I just watched another admirable attempt at Assassins produced by Shotgun Players. The production itself was thrilling and messy in the best ways that theatre can be, but I was left bewildered. I have seen the musical 4 times now. The first was a tour, I believe, of the original off-broadway company (not sure about that) performed at LA Theatre Center (I think). Then I saw a production at OCHSA when I was a sophomore (1995 or so). I also saw the Broadway premier in the 2000’s with the all-star cast and now finally this last production.
I remember being very excited by the first production I encountered. I had just discovered Sweeney Todd and the idea that not all musicals had to be about cute, red-headed orphans or towns in rural Russia or Oklahoma was a revelation to me.
Then came Rent and Spring Awakening.
Now, encountering the play again, I find the conceit fairly inconsistent. Just like Scottsboro Boys and all Kander and Ebb pieces, Assassins puts forth an overarching structure (Carnival/Circus) and just like Into the Woods, that meta structure disintegrates, but unlike “Woods,” Assassins never establishes the conceit long enough to establish the rules in order to make the breaking of them satisfying or meaningful in any way. If the death of the narrator in Into the Woods impacts the audience, there is no similar moment in Assassins.
This inconsistency of structure also carries into the scenework, which is considerable. We have scenes that come to us more or less directly from history (the meeting of Czolgosz and Emma Goldman) and then scenes that come to us from imagination (Hinckley and Fromme’s duet) without any distinction between the two. This fluidity is pretty forgivable, but does bring me to my final quibble, which is simply, what is the point? What are we supposed to understand from Assassins? What’s the take away?
I’m a little fuzzy on the changes made from the revival, but I believe the revisions centered mostly around the scene involving Oswald. The idea that Oswald secured the legacy of American assassins and gave them a place in history is disturbing and inaccurate, but, more to the point, where does it take the audience?
As a piece of epic theatre, Assassins doesn’t really hold water because it doesn’t really inspire an audience to any kind of revolution, but it also doesn’t work in the Aristotelian model either, since there is no catharsis as there is no hero to identify with. Maybe that’s not entirely true. Can an audience member identify with the downtrodden, unheard characters on stage who tried to make a statement, however perverse? Perhaps.
Seeing this show again with a person who was old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination, however, made me uncomfortable. It was almost like I imagine it would be to watch Producers with Eli Wiesel, and therein lies the problem.
I’m fairly over message tees. Those cute, pre-packaged said by someone else maxims we wear boldly across our chests and backs. They define us for everyone else to see, right? So does that tattoo of carpe diem across your shoulder or that butterfly on your hip. Using someone else’s art to define you is not only disempowering, it can be dangerous.
The boy who wore a “subvert the dominant paradigm” shirt all through high school
There’s been a big to-do over the MPAA with its rating system, especially since Bully was given an R rating. I saw a letter to the editor of Entertainment Weekly that basically said that if the producers of Bully wanted a PG-13 they should have cut all of the language out…
Language? Is that what this is about, people? We’re totally fine having our children watch tons of violence, and gratuitous violence at that, but as soon as the “f-word” or any “-word” comes out of someone’s mouth it’s verboten?
We have to get past this. We can’t teach our children to use appropriate language if they don’t understand what is inappropriate. We can’t teach them to be good people if they don’t know what bad people do and how they act.
All I’m asking for is a more sensible ratings system. Let’s not give American Pie the same rating as Schindler’s List just because they both have naked people in them. Context!
There’s no such thing as bad words, to borrow from George Carlin. There is such a thing as a line between art and entertainment and we have to start trying to address that line alongside content and context.
So, in short, Human Centipede vs. The King’s Speech. Forget that the latter co-opted to the “moral majority” and took out some brilliant dialogue to appease the profanity counters. These are two different types of film. The first might be appropriately called entertainment and the latter might be called art. Choose your own terms for it, but something along these lines would be more helpful for adults trying to figure out what movie would be good to take their 13 year old to:
The King’s Speech is an historical drama concerning the ascension of King George V to the throne of England on the eve of WW2 while overcoming some major speech issues. It contains several uses of profanity and little else that might be considered objectionable. Human Centipede is a horror film where a mad scientists sews people ass to mouth. Maybe you should get a sitter if you want to see this one. And if you take your kids, you should be locked up.
Finally, the other (sad) truth is that today’s youth is more aware of everything than you might think. In my day, we had to sneak over to the mom and pop video shop while my parents were out of town to rent Basic Instinct…and that gave me nightmares for years. Now we have the interweb, so all of this stuff that the MPAA and parents in general are trying to shield their kids from is readily available. The only thing we can hope to do is educate them about questionable subject matter and hope to give them aesthetic values that make what we consider to be squalid detritus unappealing.
Those who continue to try to pretend that they can turn back time and make the world a 50’s wonderland for today’s kids (if that’s the goal) are fooling themselves. Knowledge is power. Talk to them! And tell the MPAA to give us some information instead of patronizing letter ratings that are essentially meaningless.
I feel older when these thoughts come into my head. I wonder if I had become a father or a teacher when I was younger if I would have learned these lessons sooner, but I doubt it.
I have a free weekend for the first time in a long time and I planned to do all of the things I used to enjoy. I grabbed a pizza, borrowed some video games and thought I would look up at 2 a.m. wondering where the time went.
Mostly, though, it just all felt inane and lonesome. I missed my family and video games just don’t hold the same allure. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still play Madden with some friends, but the idea of most of these Role-Playing Adventure Games seem ludicrous to me, because that’s life, and all I’m doing by playing a game is playing someone else’s life.
So, in short, good to sleep a little later, but not worth the sacrifice.
Between Facebook, twitter, and tumblr there are just too many outlets for narcissism. Can’t we sublimate?
I came online, having just finished reading The Aleph, a short story collection by Borges. I was actually going to look up something meaningful and then go to bed…but instead I created a tumblr page…and I saw what some of my students entitled their tumblr pages, and I have to simply say that we deserve to treat ourselves better than this. I should be reading something important right now…if not important than at least soporific.
tumblrbot asked: WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL BETTER WHEN YOU ARE IN A BAD MOOD?
Blasting the Spring Awakening cast album in my car.