That after noon when you laughed in the rain and splashed puddles on my jeans I understood that we control led more than we real ized
Below is a recent response I penned after reading a few articles on “Language Diversity.” If you read and understand what it says, were you ever tempted to “correct” my language choice? If so, why?
Yeah this gonna be one of the most int’restin’ week for [my professor] i bet, huh? M’I gonna be alone, or will i be one of many who choose to write as close to how they speak for this response? If ol’ Young1 ain’t a beat me to the punch, Ida be writing like this anyway to emphasize da point of the articles. Least, one of the major takeaways, ya know. For years I been so damn wishywashy on this exact subject of “correctin’” people’s speech and writing so it match what the book called Standard English. This week, though, clarified ‘bout two decades of my true stance on the issue of monolingualism in America. I know I prolly already said that once before at least, but this here is the one that’s been eatin at me for years and years, boy.
My ass ain’t get nothin’ BUT “formal English” training all through school, you feel? Then, come like junior year or whatnot, old stern Mizz Kramer be handin’ out these “American classics” by authors who ain’t follow da damn rules of grammar. I ‘ohn know who said it once in a class but I damn know for sure i done repeated it after I started teaching: “When you become an author you ain’t gotta follow da rules no more.” Now ain’t that some shit? I jet outta high school and str8 into my hometown university. I’m teetering on findin’ myself bounced from there due to bad grades and watchin’ my dreams of becomin’ a teacher wither away when I take this Intro to Creative Writing course and the teacher say somethin’ that stuck with me to this day. He say, “Look, y’all. We gonna spend time on proofreadin’ but we ain’t touchin’ no dialogue whatsoever. You write how you want your characters to talk and that’s that.” See, that got me really thinkin’ ‘bout communication as a whole now, ya dig? Like, yeah, I see how maybe knowin’ the diff’rence between “definitely” and “defiantly” can’t be ignored, but he talkin’ about usin’ language in a whole new way to me. Sure it’s for creative writing but get this: we tryin’ to capture how REAL people talk, so howzat any different when it come to something that aint creative? Anyway, he opened my eyes big, now.
Then I started likin’ classes and doin’ better. Take another creative writing course or two along the way but start readin’ all kinds of badass books that i aint never heard of before. I get my degree, get on the job hunt, and land myself a job in this small small town ‘bout 30 minutes from home. My supervising teacher show me these raggedy ass ten-year-old books i’m gonna be usin’ with my classes. She tell me that I gotta spend about half the year in the literature book and the other half in the grammar book, no joke. But fam, get this now. I learn more about Standard English that first year by basic ass repeatin’ the same rules four times a day than I did all through my own 16 years of education. We didn’t diagram no sentences, but we did damn near everything else to try ‘n learn all them rules.
S’gotten to the point where I dont even wanna tell people I meet in social circumstances that I be an english professa cuz they always seem to just straighten up and say some nonsense about how they best, and dis a quote now, “watch how they speak” (tho, fo real, that particular phrase always baffled me). “What,” I wanna say but don’t. “You seein’ dem words come out you mouth? I ain’t! You a comic strip character now?” Anyway, I just usually smile and say some dumb shit like “It’s all good, fam…I’m off da clock. You speak however you want,” but they definitely more often than not kinda tighten up their words. Why zactly? I assume for fear of embarrassment, or that maybe I gonna judge they ass. Hey, as long as we each think the other has something int’restin’ to say, whatzit matter how we say it?
Lemme wind down by makin clear the best part of this week. As I was wrappin’ up the SRTOL document from deadass 45 years ago, I had a sorta vision: I got this clarity, ya dig, for my dissertation topic. Now listen, it’s rough still. But I wanna discuss the caste system of Standard English as it has under-served the works of Black writers, specifically one Black activist author-poet named Ronald L. Fair.
- Young, Vashawn Ashanti. “Should Writers Use They Own English?” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 12, iss. 1, 2010.
*I read a short excerpt from Rob Nixon’s Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, and these thoughts exploded through my fingertips (i.e. very very very early draft of something I probably should not post but whatever…)
Why do you believe what you believe?
That humans are killing the earth
That it is just another cycle
That more money will change anything
That love is real
That your neighbor is honest
That the bully was born that way
That vegetables are healthy
That they were denied a room at the inn
That someone actually brought myrrh
That war is necessary
That history is accurate
That women cannot lead nations
That women must lead everywhere
That crying is shameful
That snobbery is detestable
That poetry is snobbish
That rhythm is measurable
That violence promotes peace
That peace is unreasonable
That kids are taught rules
That their parents don’t follow
That you are not part of the problem
That there is no solution
That you are right and they are wrong
That they’re wrong
That next year will be different
That there was only one shooter in Dallas
That you were right all along
That they were conned all along
That trust is attainable
That showing your work validates anything
That algebra matters
That geography matters
That manners matter
That matters of fact are an illusion
That was embedded in you before you knew
That adults will lie to avoid being challenged
That bowing your head and closing your eyes is how to speak to __
That it took seven days
That the towers fell for a different reason than you once thought
That the flag on the moon would look like that
That they’re not tracking you
That they are definitely tracking you
That what you buy is who you are
That what you are is what you eat
That what you eat is what you buy
That that goes on endlessly in capitalism
That you are integral to the world
That you are a pawn
That you will be missed
That you will mourn
That you will be in love forever
That you were really were sorry
That you could not say it out loud
That your opinion matters
That your life matters
That your opinion of Black Lives Matters matters
That your opinion of Blue Lives Matters is authentic
That your opinion of Blue Lives Matters is inauthentic
That false comparisons exist
That nothing exists
That existentialism exists but
That is all
That there is, folks
We listened to clouds,
And daffodils murmured
The moist warm wind.
And dissolved tracelessly.
For your thick winter blanket;
I observed the frost
Heaving her pure wild garden
Of dark, beautiful air
groovy upper chest cologne
big Mr. Jesus vibes done ready
power poet good weed hardness
believe that baby fashion fuzzy t-shirt time
a cruise muscle
wax out convertible lifestyle
SL – September 20, 2020
I’m aware that these film response posts stopped about two months ago. I’ve been writing them, but they haven’t made it here. Anyway, as one of my readers recently commented: “Please don’t quote me, Steve. Your responses are not what people seek these days, and I myself am completely made up.”
Last week, though, was our class’s chance to watch Parasite, the Academy Award-winning film from director Bong Joon-ho. If you haven’t seen it, please stop reading now. You are welcome to return after seeing it.
Here’s a quick premise to what’s included. My classmates and I were asked to look at reviews of the film since anything super scholarly was likely not out there yet, given the limited time that has passed since its worldwide release. I read a lot of very positive stuff from the standard places (The New York Times, The LA Times, The Guardian, imdb.com, etc.) but was really struck by one negative review I found here. Read his first for context (but again, watch the film first!)
Below is my response to his response. Here is the Google Doc version of my response-to-a-response that has some David Foster Wallace-style footnotes.
This was yet another American classic that I had yet to view, and I really enjoyed it overall. Below, I focus on how a five-minute sequence about a third of the way through the film the film appears to comment on how the film industry has curated the public’s definition of “beauty” and has centered on the sexual appeal–and not the artistic craft–of female performers.
For all of the glamorous and glorious theatrics that Singin’ in the Rain (1952) includes, which have been the basis for its legendary stature, one particular sequence during a crucial transition in the main plot is seemingly awkward and forced but is woven into the narrative in a clever manner. At approximately a third of the way through the film, the sudden success of the first “talkie” The Jazz Singer has motivated the studio’s president R. F. Simpson (Millard Mitchell) to halt production of the next Lockwood and Lamont film The Dueling Cavalier and upgrade to creating their own talking picture. Just before this plot transition, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) informs Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) that she was responsible for the firing his new love interest Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), which further divides Lockwood and Lamont as a congenial working couple. This desire to add synchronous speech to their films presents a problem for the studio and Don: Lina’s nasal voice and crass vocabulary will make the transition to talking pictures a seemingly insurmountable task. At 00:34:30, the film director, studio president, and Don Lockwood slowly turn toward her, and each man’s non-verbal expression–perhaps a cinematic nod to the silent film era–clearly represent their collective realization that Lina will complicate this shift.
The scene cuts to three brief spinning-newspaper swish pans, providing viewers with barely enough time to see the Variety headlines touch on the success of the talking films. The sequence that follows–which concludes with an extended scene of what appears to be the filming of a women’s clothing advertisement supplemented by the song “Beautiful Girl”–seems to interrupt the existing plot lines, but it symbolizes Don and Kathy’s relationship while providing an exaggerated synopsis of the advanced technology within the film industry in the 1920s.
This sequence opens with an extreme close-up of three women jovially and synchronously singing the lead-in of an upbeat tune (00:34:40) and becomes a montage of various samplings of songs that feature synchronous and asynchronous singing. The second shot is a medium close up that features a series of women in matching musical note dresses and dancing with the upbeat rhythm. This cuts to four men, seemingly on their backs and with their heads in close proximity to one another in a high angle shot while singing synchronously. A second upbeat song shifts simultaneously into a long shot of over a dozen women dressed as toy soldiers. The camera zooms in quickly on the face of the faux-marching woman at the apex of the inverted V formation. At 00:34:55, the image shifts to a bizarre shot of a string of women’s uncovered legs rapidly placing right feet upon left knees on top of a vibrant green speckled background. Two seconds later, the song and image changes again, revealing a bowtied man bellowing a ballad through a megaphone. The megaphone is brought into an extreme close-up, and the chorus of showgirls–now in bright pink hats and dresses–are superimposed within the centralized close-up of the megaphone’s amplifying end. The next brief cut reveals a dancing woman in a flapper dress appearing to the left of a saxophone held by disembodied hands. The series of bare women’s legs reappears in the same angle as before but in standing position in what could be a dance studio. As the montage heads toward its close, the rapidity of images increases, first with a candy-stripe-suited man and woman in the midst of a dance performance, then a return to the toy soldiers, the megaphone ballad, the candy-stripe suit, a new trio of men locked together and tap dancing on an invisible platform, the musical note-dressed ensemble, and a mix of a few others before the culminating swipe-out back to the ballad singer surrounded by the chorus girls, one of whom is, we ultimately see, Kathy Selden.
This sequence is highly sexualized, which nods at the public fandom toward Don and Don’s attraction to Kathy. However, embedded within this sequence are song snippets that match the imagery and action, but jar the viewer until the camera zooms out to reveal that Simpson is supervising a non Lockwood and Lamont production. Pointed out as “That girl on his right [who] looks familiar” (00:35:42), Simpson brings attention to Selden, and Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor) realizes she’s the mysterious woman for whom his best friend Don has been searching for several weeks. This plot point was necessary to reunite Selden and Lockwood, and it also provides an opportunity for what Jane Feuer notes as the true basis for the film’s creation: the song catalog (487). The cache of song samples during the sequence (00:34:30 — 00:39:32) includes bubble-gum tunes concerning a man’s anticipation a relationship ending, a woman’s wedding day, a ballad expressing a man’s hesitation to be forthright in his feelings, and the extended ballad “Beautiful Girl”, the lyrics of which seem to prioritize the subject’s looks over her intelligence. While the specific lines of “Beautiful Girl” are arguably quite reductive toward women, they emphasize the parallel of Don and Kathy’s relationship.
Thus, in a film that tends to “wink” at itself and poke fun at Hollywood’s misrepresentation of real life and real interpersonal relationships, Singin’ in the Rain further complicates its stature by incorporating existing songs like “Beautiful Girl” in a thinly veiled commercial manner while attempting to de-sexualize silent film stars like Lina and promote multi-talented performers like Kathy.
Week 3’s discussion was of Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. I am falling in love with these films more and more each week! I chose a brief one-minute “pan” to analyze in the paper below. This brief transition appears right before the end of Jeff and Lisa’s second night together in his apartment.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), James Stewart plays an injured renowned photographer named L. B. (“Jeff”) Jeffries, who, at the tail end of a seven-week recovery for a broken leg has been limited to people-watching through his apartment windows during the peak of summer. Hitchcock quickly conditions the viewer to believe that every time the various neighbors and their apartments are shown, they are seeing shots in Jeff’s point-of-view. Additionally, the camera pauses at various medium shots of the various apartment dwellers, then the camera cuts to a close up of Jeff’s reaction to these images or micro-scenes. At the beginning of the second night of the main narrative, however, Hitchcock departs from that conditioning and simultaneously satisfies the addicting quality of voyeurism that has arrested the entire narrative. Laura Mulvey discusses the “pleasures” that cinema offers, and it seems clear that Hitchcock explores this effectiveness of scopophilia in at least one key turning point in the film.
In the opening phone conversation with his editor and through the initial dialogue with his nurse, Stella, Jeff establishes his disconcerting views of marriage. During the first evening, Lisa enters Jeff’s apartment jovially, advertises the coming seven days to be a week Jeff will never forget, and their contrasting views toward the trajectory of their relationship are earmarked to become the core conflict of the narrative until after her departure when Jeff, immobile and alone again, watches the peculiar activity of the salesman, Mr. Thorwald, across the courtyard. From Jeff’s POV, we see Thorwald leave and return twice; then, in what becomes a departure from the established point of view, we see Thorwald and a woman leave the apartment before the camera pans to a sleeping and oblivious Jeff. This momentary POV shift is crucial to the entire narrative, and it is the first key detail that makes viewers just as much voyeurs as Jeff has become. Through dramatic irony, we are now even more helpless to communicate concerns and theories to Jeff as he is to Stella or Lisa.
The second departure from Jeff’s POV recycles a shot on the thermometer, suggesting that both Jeff and the activity within his vantage-point have cooled a bit. The camera pans left and slightly up and down throughout what seems to be his POV which exhibit a series of symbolic nods to Jeff’s stated concerns of his future. The first image is that of the shirtless (vulnerable) pianist, who mops around the piano and is apparently cleaning up a past discretion–likely the drunken one he had had while alone the previous night. He pauses his work momentarily during an obvious flash of inspiration, keys a few chords, but unsuccessfully capitalizes on that flash and angrily returns to his obligatory duty. Symbolically, this parallels Jeff’s own artistic drive as a photographer and how his physically disabled state has stunted his growth as an artist. Notably, though, the pan pauses here, capturing an unsavory moment of self-loathing and frustration. Secondly, in a brief high-angle shot during the right-to-left pan, we see a father assisting a child with pajamas on the balcony. This wholesome scene is clear but never stops (as it had with the pianist), and it is also the most distant in space from Jeff’s point of view. This glimpse is a probable microcosm of the images Jeff has seen over the past six weeks on this balcony. He may envision himself as a father, but because these characters are so minimally featured, it becomes clear that Jeff does not anticipate positioning himself into domesticity and parenthood anytime soon.
The camera pans down and left and blazes past the salesman’s empty, but lit, room as we hear the whistling from the dog owners above. The flowing pan finds the whistler, then cuts downward to find the dog running toward its retrieval basket. By now, the camera pan has mirrored the natural instinct to spot movement and immediately discern whether the movement is either arbitrary or threatening. Lastly, In a continuous stream, we see brief glimpses of the harmless women near Thorwald’s apartment opposite Jeff: “Miss Lonelyhearts” (sewing), “Miss Torso” (grooming), and the spinster artist below Miss Torso (sculpting). These three women also represent various aspects of Jeff’s life and desires: repairing/healing (sewing); independence and self presentation (grooming); and returning to his artistic craft (sculpting). The flowing pan continues left and withdraws back into Jeff’s apartment to reveal that these images were not observed by Jeff at all, but rather by the audience alone. Lisa sits on his lap, obstructing his view as they engage in amorous activity, but she is also obstructing his concentration on the Thorwald narrative he’s been constructing since the previous night. This second “departure” from Jeff’s POV further deepens the viewers’ investment in this neighborhood. Interestingly, the scene unfolds as Lisa attempts again to engage in romantic exchanges, yet Jeff struggles to reciprocate fully because he has become so immersed in the mystery across the courtyard. As the scene develops, we watch a frustrated artist wrestle with his desire for Lisa and his moral obligation to protect a stranger. Hitchcock uses this scene to demonstrate that at least some men are not driven solely by conquering sexual desires. This exchange challenges a stereotype and complicates the relationship he has with Lisa, but moments later, she finally sees what he has been seeing and becomes just as enamored as Jeff has become.
For our second response paper, we were asked to view Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) and analyze a scene and/or cinematic technique. Here’s what I submitted. I do really like the film, but there are some glaring plot holes that disturb me to my non-critical core.
Within its non-linearal structure, one significant two-minute flashback in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) that takes place during the interview of Mr. Leland (Joseph Cotton) at the hospital includes six brief scenes demonstrating the breakfast time exchanges between Kane (Orson Welles) and his first wife Emily Norton (Ruth Warrick), and these scenes feature clear and subtle clues to the sour trajectory of Kane’s first marriage. As the camera dissolves from Leland in the foreground to the early days of Kane’s marriage to Emily in what critic James Naremore identifies as the “celebrated breakfast table montage,” Leland states in a matter-of-fact fashion that, after the first few months, their marriage was “like any other marriage.” Through these six brief scenes, we learn that Leland’s observation of their relationship implies that most marriages begin with passion and dwindle into silent despair and contempt.
The first scene within this two-minute flashback opens with Emily sitting daintily at the breakfast table and pours herself tea. Her bright formal gown, we realize, has been worn since the previous evening, and Kane enters jovially with a cloth napkin and food for each of them. His tuxedo and demeanor are clearly aligned with his adoration of his young wife. Throughout this exchange, Kane appears to be so enamored by her beauty that he rather rudely interrupts her speech as he repeats a compliment. The shots cut back and forth on each character during this first scene, but the indication is clear that they maintain intense eye contact. Kane’s boyish body language exhibits his helplessness against her pronounced beauty. The sexually suggestive conclusion of this first sequence implies Kane’s willingness to sacrifice time from work in order to stay with his wife. Yet, this brief moment of mental and physical attraction is never superseded in the following five scenes within this flashback, during which the contents of the breakfast table and each character’s body language serve as two key unstated changes that support Leland’s claim of the marriage’s typical downward spiral of passion.
During the subsequent five scenes, all of the food and drink are already on the table, which suggests that Kane’s cordiality has floundered. There is no physical contact, and each character experiences an increase in stress, though Kane attempts to insert self-serving wit to wash away the building discontent. Flowers appear between them in the foreground during the opening three portions, but they are absent remaining scenes, serving as a clear metaphor for their relationship. Though we are naturally drawn to each character’s face during each interaction, the removal of the flowers creates a void between them and seems to broaden and lengthen the physical space between husband and wife. This subtle space-generator signals the growing distance among two former lovers.
Consistently, each scene opens with a medium shot of Emily always facing Kane directly; however, Kane’s position across the table moves slightly to his right over the next two medium shots on him. This “turning away” indicates a departure from the giddiness we see in the opening scene. In the fourth scene, Kane is formally dressed for his day and faces her squarely, but this repositioning is overshadowed by his business-like demeanor. Emily questions Mr. Bernstein’s presence in the nursery, but Kane coldly rejects this concern. In the penultimate exchange, each character’s facial expression has drastically shifted to concern and defense. Emily’s hopefulness to discuss matters of concern has been replaced with a clear indication of her growing frustration. Kane’s squinted eyes demonstrate his equal amount of angst. The final wordless exchange, though, serves as a powerful microcosm of their marriage’s demise. Emily’s intentional choice of her husband’s rival newspaper implies her eventual departure, and Kane’s sneer over his copy of the Inquirer echoes his selfishness.
Naremore identifies Citizen Kane as “a series of reminiscences by witnesses to Kane’s life,” and suggests that viewers are being presented the truth through these interviews. Though Mr. Thompson’s interview with Mr. Leland creates an opportunity for this flashback, the scenes potentially misrepresent the “truth” they attempt to exhibit because they are, notably, conjecture from someone who was not in the room during these alleged exchanges. If we assume these six brief moments were constructed in Leland’s mind through a variety of Kane’s comments, we must then understand that these scenes are subjective and not objective. Thus, the subtle strategy of this flashback further emphasizes Kane’s tireless protection of his ego and appearance to the world. Naremore also centers on the ironies of the five distinguishable extended flashbacks. The six short scenes in the singular montage between Kane and Emily include examples of irony as well. Kane and Emily appear in either contrasting colors or clothing choices. Furthermore, viewers experience dramatic irony in this flashback since neither Kane nor Emily know that their marriage will dissolve before its tragic and sudden end in her death.
*I am beginning a new graduate course today at Ball State – ENG 654 – Film Studies. We were tasked to view the film Bicycle Thieves and write a brief 500-700 word response prior to our first class session tonight.
The film is available for rent or purchase through streaming services, but there is also a site/app called Kanopy where it can be viewed for free by subscribers. My response begins under the photo below.
The 1948 Italian film Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) from director Vittorio de Sica features the quest of Antonio Ricci, a newly employed layman, who searches for his stolen bicycle. Antonio’s dependence on the bicycle is not only established quickly, but the bicycle also proves to represent various tangible and intangible elements of humanity. The bulk of the narrative exhibits Antonio modeling strong, respectable citizenship while in the company of his young son Bruno, yet Antonio reaches a moral threshold that clearly demonstrates a central struggle through an example of the circumstances that would lead anyone to contradict one’s own ethical code.
The choice of the bicycle for this purpose is apt due to its multifaceted symbolic power. The universality and familiarity with bicycles contributes to the power of the film’s general thesis which exhibits the challenges one man faces with his own moral code while under extreme duress. Bicycles are often associated with youth as the first mode of transportation that truly separates the owner/rider from his or her home and outside the realm of visible adult supervision, which conjures the notion of one gaining independence. The independence Antonio desires is not one of isolation from others but rather one that would remove him out from under the weight and struggle of poverty. As Antonio’s story develops, the bicycle further serves as a symbolic generational bond between Antonio and his son, and the clarity of the father-son relationship blurs at the same pace as the whereabouts of the stolen bicycle.
The opening sequence of the film cleverly establishes the immediate, yet undefined, significance that owning a bicycle has for Antonio, and this leads to the first of many conflicts the protagonist faces. Viewers are immediately immersed in the struggle all of the unemployed workers experience, and their frustration with the lack of opportunity quickly becomes a microcosm for the oppressed individuals. Because Antonio has pawned his bicycle, his wife Maria decides that selling their bedsheets, objects she clearly treasures, is worth the sacrifice so Antonio can not only reach the desired position but eventually earn enough to take them out of their dire financial state. Thus, the specific bicycle he re-claims serves as a physical representation of his past debt and current cash crisis.
What is so striking about this scene is how quickly Maria’s sharp and selfless idea to pawn the sheets comes to her when compared to the visibly painful and helplessness Antonio displayed after accepting the job bid. In this scene, De Sica could be promoting the maternal instinct to think of the entire family’s needs before her own, but this altruistic action is never later discussed among the couple. However, upon buying back his bicycle, viewers watch through Antonio’s vantagepoint as the sheets they’d just sold are stored into an immense and seemingly endless collection. It is clear De Sica felt an obligation to contrast these two through tangible goods for this scene to garner as much as time as it does.
Once the bicycle is stolen, the narrative’s tone returns to the struggle the unemployment line conjured in the opening scene. Antonio helplessly chases after the thief, earns little or no respect from law enforcement, and becomes visibly fraught with the notion of returning home to his wife and newborn to explain the loss. Interestingly, De Sica opts to allow the viewer to watch the seedy heist the three-man team of thieves initiate come to fruition, which makes the audience experience the struggle and helplessness right alongside Antonio. Because the lone thief who rode off initially was shown briefly and only in profile, the audience cannot be any more sure than Antonio himself when he believes he’s found him the following afternoon. De Sica thus forces Antonio and the viewer to consider one’s willingness to reach closure, even if it means putting others into a poorer condition.
Raise your hand if you’ve committed the electronic act of unfollowing an acquaintance on a social media platform. What about subtweeting as a method of coping with someone else’s post? How about severing ties with a former classmate or coworker by deploying options such as unfriending…or, applying the more permanent form of digital removal: the high-octane capital-B Block? Though French playwright Yasmina Reza’s highly acclaimed script debuted over twenty-five years ago–well over a decade prior to the birth of social media–Art has modern-day applications and pushes viewers to examine the nature and existence of our interpersonal relationships. Thus, its inclusion in the calendar at First Presbyterian Theater is welcomed and clearly warranted, given our shifting attention concerning the public forums that social media has amplified. Director Thom Hofrichter identifies Christopher Hampton’s translation of Reza’s play as “hysterical” but also a “harbinger of the times,” suggesting that recent political tension has led many to reevaluate friendships and acquaintances, especially if both parties have drastically conflicting ideas and beliefs.
The play does involve art–focusing on the recent purchase of a controversial painting by one of the three adult male friends featured throughout the plot. The painting, though, is quickly established as a vehicle to lead viewers to grapple with the intangible issue of true friendship. The artwork’s significance and value is not equally shared by all three, which spawns the disagreement and deep-rooted discourse concerning their pasts and their observations of one another.
Serge, the purchaser of the painting, is performed by Aaron Robertson, and Marc, Serge’s longtime friend, is played by Aaron Mann. Robertson captures the swelling hopefulness that acquiring this painting will elevate him within some circles, though Mann counters that pride in a convincingly dismissive manner. As the rapid-fire dialogue pushes their conversation forward, Robertson and Mann successfully waver the strength of their characters’ friendship through cutting dialogue and physically affected performances. Both exemplify a realistic mixture of maturity and pettiness with which most adults can likely relate, and they quickly rope the audience into their internal and external struggle with how one another has changed over the course of their years as friends.
Nol Beckley plays Ivan, the final member of the friendship trio. As an anxious and vividly stressed man, Beckley demonstrates the pressure of finding meaning with his new career as well as being inundated by the demands and requests of various family members his upcoming wedding has created. Ivan is the type of friend whose non-confrontational complacency has evolved as counterproductive and predictable, and he has become a running joke among Marc and Serge as they ultimately dehumanize him as a weapon within their own verbal battle. Beckley’s Ivan wrestles over his own inability to be assertive, and the consequences of his refusal to remain as the trio’s punching bag dazzlingly shifts the action of the play.
The culminating showdown among these three creates for audiences an opportunity to consider the basis for all relationships. Presumably, these three men met and began a kinship as individuals who identified a shared quality with one another, which becomes an effective universal connection for any viewer. However, as they have aged, they may have noticed that the chumminess of their conversations has been replaced by a much more personal and irritable one. This increase in hostility, too, becomes the foundation of the evocative power these performances offer. The brittle state of their friendship displayed through these performances–as grown men who had simply planned for a relaxing evening together–becomes obvious through the vibrant dialogue and comical asides. These asides shared with the audience and not the characters on stage, are a longstanding theatrical device to reveal thoughts not meant for the ears of other characters. Nowadays, we might as well nickname them “theatrical subtweets.”
Some may argue that social media has announced itself as a common and convenient supplement to face-to-face interaction, but others may warn against its increasing trajectory of use, believing that the ease with which unfollowing, unfriending, or blocking carries will escalate our collective divisiveness and dissociation. Because all phone usage is disallowed during performances at FPT, audience members can ponder these ideas as well as enjoy the opportunity to detoxify from social media activity for about eighty-five minutes.
For many years, I assigned to my high school juniors whatever excerpts from Walden the literature textbook had supplied. This usually included the opening lines from “Economy” (though the editors may have fragmented some portions) and ended shortly after the heavily cited and depressing sentiment “All men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I believe that was followed by the meticulously detailed account of the building and planting materials from that same initial chapter. The opening of “Where I Lived…” appeared next and stretched until the line about living “deliberately” met my students’ eyes. Later, of all things, “Brute Neighbors” was portioned out in our textbook, but the section chosen by the editorial team centered on the aerial view of the large red and black ants, included because, we eventually discussed, that it was a relatively strong sample of Thoreau’s use of symbolism concerning, some students suggested, themes such as individualism, war, and community. As a career educator, I would eventually like to slip into future conversations concerning the American canon, and I continue to believe passages of Walden are essential to the shaping of literary thought in America. While each of the aforementioned excerpts represents either a general or specific thematic feature of the book, this week’s re-reading of Walden paired with the supplemental articles by Arsic and Walls identified for me other valuable portions that might pull back from Thoreau’s desire and ability to check out of society (more or less) for twenty-six months, and instead center on some revealing stylistic choices that make the book relatable to individuals born since 2000.
I was especially drawn to the thorough examination Laura Dassow Walls identifies in her analysis of the relationship between the Thoreau of Walden Pond and the “everyman” neighbor Mr. Field (later, Mr. Farmer) from the latter half of one of the shortest chapters in the text, “Baker Farm.” The theme of this scene directly echoes a key remark from Emerson’s “Nature” essay (which, I would argue, should also remain accessible in standard anthologies) where he shrewdly observes how mankind takes ownership of land, but that “no one owns the landscape.” Walls cites how the first half of Walden establishes themes of industry and fortitude as the cornerstones of soulful satisfaction. By inserting John Field–a man who respects the sage words of the author/narrator, but who also elects not to heed his advice–into the narrative, however, Walls sees that Thoreau has set himself and the project of the book up for failure. Because the Fields (who Walls suggests may represent a hesitant-to-change Us) remain unaltered by his words, Thoreau is reduced to dwell on their irrationality. Walls, though, believes this short scene was structured “deliberately,” in order for it “to confront us unequivocally with the true sources of evil in our own well-meaning desire to improve ourselves by working hard, buying more stuff, and rising in the world, just as we have been told to do” (20).
This passage from Walls struck me because it runs parallel to so many themes found in the various essays and fiction from David Foster Wallace, one of the subjects I’m considering for my area of specialization. Wallace, like Thoreau–or, what Laura Walls suggests is the character named “Thoreau”–often discussed The American Dream of proudly and ceaselessly logging hours at work (and consequently away from one’s friends and family) in order to climb the corporate ladder, upgrade a car every so often, move into a larger living space and fill it with stuff no one needs in what ultimately will end, whether we want to believe it or not, in a fruitless quest to secure happiness. Walls believes Thoreau sought to appear defeated in this scene because Walden “will succeed only if [Thoreau] can pivot his audience from material failure to spiritual success” and that readers “must feel this failure” (21).
Branka Arsić’s essay uncovers a focal point from Walden that I had not considered earlier either. This approach toward Things was, for me, a much more abstract analysis, but I applaud her efforts in identifying and tracking the Things themselves and navigating through different classifications of those Things. The portion of the essay that resonated the most with me appeared toward the end of the middle section “Deathway of Things.” By labeling things from Thoreau’s perspective as either living or dead, she cites from the book the “two different responses to the phenomenon of dead things, that of the Mucclasse Indians and Mexicans, and that of the New Englanders” and notes that Thoreau “does not side with either” (165). Walls notes that the way the author seems to understand things aligns with the “non-dualistic understanding of the world” to which the Mucclasse Indians subscribe”[m]eaning must be embedded in the material” of the Thing (165).
The value of Arsić’s essay and Walden is that these two Things themselves have potential in formal and informal educational venues. The book itself allows students in classrooms or readers in book clubs multiple opportunities to identify what is or should be treasured, to discuss the evolution of our moral values, and to express the bond we have with material (or immaterial) Things. While culturally, we may clash about the value or usefulness of living or dead Things, the discussions themselves about these differing perspectives can lead to a greater appreciation for one another as human beings, which, it seems safe to say, is among Thoreau’s central objectives within Walden.
Question for Class Discussion
- Walls discusses how past analyses have concluded that Thoreau’s alleged disdain for the Irish is short-sighted. Are there other instances in the book where he reveals his privilege and/or expresses any level of contempt or prejudice toward an individual or group?
Arsić, Branka. “Our Things: Thoreau on Objects, Relics, and Archives.” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, vol. 23 no. 1, 2014, pp. 157-181. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/556056.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. (original 1845 publication).
Walls, Laura Dassow. “‘As You Are Brothers of Mine’: Thoreau and the Irish.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 88, no. 1, 2015, pp. 5–36., http://www.jstor.org/stable/24718201.
The 2019-2020 season at First Presybyterian Theater season kicks off this month with Oscar Wilde’s timeless classic The Importance of Being Earnest. This pointedly amusing story features various perspectives on the institution of marriage and the great depths we can reach to maintain our reputations. Often noted as the legendary author’s most treasured work, The Importance of Being Earnest will either introduce or remind viewers of Wilde’s distinct voice. His unique descriptions of London society and the modern world are just as applicable today as they were when it was first published in late-nineteenth century.
Aaron Mann stars as Algernon, a playboy brimming with confidence and rarely at a loss for words, and boldy rejuvenates the character director John Tolley associates the most with the Wilde himself. Chance Parker captures remarkably well the quieter, but equally clever and well-intentioned Mr. Worthing, Algernon’s acquaintance. Together, Mann and Parker loop viewers into their world and their amusing (though elitist) lives as they carry the rapid-fire pacing of the plot and dialogue throughout the bulk of the first of the two acts.
In a play replete with irony and parallel plot lines, Mann and Parker are countered by two outstanding performances by Laura Laudeman and Kelly Maloney as Gwendolyn Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, respectively. Laudeman’s consistent balance as a dutiful daughter and impassioned woman genuinely catapult the momentum of the first act. After intermission, Maloney highlights the naivete of Mr. Worthing’s ward Cecily, whose shift into adulthood has been overlooked by all of those around her.
As the tension rises among these four individuals throughout the second act, audiences are greeted with moments in the play where Wilde is all but snagging us by the collar and expressing what we think and how we are flawed. One strong attribute of this particular performance is the presentation style where characters rarely speak in the direction of one another. By turning toward the audience, viewers themselves become the ones addressed and discussed, which adds to the universality of this examination of human desires and fragility. Through his seemingly bottomless bag of theatrical tricks, Wilde’s remarkably interwoven script lends itself to the audience in ways that other playwrights have not done and may never do. At the risk of drawing from a cliche, this play has everything. From Algeron and John Worthing’s first few lines, viewers can easily draw parallels not only to themselves, but also the themes of independence, loyalty, and even deception.
One of the funniest characters in this play is that of Aunt Augusta, and Kate Black’s extraordinary version is not to be missed. In a role that is equal parts elitist and hysterical, Black enriches each scene with unparalleled authority and biting commentary.
Though it is a secondary plot, be sure to watch and listen closely to the words and interactions of Marsha Wallace as Miss Prism and Scott Rumage as Reverend Chasuble. While these two combine for a comparative lower amount of overall presence, Wallace and Rumage exude Oscar Wilde’s style and wit in perfectly timed jabs at relationships, love, and religion.
Rae Surface and her set design team have created another appealing and appropriate stage for a play so dependent on dialogue, and Jeanette Walsh’s distinct costuming aligns well with the era of late nineteenth century London.
We live in a time where one can curate his or her own image out to the world in ways Oscar Wilde likely never dreamed possible. However, can we ever truly love ourselves or anyone else if we misrepresent ourselves to anyone, regardless of our justifications for doing so? True love, perhaps Oscar Wilde was suggesting, is not satisfying the expectations of someone else. It is, on the other hand, acknowledging one’s own flaws and accepting the flaws of others as nothing more than a common attribute of the human condition. The play is a really good read, but witnessing it first-hand through the stellar performances of this cast is unmatched.
I began two courses this week at Ball State. One is a literature course concerning 19th century American literature, and the other is a methods course on literary research. Both classes include students in master’s programs and Ph. D. programs. So far, I feel very comfortable with the reading and writing assignments on each syllabus. Among the major titles I’ll be reading (and in some cases re-reading) are the following:
- Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass
- Henry David Thoreau – Walden
- Ralph Waldo Emerson – “Nature”
- Louisa May Alcott – Work
- Frederick Douglass – My Bondage and My Freedom
- Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Blithedale Romance
- Herman Melville – Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life
- Harriet E. Wilson – Our Nig; or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black
- Viet Than Nguyen – The Sympathizer
- Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
This past week was also “Non-instruction week” at Ivy Tech. Full-time faculty must be on campus all five days and serve a minimum of 40 hours. Those hours are logged in paper form and submitted to the program chairs and deans. Each day this week, I attended a meeting of some kind. Some of those meetings were beneficial while some bordered on meeting a requirement.
I begin my twenty-first year as an educator on Monday with my first set of students for the fall semester. I will be teaching one class each day for the first eight weeks of this term, but I will not be in the classroom on Mondays during the second eight weeks. I’m teaching a co-requisite class this semester that is in line with the trajectory that Ivy Tech is headed: Eight-week courses.
While this particular post is not directly about eight-week courses, I will likely blog about my general observations of them between now and December. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I feel I am a little more willing to embrace this structure. I opted to volunteer to teach one to at least see how it compares to the 16-week model I’ve been teaching for eight years (as an adjunct and FT professor) and be able to share informed takeaways from my experiences. It may work better than imagined, and it may be disastrous. For me, I prefer to at least try it with an open mind (hopefully in the spring 2020 semester as well) before shaping my official stance.
Today is the first day of the fall semester for me as a college professor and as a graduate student. I thought I’d share a passage from one of the readings I completed prior to tonight’s first class at Ball State:
“One reason Fascism has a chance is that it in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm.”
This is from Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and was published posthumously in 1942 in his acclaimed book Theses on the Philosophy of History.
I cannot be sure as of this moment, but my assumption is that this line will get attention during our first discussion this evening. Benjamin’s book was from about 80 years ago in the midst of Hitler’s reign in Germany.
Over the past few years in America, White Nationalists and a group known as “Antifa” have found headlines, which can rationally result in their separate agendas receiving attention and potential recruitment.
The fear then (and now) is that these extremist belief systems will become so ingrained in the minds of citizens that any attempt to stifle, demonize, or completely quash those historically cruel and inhumane perspectives will diminish, which would allow for them to enjoy another cycle of popularity with just enough individuals to cause real harm to others. This would ultimately unravel the decades of effort put forth by countless empathetic individuals who have devoted their lives to instill strong morals in each new generation.
Where is your phone when you fall asleep?
How soon after you wake up do you look at your phone?
These are questions that, a generation ago, would not have made much sense. Scrolling through news or social media apps is ritualistic to end and begin a day.
Today, here’s what I endured so far:
- A friend who is a police officer posted a statement on Instagram in the wake of the two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. To paraphrase, its message expressed a wish that, in the event of his/her death at a similar mass shooting, he/she did not want his/her life to become political ammunition for liberals who want to take the guns away from citizens.
- A former student floated an inquiry on Facebook to learn of the “best places” to get world news. The comments were, to me, rather shocking. “Fox” was one response. A second suggested that all [cable?] news was biased (so it doesn’t matter). CNN, one reply stated, hated everyone equally. Toward the bottom (among the most recent) someone offered the link to Info Wars. Tone is difficult to measure with online posts such as this, so I cannot fully know how serious or sarcastic any of these types of answers were.
- My local newspaper’s Facebook page shared an article about some planned protests outside the downtown headquarters of one of the major political parties. Again, I chose to read the comments from others. The protests were also in response to the tragedies in Texas and Ohio over the past weekend. However, the comments were authored by individuals who has a wide range of explanations, redirected blame, and political talking points. One individual took the time to itemize a series of documented events associated with the current leader from one political party.
You’re likely familiar with at least one of the above situations. For an insight to my personal beliefs on gun control/gun legislation, feel free to read my essay from a few years ago here.
Sidebar: My kids want me to play with Legos with them this morning, but they’ve agreed to let me do some writing before I join in.
I’m currently reading a book entitled iGen by Jean Twenge, PhD. The current section concerns the startling increase in teenagers who self-identify as having depressive symptoms and, by a heart-shattering extension, a similar rise in teen suicides. In short, she surmises that, while there are likely a lot of factors for such an upswing in both of these, the single element in play across the board for teens from all demographics is social media access and activity.
I fear that we’ve already conditioned ourselves to become unaffected by tragedy–unless, of course, we are nearly or directly involved. Our collective participation in all corners of the Internet is not only deteriorating our human thirst for personal interaction, but it has rapidly become our most common source of accessing information. The severe problem is that we are also targeted by others with various agendas and the line between truth and propaganda has all but evaporated.
One of the earmarks of standard commentary on social media sites is the vast view on virtually any debate that the issue in question has two distinct sides. Thus, it’s common for someone to reply with something along the lines of “It’s not because of x, it’s clearly because of y.”
My job in teaching argumentative writing at the college level involves several elements that are grossly ignored, overlooked, or simply not implemented by the average individual, in my opinion. I spend a lot of time throughout a semester expressing the process of evaluating source material and validating that the creator is credentialed and/or qualified to share information. We also take time discussing “professional” language that, when incorporated into academic arguments, is much more widely accepted than a similar take on an issue filled with “charged” phrasing designed to incite an immediate (and equally ineffective) reaction. Ask yourself if you’re more likely to respond positively to your boss screaming at you in front of your co-workers or if she were to invite you to a private meeting time and shared her concerns in a calm manner.
I know this has gone on perhaps too long, but I’m getting somewhere.
While I cannot know for sure, I believe we all want basically the same things in this world:
- A better future for our children/the next generation(s)
In our quest to secure #1, we are sacrificing #2, #3, and #4 in unprecedented ways.
The problem we face, of course, is the Catch-22 of information sharing. I’m writing these ideas on a blog that I hope my followers and/or friends read. Embedded within this short piece, however, is the (until now) thinly veiled implication that maybe she put our fucking phones down and hang out in person.
But that’s at the heart of it, right? How else can we share our ideas to a similarly sized audience if we vow to take social media diets? If you were to strike up a political debate with the unknown person in front of you at the gas station, you’re likely not going to get much of a response. So, I hope it’s clear that I’m well aware of how I am guilty of the same notions of information-spreading that I’ve mentioned above.
But I also believe that we can start and end each day without feeling so pissed off (or perhaps some other distinct negative emotion) as a result of this habitual desire to “wind down” to someone’s meme or comment or propagandized (and fact-free) article shared from the open web. It affects our sleep, our interpersonal communication skills, and our souls.
Let’s be better than that. You know, for the kids.
I’m off to build Legos with mine.
- Yeah, I missed Day Two of my plan from just two days ago. I did, however, grade a bit, take my kids to a park, and see the new Lion King movie with the fam. Finished Rainn Wilson’s book just before bed. In short, a full day but no real writing.
- Is this real writing? Discuss…
- I’ve been reading some very well-written but incredibly jarring creative nonfiction from some online students. Even if half of these stories are historically accurate, it’s a long-overdue wake-up call for me as their teacher. We tend to forget the human side of education, especially in online courses where the students are just names on a screen.
- My kids like Fuller House, which is fine for now. The writing is pretty hokey, but I have to remember that I was likely drawn to similarly droll stuff when I was their age.
- In all my spins around the sun, I’m afraid my only invented life-hack is using a candle warmer beside my computer to keep my coffee at an appropriate temperature. Kudos to people who come up with all of the other really good ones out there.
- The missus and I started Pulp Fiction just before going to sleep two nights ago. Damn, I forgot how brilliant every aspect of that movie is.
Just a few things on my mind as I’m (slowly) grading stuff online…
- Getting my fiction or poetry published is going to be even harder than I already imagined.
- As I’m reading Rainn Wilson’s autobiography, I am understanding how much dedication to one’s goals is necessary for success.
- Climate change is happening, and we’re really damaging the lives of future generations by bickering about it.
- Misinformation is rampant and destroying original thought and even stifling some from seeking truth.
- Our children are growing up way too fast for my wife and me.
- Observing nature–especially harmless, undomesticated little guys like bunnies–can be a tremendous escape from grading (or whatever it is you do to keep the lights on.)
- I should have started most mornings by adding something to this blog if, for no other reason, so I can say that wrote something each day.
- Perhaps this is day 1 of the idea in #7.
- The new collaborative album TINY CHANGES, which includes cover tracks by many amazing musicians of Frightened Rabbit’s 2008 THE MIDNIGHT ORGAN FIGHT, is officially my Album Selection of Summer 2019.
- THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (Netflix series) is really well done, and everyone in my household is excited for Season 2!
Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, so I’d like to identify and honor some of my former teachers/professors whose dedication to the profession made becoming an educator my career ambition. Further, I’d like to give a professional nod to all of my former colleagues at Shakamak Junior-Senior High School as well as my current colleagues at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne.
Pre-K – 6: Miss Sherry, Mrs. Vickers, Mrs. Webster, Mrs. Newton, Mrs. Brady, Mrs. Jackson, Mrs. Jones
Junior High (Woodrow Wilson, Terre Haute): Mr. Van Winkle, Mr. Wernz, Mr. Nearpass.
High School (Terre Haute South) – Ms. Huter, Mrs. Ligget, Mr. Arnett, Mrs. Huber
Indiana State University – Howard McMillen, Robert Perrin, Matt Brennan, Jake Jakaitis, Pete Carino, Leslie Barrett
I’ve been very lucky to have so many educators in my lifetime who created enjoyable experiences in their classrooms and have served as direct and indirect mentors to my goal of becoming an educator. I’ve likely omitted a name or two from this lengthy list, but I will always hold memories of my teachers’ positive mentality close to my heart!
If you have the opportunity, please consider acknowledging a classroom teacher or other mentor who has impacted you throughout your life! Let’s celebrate the amazing world of education today!
Lastly, special recognition goes to Robert (Bob) Fischer and Steve Humphrey, whose positive impact on my life was unparalleled, even if they didn’t realize it.
And, to my my mother Carolyn Lively, grandmother Mable Harvey, and brother Rob Lively: the three greatest teachers who never ran a classroom.
Review by Steve Lively
The 2018-2019 season ends this month at First Presbyterian Theater with Ben Butler, a play that mixes historical figures from the dawn of The Civil War with vital contemporary social issues and themes such as racial inequality and duty. Set at Fort Monroe in Virginia in 1861, General Ben Butler is suddenly interrupted by his lieutenant informing him that three escaped slaves have arrived and are essentially looking for ‘sanctuary’ from being returned to enslavement. Director John O’Connell was “struck” by the word ‘sanctuary’ in this this character-driven play and cast a quartet of exceptional performers to round out First Prez’s fiftieth year of local theater in Fort Wayne.
Thom Hofrichter, the theater’s Managing Artistic Director for the past twenty-two years, stars as the title character, a man who had been assigned this post for only a short time when the action of this play begins. Among the highlights of a lengthy career in the military, Butler is known for authoring a legal loophole that served as a step toward the emancipation of slaves. Hofrichter excels in this authoritative role and exhibits a clear level of respect of escaped slaves that is not often associated with men from this era whose obligations to their superior prevented them from being empathetic. Through his clear knowledge of Butler’s role in the Civil War and American politics thereafter, Hofrichter applies his boisterous presence and sharp wit over the course of this two-hour performance.
Butler’s subordinate, Lieutenant Kelly, is played by Kevin Torwelle, who has appeared in multiple performances this season at FPT. Torwelle again expresses his active range of emotions as a young officer whose routine life is jarred by the sudden arrival of the three slaves. Torwelle and Hofrichter execute the swelling and intoxicating momentum they had when they co-starred in last season’s RED as the situation intensifies. Throughout the opening scene together, these two performers solidify their characters’ perspectives and balance the serious nature of the established plot with moments of humor that jab at the conflicts between military order and morality.
Starring as one of the fugitive slaves who have arrived at Fort Monroe is Tony McCarrol as Shepard Mallory, the second of the two real historical figures used as inspiration for this play.
Though he hasn’t graced the FPT stage since 1999, McCarrol, though initially appearing in handcuffs, quickly establishes Mallory through a convincing nervousness and eventual blunt nature. As the tension rises in the conversation between Mallory and Butler, audiences can easily draw parallels between the anxious moments of this historical moment of the Civil War and the current-day situation at the US Southern border. With that parallel in mind, viewers are led to examine the challenges that our professional obligations at times conflict with what is commonly accepted as morally righteous choices.
Robert Phillips returns to the FPT stage as Major John B. Carey, a man who arrives under a truce flag and plans to return the trio of fugitive slaves back to their owner. Phillips and Hofrichter successfully engineer these symbolic roles as powerful men from opposing sides of the stewing war through their cutting exchange that serve as a prelude to the play’s culminating scene.
Throughout this tight, accelerated script, audiences will not have difficulty understanding the morality involved in this play and will likely leave with a fresh reminder that, in their hearts, we often know what is right. Ben Butler serves as an entertaining reminder that we sometimes allow antiquated notions and traditions to interfere with our decisions. This performance not only mixes laughs with stained portions of our country’s history, but it also reminds us that we must take advantage of every moment when the opportunity to improve social equality and moral goodness presents itself.
Here. Read this.
Read the part below.
I’m reading–actually skimming–through student poetry submissions
It’s an expected lot hyphen hyphen (dash)
Some are printed requests for Healing to Begin;
Others include lines about how
quote funny unquote quote life unquote
A handful of energetic pieces st-
(s) dot dot dot
So far just 1 has grabbed me
1 just slapped me upside my head.
The poet wrote
about how consumed we are
and how little w-
in this oneandonlyworld
there were 4 stanzas
And Line 2 of Stanza 1
Became Line 1 of Stanza 2
and so forth
while keeping the fl-
and never losi-
ng or dis-
And I think it’s the strongest so far because that’s what poetry should do,
It should turn our chin toward the sun
And our eyes away from the coals
It can warrant warmth
And suffocate sadness
And it can be structured
Because poetic license allows you
to walk down the escalators sometimes
even if they’re pushing you
before you’re ready
If you’re reading this review, there exists a high likelihood that you are conscious of a seemingly devastating and divisive trend in America over the past decade or so that has pitted us against each other when topics such as faith and politics arise. Lucas Hnath’s play, The Christians, under the direction of First Presbyterian Theater’s Managing Artistic Director Thom Hofrichter, examines these exact issues and invites the audience to move toward a higher acceptance of one another’s beliefs in hopes of avoiding irreparable harm and division. In his director’s notes, Hofrichter focuses on a line from Pastor Paul during his shocking sermon: “I have a powerful urge to communicate with you, but I find the distance between us insurmountable.” Clearly, the selection of this play is designed to encourage spirited discourse and discourage negativity or the outright abolishment of communication and debate.
Upon entering the theater, audiences are immersed in a church setting. Though there is no direct interaction with the performers, there is a distinct sensation of witnessing the internal and external conflicts among the characters. This unnamed holy house begins its service with a few verses of traditional songs which clearly serve as a welcoming device to that week’s parishioners. Once the music ends, however, the tone of the room drastically shifts based on the shocking rhetoric within the trusted words of the church’s pastor. The shock that the church’s attendees and audience experience force each of us to reflect on our own practices and beliefs, a common theme found in this year’s selections at First Presbyterian Theater.
Starring in this play is Austin Berger, an FPT mainstay who most recently appeared in last season’s production of Faith Healer. As Pastor Paul, Berger’s authentic rendition of a man of faith who is at a moral crossroads exhibits the inner turmoil that countless humans have likely wrestled with throughout history. His character has spent decades building the trust of his flock and associates, and Berger’s genuine performance as the chief pastor of what has become a mega-church provides an opportunity for viewers to understand more closely how even the holiest of us struggles with certain unanswered questions.
Riley Newsome, a graduate from Huntington University, plays the youthful associate Pastor Joshua, a man whose own checkered history is at the crux of the conflict between him and his superior. Newsome’s performance is equally convincing, especially as we see him evolve from the initial shocking sermon toward his role within religion in later scenes. Through long monologues, Newsome presents a firm counterpoint to the positions that Berger’s Pastor Paul creates at the outset.
Filling out the cast are David McCants, as a church elder named Jay; Alora Nichole, as an active congregant named Jenny; and Jennifer Poiry, as Pastor Paul’s wife Elizabeth. Though a silent character during the church’s public services, McCants offers a stunning amount of impact with his deliberate and grave expressions of concern as a representative of the church’s board of directors. In one of the play’s most poignant scenes, McCants and Berger present one of the play’s most crucial themes: a challenge to traditional thought and practice found within the church. In her role as a faithful parishioner, Nichole does a beautiful job in vocalizing the concerns of Paul’s doubters and, perhaps, many non-believers in a succinct, yet genuinely nervous fashion. Lastly, Poiry’s tremendous exhibition as the loyal wife creates even more depth of conflict for the troubled pastor as the play unfolds.
Though there is no intermission, The Christians offers much to unpack in its ninety- minute running time. The mastery of this story is in its unique personification of our own concerns with communication among one another, and this cast offers a stirring amount of tension as the plot develops. Audience members of strong religious faith can gain just as much as those who have lengthy lists of questions and doubts. While placing the dilemma within the holy walls of a house of God, it seems clear that the play’s central message is not limited to those of faith. More significantly, the challenges and rhetoric exchanged on stage here can bridge our seemingly deteriorating and divided culture.
Brittle leaves dance
Through Everytown and scatter
Little League infields
Where ghosts and memories steal signs and bases.
Gray takes over at First;
Charging Second, the first flakes drown mounds,
Rounding Third, the deepest snow
And lowest degrees,
And during all these months ahead,
Home is where we tend to be.
Highlights reel inside me–inside us–
That 2-2 count,
An insurance run in the ninth,
The unmatched tension of extra innings on the road.
We strain to recall single games, plays, scores,
But it all seems to be a rushed mirage now,
A complex continuum
Where the wisest men around
are outfitted like the outfielders.
Each player, each team,
And each fan
From box seat to bleacher bum
Wringing hands for October rings.
Rookies–babies to some–
Big League Chew in their most dormant moments.
Our noses fill with the scents of old cigars and fresh popcorn.
The game hibernates
And the players and specatators–
All of us Brothers, Mothers, Fathers, Sisters–
Invoke the patience of a September call-up
And trust that their eyes will find the lush green,
The damp brown, and the crisp white lines
That must hoist us through this chilly half of the year.
Her: Phew! I’m exhausted. You wouldn’t believe my day.
Him: Hi there. Welcome home.
Her: Did you get the mail?
Her: Can you put down your phone and answer me?
Him: Sorry. What?
Her: The mail.
Him: No. I was going to–
Her: I’ll get it.
Her: What a surprise. Bills, bills, and more bills. What did you do today?
Him: Hm? Oh. Not much.
Her: Did you look for a j– C’mon. I’m trying to talk with you. Can you stop playing that game?
Him: I’m not playing a game.
Her: Did you find anyone hiring?
Him: Um…I tried.
Her: You’re lying.
Her: You can’t even look at me, can you? I know you’re lying and you just want me to stop nagging you about getting a job, don’t you? Fine. Ya know what, fuck this.
Him: Did you hear something?
Him: I think I heard something.
Her: Don’t you dare pick up that phone!
Him: Just a second.
Him: Please don’t! I just called–!
Her: Who the fuck are you calling?
Him: Oww! What are you doing! Stop it!
Her: You love this phone so much, why don’t you fucking shove it up your ass!?
Him: Wait. Please!
Her: We’re fucking done. You know that? I just can’t anymore with this bullshit!
Him: Don’t leave me!
Her: Don’t you dare try to fucking find me!
Him: (into phone) Hello?
Voice: Sir? Yes, we’re here. This is the national suicide prevention hotline, and we’ve been listening for several minutes now. Can you tell me your name?
He slipped up the steep stairs and someone laughed. Maybe at him. Maybe at something near him at that same moment. Harrison stared at his shoes and wiped his forehead, more to cover his face than to remove any anxious sweat or rain. Just to the right of the accordion bus doors was a puddle that boys spat in and watched their bubbled saliva float around like captainless ships. There was plenty of room for the number of students who rode the bus home on Fridays, but Harrison felt like he was squeezing into his military green bench seat and might struggle to get out at his stop. The chaos of the first week of ninth grade and the sudden pulverizing evidence that some of the younger boys had not been introduced to deodorant slimed over Harrison’s damp hair and shoulders. James Hetfield screamed into his ears, and he closed his eyes, hoping the cheese chariot would slither away from the school he hated and friends in it who didn’t exist.
His mother’s handwriting greeted him at the door on an S-shaped knock-off pink Post-It. BACK SOON, KIDDO. YOU ROCK. And the final two words hovered over three thick straight lines. She was nowhere near as clever as she thought. Harrison found the illogically placed faux hideakey in the planter to the left of the door. He wadded up the sticky note and withdrew two Coke cans from the fridge. Once upstairs, he looked out his bedroom window for his mom’s car and, seeing nothing but the sharp landscaping of his neighbors retired hands, Harrison thought about Isabell’s creamy brown-skinned friend and masturbated in his bed. James Hetfield kept screaming the whole time.