Friday, September 20, 2002

Harvest Moon


Teardrops of the moon watered the dry furrows. Beyond my shoulder, this harvest of light is waiting for the sky to lean down and offer up the stars. Ithuriel's spears watered heaven with their tears.

William Blake climbed up an apple tree at the age of four and saw God in the branches. Blame his Irish parents. The fey words climbed aboard in their baggage to take root in Blakes orchard. Orchard. Orchard. Orchard.

The first apples. Yablika in Russian, Apfel in German, Avalon in Welsh, silver apples of the moon on the isle of Anglesey. The Druids would be busy during the equinox moon, Lugnasa, Lugh's moon but Claudius put an end to that until Blake climbed up that tree. There were no apples in Eden. Blame the monks for adding apples to the cart.

I visit the upper orchard in September. Under a full moon, I'm picking apples, their perfume bringing tears to my eyes, exquisite odor and promise. The secret whispering of leaves as if gossip and full moons weren't enough to worry about.

Something is creeping through the underbrush, a displaced bird or a rat? I love that absolute serenity of the orchard. The cockleburs in my socks will require days of patient plucking, my fingers will be lacerated, but the siren call of the orchard under moonlight is too powerful to resist.

The cats are excited by the offering of this nocturnal stroll, it's right up their alley, so to speak. They can't believe their luck. Pure cat joy. We are part of their pride and they are a part of ours. We reenact something special without meaning to, beneath the full September moon.

The Equinox, and today is my mother's birthday this harvest moon, and the October moon. Hunters moon my granny called it. My two favorite moons. She told me how, in Bantry after the hay was cut, how they worked and how they turned and turned the hay until it was dry and then they danced under the full moon, drunk on moonlight. They packed the hay ricks to the sky, until the stars watered heaven with their tears. But my mother won't live to see that harvest moon.

9/20-22/02
added 9/17

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

House of Blue Leaves” Response Paper


“HOUSE OF BLUE LEAVES” RESPONSE PAPER

In a 1991 interview in “The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists”, playwright John Guare said, that if you’re going to be in the theatre, “you only get to be a virgin once.” (Breyer, p. 74). He said that you have to be either naive or primitive, or know as much as you can. In one sense, I wish I was still a virgin when I saw “House of Blue Leaves” staged by the Berkeley Rep. By having studied Guare’s play beforehand, I knew too little or too much and like every audience that lip-synchs Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, I found myself anticipating the plot of the play instead of being surprised and delighted by it. I was jealous of the elderly couple sitting behind me who were confused by the structure of the play, thinking it was over at intermission. And by their delight that it wasn’t over yet. The fat lady had yet to sing.

There is an adage that good art should both surprise and delight the senses. Though much of the surprise was in the actual staging and juxtaposition of character’s dialogues, where delight was most evident was seeing how the director interpreted Guare’s exacting technical and stage directions. The craft and juxtaposition of lines and actions was something that I had trouble with visualizing on the page.

Guare states, “a play isn’t complete until it’s staged. You’ve got to see everything....” (Breyer, p. 81). The play was much funnier live than I had anticipated. Guare, a consummate craftsman, asks: “How do we find the music of the play, so that the audience has...the same response every night?” Guare, whose family heritage includes staunch vaudvillian roots, has the precision of an atomic clock when it comes to timing. Forget Timex. He states that even 30 seconds to change a scene is an eternity in a farce...quick entrances and exits are crucial in order to be able to “deal with the rigors of farce.” (Breyer, p. 75).

Guare is a prankster who affirms that creating a play is to have a relationship with the audience. Though our graying Berkeley audience was far too tame for Artie Shaunessey’s prologue cabaret scene—Artie scolds an already obedient audience—pre-taped chatter conveys the feeling of dis-ease, successfully setting the audience off on the wrong foot for the opening scene I would’ve loved experiencing that broken fourth wall joke first hand, instead of already being queued up for it.

In Guare’s introduction for “Six Degrees of Separation”, he mused over the proximity of a 1986 audience to “The House of Blue Leaves” first premiered in 1965, asking what “made the characters seem even more hungry? Their desperation was the same; [but] the audience’s reaction was more direct.” (“Six Degrees..” p.x). By 1986, Guare considered HBL very much a period piece, revived some 20 years later. World circumstances had changed. Another pope, a very real assassination attempt.—life imitating art. I wondered what to make of the audience’s reception to the play’s 2002 resurrection: does the audience still respond in the same manner?

I would venture that our 2002 audience was a little more reticent in general which could be explained away by a midweek performance, early in the run but the actors also seemed a little low in energy. Jarion Munroe as Artie, a fine, capable actor, seemed a little flat and Rebecca Wisocky did not push the character Bananas to her full potential. She was played a little too realistically for a farce.

There are some brilliant bits and character role reversals in HBL. Bananas, who is clearly intelligent and insane, is the only character who is aware of the truth but is unable to piece it together—except when she realizes Artie’s been stealing melodies.

Bunny, who’s never held a job longer than a season, is sublimely stupid—the pot busily calling every kettle black. I hadn’t anticipated Bunny as voyeur in the apartment, a clever scene. Bananas thinks she’s hearing voices. Banana’s one wish is to be allowed to have an emotion. And feckless untalented, sentimental Artie is incapable of deep emotion—except at the end when he kills Bananas.

I was particularly intrigued with minor character the deaf starlet Corrina in that deafness is a metaphor for the play in that all the characters are deaf to each other anyway. And this is what drives the play. Guare writes: “I like Bunny because she moves the plot, ...you can rely on her to...cut to the chase. I like characters that help the plot along and keep it moving and let us know where we are. “ (Brier, p.84). Not only does Bunny move the plot, but she opportunistically moves on with Billy without batting an eyelash.

When Billy turned out to be real (if shallow as a toilet bowl) in Act Two, I was surprised as the characters’ veracity had been seriously compromised in Act One. I found the transition to Act Two to be a rough transition but Mamet-like, it cuts to the chase. Guare wrote the first scene of HBL in 1965, and in 1966, he read it at the O’Neill Theatre in Connecticut, but he said it took him five years to write the second act. Nine drafts later Guare felt he had develop his craft and work out the logistics of moving nine people around the stage.

However it was clearly a case of Dux et machina to blow up Corinna (and the nuns) like that. (But the offstage Pope was as well...) I loved the parallel structure of how Corinna lost her hearing on the se when a bomb went off. And I loved the way each character broke the fourth wall early on. Everyone wants to be a star. Ronnie’s desire to be the film star Huckleberry Finn, but mistaken for a moron by Billy was classic. Artie’s inappropriate responses when Billy asks for teabags for his eyes, underscores the inappropriate responses throughout the play. Guare is a master in misdirection. And the tidbit we’re left with at the end of the play, Ronnie sent to Rome. I wonder if he’ll succeed?

Guare writes: “the theatre is someplace you go for some degree of truth” (Bryer, p. 83).

Guare emphasized that a play should work on dialogue, not props. Creating a play is a relationship with an audience. Guare said “you’ve got to be aware of everything on that stage, because everything on that stage is going to be called playwriting. ‘ (Breyer, p. 81).

In his preface to “Six Degrees of Separation”, Guare stated: “I realized if I was going to be a writer, I must first trust this unknown work process that goes on within and realize my job as a writer {is to protect} it....writing down everything...[but] cut brutally when you’re working.... It’s not playwrite but playwright—wright as in wheelwright...wright refers to the craft...the method we use to make a new map of the unconscious. (“Six Degrees..” p.5).

Guare knew that playwriting was rightfully his craft from the age of eleven “...so there was always this sense that...it was possible; the theatre was something every possible.” (Breyer, p.71).Guare likens the process of playwriting to piecing together pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls—fragment by fragment. Guare’s muse opens a vein and spills “Black-heart’s truth. ...that’s what the plays are. Insurance that the original wound never goes away, that the original crime is never forgiven, is always about to be performed, and is always in the present tense.” (“Six Degrees..” p.xiii).



BIBLIOGRAPHY

Breyer, Jackson R., “The Playwright’s Art” John Guare interview, Rutgers Univ. Press, 1995.

Guare, John, “The House of Blue Leaves,” (with new preface: Plume Edition), Penguin, 1987.

Guare, John, “Six Degrees of Separation”, Drapmatists Play Service, Inc. 1992.



CW 810, #2
Sept. 17, 2002 

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

9/11 Redux


If poetry is news which stays news as Ezra Pound said, then the anniversary of September 11 is poetry at creation, too raw to be crafted into words. On the anniversary of September 11, we sit around the table celebrating a birthday. How last year, a relative sipped coffee from the 109th floor—just two days before. Kismet. Windows on the World, the dizzying flight of birds, a portent of things to come. In the space of time it took God to make the world, the towers returned to primordial dust and stone, taking with them the slender thread of hope from the new millennium.

She came to visit at summer’s end, evoking a gentler time when there was time enough to vacation with families, when summer meant a change of residence. Or of mind. That ritual of return from Long Island to the workaday world. A book out of childhood, or a Frank Capra movie in black and white, starring James Stewart, where another idea of America existed in literature and culture, though not part of my existence on this narrow sleeve of coast where we’re west of the West. Tir na nÓg! my grandmother called it, the land of youth, or was it the land of death? More like Elysian fields—I long for the return to the city from an alien seaboard, from an eastern summer to an America we never saw, only seen in movies or read about in books.

We stood silent on the Fields of Mars in Leningrad before the Fall, the purity of snow hid and nourished the imagination. My translator Oleg told me stories of the 900-day siege, how starving Soviets stripped canvasses from frames to save paintings from Hitler’s advance. Da Vinci’s Madonna and Carravagio’s food rolled up like holy scrolls stored in empty cupboards awaiting liberation. A piece of art was saved for each death. Sacrifice for three million. Enough art to feed the eye.

At the Hermitage, a madman confronted Picasso’s blue period every day at closing time. For seven days I watched him as Matisse’s dancers dizzied me into their arms. I was drawn to that pure flame of Impressionist light because I was haunted by all the dead underfoot, the fluttering wing and crunch of snow hiding a multitude of sins. Oleg led me across the square snow-blind, during the Thaw, we were blue spots dancing between line and vision. Ash and dust chased him through the canyons of Manhattan. He ran and ran and ran from a horror more grisly and real than anything he imagined in the USSR—even Siberia. There’s nothing to ease his burden. The guilt of surviving haunts this man I held as the myth of communism unwound—as he held me when the myth of America began to unravel.

No that’s not true. Another man sits beside me monopolizing the conversation in abstractions. We change partners with the seasons. When the world fell apart he didn’t hold me, his arms were filled with his own darkness. But in the mirror I heard other words like whispering metal hangers in a closet violently opened into unexpected light. He brushed them aside as if they were the strings of an Aeolian harp as he searched for a ritual icon of well being. But I am trapped by a need to translate urgent closet whispering into prose.

Roads almost taken. Whose footprint in the ashes and dust? Like the dust of the moon. One small step. That raw poetry of creation. What we expect to see greets us, not how others see us. In the mirror, that was America burning the retina. Too blind to see, I weep unexpectedly at found art: the image of shoes, a twisted fire engine door, a contorted girder of steel becoming a companion piece to image of Brancusi’s birds bursting into flight.

As we celebrate another anniversary, time greets us with our mother’s eyes, our grandfather’s chin, a hint of dewlaps to soften the resolve and clean sweep of jawline, the tiny advance of crowsfeet. My eyes weep in a dry season, Indian summer. As I approach my own half-life mark, I am mute. What is the point of examining the soul in a time of fire? The only thing I know how to do well has abandoned me at the altar. I am both jilted bride and groom, priest and witness. Scrivener of raw news, not poetry. I am raw at creation. The woman keeps replaying the view out that window from the 109th floor in slo-mo while others debate what to do with the hole in the ground.

At Ground Zero, we are of two minds envisioning both monument and building rising from sacred ground, because the land is too valuable for sentiment alone. Traditionalists and modernists argue over what kind of art to chose. A melted steel girder evokes support for abstract images of Brancusi’s birds alighting towards that moment of flight. Between wars, his mythic Maiastrae deconstructed into golden phoenixes and steel birds in space—essence of flight without benefit of wings or feathers. Ascension of flight. Ezra Pound worshipped Brancusi’s flight of perfection insisting it could only be understood in aesthetic absolutes divorced from the mediocrity of daily life.

Dali said while we are asleep in this world we are awake in another. Dreaming he was a bird, da Vinci drew a diagram of flight. But it took ages before the Wright boys would awaken it. The two brothers plotted against gravity to conquer the wind from the seat of a bicycle. They never dreamed of weapons such as these as they ran across meadows of Kitty Hawk with wings made from sails attached to their arms—modern day Icaruses seeking the eye of the sun while Dedalus hugged the coastline of tradition. In that 12-second flight that changed the world, they flew the distance of half a wingspan of a Boeing 747. Faced with the ability to sail beyond the sunset, the idea of distant worlds shrank to a pinhead.

On the anniversary of September 11, the sky was strangely silent. A pause of flight. A dite of sky angels passing. Old myths resurrect themselves to sustain our flight across the metaphor of time. We filled glass jars with momentos, cantos and thousands of origami birds like at Nagasaki, to send to the World Trade Center, the personal experience transcending pain, becoming universal poetry, raw at creation. Images of planes and fiery towers burned on the retina transformed into thousands of origami birds fluttering like snow to the streets below. On their wings they carry messages and stories toward the next world into a chrysalis of light.

9/11/2002
Roy Conboy's MFA class

Raw at Creation

As we celebrate another anniversary, old myths resurrect themselves to sustain our passage across the sky.


If poetry is news which stays news, as Ezra Pound said, then September 11 is poetry at creation, too raw to be crafted into words. On the anniversary of 9/11, we sit around the table celebrating a birthday, a relative describing how she sipped coffee from the 109th floor -- just two days before. Kismet. Windows on the World, the dizzying flight of birds, a portent of things to come. In the space of time it took God to make the world, the towers returned to primordial dust and stone, taking with them the slender thread of hope from the new millennium.

She came to visit at summer’s end, evoking a gentler time when there was time enough to vacation with families, when summer meant a change of residence. Or of mind. That ritual of return from Long Island to the workaday world. A book out of childhood, or a Frank Capra movie in black and white, starring James Stewart, where another idea of America existed in literature and culture. Tir na nóg! my grandmother called it, the land of youth, or was it the land of death? More like Elysian fields.

We stood silent on the Fields of Mars in Leningrad before the Fall, the purity of snow hid and nourished the imagination. My translator Oleg told me stories of the 900-day siege, how starving Soviets stripped canvasses from frames to save paintings from Hitler’s advance. Da Vinci’s Madonna and Carravagio’s food rolled up like holy scrolls stored in empty cupboards awaiting liberation. A piece of art was saved for each death. Sacrifice for three million. Enough art to feed the eye.

At the Hermitage, a madman confronted Picasso’s blue period every day at closing time. For seven days I watched him as Matisse’s dancers dizzied me into their arms. I was drawn to that pure flame of Impressionist light because I was haunted by all the dead underfoot, the fluttering wing and crunch of snow hiding a multitude of sins. Oleg led me across the square snow-blind, during the Thaw, we were blue spots dancing between line and vision. Later, ash and dust chased him through the canyons of Manhattan. He ran and ran and ran from a horror more grisly and real than anything he imagined in the USSR -- even Siberia. There’s nothing to ease his burden. The guilt of surviving haunts this man I held in my arms as the myth of communism unwound -- just as he held me when the myth of America began to unravel.

We change partners with the seasons. Another man sits beside me. When the world fell apart he didn’t hold me, his arms were filled with his own darkness. But in the mirror, I heard words like whispering metal hangers in a closet violently opened into unexpected light. He brushed them aside as if they were the strings of an Aeolian harp. I am trapped by a need to translate urgent closet whispering into prose. I weep unexpectedly at found art: the image of shoes, a twisted fire engine door, a contorted girder of steel becoming a companion piece to image of Brancusi’s birds bursting into flight.

As we celebrate another anniversary, time greets us with our mother’s eyes, our grandfather’s chin, a hint of dewlaps to soften the resolve and clean sweep of jawline, the tiny advance of crow’s feet. As I approach my own half-life mark, I am mute. What is the point of examining the soul in a time of fire? The only thing I know how to do well has abandoned me at the altar. I am both jilted bride and groom, priest and witness. Scrivener of raw news, not poetry. I am raw at creation.

At Ground Zero, we are of two minds, envisioning both monument and building rising from sacred ground, because the land is too valuable for sentiment alone. Traditionalists and modernists argue over what kind of art to choose. A melted steel girder evokes support for abstract images of Brancusi’s birds alighting towards that moment of flight. Between wars, his mythic Maiastrae deconstructed into golden phoenixes and steel birds in space -- essence of flight without benefit of wings or feathers. Ascension of flight. Ezra Pound worshipped Brancusi’s flight of perfection, insisting it could only be understood in aesthetic absolutes divorced from the mediocrity of daily life.

Dali said while we are asleep in this world we are awake in another. Dreaming he was a bird, da Vinci drew a diagram of flight. But it took ages before the Wright boys would awaken it. The two brothers plotted against gravity to conquer the wind from the seat of a bicycle. They never dreamed of weapons such as these as they ran across meadows of Kitty Hawk with wings made from sails attached to their arms -- modern day Icaruses seeking the eye of the sun while Dedalus hugged the coastline of tradition. In that 12-second flight that changed the world, they flew the distance of half a wingspan of a Boeing 747. Faced with the ability to sail beyond the sunset, the idea of distant worlds shrank to a pinhead.

On the anniversary of September 11th, the sky was strangely silent. A pause of flight. A dite of sky angels passing. Old myths resurrect themselves to sustain our passage across the metaphor of time. We filled glass jars with mementos, cantos, and thousands of origami birds like at Nagasaki, to send to the World Trade Center, the personal experience transcending pain, becoming universal poetry. Images of planes and fiery towers burned on the retina transformed into thousands of paper birds fluttering like snow to the streets below. On their wings they carry messages and stories toward the next world in a chrysalis of light.


© 2002 Maureen Hurley Reprinted from Killing the Buddha Raw at Creation

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

My Most Significant Theatrical Experiences

MY MOST SIGNIFICANT THEATRICAL EXPERIENCES
(Or What Passes for Shameless Name-Dropping)

I never gave it much thought, but I do have a significant theatrical heritage I’ve never acknowledged—until now as I pursue my MFA: by default playwriting became my correlative areas of study. Now I’m hooked. Perhaps some of my crazy stories will find their way into a theater piece, that is, if I ever learn to tell a story. I’m a poet and though good at creating anecdotes & images, I find it difficult to find the storyline, or through line. Why I am interested in taking this class is to learn how to craft my literary flotsam onto a solid skeletal structure of playwriting.

When I was seven years old, my mother took me to see the Children’s Matinee “Hansel and Gretel” at the Gate Playhouse Theater, a W.W.II Quonset hut in downtown Sausalito. She was in the cast and though I was a bit scared sitting by myself in the audience, I was so proud that it was my mother up there on stage I wanted to shout it out. I loved watching the transformation from mother to actress. I could see both simultaneously, and at times I forgot she was my mother. I was transported into the fairy tale. I loved the costuming, and the set which she’d also designed. And the story, how the clever Hansel substituted a chicken bone for a finger to trick the witch into thinking they weren’t fat enough to eat.

After the performance, it was a Gate Playhouse tradition to invite the birthday kids of the month up on stage along with the cast for a photo shoot and birthday cake. I must’ve been a little slow at climbing up onto the stage after the performance—the risers were huge—she came out from behind the wings to lift me up onto the stage. But as I was hoisted into place, absolute bedlam broke out as all the other kids stampeded off the stage screaming, because my mom was still in costume—as the witch. Take five. Their fear of being eaten meant that I had the birthday cake all to myself.

I often accompanied my mother to rehearsals. During performances, my babysitters at Tiki Junction were actors including Tommy Smothers who was pretty funny even to a seven-year-old. That same year, by default I was cast in a local historical play “San Geronimo!” written by New York playwright Stu (Stuart) Rasmussen. I was the female lead, Julia Dollar, a rancher’s daughter of Anglo settlers in the San Geronimo Valley in West Marin. The leading man, my beau, Richmond Young, was cast because of his height but he was unpopular—kids made cruel fun of him (God rest his soul—they could sense his queerness even then).

I don’t know why Stu’s son Mark wasn’t cast. He was a natural lead, maybe he thought it was sissy. But Richmond was OK, I liked him well enough. He was always kind to me even if he was from Woodacre, the rich end of the Valley and Protestant-DAR to boot. When I say rich, everything was relative. We were from Lagunitas, the Catholic end of the Valley. In the larger scale of things we were all living in the poverty belt. Of course, a popular girl from Woodacre was originally cast as the leading lady but when she was about to deliver her lines to Richmond, she made a fatal mistake, shrinking away from him, making a waspish comment about cooties. Stu, exasperated with her silliness, yanked her off the stage and grabbed another child for the role.

My mom was an actress, she shoved me forward, I was a pro, I went right up to Richmond and batted my eyes cow-like, drawling Southern style, “The Jerseys. Ah just love the Jerseys, their big soft brown eyes...” I got the part. (The popular girls spit like cats and never forgave me for the next six years—it was a small school.) My mom ran me through my lines ad nauseam, I hardly remember the play, just the line about the Jerseys...but it must’ve left a bitter taste in my mouth because I never expressed any interest in being in the theater afterwards. My mom’s going crazy probably had something to do with it—fear of my mother’s footsteps, but I was also extremely shy and had trouble memorizing things. Turned out, I had dyslexia, probably the real reason why I chose to become an artist in college.

One summer when I was around 10 or 11, my mom was costuming for a live televised theater variety show in Sacramento circa 1960. We drove up in a big white convertible to a real motel with a kidney-sized swimming pool with pink flamingos and it was magical. All white and turquoise and pink, the water winking like diamonds in sunlight. I thought it was part and parcel of the world of theater. I loved rehearsals—the theater, a cool round darkness, respite from the searing midday heat. The empty hushed whispering of plush seats, belayed voices emanating from the stage. The set, a revolving black stage. The big red eye of the cameras on cranes hidden behind purple netting draped from the ceiling like Spanish moss meant you had to be absolutely silent. A ballet in progress: Swan Lake. I don’t remember the play. Maybe “Pipedream.” I remember asking what it meant, not realizing we were living a pipedream

I loved the emcee, my mother’s friend who gave me a trinket, a crystal star necklace with secret rainbows trapped inside. Caged stardust. I wore it around my neck even in the pool. The emcee/actor would sit me on his knee and say, “I got a daughter your age” and introduced me to his two boys who were up visiting. But I was far too shy to play with Beau and Jeff. After that summer, I watched every episode of “Sea Hunt” at my friend’s house (we didn’t have a TV) just so I could see him. I loved watching that slow ballet of divers underwater on the black and white TV. And the man who swung me up to the rafters until I screamed. That summer I learned to fly. I was the ballerina in the wings. I was devastated when the crystal star slipped down a crack in the back seat of my neighbor’s Chrysler, she wouldn’t help me get it. Said it wasn’t there. She loved her bourbon first thing in the morning, too drunk to see, more like it. She had a TV too but she never let me watch “Sea Hunt.” Maybe she was jealous of Lloyd Bridges’ small gift.

My next theater experiences were when I got my AA in Art at College of Marin. I needed units outside my field so I took a costuming class. My mom (whom designer Ruben Panis married for his Green Card), had me costuming at an early age (one hot summer in the Hollywood hills I was stuck sewing sequins, pearls and rhinestones on Miss Korea’s costume (while the kids in the pool next door never invited me over for a swim. Poor Panis later drowned in his own blood, stabbed by a jealous gay lover).



Many of my classmates were in the Theater Department: Stu Rasmussen’s son, Mark (Marin’s quintessential hot tub guy in “The Serial”), hoofer/singer Joel Blum (Tony nominee in The Music Man), and musician Mark Adler (his moniker is on movie scores). Besides, there was someone I was sweet on in the Theater Department. I’d follow him across campus because he was a real-life scene stealer. Dadaesque Living Theater in motion. One time this merry prankster streaked across campus in green gym shorts and a lady’s swim cap with chin strap dangling; the next time, he pretended he was blind, asking for help from strangers, then groping them, or picking their pockets.

We designed costumes for “The Importance of Being Ernest,” “Lower Depths” and several Shakespeare plays directed by James Dunn. A seminal line in “Ernest” was “A handbag?” I don’t know why it stuck...perhaps the absurdity of finding an orphan in a purse. We play-read Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” I was confused but intrigued by the play, as with “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds.” I didn’t know what to make of them, but they mesmerized me as did Beckett’s “Play” of three talking heads in garbage cans. I think the music of language was beginning to settle in my ears.

My singlemost seminal theater experience was watching Robin play Malvolio in “Twelfth Night.” Robin outrageously built upon cliché and nuance upon nuance from performance to performance—I knew I was in the presence of absolute genius. It wasn’t what he said, the lines stayed the same, but what he did with the part. He stole the show (and my heart). Ya had to be there to see it. Besides, as he reputedly said, “if you remember the ’60s (OK, so make it the ’70s), you weren’t really there.” But we were there all right— stardust was in our eyes. Our brightest young stars, Mark and Joel and Robin, they all took Julliard by storm. But only Robin William’s small starfish hands were immortalized in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the Avenue of the Stars.

While I was at Sonoma State University finishing up my BA in Art, I created a theater project at my old grade school for the bicentennial festivities. We resurrected and updated Stu Rasmussen’s “San Geronimo!” with the kids at Lagunitas School. This time I was co-producer, set designer, choreographer/dancer and Jill of all trades. I made a herd of enormous paper-mache head/body masks of Jersey cows which later hung surrealistically on fence posts in my granny’s lower garden to our neighbors’ dismay. One of my classmates at SSU, Fred Curchak, directed Aristophanes “The Birds” and a friend made huge bird masks for the play. I loved the intersection of art and theater. But I stayed on the periphery and became a performance poet instead.

How many kids could claim a theatrical legacy that included a mad-hatterly mother who was an extra in ”It’s a Mad Mad Mad World,” who really went crazy while making costumes for Sinatra in Las Vegas? Or that my cousin’s Nicasio cottage was in a bad remake of “The Village of the Damned”? Why I came so late back to the theater and to playwriting has to do with overcoming the transgressions of childhood by means of story. I’ve lived in the periphery of a life resembling a character out of Faulkner or Williams. I consider playwriting to be a legacy of my second childhood as I’m now officially an orphan. Now I can say what I want. Embellish even!

In retrospect, I think I didn’t want to compete with my mother. Now that she’s dead, the stories resurface. It was fitting that at her memorial service where she dedicated her eyes to Stevie Wonder, there was a huge forest fire raging so most the guests couldn’t come. So we watched a movie shoot in progress—a big truck with cameramen perched on the hood filming cowboys inside the cab, the big rig circling Nicasio square like a wagon train. We were the Indians sitting it out on the front steps of St. Mary’s, ashes drifting down, waiting for the guests to arrive. I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all. She would’ve appreciated it, her wake upstaged by Hollywood. “Take five,” she would’ve said. And so we did. The guests eventually arrived and we sent her of—Hollywood style.





9/10/2002
CW 810, Plays/viewing
Brian Thorstenson
Assignment 1



Monday, September 2, 2002

FERAL CAT


Evening bells echo as we write.
A white cat pines for love on the doorstep. 
The fan turns slowly in the room. We are writing.
He's singing kitty arias of loneliness on the stoop. 
Shall we let him in, or try to get through it?
Not my cat, Vito says. A stray. Nobody's pet.
It's Friday night. Parents are out playing. Not the cat.
Now he's moaning and hanging on the screen door. 
Arms splayed in cruciform. Forgive them, he yowls.
Neighbors are out on the randan, it's Friday night. 
Feral cat on our doorstep, pining for love, 
interrupts the shape of our circle as we write.
Our words stray as he sings of his longing.
All the neighbors are out on the town tonight.

But not the tomcat. He wants in. He wants in.

9/2/2002
Vito's place, Richmond
rev. 10/17/2015

Moving On (freewrite)


Moving on by the light of the silvery moon. I don't even like musicals and I'm singing: tonight won't be like any other night. I'm feeling giddy, because everything reminds me of song. Laureen's poison oak has me singing about potions of calamine lotion. Po SHUNS of calaMINE loSHUN!

Say lotion, say it again, that is an l lying offshore with the ocean, it's a lazy river, malaise and mood. Moving on by the light.... Shortest poem in English is Lighgt! Aram Saroyan kept elongating that word on the typewriter. It must've been an electric typewriter with repeating keys that clicked until infinity got weary and said, oh okay you can have your Lighght anyway you want to spell it. Either that, or it was a carriage return. Ding!

All those silent gh'es to ease the way for light or become a breath of inspiration. Inspire as to breathe into, as in Godhead. The ticking of the hourglass sand, the syrup curling, a fan spinning in an empty room. 

The rhythmic hypnotist of hot summer, the way the sun sets, something by the fire crackling, and a lost kitten, or searching for tribes. Sometimes we resist moving on. All right we always resist, stubborn cahoots that we are, but life has a way of moving on around us, with or without us. Tricking us into action, closing off all retreats, so that the only way out is through. Or in. Or out. On out, said Lew Welch.

I used to think of life as a series of plateaus, tableland mesas like in the Southwest. (Yes, I know that's redundant.) When you've outgrown one level, you have to build up your stamina in order to climb up to the next level. 

Now I see the mesas as floating islands, sometimes the cliff dissolves faster than we can move, and we are frantically moving on to the next place, because to stand still, is to sink into the abyss. 

My eyes are all out of breath, and I'm on a weird race ever onward to the next plateau, the dust of the last one curling up behind us, reminding us that the standing still is an illusion, everything is an illusion. Everything.

9/2/2002

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Labor Day Monologue

Did you see that? I can’t believe they lost the damned flag. It says right here they lost the flag from Ground Zero. What they gonna do for a flag? They gotta have a flag for the ceremony. It’s nearly upon us, the anniversary. I bet someone took it as a souvenir or something. How they gonna commemorate it?

Seems like we got two Memorial Day weekends now. One in May and another one in September. Some people still got their flags up from last year. Like ragged birds. Well, Labor Day’s pretty much lost itself in the hubbub of time anyways. I mean, now, everybody goes back to school BEFORE Labor Day Weekend. Used to be the end of summer. Labor Day. Last fling of summer. Last chance at a holiday before the old salt grind begins again.

Labor Day belongs to the past. Back then when things had proper beginnings middles and ends. Not like today where everything slides into each other so fast you don’t hardly know where you stand. Now folks are putting Christmas ornaments up right after Halloween. In my day at least they used to wait till after Thanksgiving.

Most folks are too busy shopping to notice how they’ve already forgotten what Labor Day stands for anyway—other than a big sales weekend. Like Memorial Day. I hear it’s gonna be made into a flag holiday, You know, the clerk at the mall said things were pretty slow on account of 9-11, but just you wait, soon it will be a shopping holiday like all the rest. The malls will be packed. They oughta just call them mallidays. Tht’s what it’s about. Buy, buy buy. They say that was what was buggin’ the Muslims. All that buying. I think they’re just jealous.

What’s the point of still having Labor Day Weekend? They oughta just knock it right off the calendar. It’s just cluttering up another one of those little squares and we need to make more room on it. Besides, at the schools, the teachers don’t even come back from their holidays early but they send some poor lackey in to hold court. No matter that the students had to cut short their holidays in order to get to first day of class or lose their places. Some jackassin the University miscounted and we got 2000 extra students with no place to go. No room at the inn. All fighting for classes. Talk about labor!

No, Labor Day will slide right into 9-11 and soon we’ll forget it ever existed. We already lost May Day. Who knows what IWW stands for anymore? Buncha Commies and Wobblies. And the real May Day with its Maypole and May baskets was a rival of my affections for Easter. But the Christians got upset over that. Said it was Pagan. What was so pagan about bringing your teacher a basket of flowers?

Me, I never been to New York. But I think Labor Day is quintessentially New York. Don’t ask why. It’s just a feeling I get inside. Labor Day always makes me think of the East Coast. Long Island. Places like that. Back when people had summer houses and got away from the city. Guess that always meant New York. Seems like everybody who could, got outa New York in summer. Too hot in the kitchen.

Yeah, it makes me think of the days when people had a proper sense of time. Respect for things. Like sitting down to Sunday dinner. Chicken every Sunday was something to look forward to. It meant something. Now everybody eats on their own schedule. Out of boxes you zap in the microwave. NO more home-cooked meals. No sir. That’s a thing of the past. An artifact I say.

Did you know the Smithsonian is having an exhibit on stuff saved from the Towers? They got a whole fire engine door from Brooklyn. All red, white and blue like the flag. Only it’s got a yellow stripe in it too. But those firemen weren’t yellow, no sir!. They was brave. Real heroes. I always wave to firemen now ‘cause I get all choked up and teary-eyed inside. Never forget. That’s what my Irish granny always said about the English, you know. Never forget. Or history repeats itself.

They found some guy’s camera all melted in the rubble. The guy had no more need of his cameras. But what was weird was that the camera was OK. I saw a picture he took before the North Tower collapsed on him. I swear there were ghost shadows rising up from the towers. Like those pictures of Dresden after the bombing. And I thought of all those ghosts having to learn how to fly. It was plumes of smoke and dust from the towers. I remember seeing a picture where people’s shadows were burned into walls at Nagasaki like indelible angels.

And now everybody is asking each other: How did you witness 9-11. It’s like the day Kennedy was shot. An event for the next generation to pinpoint in time. Some things are indelibly burned into the retina like film in a camera.

They have this section of a steel girder in the exhibit that’s twisted like a negative image of Brancusi’s sculpture of birds. You know that one you always see in all the art history books? It always caught my eye. At first I didn’t get it, a column of steel rising up—how could it be birds? But then something happened, one day I didn’t look at it head-on, but from the side, and I swear I saw the steel was like a mass of birds rising up to the sky like a plume of smoke. Like angels bearing flags.

©2002 Maureen Hurley