers. Her brothers on the other hand do feel like maybe they could “borrow” them for the time being, knowing that Horace won’t check and that he is getting sicker. Well, you can guess where it goes.
While everybody here is kind of mean and nasty, minus Horace, well, you get it.