More on Sarcasm (condensed from two Facebook entries)

Part I

I’ve been watching Grey Forge LeFey and Kurt A. Schauppner develop their characters in Edward Albee’s Marriage Play. They’ve been adding layers and layers as they go and are certainly ready for opening night tonight. (Most importantly, director Abe Daniels thinks so.)
Impressed as I am with their acting, I remain mystified as to the popularity of Edward Albee. Tony awards, Pulitzer Prizes, Drama Desk awards… Granted, I’ve only seen two of his shows on stage and one on film, but so far he’s three for three with people being cruel to each other.
Grey’s repertory company in Canton, Ohio, where we met, namely, Gilda Shedstecker Presents!, operated under the principle that there is enough drama in life and that the stage should be a place where comedy could shine. Or something like that.
Truth to tell, I hate drama where people are cruel and brutal to each other. Godsakes, isn’t there enough hatefulness in real life, that we have to hone expressions of it on the stage and screen so that it’s particularly acute? What ever for??
Albee is celebrated enough that my opinion means nothing and just shows me to be a philistine. Still, I will probably always prefer drama that doesn’t exalt brutality.
Grey suggests that I could probably direct if the material was suitably heartwarming. Maybe some day I’ll try it. If I do, shittiness will be nowhere in sight. Why can’t we fantasize about people who’ve evolved into civil adults at least a bit?
Part II
Now that Grey’s play has opened, I have more to say on theatre in which characters are emotionally cruel to each other.
I was stunned at the amount of laughter at the performance of Marriage Play last night. I don’t think the show is funny at all. I think it’s pathetic.
Looking a little deeper, it turns out that Edward Albee’s home life wasn’t happy. He was adopted by a wealthy couple who really didn’t want to nurture a child; they just wanted to look good. He said that they didn’t know how to be parents.
So he wrote a lot about dysfunctional straight couples, because dysfunction was what he knew of straight couples.
Grey pointed out, after the initial shock of all the laughter at a character whom he had played as emotionally wrenched, that in the 35 years since Albee wrote this play, mean comedy has become the norm in our culture. (I am reminded of my single days when I would read personals ads in which people said that they were in search of someone sarcastic.) Grey found critical reviews of Albee’s plays that repeated the phrases such as “biting humor” and “tragicomic” and “satire.” He pointed out that if you consult the services that license the scripts to theatre companies, in the catalog descriptions they will say “drama” when describing Albee plays, but apparently audiences–and critics, who I think tend to believe that snark is a necessary qualification for their occupation–experience those same plays as a real hoot.
I don’t understand at all what’s funny about a wife asking her husband how he felt the first time he hurt her by cheating on her, knowing that she knew that he was hurting her while going ahead and doing it.
I think there’s something wrong with people who get a laugh out out of other people’s suffering. As I said yesterday, it may be because I was bullied as a child take a dim view of being taunted on the playground… but I’m sure that some people were laughing with recognition, and if there’s a lot of recognition of biting sarcasm and derision in your marriage, what are you doing not being in fucking therapy?
The first time I read the play script I observed that both of the characters (Jack and Gillian by name) are extremely well read and are certainly intellectual snobs who can turn a phrase on the point of a pin. They argue grammar in the middle of hard conversations. Perhaps people were laughing at the witticisms, but surely they were missing the pathos that overlaid the story–missing the forest for the trees, to coin a phrase–if all they caught was the cleverness, and not the venom.
What was odder (or more odd–see the play and you’ll get my reference) to me was that no one laughed at Grey’s over-the-top Susan Heyward impression.
I thought Grey did a stunning job. Kurt did, too, but I only have eyes for Grey.
“We are all, every one of us, full of horror. If you are getting married to try to make yours go away, you will only succeed in marrying your horror to someone else’s horror, your two horrors will have the marriage, you will bleed and call that love.” –Michael Ventura, “A Dance for Your Life in the Marriage Zone”

"Artists are here to disturb the peace." —James Baldwin. Please lesave a comment!

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