lines from disappeared

In quotables, writers writing now on February 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm

“I take things away from people to provide them with a false sense of renewal. When you take something from somebody, it stays took. They don’t understand that. I do.” (Elston)

Disappeared is very simple. Sarah Casey, a travel agent, goes missing in the first scene. Aside from flashbacks, the rest of the play explores the wake. Her mother insists she’s dead. The bar where she was last seen tries to cash in. A detective unearths nothing, especially in his dealings with the chief suspect, an oddball of compelling dimensions called Elston Rupp.

“…in your people job, you give them things. Information, accommodation. The potential for snapshots. Me, I remove things from people. Information, accommodation. Cash.” Elston works in a thrift store, wears others’ clothes, adopts their identities, has no furniture, sleeps in a closet. He is never revealed as a killer, or discredited as a fantasist. He very much enjoys the attention afforded by his suspect status. But he’s alienatingly neurotic: “I wish I could go with the flow. But I can’t. I read too much.” He prostrates himself before authority figures – to his boss: “…you don’t work. You own…I work for you. I belong to you.” – and Ted, the detective. He also somehow connects with Sarah in a way neither he nor she understand. As he says to her: “It must be sad having a job where there’s no psychic stability. Always coming or going. Never staying put. The travel motif.”

That Nagy can flag her subtext so is due to her resistance as a writer to ever let suggestion ripen (and flatten) into plot point. It’s enough to make the shape without articulating the parts or, worse, setting the whole contraption shuddering away to eventually spit out a product (the ‘meaning’). A one-sentence synopsis would be: travel agent provides journeys for others, never moving herself – until, one night, she disappears from the face of the map. Many conventional writers would, in expanding the story, deflate it – declawing any paradox, sorting and binding each parallel, answering every last question in an artful reverse strip. But if the detective novel proved modernism’s ideal form, so sci-fi/fantasy – the art of possibility which only need make sense in its own terms – has provided the same for postmodernism. Also consider that, contrary to popular belief, Freud didn’t believe in dream analysis but free association – and this makes for an expanding universe, not one which contracts to a ultimate lump of unambiguous fact.

nagy collected

It’s a play for today ’cause, formally, it’s a net (reticular) – details hint at the larger form, fractally, casual comments chime with dramatic acts distant in the narrative – and this doesn’t glue the two belatedly together (as a ‘clue’ would). A good scientist would remind: correlation does not equal causation. The strength of writers like Nagy (and Churchill, most obviously) is that their work swells with repetition – unlike most, which return to standby when they’ve achieved their ‘function’. Elston knows: “I won’t answer your questions any more, Ted. Because if I answered them, you wouldn’t come back here.”


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