Posts Tagged ‘quotables’

the stain of a scream

In classics long after, quotables on June 3, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Notes on and quotes from Crave (1998) Sarah Kane

“I am lost, so fucking lost in this mess of a woman.” (A)


Famously, fearing her reputation was saturating reactions to her work (for and against), Kane trialled Crave under a pseudonym – and this was possible only because its total rejection of setting or stage direction was so formally remote from the explicit scenes of her previous plays. Likewise, extreme characters make way for genderless, ageless ciphers – A, B, C and M. “…one can almost feel the intoxicating release of Kane’s writing as the borderlines of character evaporate entirely and her imagery moves from physical to textual realisation.” (David Greig)

“She’s talking about herself in the third person because the idea of being who she is, of acknowledging that she is herself, is more than her pride can take.” (C)

Without proxies, there’s a tendency to listen for Kane’s own unfiltered voice – though the text is littered with quotes from other works. “I am an emotional plagiarist, stealing other people’s pain, subsuming it into my own.” (C) In this it perhaps functions in a similar way to TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (itself referenced in the play), but presented in a headlong rush of multiple views and voices recalling Beckett’s Play. Unlike the latter, Crave is never still or clear enough to allow a stable narrative to emerge.

Perhaps the closest to a common element between the voices is some trauma in the past, identified by at least one voice as sexual abuse – the picture painted indelible. “An empty car park which I can never leave,” says C. “That moment which I’ve been hurtling away from ever since,” says A – and the tension between the two goes a long way to embody the permanent aftermath many abuse victims feel. Kane did hint the roles might be played by a pair of older and younger men and women, suggesting classic family dynamics.

Crave 2

In fact, the longer the play goes on, the less real distinction there feels between the voices, the more it begins to feel like a single mind – or body which has internalised a conflict it is doomed to repeat. “Guilt lingers like the smell of death and nothing can free me from this cloud of blood.” (A) The same emotions erupting periodically. The same lies rehearsed and recited. “The same lesson, again and again.” (B) There is the sense of a family splitting just as there is a single wrecked psyche attempting to understand its wrecker. As the play ends, it has turned toward a feeling of almost hysterical heavenly redemption, but there is no resolution – the final positive climax ultimately seems as jumbled a mass of emotions as the lows before – this is the difference between message-based and experiential theatre. It’s like music. It’s like the weather.

“What’s anything got to do with anything?” (C)


they burned your body

In classics long after, quotables on May 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

Notes on and quotes from Cleansed (1998) Sarah Kane

“Think about getting up, it’s pointless. Think about eating, it’s pointless. Think about dressing, it’s pointless. Think about speaking, it’s pointless. Think about dying only it’s totally fucking pointless.” (Grace/Graham)

If Blasted made Kane’s name via its full-frontal short-circuit of naturalism, Cleansed would start in a resultant afterworld denuded of socio-historic context. And if the form of the former was explosive, the latter is institutional – some curious, awful hybrid of university and death camp, to be exact. The play’s episodes are experiments – to measure the power or worth of love in the face of violence as pure as dissection.


Tinker is doing the dissecting. He’s a doctor and a dealer. It’s his institution, and he is god within his own creation. When Grace arrives looking for her brother – whose overdose, presented almost as ritual, constitutes the first scene – she gives herself up to be closer to his memory, which will shadow her through the trials to come. She will dress in his clothes. Eventually they seem to fuse.

“Listen. I’m just saying this once. I love you now. I’m with you now. I’ll do my best, moment to moment, not to betray you. Now. That’s it. No more. Don’t make me lie to you.” (Rod)

Meanwhile, among the other inmates, Rod and Carl – a couple – will be torn apart with exactitude. 1984‘s fear of torture used to invalidate or de-idealise love is only the beginning for this pair of pinned butterflies. And it is in the physicality of their relationship’s dismemberment that we see how far beyond the arm’s length etiquette of psychological normalism Kane was willing to go. When Carl speaks love, his tongue is removed, when he writes, his hands, when he dances, his feet.

Cleansed again

So, where her first impact came from epic atrocities visited with the sudden force of divine thunderbolts on realistic characters, her second original play dovetails equal brutality so deeply in its everyday structure that it seems a stable element, a fact of life. What became the talking point this time was not the starkness of the action, but the calculated challenge of its impossible stage directions – most famously ‘The rats carry Carl’s feet away‘ but also the anti-illusionistic magic tricks of flowers growing through the floorboards or wounds synchronising on different bodies. For all the bloody carnage, the emotional cruelty, the fallibility of body and personality alike, the power of the play is manifested in its visual poetry. Suitably, it’s difficult to think beyond Yeats to summarise it – “A terrible beauty is born…”

“Shh shh shh. No regrets.” (Tinker)

lines from blasted

In classics long after, quotables on May 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm


Blasted‘s 1995 debut was one of those rare productions which salmon-leaps from the digestive tract of the review section to the higher functions of the headlines. Sexual violence, xenophobia, war crimes, a total breakdown of order in and outside of a hotel room  – the verdict was kneejerk, the play and its author demonised and/or pathologised.

I found it myself some years after this initial reflux had ebbed and time’s better counsel had dredged up and widely acknowledged the terrible tenderness beneath the shocking surface. The transgression was material, but the transcendence I’d read about eluded me. I wasn’t revulsed by the plot, but felt short-changed by the language, the extremity of the characters (not in their behaviour, but their abject, almost binary displays of power or weakness). The violence seemed to sweep everything but its own logic and imagery offstage. So, even with hindsight, even having absorbed the praise of those critics who’d begun by condemning, my first reading was wrong.

I see it differently now, woke up to the fact Kane was a writer free enough of ego to mainline ugly actions in an ugly fashion. As has been argued elsewhere, this is not to say pain is presented raw – the collision of worlds which makes Blasted‘s scene progression more dialectical than accumulative would be disengagingly ridiculous if not weighted just so – but that her judgement and vision are as important as her skill in witholding the artful arrangement of parts dramatists routinely use to shortcut and symbolise – Blasted has to be lived through, experienced. So, let’s…

“Doing to them what they done to us, what good is that? At home I’m clean. Like it never happened. Tell them you saw me. Tell them…you saw me.” (Soldier)

You can find a perfectly serviceable synopsis over at Wikipedia – I imagine the gist is well-known, but in the simplest of terms, a rape in a hotel room somehow abruptly allows the war raging outside to rush in like black water through a stress fracture. Carnage ensues. In this unedited 19-page interview (pdf), Kane reveals the surprisingly simple genesis for the play’s seisimic shift from naturalism to nightmare: “I switched on the news one night while I was having a break from writing, and there was a very old woman’s face, a woman of Srebrenica just weeping and weeping and looking into the camera…I thought: ‘So what could possibly be the connection between a common rape in a Leeds hotel room and what’s happening in Bosnia?’ And then suddenly this penny dropped and I thought: ‘Of course, it’s obvious. One is the seed and the other is the tree…'”

“Punish me or rescue me makes no difference I love you Cate tell him for me do it for me touch me Cate.” (Ian)

If critics mistook Blasted‘s radical commentary for rebellious posturing, Ian’s language from the off would aid that first impression – there’s barely a line uttered which wouldn’t qualify as hate speech (although this is supplemented by an almost cheerful acceptance of his own corruption, physical decay and imminent death). In manipulating the soft-hearted and muddle-headed Cate, the audience witness a horribly inevitable crime. But the aftermath is anything but, as a laconic soldier whose main motivation seems to be to share the atrocities he’s taken part in makes Ian the next victim, raping and blinding him in turn. A bomb breaches the walls, the soldier shoots himself and the last semblance of civilisation as we know it collapses into something between Beckett (minimal, timeless bleakness) and a snuff nature doc.

Blasted later

Undermain Theatre production (2004) Dallas Texas. Set design by Clare Floyd DeVries, photo by Katherine Owens.


Kane knew what she was doing: “You have a nice little box set in the studio set somewhere and you blow it up… For me the form did exactly mirror the content. And for me the form is the meaning of the play, which is that people’s lives are thrown into complete chaos with no reason whatsoever.” And always remember, for all this, the play retains a sliver of hope amid the splinters of the set – for survival, if nothing else.

“My brother’s got blind friends. You can’t give up.” (Cate)

lines from the golem

In classics long after, quotables on March 11, 2010 at 8:27 pm

This is the last in what’s been a pretty skippy lookover of Jewish theatre, but I’d welcome any additional suggestions in that comment box down there. For now:

the golem

“I am the secret, not of darkness, but of light.” – Golem

Today’s play is another following a mythical spirit, as invoked by H. Leivick (“Slender, white-haired, a figure of austere simplicity, he had spent his life brooding over the problem of human suffering…when he turned from his rabbinical studies in his middle teens, he had already began to quarrel with God over the suffering he could neither understand nor justify.” – Joseph C. Landis, echoing the Jewish tradition of anti-devotional prayers).

The title names the creature in question – The Golem  – a robot-like creature of earth, created as a servant and famed for its (unthinking) defence of its creators. In Leivick’s brooding take, the relationship between servant and master, golem and world, will prove rather more metaphysical, as one would expect of a play containing characters called The Invisible and The Figure of the Uncreated, as well as scenes titled Clay, Walls and Through Darkness.

The first scene is perhaps the play’s most powerful, as Maharal, the Rabbi of Prague sculpting the golem’s body is visited by a ‘shadow’s shadow’: “I have come to warn you: create me not.” The rabbi argues the need for “A people’s champion, a man of might” but is answered by “A servant – to be ruled, commanded”. And without so much as a shazam, Golem is being led into Maharal’s study, and being labouriously instructed in the fundaments of living among people. He is taller than doorways and terrified – possessed by the infant’s existential confusion (“I want to twist / My head from off my shoulders, twist my arms and legs. / Put out the fire around me. / Take away the walls.”)

A giant naturally gathers attention, and this one is particularly thin-skinned, paranoia building with the mob’s questions and laughter – he is childishly dependent on his maker, and infatuated with his daughter (though what this means is closed to him). Maharal’s tactic would now be characterised as tough love, hoping he will grow with his mistakes – “I cannot always be with you. Know / That you came here to be alone.”

Golem completes missions for his master, but is stricken by a paralysing lack of purpose after – he has consciousness but not will, and his dependence on the Rabbi is deeper and darker than love: “Stay here with me forever in the anteroom. / I will give up my sleeping bench to you / And I will lie at your feet upon the floor.”

This need overrides all else – Golem spills ‘Jewish blood’ and, although it at first looks like this feverish strategem has won his desire, Maharal feeling he can no longer leave him alone, the Rabbi now announces Golem’s last mission. He instructs him to lie down. To close his eyes. “Breathe out your final breath. Amen.” Golem’s obedience, and the ease of his decease make the scene more shattering than any struggle could have.

“How good it was to be mere clay, / To lie, lifeless and calm, / among the sands and stone of the earth / Between eternities.” – Golem

lines from god of vengeance

In classics long after, quotables on March 8, 2010 at 1:20 am

Point one: there’s a title that doesn’t fuck about (“The boldness of its setting in a brothel and its introduction of homosexuality has not given the play a wholly untroubled career…” says Joseph C. Landis). Point two: its author, Sholem Asch is considered the best known Yiddish writer – by those who know, if you follow.

Set in a family home above a brothel – both ran by the father, Yankel – the play concerns his determination to keep his daughter uncontaminated from the vice that bankrolls the household. That its title is not ‘God of Typical Bourgeois Hypocrisy’ gives an indication that such a delicate balance may prove problematic, but Rivelke, the daughter, presents a mannered innocence from curtain-up to feed his hope. As the character quite literally known only as Woman Blind In One eye notes: “I tell you, as though she’d been raised in a synagogue, forgive the comparison – neat, pretty, more modest than all the respectable girls.” As for spiritual insurance:

“Don’t be afraid of your father. I love you. I love you very much. I’m ordering a Torah Scroll today. It costs a lot of money. For you, my child, for you.” (Yankel)

sholem asch

Sholem Asch

The scroll is installed, with no pressure whatsoever from the scribe who copied it for them: “Remember a Torah Scroll is a momentous thing; it supports the entire world…” and Yankel broadcasts his not at all screamingly neurotic dreams for her future, “Leave your father’s house and forget. Forget your father; forget your mother, and have decent children…”

We’re soon introduced to those who live (dig the symbolism) downstairs – a junior pimp and assorted prostitutes. It’s a bruised romantic called Basha who acts a poetic foreshadow, recalling her own father: “He’d kill me on the spot. He’s looking for me with an iron bar… My father is a butcher. Oh, the matches I could have made.” But she rejected her suitor: “He stinks from beef. Brr. They call him Medicine. How could I marry Medicine and every years have another little Medicine. Brr.” Worse, and most hauntingly, is her mother, dead of heartbreak: “I see her at night, in my dreams. She comes in her shroud, covered with thorns and briars because of my sins, and she tears at my hair.”

god of vengeance

In what one might see as a suspiciously prurient setpiece, it’s not long before Basha and friends are dancing in the rain – with Rivelke. Manke, who seems to have long been very close, takes her inside and the two girls play out a dream wedding – with Manke as the groom. They elope. “Had she died, I would have known that I buried a chaste child, an honourable child. But now what am I worth in this world? You’re sinful yourself and you leave behind a sinful generation. And so sin goes on from generation to generation” is Yankel’s predictable judgement, and even though his wife, Hindl, returns her to the home, the reunion is shortly thereafter followed by a self-destructive finale so rich in the infuriating, alienating logic of wounded honour  I can’t personally stomach repeating it (let’s say “Down to the house!” becomes something of a slogan and stage direction). Typically bourgeois after all…

lines from the dybbuk

In classics long after, quotables on March 3, 2010 at 2:03 am

First: yet more apologies for update slowdown – redrafting the play I have in development is taking most available headspace, but I will endeavour to make time late at night to keep this plate spinning. Hits have leaped recently, and I feel a wretch and a half for slacking. So, without further ado…

the dybbuk

Hanna Rovina as Leah'le in The Dybbuk

Just incredible; transfixing – and there’s no shortage of other images out there if you want to look for yourself – ‘The Dybbuk’ is almost certainly the best known Yiddish play because it reaches across cultures to capture the imagination (a fitting metaphor, as we’ll see). ‘The premiere, at the Elyseum theatre in Warsaw, did not take place until December 9, 1920 [it had been written in 1914], at the end of the traditional thirty-day mourning period that followed [author] S. Anski‘s death…’ (Three Great Jewish Plays, ed. Joseph C. Landis)

Anski had written: “From the Old Testament to the present, the central idea of all Jewish creativity is: physical force is not the force that wins… The physically stronger is defeated because he is spiritually weaker.” As his anti-hero, Khonnon, of the play notes: “The Holy Scrolls stand huddled together, calm silent. And in them are concealed all the secrets , all the veiled allusions, all the mysterious combinations from the six days of creation unto the end of the generations of men.

This relatively short, meticulously-ordered play begins in an old synagogue ‘with blackened walls’, where scholars and students gossip, debate and deal with those calling for their help. An elderly woman whose daughter ‘has been lying speechless, struggling with death’ is interceded for by a minyan (ten men praying) before a local noble arrives to celebrate the betrothal of his daughter. Khonnon, who has been terrorising his less kabbalistic brethren with dangerous insights (“There is no need to wage war against sin. Elevate it!“) falls into something between an emotional breakdown and a religious ecstasy when he hears – “So they were useless! All the fasts, all the ablutions, all that harrowing of flesh, all those spells…” – and swoons through visions to death.

“I saw his grave in a dream. And I saw him too, and he told me about himself…” (Leye)

We skip ahead to the wedding in question, where the bride, Leye – according to custom – paces the graveyard to invite her dead relative along. But that’s not all she finds: “There lived a young man who had a lofty soul and a deep mind. A long life lay before him. And suddenly, in an instant, his life was cut off, and strangers came to bury him in strange earth. What happened to the rest of his life? To his words that were silenced, to his prayers that were cut off?” And so she invites Khonnon, too.

At the altar, in a demonic set-piece that breeds shivers even now, Leye tears the veil from her face and ‘cries out in a strange, masculine voice’: “You buried me! But I have come back to my destined bride, and I will not leave her.

More Dybbuk

The rest of the play is almost a rabbinical procedural, as holy men seek to free the bride. The dialogue between Reb Azrielke and Khonnon (a Dybbuk, as I imagine you’d gathered, is a possessing spirit) has great power not through the wailing over-contrast of melodrama, but a kind of measured gravitas – Azrielke is sympathetic to the lost soul, especially as it becomes clear the two had been secretly in love. But Khonnon – speaking through Leye – is not to be reasoned out. “Wandering soul, I feel great pity for you, and I will try to release you from the destroying angels. But you must leave the body of this girl” is answered with “There is no more exalted height than my present refuge and there is no darker abyss than that which awaits me. I will not leave!

He is forced to leave. The rabbi shows mercy regardless, and revokes the exiled spirit’s excommunication. He rushes out to hurry the bridal company along, demanding they carry out the ceremony at once. Leye, left safe and sleeping in a magic circle, wakes alone – except for the voice of Khonnon, emenating from the darkness around. There follows an indescribably tender duologue. Leye: “Your hair was soft and it glistened as with tears, and your eyes were sad and gentle… But you went away and my light was put out and my soul withered… Then you returned and in my heart bloomed a life of death and a joy of sorrow. Why have you forsaken me again?” Khonnon: “I broke all barriers. I surmounted death, I defied the laws of the laws of the ages and generations…

“Return to me my bridegroom, my husband. I will carry you, in death, in my heart; and in the dreams of night we will together rock to sleep our unborn babes…” (Leye)

She steps out of the circle as this world’s bridal party finally arrive and folds to the floor, already gone. “Too late,” says Reb Azrielke, with sadness leavened by sympathy, as both souls depart.

lines from the strip

In quotables, writers writing now on February 9, 2010 at 11:26 am

“Female impersonation is a rather curious career choice for a woman, Miss Coo.” (Otto)

A feted first line for Nagy’s fourth play, and the last I’m zapping through for right now. Again, it takes a form somewhat beyond conventon – as Michael Coveney writes in the Methuen edition’s introduction: “…all the various strands of action seem to be manipulated by Otto Mink, a sleazy, shadowy figure not unlike, as my colleague Paul Taylor pointed out, the Duke of dark corners in Measure for Measure

“Do you think Saint Veronica had any talent? Or Saints Theresa, Bernadette and Anthony, for that matter? […] The hand of God provided their direction. They were empty vessels waiting to be filled with relevance. Just as you are an empty vessel waiting for me to fill you.” (Otto)

And he fills plenty, an unreadable puppetmaster pulling the plotlines of disperate characters – including a female female impersonator, a repo man, a supremacist fugitive, a disgraced reporter  and more – ever tighter, until they all come together for a finale which is also an eclipse. “Adapt to circumstance. Assimilate. Conquer. Mr. Mink’s triple crown for success.” (Loretta)

the strip

I could be wrong, but The Strip feels like the point where all the devices Nagy had jury-rigged for serious purposes – often employed in quite an austere fashion – ripened to an extent she not only had total control, but could start to have fun – it’s positively carnivalesque. Especially nice is how narrative acts can trigger short circuit symbolism – a homophobe, kissed, drops dead (he thinks – gets better).

“I’m like a doormat. People coming and going, breaking and entering, the whole time.” (Ava)

Lateralism keeps seeping – characters spill across the stage – occasionally united via phone calls and letters between scenes, rippling via domino dumbshow and mime performances, relaying via infections and computer astrology, subtitled via a ouija board which spells out messages, via, well… “Baby Ray likes you. He’s a genius and communicates with me telepathically. What is your sun sign?” (Loretta). The climax of the first act sees the whole parade simultaneously up-ended like a chain of island realities under one heavy psychic weather system.

“Have you noticed the alarming rate of coincidences lately?” (Suzy)

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.”

lines from butterfly kiss

In quotables, writers writing now on February 4, 2010 at 2:08 pm

“Martha. Listen to me. My mother asked me to kill her.” (Lily)

Butterfly Kiss unfolds to fill the limbo between the arrest and trial of Lily Ross, for matricide: “I’ve been reading a lot lately. Sensational crime cases. Mostly murder cases. There’s a vested interest, I’ll admit.”

butterfly set

A telling stage direction: ‘The time is the present, the imagined past and the imagined future’. And it’s the continual, cumulative overlap of times, spaces, places, the bleed between dialogue and monologue, the dance of figures skipping in and out of each other’s orbits which makes Butterfly Kiss so almost liquid crystal. Form solidifies in patterns around events – each of which lasts a matter of minutes, sometimes moments, before dissolving, allowing the configuration to refacet itself. It’s more fluid again than Weldon Rising‘s series of circular frames – and feels as freshly freestyle and futureproof as Churchill & Lan’s A Mouthful of Birds or Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis.

“It’s a long time before I actually speak to Lily. I was transferred quite a bit, you see, and I could taste the distance between us through the telephone lines. As if each transfer, each click of each switchboard, took me deeper underground. Under something I could not accept.” (Martha)

Another stage direction reads: ‘Although Lily’s age ranges substantially during the course of the play, no attempt should be made to ‘play’ the younger ages.’ This is how to do contemporary unrealism: ‘”How old did you say you were, Lily? Forty-six? Twelve? Seventy-seven?” (Jenny) Reverberating through the play’s ‘real’ world, Lily’s mother (Jenny) becomes demented, old before even her own mother (Lily’s grandmother, Sally): “I could leave you here, you know that. Let you rot in place. Shrivel up with a shot glass in one hand and a blood pressure kit in the other. I shrivel little by little myself, just thinking about how I could have given birth to something like you.” Time out of joint.

Vignettes from Lily’s life evaporate into one another, sometimes react. Her awakening sexuality. Her parents’ mistaken lovematch: “Your daddy was a wrong number, Lily, who ought never been answered.” (Jenny); “My father is a scientist. He likes to watch.” (Lily) Her latest (last?) relationship, with Martha – another source of simmering tension between Lily and her mother and grandmother. Ultimately, it is the casual everyday cruelty between the three that drives toward an end with no consummation, conclusion, or verdict – only an act of deep, hidden love.

lines from weldon rising

In quotables, writers writing now on February 3, 2010 at 9:27 am

“We used to be civilised, you know.” (Tilly)

Nagy’s debut opened in Liverpool, but hopped half the length of the country onto the Royal Court stage within two months. As almost an act of teleportation, a knight’s gambit, the abruptness of the transfer could be a realworld reflection of Weldon Rising‘s indistinct drift. She’s often tagged as ‘lateral’ – situations rather than narratives, carousels rather than rollercoasters – and her distinguishing characteristics are apparent from this first production. This is less surprising when one realises it was written after her second and third to be  produced (‘Butterfly Kiss’ and ‘Disappeared’) but, again, such shuffling fits her elliptical style. What follows contains plenty spoilers…

“I hear someone say: FAGGOT. I always hear that word when it’s said. Always.” (Jaye)

If the background is perennially out-of-focus,her characters possess a concision of expression. Natty, for example, is one half of a same-sex relationship uncomfortable with his orientation (or at least the stereotypical culture surrounding it): “They’re not my peers. I own a small business. I have customers. I’m not political. They’re your peers…You can dance. I can’t. You know I look like Peter Lorre in M when I dance.” The partner to who this is addressed, Jimmy, is rather more secure: “Maybe I’d like to hold your hand. Walk along Eighth Avenue and spit at passers-by…The boys don’t believe me when I say I have a lover. You ought to prove I’m not a liar.” If the relationship feels like a losing battle – Natty replies, “But I am a liar. I’m pathological. I lie about everything. I crave it” – they muddle along happily enough in their own way. Then, in almost the play’s first movement, Jimmy is meaninglessly murdered via a stranger/street flashpoint which sparks from nothing (Natty splits as it gets serious).

weldon staging

“What was it like? To see him die. I didn’t. See it. I should have.” (Natty)

Tilly and Jaye, also lovers, live overlooking the murder scene, and witnessing it comes to obsess them somewhat: “We witnessed a horrible crime and we’ve responded by becoming criminals ourselves…We watched him from above. We thought we were safe” (Tilly). Meanwhile, the temperature of the outside world is continually rising at a freakish pace – the repercussions of centre-stage violence punctuated by increasingly nightmarish news reports (“…a Greyhound bus bound for Lincoln, Nebraska melted within seconds of entering the Holland Tunnel. Current Central Park temperature a hundred and sixty-seven and RISING”.) The play’s resolution doesn’t retreat into fantasy, but it does defy realism, cause and effect. It’s a magic ritual.

“We did watch him die. The sky split open. The temperature rose. And nothing’s been the same since.” (Tilly)