Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Same Old Same Old Neighborhood

Sometimes I'll see a play or a movie that makes me so nuts I go home and vent in form of a parody.  Seeing David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood in 1997 with Rebecca Pidgeon's replacement was one of those times.



THE SAME OLD SAME OLD NEIGHBORHOOD



CHARACTERS

BEENY     a woman in her thirties

CECIL     a man in his thirties or forties


SCENE

A restaurant in Mamet City



BEENY:  Who is she fucking, that's what I want to know.

CECIL:  It's a valid question.

BEENY:  Cause she has to be good at it.  You know she has to be good at it.  Creative, y'know?  Cause God knows it ain't up on stage, creativity is notable in its absence.  "The Old Neighborhood."  More like "The Same Old Same Old Neighborhood."  And that last scene, with that so-called actress, I mean not like the rest of the play was fabulous, but in my sleep I could do better than her, I could phone in--I could E-mail in a better performance.

CECIL:  I'm sure you could.  So what did you think of the play?

BEENY:  You mean the writing?

CECIL:  The writing.

BEENY:  Oh well it's the perfect example of a Nyah Nyah Play.

CECIL:  [CHUCKLING] A Nyah Nyah play?

BEENY:  A Nyah Nyah Play.

CECIL:  [SHAKING HIS HEAD] That's my girl.

BEENY:  A Nyah Nyah Play is where the audience doesn't know what the fuck is going on, there's like some important piece of information that is never revealed in the script but everybody up on stage knows what it is, so they stand up there and go "Nyah, nyah!" for two hours.  And it's like No Soap Radio, it's like the Emperor's New Clothes, because nobody wants to admit that they don't get it, so they praise it to the skies.  I mean look at these reviews.  "Searing."  "Heart-piercing."  "Haunting and original."  I mean who sucks these critics off?  The producer?  The producer's assistant?  Juilliard interns?  "Searing and heart-piercing" my ass, more like boring and ear-piercing.  "Mamet's most emotionally accessible drama," and that emotion is pride, because everybody in the fucking theatre from the blue-haired ladies unwrapping their hard candy to the fidgety fatso waiting for an opening to sneak into that front row seat, every paying attendee is glowing with pride as they walk out into the street because they're thinking to themselves, "Even I can write shit better than that."  Look at these reviews.  "Elegant and beautiful."  "Haunted and haunting."  "Riveting."  "Luminous."  What does luminous mean, anyway?

CECIL:  Glowing.

BEENY:  Glowing.

CECIL:  With a glow.

BEENY:  Yeah, like nuclear waste.  "A significant development in Mamet's career," well that's true, it's final proof that he's the artistic equivalent of an overdrawn bank account.

CECIL:  So the play, you didn't like it?

BEENY:  Play?--what play?--you can't call it a play, I mean you can build a boat and you can put it in your back yard and everybody from miles around can say, "Wow, what a great boat," but if it doesn't sail somewhere or even float in the water, then it's not a fucking boat, okay?  It has to go somewhere, in the water.  Like a play has to go somewhere, in the theatre--not in the head of the author, but on the fucking page so that it is crystal fucking clear to the dumbest member of the audience.  The only thing that was crystal fucking clear to me was that Mamet wrote this to make everybody think they were the dumbest fucking member of the audience.  I mean, look at whatsisname.  The main character.  The so-called main character.  He barely says two words together.

CECIL:  No, really?

BEENY:  And he's the main character.

CECIL:  [IMAGINE THAT] The main character.

BEENY:  All he says is Uh-huh.

CECIL:  Uh-huh.

BEENY: "Uh-huh."

CECIL:  Uh-huh.

BEENY:  And repeat everything.

CECIL: Repeat everything.

BEENY:  And I'm thinking, him you get a good actor, him you hire a fucking name actor, even though he just stands there with his fucking hands in his pockets.

CECIL:  [STANDING THERE WITH HIS FUCKING HANDS IN HIS POCKETS]  Really.

BEENY:  And I'm sorry, but anybody else's name on this play--

CECIL: I know.

BEENY:  If I submitted this play with my name on it.

CECIL:  I know.

BEENY: You put my name on this script and send it to a producer and you know what happens?  They look at it and say, "What is this shit?"  They look at it and say, "This is not a play.  There's no pay-off, there's no story, the main character might as well be a Jewish Helen Keller he talks so little."  They say, "Listen, you want me to produce this play?  Give me a plot, give me a scene where more than one character shows up at the same time, give me more between the brother and the sister, and for Christ's sakes give me a fucking payoff in the last scene please.  Or at least make it bad actor proof."  But they don't say that to David Mamet. 

CECIL:  No they don't.

BEENY:  Oh no.  To me they would say it.  To anybody else in the world, but not to him.  To me, they would do me the courtesy of shaking their heads and sending the script back in the mail.  Which is exactly what happened.

CECIL:  You sent the script off?

BEENY:  I typed it up and mailed it out.

CECIL:  You didn't.

BEENY:  Yes I did.  I changed the character names, I set it in New York instead of Chicago, I put my name on it, and I called it 86TH STREET, y'know, like 86 this, 86 that.

CECIL:  Clever title.

BEENY:  It is, isn't it?

CECIL:  So what happened?

BEENY:  I'm telling you.

CECIL: So tell me.

BEENY:  Let me tell you.  I sent it out to twenty producers.

CECIL:  Twenty producers.

BEENY:  And they all sent it back with a form letter rejection.  All but one.  This one company, Hays & Thompson or Thompson and Hays, I can't remember, I don't know whether Hays read it or Thompson read it because between you and me it's a miracle if a script gets past these high school morons they use as readers these days, the ones who think a play is just a sitcom with profanity.  But somebody read it, because when I get this script back in the mail, you know what happens?

CECIL:  You got lucky?

BEENY:  Lucky; right.  I got a personalized rejection letter and you know what it said?  You know what I got?  "David Mamet does this much better."  That's what I got.

CECIL:  Which proves your point.

BEENY:  I'm just saying.

CECIL:  Game set and match.

BEENY:  What else am I saying?  The man has become a fucking cliché.  The Mamet play.  He's an adjective.  He's not a verb anymore.  He's dead and buried.  That's what a cliché is.  The tombstone on the grave of truth.  You had a great life and as a reward?--you get embalmed.  Like Lenin.  Or like that actress.  Talk about the bottom dropping out.  A broken elevator.  Zoom.  Next stop, the pits.  That's how bad she was.  Whatsername.

CECIL:  McCann.

BEENY:  McCann.

CECIL:  Mary McCann.

BEENY:  Mary McCann.

CECIL:  A name to remember.

BEENY:  A name to remember like a pothole, like don't drive down that way, there's a pothole.  Like don't see this play, there's a big pothole at the end.

CECIL:  She's not the original.

BEENY:  She's not.

CECIL:  No.

BEENY:  Not the original.

CECIL:  No way.

BEENY:  Well it shows.

CECIL:  The original was his wife.

BEENY:  The director's wife.

CECIL:  The playwright's wife.  Pidgeon.

BEENY:  Pidgeon?

CECIL:  Pidgeon.

BEENY:  A name to remember. 

CECIL:  The writer's wife. 

BEENY:  Well of course.  This is Broadway.  That's the difference between Broadway and Hollywood.  In Broadway, the writer gets to cast whoever he's fucking.  In Hollywood he just gets fucked.  Well that's the answer then.  That's the answer then.  You want to get work?  Then someone has to fuck you.  Or you have to be the writer's wife. 

CECIL:  His second wife.

BEENY:  His trophy wife.  What happened to his first wife?  You don't hear much about his first wife do you.

CECIL:  She got old.

BEENY:  We all get old.

CECIL:  Did you ever think you would get this old?

BEENY:  Just thinking about that, it makes me old.  So who's she fucking?

CECIL:  Hmm?

BEENY:  The replacement actress.  The un-original.  The pothole.  Whose trophy actress is she?

CECIL:  You really think she has to be?  Somebody's trophy?

BEENY:  Well she can't act.  So what good is she?  I can act.  I could do that part.  I could bring a fucking purpose, I could give a destination to all that meandering.  I could make every syllable of Mamet's verbal jack-off look like sex.  But no.  "We don't want a talented person.  We just want the person we're sleeping with."  So okay then.  Who do I have to fuck?  Tell me.  I'll do it.  I give up.  If that's what it takes, then all I want to know is, who do I have to sleep with to get ahead in this fucking business? 

CECIL:  [YOU'RE NOT GONNA LIKE THIS] Me.

BEENY:  Shit!

                        [BLACKOUT]



Copyright 1997 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Songs for a Tuesday Morning: Talk-Show Religion and Soap Opera Love

Where were we?  Oh yeah--David Byrne.  To continue:

My favorite Talking Heads song? The incredibly depressing one with the uplifting tune.

AMANDA:  "Psycho Killer?'
MATTHEW:  Okay--the OTHER incredibly depressing one with the uplifting tune.
AMANDA:  "Once In A Lifetime?"
MATTHEW:  No, it's--
AMANDA:  "Burning Down  The House?"
MATTHEW:  NO!  It's THIS incredibly depressing song with the great uplifting tune:


Road to Nowhere


As for my favorite David Byrne solo album? The one that has this cover: 



My favorite David Byrne solo song? Track 11. 

The first 30 seconds? Not bad. The next 3 minutes? Brilliant. Thanks to the horns.  Listen to those horns. Listen to what they do and where they go starting at the 2:10 mark.  They're so good they make you think you can dance salsa without a single lesson.

This is happy. 

This is great stuff. 

This is exactly what you need to hear during a second straight week of gray crappy rainy weather to make you feel, well,--

AMANDA:  Glad to be alive?
MATTHEW:  Well, I wouldn't go that far.
AMANDA:  Try it some time.

Lie To Me

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture Poem

I wrote this 15 years ago. Sadly--no; wait--hilariously, it's still appropriate today.

And in case you were wondering? The Rapture actually did occur at 6PM local time today, when every truly faithful Christian on earth was taken bodily up into heaven.

All ten of them.



I do not know what makes me sicker --
The driver or the bumper sticker;
The car that hucks this hopeful lie
Like spit into my heathen eye,

Or the smug Pharisee who drives
And sits in judgment on the lives
Of those who follow him in traffic --
His conscience clear, his grin seraphic.

Inside his head’s another sign,
A self-revealing valentine,
A sticker that says:
WARNING: THE HOLY BIBLE GIVES ME
THE RIGHT TO MIND YOUR BUSINESS
Or:
WARNING: IN CASE OF LOGICAL ARGUMENT,
THIS HEAD WILL BE EMPTY

I look at folks with signs like that --
The holy commissariat
Who think that God won’t let them die
But suck them high into the sky

Because they’ve earned, by their demeanor,
A trip up Heaven’s vacuum cleaner;
Like faith in Christ is upper-class
And born-again’s a floating gas

And Jesus, child of virgin womb,
Was born the God of Helium --
I look at jerks like that and think,
What are you waiting for, you dink?

You hate this life so much? Then leave.
Reach up to God -- pull on His sleeve
And say to the Creator: “Hey!
Let’s get this Rapture underway!

I've had it with this vale of tears
And Armageddon could take years,
So take me now to where you dwell
And let these sinners go to hell!”

And speaking as the sinner type,
I pray God hears your fervent gripe
And lifts you up, by hand or bus,
As long as it’s way far from us.

Go ahead -- leave -- fly up to God.
Flip us the bird –- we’ll just applaud.
Get raptured -- go -- discorporate.
As if we care? -- man, we can’t wait!

The way we see it, we’re God’s sons --
The holy race; His chosen ones --
Because we use, despite their pains,
The things God gave us-- like our brains.

And what they tell us, friends, is this:
The earth will never live in bliss
Until all zealotry and rant,
Sanctimony and pious cant --

The curse of holier-than-thou --
Are lifted from the here and now.
So please, Jehovah, lift away.
Make this at last The Final Day.

Take up the faithful, north and south,
And stick them in Your holy mouth.
Believe me -- we won’t shed a tear
Or think that we’re abandoned here.

We’ll face our fate and not complain
With many magnums of champagne,
And drink ourselves into a stupor,
And shout: “Goodbye! We think it’s super!

Now we can live our lives with ease
Far from your pompous pieties,
Just like you’ll choir in endless song
The virtues of your holy throng.”

And in the name of brotherhood,
The lost and saved, the bad and good --
The sons of light who taste God’s bread;
The sons who like to use their head --

We’ll toast each other with a drink
Because the truth is that you think
The same thing that we think about you:
Jesus, it’s heaven here without you.


Copyright Matthew J Wells 1997

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Opening Monologues: Toby Bell

This started out as a monologue, and turned into a whole first scene.  The original plan was to put a modern woman, writing under a male pseudonym, in the same room as George Sand and George Eliot.  That lasted for about the time it took to write the scene below, when I realized that I couldn't think of a good reason why a modern woman would want to write under a male pseudonym.  So I started reading up on the Twenties, which is where I figured it would make sense for a woman to want to write as a man, as a political point, as a declaration of war, as a kind of literary suffragette.  And which is where it will probably end up some day (minus the current final line Huck Finn echo, alas) with a couple of thinly-disguised Hemingway and Fitzgerald avatars whom the two Georges can take the piss out of.  Because, y’know, they deserve it.


[SHEILA GREENE, AKA TOBY BELL, STANDING AT A PODIUM]

SHEILA:  Hamilton Murray.  Cotton Mather Mills.  Vernon Lee.  Currer Bell.  C.E. Raimond.  Martin Ross.  John Oliver Hobbes.  All British.  All women.  Women writers using male names.  A nineteenth century epidemic.  Women trying to be judged, not by the bodies they're born into, but by the things they do.  By themselves.  Their answer?  Use a man's name.  Because if they don't, the male critical establish­ment says, oh great, another woman writer, and writes them off.  And they didn't want that.  They all got written off anyway.  All but one; one didn't.  One of them actually became the equal of a man--you can tell because she's the one they still publish under her fake name, the one nobody refers to as Mary Ann Evans.  The English George, as opposed to the French George.  I see them in my mind.  George Eliot.  George Sand. 

[AS THEIR NAMES ARE MENTIONED, THEY APPEAR RIGHT OF CENTER: GEORGE ELIOT, IN A PERIOD DRESS; GEORGE SAND, IN PERIOD JACKET AND TROUSERS.] 

SHEILA:  They are not happy.  They are not happy be­cause they are alone in a room full of women.  And in this room full of women, there are two other groups--the unread, and the Bronte sisters.  Who wrote as the Bell brothers, because they wanted their books to be judged honestly.  In the words of Charlotte Bronte, who published JANE EYRE as Currer Bell:  "To you I am nei­ther man nor woman--I come before you as an author only.  It is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me--the sole ground on which I accept your judgment."  Such innocence.  Because the minute Currer Bell was revealed to be Charlotte Bronte, critics started using words like unnatural.  Started saying things like, probably barren; definitely unmarried; that's why she's having books instead of babies.  Books that don't get reviewed, they get dismissed.  So if you're a nineteenth century female trying to get published, well, as one critic put it, a woman turns to writing when, quote, thwarted affection shuts her off from that sweet domestic and mater­nal sphere to which her whole being spontaneously moves.  I wonder what George Eliot and George Sand would have to say to that.  

ELIOT: [READING AN ARTICLE] "Thwarted affection has shut you off from that sweet domes­tic and maternal sphere to which your whole being spontane­ously moves."

SAND:  Mangez moi.  As if the only women who can create are unfulfilled cre­ators.  As if we are all frustrated mothers.  I have two children!  I also have a brain.  I had the brain before I had the children--but to listen to these men, the only thing I can do with my brain is lobotomize it.  As if I am supposed to spend my life sitting around knitting all day like Penelope wait­ing for Ulysses.  "Frus­trated mothers."  I am a frus­trated woman!  Are all male writers frustrated fathers?

ELIOT:  My dear George; didn't you know?  The term "male writers" is redundant. 

SAND:  Mangez moi.

ELIOT:  You know the way men think.  They believe that in a woman, the urge to write is simply a digital expression of the urge to procreate.  They see us and they say, how mar­velous--another woman who thinks a pen is a penis.

SAND:  Ah yes, the almighty phallus!  You know what I say to that?  Mangez moi.

ELIOT:  What does that mean, exactly?

SAND:  It means, eat me. 

ELIOT:  Oh my!

SAND:  And I will say it to the face of anyone who thinks for one egotistical moment that all I want out of life is his phallus.  This is the great lie men tell them­selves--how you say, their fallacy.  They know so much about life?--they know nothing.  Life?  Life is a four-star res­taurant where the waiter comes up to you and says, "Bon­jour, mademoi­selle, and what would you like to order?  For you we have two dishes, especially prepared by our finest chefs.  The first is a life of drudg­ery and bore­dom.  The second is a life of drudg­ery, bore­dom, and motherhood.  Easy choice, no?  Excuse me--you would like to see a what?  A menu?  I am terribly sorry, mademoiselle--the menu is for the men."  And you know what I say to that? Baisez moi en levrette.  [TRANS­LATING] Fuck me like a greyhound.

ELIOT:  Oh MY!

SAND:  "That sweet domes­tic and maternal sphere to which my whole being spontane­ously moves?"  Blow me; blow me raw.  My whole being spontane­ously moves to kick­ that son of a bitch in the seat of his baggy pants--who is this, who wrote this?

ELIOT:  [HANDING HER THE ARTICLE] Mister George Henry Lewes.

SAND:  When I finish with him, he will be George Henry Loser.  Where is he, where can I find this pimple on the face of humanity, so I can pop him?

ELIOT:  In the drawing room, actually. 

SAND:  He's here?

ELIOT:  He's the man I live with.

SAND:  That man out there?--wrote this?--and you haven't slit his throat yet?

ELIOT:  It was written long before he met me.  Would you like to hear what he says about menstruation?

SAND:  Why is it that men are always telling us about menstrua­tion?

ELIOT:  Oddly enough, that's what Henry's wife said.

SAND:  His wife?  You are living with a married man?  My dear Mister Eliot--you have unsuspected depth.  We are the Trojan Horses, you and I.  They have let us into their walled city and now, we can attack them from within.

ELIOT:  Attack them how?

SAND:  With fire.  The sword.  Revolution.  We will use their own weapons against them.  The pen.  The sentence.  The period--no, that's our weapon.

ELIOT:  You forget.  The men around us are not Trojans.  They are Philis­tines.  They obey different laws.  They will never treat us as equals.  At best, they will use us as weapons.  They will accept us, which will drive a wedge between us and our sisters.  They will elevate us, which will discourage our daugh­ters.  And they will appropriate us, which will reas­sure their sons and brothers.  But they will never treat us as equals, not until the day that they publish our novels under our real names, and not the pen names we were forced, by them, to use.  No, my dear friend.  As long as women are the unique repositors of progenity, our efforts at self-expression will be given no more attention than those of a talking cow.  And a man may listen to what a talking cow has to say, but it is not the voice of an equal.  It is the voice of a creature whom God made to provide milk and meat.  That is what men see when they see us.  Milk and meat.  Any­thing more, and there must be a man trapped in that cow's body.

SAND:  Like a Trojan Horse; you see?  Dressed as men, using men's names.

ELIOT:  And how honest is that?  If that is the only way that I can be heard, then it is not my voice.

SAND:  And if I use my own voice, and sign my own name, then I am not a writer, I am a woman writer.  I say we must beat them at their own game.

ELIOT:  And I say we must ignore their conventions and create our own.  I yearn to write the story of a woman who lives in unwed happiness with a married man.  I cannot.  I can only write it with my life.  But that is the story behind every­thing I write.  The one I live.  The one I can never put to paper.  God knows I've tried.  But I cannot find the words.  I do not have the language.  I do not know the words to describe who I am when the men leave the room.  [A WEAK LAUGH] If a woman falls in a room and there are no men to hear her, does she make a sound?  [RUB­BING HER HEAD] I'm getting a migraine.

SAND:  [RUBBING ELIOT'S TEMPLES] Here; let me.

ELIOT:  [A SIGH OF PLEASURE] Ah.  Where have you been all my life?

SAND:  [WHERE ELSE?] In France.

ELIOT:  Ah yes; dining at the four-star restaurant.  I like that image; the menus are for the men.  I will tell you something I have learned about menus and men.  There is another res­taurant--a restaurant in London--where the waiter comes up to you and says, "Excuse me, miss, but you're the main course on today's menu.  Would you like to take a turn in front of the gentlemen over there?  Or would you like to just sit here till you grow old and die?"  Eat me indeed.  Because how are we chosen by these men with their menus?  As far as men are concerned, there is one thing and one thing only that matters.  One question that defines a woman's limits.  If the answer is yes, then there is no end to what she can achieve; within limits.

SAND:  And the question?

ELIOT:  Is she beautiful, or not beautiful?

SHEILA:  "Was she beautiful, or not beautiful?"  That's how George Eliot begins a novel called Daniel Deronda, the last novel she ever wrote.  "Was she beautiful, or not beautiful?"  Already you know who's thinking this--it's some guy--the title character, actually.  And already you know that he's trying to figure out where this woman exists in his uni­verse.  Is she beautiful, or not beautiful?  What I want to know is, why is it that a woman's story never begins until a man notices her?  Why can't a woman just stand up and say, "Excuse me--I have a story"--no--no, "I am a story."  I am a story here.  And in my story it doesn't matter if I'm beau­tiful or not because my story has nothing to do with men.

     [THE TWO GEORGES STARE AT HER]

SHEILA:  [BEAT; RELUCTANTLY] Well, maybe one or two men.  And a lot of boys.  Two men tops.  But they are not the center of this story.  I am.  It's not about them.  It's not about me happening to men.  It's about them happening to me.  Where are the stories about men happening to women like earth­quakes happen to San Francisco?  Like hurricanes happen to Puerto Rico?  Like mange happens to your pet schnauzer?  Every woman in the world is one of those stories.  I'm one of those stories.  But I am not part of somebody else's universe.  It doesn't matter if I'm beautiful--what matters is who I am, and what I can do.

     [THE TWO GEORGES SNORT AT HER NAIVETE]

SHEILA:  [CONCEDING] Okay; all right--in most stories, who I am is a girlfriend, a poten­tial girl­friend, or an ex-girl­friend; and what I can do is stand there and look beau­tiful.  Well not this story.  This is my story.  You don't know my story unless you know me.  And you don't know me unless you've read a book by Virginia Woolf called A Room Of One's Own.

Copyright 1999 Matthew J Wells