Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Otherness and other thoughts

Saw two v. different pieces of art this weekend, but they've both got me thinking about similar stuff. First was Sunday afternoon, when I went to NYC and got student-rush tix for The Light in the Piazza, which is closing soon, so I figured it was now or never.

So beautiful. I mean, I realize, duh, everyone loves this show, so I wasn't exactly surprised to find it beautiful, but I really, really enjoyed it, more than I've liked most things I've seen recently. Victoria Clark was great, and the music was lovely, but I think the thing that I liked the most was how disturbing it was. The story [warning: musical spoiler ahead] concerns a mother and her daughter visiting Italy. The daughter is mentally handicapped and the show's central dilemma is how much of a "normal" life she should lead. And it's fraught: what's best for the daughter, the mother, the daughter's boyfriend who doesn't know about her situation, responsibility vs. taking chances -- it was all dealt with. And, here's the big, big thing . . . the production doesn't demand that you agree with it. It presents certain characters in a particular situation, the choices they make, and allows you to say "Wow, I think that's a terrible decision," or "Gosh, I'm afraid and don't know what's going to happen" but you're disagreeing with the characters not the play. To make an admittedly facetious comparison, if you object to Forrest Gump, you also object to Forrest Gump. Not so with this show.

Then, on Monday, Beloved Husband and I went to see X-Men 3. Which was actually quite similar in terms of moral quandries to TLITP. The X-Men are, by virtue of being mutants, different, physically and mentally, from "normal" people, and the central dilemma of the movie is how much mutants should be pushed toward (or even offered an option of) normality. However . . . it's not a good movie. It could have been a good movie. It should have a good movie. It has good actors, interesting ideas, and an enormous budget, but instead of bringing them together for some good, old-fashioned storytelling, it pulled confusingly at our heartstrings (evoking ACT-UP meetings, abortion clinics, and DNA modification) and then just blew crap up for 15 minutes. Also, I think it bears mentioning that in the big "do you change your powers or use them" debate the two main female characters decided to give up their extraordinary abilities (either by getting the vaccine or asking Wolverine to killing them), whereas the man who faced it ended up staying the way he was. And flying his big gay wings over San Francisco. Which is great and all, don't get me wrong, but why did he get to be loved for the way he was and not the chicks? Just asking.

Also, in a final (please, please, I hope) eye update: I woke up yesterday with a case of pink eye in my right eye (yes, the one that has been plagued since mid-May). Went to the doctor, got some antibiotic drops, and it's looking way better, but still. Truce? Please?


8yearoldsdude said...

I think you need one of those israeli symbols with the eye inside the hand to protect you. it is a sad day for US soccer.

parabasis said...

8yearsoldude: it's called the HAMSA.

D-- Your review of LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA expresses the exact opposite of my feelings about it (Except for it's beauty-- Bart Sher directed the shit out of that play). I found that it was presented in such a way that I was given a choice of liking the play/characters or not. As a result, I found the show advocating something rather horrific (concealing the rather shall we say special needs of one of the characters) and doing so by stacking the deck with a totally inauthentic portrait of developmental disability somehow turned into a metaphor for America's innocence. Wow. I guess there's two ways I found this show to be like Forest Gump.

Meanwhile, I wonder... do you remember a single song from that show? I realized that during intermission the entirety of ACT I had vanished from my head. Ditto ACT II on the subway ride back to Anne and Brooklyn. I remember singing in Italian at some point...

To me, the entire play seemed like some beautiful object on a shelf at the Victoria and Albert Museum-- remote and gorgeous admitting only rapturous awe instead of artistic communion.

But that's what's great about theater... you and I can see the same show and have completely different subjective opinions on it.

(oh, and I met the romantic leads at a party once, they're both really sweet and incredibly cute in person)

Dorothy said...

Hmmm, wow. Different reaction, but you're right, glory of performance.
When I left TLITP, I was totally creeped out, I think I described the feeling to the next person I saw as "disturbed." It was a disturbing piece of theater. For me, I felt like the show presented "something rather horrific" without advocating it at all -- namely a mother's more-or-less sale of her child in an act of self-preservation. But I also thought the show was pretty up front about the mother's motives (the scene where she ups the price to the Italian dude's dad) and the daughter's depth of problems (two major freak outs). Circumstance (language difficulty, sexual mores of the time, etc) meant that all kinds of minefields were left unexplored before the two characters entered an at least theoretically unbreakable contract. (barring annulment, I suppose) I'm usually the first to object to sentimental "Benny and Joon" type portrayals of mental illness, and I kept waiting for the cutesy, "perhaps it is we who are crazy and they who are sane" shoe to drop, and from where I was sitting, it didn't.

I don't remember any of the songs to hum, but I attribute that mostly to its operatic nature and lack of strict verse-chorus-verse, REPRISE!

Sad day indeed for US soccer, but hooray for France.

parabasis said...


I think part of what's fueling this disagreement of interpretation is that I didn't actually like the show particularly as an aesthetic object (I found the acting showy, the music dull and the script kinda boring) and therefore am probably less likely to dig into it and find the layers that you have. It's hard to extend that kind of mental credit to a show you're already not enjoying but have to see for a fellowship program. Also... seeing it for free probably makes it easier for me to take for granted.

See... that's what I ultimately find interesting as a director... less what one person takes away from an experience but what it is that lead them to take those things away