Drama: “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

o streetcarNumber Two on my List of Books I Read a While Ago and am Just Getting Around to Reviewing Now is Tennessee William’s classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, A Streetcar Named Desire. Why did I pick this book up out of all the other books I owned? Well, there was a tweet on my timeline that National Theatre Live was showing their production of Streetcar at the Young Vic (National Theatre Live does an amazing thing and broadcasts live theatre into a movie theatre around the world, so I was able to see a show that was staged in London in the comfort of a movie theater in Brunswick, Maine), and it starred Gillian Anderson as Blanche DuBois.

Now, I have loved Gillian Anderson since she played Special Agent Dana Scully on The X-Files. To be specific, I have loved her since season 5, episode 12, entitled “Bad Blood,” or as I like to call it, “The Best Hour of Episode Television in All of Televised History and No One Can Tell Me Otherwise.”  (Look, I know “The Body” and “The Gift” from Buffy are exceptional, and sure, I’ll even throw the tiniest of bones to “Ozymandias” from the final season of Breaking Bad, but no episode I have watched – yes, even all twenty-six episodes of Hannibal I’ve watched – in all of televised history has made me love it as much as “Bad Blood” did.  “Bad Blood” is the Die Hard of television episodes – if it’s ever on, I watch it to the end. I own it through iTunes, so it’s always on my iPod. And if digital media suddenly breaks down, I’ve got a VCR and the episode on tape. IT’S PERFECTION IS WHAT I’M SAYING.) And while “Bad Blood” is clearly superior, Gillian Anderson also plays Dr. Lecter’s psychiatrist-slash-hostage-slash-I don’t know what on Hannibal (and she’s a series regular for season 3!), so basically, if Gillian Anderson’s in something, I’m gonna watch it.

Uh, be right back … in approximately 42 minutes. (“Bad Blood” is on Netflix, in case you’re wondering.)

(I had a thought as I saw the writer credit come across the screen – I’m amazed that the writer of my most Favorite Episode of Television Ever went on to create Breaking Bad. So many thoughts on that … but this is neither the time nor the place.)

OKAY, I can let those two crazy kids get their stories straight another time. I had ordered Streetcar off of Amazon after watching Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and reading that last year. I watched the Vivien Leigh-starring film about a year ago, but before that my knowledge of this play consisted solely of numerous viewings of “A Streetcar Named Marge.”

So for those of us that didn’t have to read the play at any point during our education, what’s it about?

Blanche DuBois travels from Laurel, Mississippi to her sister’s flat in New Orleans to stay “for the summer.”  She is rather mute as to her circumstances, but does tell her sister, Stella, that their home plantation “has been lost.” Then Stella’s husband, Stanley, comes home. There is an immediate contrast between the refined-though-prone-to-hysterics Blanche and the down-to-earth, animalistic Stanley, and that contrast turns into deep tension. Blanche is horrified at Stella’s living conditions: a two-room apartment in the noisy Quarter, and she has to sleep on a cot in the kitchen. She calls Stanley a “Polack,” to which both he and Stella take offense. But since Blanche has no where else to go and no money to speak of, she really doesn’t have any other options.

The play continues and the tension keeps on ratcheting up further. After a poker game one night, a drunken Stanley hits Stella and cuts her face. Stella and Blanche escape to the upstairs neighbor’s apartment, but when Stanley apologizes, Stella returns and they make passionate love. The next morning, Blanche is aghast at the fact that Stella’s not only not leaving Stanley, but likes it when he shows that side of him:

STELLA: Stanley’s always smashed things.  Why, on our wedding night — soon as we came in here — he snatched off one of my slippers and rushed about the place smashing the light-bulbs with it. […] I was — sort of — thrilled by it.  [pp. 72-73]

[in addition:]

STELLA: You take it for granted that I am in something that I want to get out of. [p. 80]

So as a way to make herself feel young and desirable, Blanche starts going out with one of Stanley’s friends, Mitch. Mitch is softer and gentler than Stanley – the boys routinely make fun of him for caring about his ill mother. But Blanche strings Mitch along, until he doesn’t even know how old she is because she won’t tell him. She’s purposefully vague about the circumstances that let her leave her teaching job early, and how exactly the plantation was lost, and that all comes to a head once Stanley makes contact with someone who travels through Laurel.

Because for all her posturing and twittering, Blanche is nothing more (or less) than a manipulator of men. She was fired from her English teaching job after she seduced a seventeen-year-old student. The family plantation, Belle Reve, was put on the “out of bounds” list for the army base stationed in town. When she lost the plantation, she set up a motel room of ill repute in The Flamingo, a seedy hotel on the outskirts of town. And when she got kicked out of there for her promiscuity, she ended up in New Orleans.

Her lies continue to spiral out of control, as she struggles to build herself a world where not everything hurts – the choices she’s made, the company she keeps, the outlook on her future. Ultimately, the name-calling and tension between her and Stanley finally breaks, and he rapes her – although that seed was planted in the very beginning, when Blanche was flirting with him while Stella was out. Ultimately, Blanche is sent to a psychiatric ward, made to believe she’s going to see her rich ex-beau, Shep Huntley, and Stella and Stanley stay together to have a baby.

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of those plays that can, obviously, take a lot of explication to fully understand. There are so many layers to this: Tennessee Williams’s language choices, the stated fluidity of the scenery, the words that a character says but the meaning underneath them is completely different from what is being said … essays can and have been written about this, and there’s no way I am even pretending that I can do this justice.

What I am going to say – what I am going to recommend – is this: if you are given the chance to see this performed, do it. And while the Vivien Leigh, 1951 movie is very good, there are some important subplots which I didn’t even hint at that are eradicated, no thanks to the Hays code. (One I can allude to: the rape is never fully addressed; Stanley could have just pulled Blanche “offstage” to beat her. But in the end, Stella leaves Stanley, because the Hays Code wouldn’t allow a wife to stay with an abusive husband and/or rapist.)

But remember: one can read a play and get a basic understanding of the plot and themes, but plays were meant to be performed. I truly believe that one cannot fully grasp the entirety of a play without seeing humans inhabit the characters, making choices, using their voice in different inflections. A play needs life to be fully realized. So while I’m glad I read the play prior to seeing Gillian Anderson play Blanche, I learned more about Blanche and her choices and reasons for her actions by seeing it performed than I did by reading the book.

Grade for A Streetcar Named Desire5 stars

Advertisements

Fiction: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I’m writing this in the midst of playing an epic game of “Sophie’s Choice” with my TiVo and FXX over the Every Simpsons Ever marathon. Basically, my percentage has been hovering at 99% for the past 24 hours, and — hold up, is Thelma and Louise on my list of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen? Anyway, basically, I’ve been watching as many episodes as I can, both live and recorded, because all that I ever wanted is a big ol’ kick to the nostalgia feels.

YES I TAPED THE TRAMAMPOLINE – TRAMBOPOLINE EPISODE WOO HOO!

Holy shit, I never put Thelma and Louise on my list.  (Must be because the only people who ever teased me about never seeing movies were dudes.)

empire doth strike

ANYWAY, the other night Erica and I did our Tweetversation for The Empire Striketh Back, and now I’m trying to write the review while perfecting my Homer Simpson impersonation. What I’m saying is, if a lot of Simpsons references make it into this review, then I apologize for nothing.

So let’s start off with the things I really liked about this version, and then I’ll get into the fight we had.

I’m actually going to start with the afterword, because as I was reading it, I honestly thought I was being Punk’d. Back when we read Verily, a New Hope, I had three critiques: 1) I felt that Mr. Doescher over-used the Chorus; 2) he used the word sans too much to make the lines scan properly; and while 3) wasn’t really a criticism, I did mention the fact that everyone in Verily, a New Hope spoke in iambic pentameter and no one spoke in prose.

God bless Mr. Doescher, but he tackled all three. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who discussed the Chorus, and in this book, he used the Chorus very smartly, and instead made the characters let the audience know what just happened (as an example, he reminded us of how Gertrude informed Hamlet of Ophelia’s drowning).

Erica and I both agreed that his iambic pentameter flowed better in this book – not that it didn’t flow in the first book, but I didn’t see any use of sans in this volume.

And in this book, Boba Fett speaks in prose:

Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite – kings spoke in iambic pentameter while porters and gravediggers spoke in prose. In writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I did not want to be accused of being lazy about writing iambic pentameter, but with this book it was time to introduce some prose. Who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters? [p. 167]

Seems legit.

So if Boba Fett speaks in prose, and everyone else speaks in iambic pentameter … how does Yoda speak?

DUDES. YODA SPEAKS IN HAIKU. AND IT IS GLORIOUS.

O, great warrior!
A great warrior you seek!
Wars not make one great.
[II.vii.78-80]

And my favorite line, in all the world:

Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no “try.”
[III.vii.29-31]

The other thing I absolutely loved wholeheartedly was the following line, after the Wampa runs off with Luke:

Alas, is this th’adventure I am due,
To die upon a vicious monster’s whim?
I am attackèd by this awful beast!
O fate most wretched — shall I be his feast?
[Exit, pursued by a wampa.]
[I.i.48-51]

EXIT, PURSUED BY A WAMPA. OH MY GOD. First of all, one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespearean history is “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.” To bring that into Star Wars was brilliant. But then there’s the added bonus that the original line was from The Winter’s Tale.  THE WINTER’S TALE, CARL! BECAUSE THIS SCENE TAKES PLACE ON HOTH! OH MY GOD, this line was just perfect on all levels.

My last favorite line also leads me into the fight Erica and I had on twitter. I was very very pleased that there were no extra words added to Han Solo’ classic line, “I know.” This lead to this:

[tweet https://twitter.com/WillBeFunOrElse/status/502617850281230337 align=’center’]
[tweet https://twitter.com/WillBeFunOrElse/status/502618656325779456 align=’center’]

I just scanned through some of Leia’s speeches, and I do not know how that impression came from either the text or the movie. In her conversations with Han, she is trying to declare that she doesn’t have feelings for him because he’s beneath her, or a scruffy nerf herder, or that she’d rather kiss a Wookiee. In her monologues, she admits that she has feelings for him, but she can’t voice her feelings aloud because they’re in the middle of fighting a war and she can’t take the time to focus on her love life because it’s not the appropriate time to do so.

Leia is not a damsel. In fact, the damsel that needed rescuing from the big monster villain on Hoth was Luke from the Wampa. In this book/episode, Leia and the entire rebel army have to escape Hoth after being attacked by the Empire. When they get to Cloud City, they get captured by Darth Vader and Han gets carbon-frozen for Boba Fett, but Leia rescues herself with the help of Lando Calrissian. But it’s not like Lando has to break her out of a prison cell or something.

(And if you want to talk about Episode IV: A New Hope, I would like to remind you that Leia was the character that took over the half-assed rescue mission and actually got them out of Vader’s starship.)

[tweet https://twitter.com/NYCBookWorm84/status/502621056696598528 align=’center’]

As I said on twitter, it may look like Leia’s being wishy-washy in her emotions, but that is a trope of Shakespearean romances, not Leia’s character. If you go back to the classic Benedick and Beatrice, they will have moments of fighting and banter, and then as soon as they split up, they have to have those monologues and soliloquies where they explain to the audience that their feelings are conflicted. Remember, Shakespearean actors were playing to the balcony, and facial expressions didn’t carry to the balcony, so words had to do the job.

So when it comes to The Jedi Doth Return, please, I ask you: please re-watch the original trilogy first.  I feel that many of the disagreements we’ve had over these books have stemmed from the fact that you have watched them, but a very long time ago, and the things Mr. Doescher is adding to the characters and the plot overall enhance the original, but can confuse someone who may be unfamiliar with the plot. I’m not asking you to change your opinion of Leia and Han, but I think you may find that in the original movie, the romance is used smartly and not “injected where it shouldn’t be.” Even if you feel that the romance isn’t necessary to the plot, at least you’ll see that Leia is not, nor ever will be, a damsel in distress.

Okay. In the writing of this review, I have watched at least six episodes of The Simpsons, and my percentage is down to 97%. I have some errands to run, but I’ll leave everyone with this: I really enjoyed The Empire Striketh Back, and I felt that Mr. Doescher’s interpretation of the text and application of Shakespearean tropes was excellent. I can’t wait to finish this series.

Grade for The Empire Striketh Back6 stars

 

The Collaborators!: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

It’s that time of year again! Erica and I are Collaborating on our first sequel: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher.

empire doth strike

This is the first time we have read the next book in a series — we’ve read the first book in a series before, but if y’all remember, I was very clear about not continuing that particular series.  This will be interesting for a couple of reasons: namely, does Erica look for the same things in sequels and series that I do?

For instance, I read a lot of series; mystery novels especially.  Between Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian … holy crap, hold up. If I ever get off my ass and start writing a mystery series, I am naming my character the most innocuous name ever.  Like, Emily Jones.  Or Sarah Thompson. Bob Miller.  Plain and simple. I never really realized before now how unique and special-snowflake those names are.

(Fun Fact!: When Ian Fleming was writing his first spy novel, he couldn’t decide on a name for his main character. He ended up picking a name from the author of a book on birdwatching, because he felt the name was the most boring name he’d ever seen. That name? James Bond.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) When I decide to continue with a series, ultimately, it comes down enjoyment and consistency. Did I enjoy the characters enough in the first book to make me want to read more about them? Because remember: the plots will change from book to book, but the characters remain constant. You may not enjoy the plot from book to book, but I find that the relationship I’ve built with the characters gives me the motivation to continue (see the J.D. Robb series – I really felt uncomfortable with parts of Witness in Death, but my enjoyment of the relationship between Eve and Roarke was enough to keep me going to read Judgment in Death).

Obviously, I enjoyed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – it was a new interpretation of an old story, showing us different facets of some very well-known icons of pop culture.  Plus, R2-D2 speaks! In English, even! What’s not to love? So continuing with this series was a no-brainer.

Now we come to consistency – do the elements of the characters remain true enough in new circumstances that my enjoyment doesn’t diminish? My enjoyment of Eve and Roarke, Kinsey Millhone, and Holmes and Russell does not diminish as I continue through their series – their qualities remain constant, so I get to see how they react in different situations.

(Note: I include neither Patricia Cornwell nor Laurel K. Hamilton’s series in this discussion, as my ‘enjoyment’ of those series [such as it is] is based on inconsistency and disapproval of the characters. I hate-read them, basically.)

Going back to the Shakespeare Star Wars series – do I feel that there’s enough consistency? Again, duh. It also helps that I know a little of what to expect – having seen the movies, now I have additional things to look forward to. For instance: the banter between Han and Leia is one of my favorite things about The Empire Strikes Back. If there are no references or shades of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing in this book, I am going to be severely disappointed.

Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (probably) has overtones of Othello (a of all, because Othello deals with betrayal, not because of the moor thing. But b of all, I say “probably” because … I’ve never read Othello. Or seen it performed. Basically, all I know about Othello is from this video and this series of gifs.)

And don’t get me started on how excited I am to learn what the hell Yoda sounds like in iambic pentameter.

So I’m greatly looking forward to reading this. Because yes, I believe that I’m going to enjoy this as much as the first book in the series, but also because I’m curious what Erica’s looking for in this next chapter, so to speak – and whether or not we both get what we’re looking for.

Fiction: “William Shakespeare’s Star Wars” by Ian Doescher

If Han Solo doesn't shoot first, there's gonna be a scene.HOLY CRAP I’M ACTUALLY FIRST

"C'mon, Yzma, put your hands in the air!"kuzcotopiayzma wins

(I have a feeling that Erica hasn’t published her review yet out of pity for me, to give me a chance to actually publish first for one damn thing.  Although it is the holidays, and she’s been ill, so I don’t think that’s the case.  But if it’s out of pity, I’ll take it.)

ANYWAY.  (Drink!)  Erica (of NYC Bookworm fame) and I finished William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher and I think we both agree that it was a wild success.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Now unfortunately, I wrote most of this up at work. (Shh don’t tell!)  But that means I left my book at home.  So if there were any quotes or things I wanted to reference, I’m probably going to have to skip it, or you’re going to have to take my word that it existed and I’m not making it up.  Your call.  [Now that I’m home, I might look it up.  Maybe.  I’m kind of sleepy.]

So what Mr. Doescher did was take the amazing film Star Wars: A New Hope and turn it into a play as if it were written by Shakespeare.  It follows the traditional five-act structure that Shakespeare nearly created, plus there is a prologue and an epilogue that calls back to the prologue of Romeo and Juliet and the epilogue of The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The entire thing is written in iambic pentameter – and here’s where I might have a nitpick, but as a) I don’t have the book and b) I also don’t have an eidetic memory, I may have to fudge things a bit.  Go with me.

Traditionally in Shakespeare’s plays, there are going to be one or two characters that speak in prose – not verse or iambic pentameter.  Traditionally, the characters that speak in prose are comic relief, or non-essential characters, or non-‘regal’ characters.  Occasionally, these characters import wisdom or give us some special meaning on the scene that we wouldn’t otherwise get.  Some of these characters are: Trinculo and Stephano, the drunken members of Alonso’s party from The Tempest; the Porter in Macbeth; and apparently, if the mit.edu edition of Hamlet is to be believed, Hamlet for a while, therefore disproving all of the qualifications I gave above.  Fuck you, Hamlet.

To bring my point back to Shakespeare’s Star Wars, the only characters who might speak in prose are Greedo, Jabba the Hutt, Chewbacca, and R2-D2.  And the reason I say ‘might’ is because Mr. Doescher actually transcribes the language that they speak, rather than making them speak in English.  So when Han is conversing with Greedo, you can understand what Han’s saying, but Greedo’s all, “Na koona t’chuta, Solo” – and again, here’s where I’d quote the thing, but the book’s on my desk back at home, so dear Star Wars nerds: please don’t be offended if I’m not quoting Greedo correctly.  It could be prose, or it could be iambic pentameter.  I’m not sure, I don’t speak … whatever the fuck it is that Greedo is.

Now, R2-D2 is another case all together, because Mr. Doescher gave R2-D2 the ability to speak English in aside or soliloquy.  But if he’s around C-3PO or humans, he speaks in “beep, boop, squeak, whistles.”  I loved this addition, and for a couple of different reasons.

Firstly, I remember watching the original Star Wars trilogy last year, and loving R2-D2.  Did I make jokes about how he should stay in the TIE-Fighter, a la Chuck staying in the car in Chuck?  Yes.  Did I make jokes about how he’s impetuous and does things without thinking, under the guise of helping, but he sometimes makes things worse?  Of course I did.  But at the end of the day, R2 is a very important character.  Without him – or without his personality, I guess I should say? – Leia would still –

Hold up.  Dear Microsoft Word: why is Chewbacca a correctly-spelled word in your spell-check database, but Leia isn’t?  That literally does not compute.  What the fuck, guys?

Uh, anyway.  (Drink!)  Leia would still have found a droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan Kenobi (those are okay too!?  Microsoft Word is a sexist piece of shit!)

Okay, seriously, I just did this:

sexist ms word

WHAT THE FUCK, MICROSOFT WORD??  Did George Lucas and his mommy issues pay you nerds off or something?

OKAY, AS I WAS SAYING.  Leia would still have found another droid on which to record her message to Obi-Wan.  Given that mission, R2 would still have separated himself from C-3PO upon crash-landing on Tattooine, but would C-3PO have been as determined to keep himself and that other droid together, leading Owen to purchase both of them?  When they get to the Death Star (or the Imperial Cruiser, whatever it is they rescue Leia from), who was the one to scramble the circuits in the trash compactor, letting the heroes not die a stinky, squishy death?  Who repaired Luke’s TIE-fighter en route to the Death Star?  R2-D2 is a very important character.

Why am I touting R2 so much?  Well, here’s where I’d point to a tweet from the Tweetversation Erica and I held on Saturday night, but my phone is even stupider than Microsoft Word’s spell-check and won’t let me see tweets I made on my computer?  Whatever, Smoron (the name for my phone), I’ll just wait until I get home and have the power of the Interwebs:

I spent a while trying to formulate a counterpoint to this statement, but Twitter and I don’t always get along because I tend to ramble, and all I wanted to say was, “But — he is important,” but I’m well aware that sometimes my gentle fact-pointing can come across as bitchy, and that is not my intent.  But then Erica mentioned later in our Tweetversation that she hadn’t watched the movie in almost two decades, and everything clicked and there was no longer a need to argue: one’s impression of a droid changes when you watch it when you’re ten as opposed to 29 (the year I first saw all of Star Wars all the way through in one sitting).  Anyway.  I guess what this was all leading towards was that I was prepared to defend R2’s honor to the death, but it’s been a while since you’ve seen it – I guarantee that when you watch the movies again, you’ll see that R2 is a vastly important character, and Mr. Doescher uses the dialogue to show that not only is R2 aware of his own importance, but the audience as well.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is full of little winks to the Star Wars audience.  I tweeted to Erica that I groaned when I saw the scene where Han is discussing his debt to Jabba the Hutt, because that meant that it wasn’t Star Wars: A New Hope I was reading, but Star Wars: George Lucas’s Shitty New Hope.  But Han’s first line of dialogue in the scene is:

“Now, marry, ’tis an unexpected scene.

Meaning that not only did Han the character not expect to see Jabba in the hangar, but we as die-hard Star Wars fans shouldn’t expect to see Jabba in the hangar, because Lucas threw it in after Mel Brooks stole Lucas’s idea of re-titling his movies Star Wars: The Redux: The Search for More Money.  I won’t tell you how Mr. Doescher tackles the “Who Shot First” debate, but I will say that while I wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied, at least Greedo didn’t shoot first.

Something that Shakespeare did, Mr. Doescher does, and movies don’t really do anymore, is use soliloquies and asides to further characterization and motivation.  In theatre, you have to “play to the balcony,” meaning all your movements and vocalizations must be amplified so everyone throughout the room can hear and understand you.  In film, you don’t have to be so big – some of the best-acted scenes are minimalist in nature: a softening of the eyes, a curl to the lip; even a quick back-and-forth motion with your thumb under your nose can summon an army.

Shakespeare didn’t have the luxury of being able to be minimalist.  That’s why there are so many speeches, and monologues, and huge blocks of text.  A modern-day Hamlet would enter carrying his quandary in his eyebrows, and with a look we would be able to infer that he’s troubled with a decision.  But the balcony at the Globe couldn’t see that; so he soliloquizes.  Here, we actually hear from Luke his desire for adventure — him staring at the double sunset is no longer silent save for John Williams’s amazing score, now we hear him debate with himself whether he should search for adventure or stay and tend to the crops.  We learn that Han truly has a heart of gold because we hear him tell us.  Even Darth Vader soliloquizes some of his regrets in turning to the Dark Side.

When we first started reading it, Erica and I were joking about setting up auditions and getting a play produced.  Unlike Shakespeare’s plays, I don’t think Star Wars would translate to the stage well.  It’s too big — there are too many sets, too many set pieces, too much space to fit on a stage.  Imagine, if you will, attending the theatre for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and once the curtain goes up, you see an empty stage.  You have a Chorus — oh that reminds me, I’ll get back to them later — that tells us where we are because we don’t have the space to set up Uncle Owen’s farm, or the cantina at Mos Eisley.  The best we can do is roll on a corner booth and a bar and have extras walking around in weird masks.  And no matter what type of budget you have, there is no way we could recreate the battle for the Death Star.  What makes Star Wars great was the spectacle of the thing — shrinking it down to fit on a stage would take some of that away, and we shouldn’t use theatre to minimize something.

A staged reading, on the other hand — that could work.

The Chorus: to help us set the scene, Mr. Doescher utilizes a Chorus.  Shakespeare used a Chorus, as did the Greeks.  I … It was one of my (few) nitpicks.  I felt that having the Chorus interject and remind us what was going on was a bit interrupty.  Now, as I said above, if one were to stage this as an actual play, one would need a timestamper, if you will (NO JOKES ABOUT GHOST HUNTERS, PLEASE).  But in reading it, he just felt out of place.  Sorry, Chorus.

Two final nitpicks and then we can put this (and myself) to bed:

1)  Multiple times, Mr. Doescher used the word sans instead of without.  It’s a perfectly appropriate word — sans is French for ‘without.’  But while it made the line scan correctly, it didn’t really sound like either Star Wars or Shakespeare.  And I felt that he used it a lot.  Not a lot-a lot, if you catch my meaning, but if the same word and usage shows up in at least each act, it stands out and detracts.

2)  I am actually going to end up blaming George Lucas for this one.  One of Shakespeare’s greatest elements is his use of wordplay.  And since Mr. Doescher was interpreting a script, I felt that this version of Shakespeare lacked that interplay of words.  There were humorous bits, but very few double entendres or playing with the language.  I missed that from this.  However, I don’t know if Lucas really allowed for a lot of wordplay in the source material, so … it’s probably a moot point, but I wanted to make it anyway.

So there.  That’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.  But before I grade it, here’s what I’m embarking upon over the next 26 hours:

– I finished Dracula; I finished Star Wars.  Over the course of the holiday weekend I started and finished H is for Homicide.  I’m still reading that stupid little romance novel.  If I can finish that novel and read the entirety of one more book, I’ll have read the same amount of books this year as I did in 2012.  So I picked out the shortest Dick Francis novel I have in my collection, and if I don’t end up working in the bakery tomorrow (and no one comes over for New Year’s, which is fine), I’m going to be doing a shit-ton of reading.  Wish me luck!

Grade for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: 5 stars

Drama: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams

cat on a hot tin roofSo if you’re a reader of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, then hopefully you’re familiar with a subset of that website, Insomniac Theatre. That’s where I DVR a classic movie off of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and live-blog it, just like I do when I watched the Star Wars movies and how I will eventually get fricking Shawshank Redemption off of my list. Because NO, I’m STILL not ready to watch that. I’m going to need a day off and oh so much wine to get through that one.OH GODDAMMIT. SERIOUSLY?! I DIDN’T EVEN PLAN THAT. *OR,* because I am currently at my parents’ house without my DVDs and/or Netflix, and the only options of what to watch is Due Date (on TBS, so all the swears are cleaned up), When Harry Met Sally, which is on Oxygen (or as I call it, The Commercial Channel [sorry Oprah]), or FUCKING SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION on AMC. I just — WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME, CABLE?!

OH LOOK IT’S THE PLACE WHERE THE WARDEN SHOOTS TOMMY WHILE DUFRESNE IS IN THE HOLE I’VE ONLY SEEN THIS PART FIVE TIMES HOW CAN PEOPLE WATCH THIS MOVIE TO THE END EVERY DAMN TIME??

Uh, ANYWAY. I tape a lot of movies and have started watching them without blogging it, because not that many people care that I watch obscure Bette Davis movies? But this past month, I found myself taping a lot of movies that were adaptations of Tennessee Williams plays. I’d watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a couple of times, and I’d heard great things about Suddenly, Last Summer and The Night of the Iguana was supposed to be “hot stuff,” according to the Hayes Code. I was halfway through Iguana when I realized that both movies had been shown on the same day. Knowing that TCM sometimes does theme days, I muttered to myself, “What, is it Tennessee Williams’s birthday?”

When I Googled it — which is what the cool kids do nowadays — I learned that Tennessee Williams was born on March 26.

That’s my birthday.

Fuck.

I mean, seriously? I’ve always believed somewhat in the idea of past lives and regeneration and, I don’t know, mystical energies being passed down throughout the ages. Or something. And I’ve considered myself a ‘writer’ for at least the past six years, the lack of published works notwithstanding. So the new knowledge that I shared a birthday with one of the greatest American playwrights? I felt 10% proud, 10% inspired, and 80% failure for not getting anything done by the age of thirty.

So, in an effort to push the lever more towards ‘inspired,’ I dug out my copy of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and read it.

Now, as I said before, I’ve watched the Newman-Taylor film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a couple of times. And I enjoy it every time I watch it. I love Elizabeth Taylor, so much so that I actually sat through Liz and Dick to see how bad it was (Poor LiLo; I just can’t help but feel for that kid). But knowing what I know about the Hayes Code and how film adaptations tended to water down what actually happened in the stage versions, I was excited to see what the differences would be between the film adaptation and the original, written, staged edition.

The plot is, obviously, the same: Maggie and her husband, Brick, are visiting at Brick’s childhood home to celebrate Big Daddy’s birthday. Neither Maggie nor Brick want to be there; Brick is finding his solace in a bottle, after going out at three a.m. to run some hurdles in an effort of nostalgia (resulting in a broken leg), and Maggie is trying to turn Brick’s attention from the bottle to her body. Brick’s brother Gooper (not making that up) and Gooper’s wife Mae are rubbing their fertility in Maggie’s face (although not literally; taken literally, that’s incredibly gross). Family is very important to the Pollitts, and Mae and Gooper have five kids to Brick and Maggie’s zero. Mae is nearly proud to learn that Brick is not sharing Maggie’s bed, and there’s an insinuation that he may have been in love with his high school pal, Skipper, but that is cleared up as the play goes along.

And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot. The play is definitely something worth reading – and I’ll continue talking about that in a minute. But plays are not meant to be read; plays are meant to be performed, and plays are meant to be watched. So if you’re intrigued as to how the play ends and who ends up with whom and if people are redeemed and if there’s a happy ending, check your local theater times to see if there’s a company in your area putting it on. If not, find a copy of the Newman/Taylor version. In all honesty, not a lot changed thanks to the Hayes Code; just references and language. It’s not like the movie’s ending is a complete 180 from the original theatrical version. I highly recommend the film version, and I’m putting a lot of faith in theatre companies today when I say that I hope the company putting it on in your neighborhood will do the play justice. But it should be good.

To get to the whole “reading” part of it: for me, it’s both a different experience and yet not for me to read a play. It’s different because I haven’t read one in a very long time, and I’ve never reviewed a play that I’ve read and not seen performed live. The not part comes in because in high school and college I acted in plays, and my last year at college I took Playwriting, so I know the mechanics of writing a play for the stage. But it has been at least … oh shit, when did I write — no wait, Dead Man’s Chest came out in 2006, so it has been seven years since I’ve written my last play.

Okay, I just made myself a little sad.

The reason Dead Man’s Chest and 2006 are important markers for my own History of Playwriting is because that’s the year I went to Springfield, MA to watch Dead Man’s Chest with my good friend Sarah, and on the ride back to her house we discussed her coming up to my former place of business dressed as a pirate because it would be hilarious to confuse my co-workers (now that I’ve been out of there and it won’t have any effect on my career, I used to work at L.L. Bean and there is a trout pond in one of the lobbies; imagine a pirate loitering around that for a day), and I wrote what I now consider to be a cross between The West Wing and Waiting for Godot with a soupcon of Monty Python thrown in entitled The Pirate in the Lobby. And that’s the last play I ever wrote. *sad*

So I wasn’t unfamiliar with the form. What I didn’t know and truly appreciate right now is that Tennessee Williams loved stage directions. I’ve had different philosophies about that and struggled with it in my own writing — too much authorial intent in the stage directions won’t always allow the actor to develop the character through his/her own methods; too little and the playwright might not see his/her play staged with the same undertones he was looking for. The biggest piece of advice my Playwriting professor gave us was that once the script was complete and someone wanted to direct it, we as the writer needed to step back. Our piece was out in the world now, out there for others to interpret. The most stressful stagings of plays came when the playwright was whispering in the director’s ear. Lots of little egos — oh shit, that’s a quote from something that I can’t quite recall.

The line that I … felt most, for lack of a better term, was in the Notes for the Designer. Mr. Williams describes how he wants the set designed and the lighting and the setup and all of that, and he is very explicit that the duration of the play takes exactly as long as the time spent on-stage. That may not seem important or significant, but it adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Plays very rarely take place in ‘real time.’ And think about your daily life: pick an event that happened with your family. Would it be interesting enough to hold the attention of an audience for two-plus hours, encompassing family drama, mystery, sex, and the all-powerful struggle between life and death?

And that is why Tennessee Williams is an American hero and great man of letters. And why I am feeling super inadequate and yet determined in the wake reading this play.

Grade for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: 4 stars