Alive

In lieu of email responses:

I’ve now been awake for almost twenty-one hours straight, and I just got back from Chicago (public apology to OGIC: the flight got delayed, I wrote down your number wrong, and I plan to plunge my head in a vat of boiling water when either an abundance of spare time or inveterate idiocy comes my way). Managed to squeeze in a Ferris Bueller moment at the top of the Sears Tower (which involved suffering through a Chicago propaganda film before getting access to the elevator) and salivated like crazy over all the incredible art deco in the limited time I had. And, damn, those grand el platforms are something. There were also two fantastic modular towers that resembled lint rollers from above right by the Sun-Times building. Looking at the grid, I now understand more fully what Jane Jacobs was talking about.

Also, Lake Michigan is a bigass lake. That much is ostensible from all known topographical diagrams, but once you’re standing on the edge of the East Side as the sun comes up, this majestic body of water becomes suitably imposing — more so than Lake Tahoe’s pristine beauty. Must return to Chicago soon with more time to check out the town. It’s a gorgeous city. The people are nice. I only encountered one angry person at O’Hare when I purchased a postcard.

Thanks all for the kind emails, which I’ll try to reply to, but I’ve got a deadline for yet another review tomorrow. As the less-than-two-weeks-before-opening clock ticks down, work on Wrestling continues. But we’re in damn good shape.

I understand from our stage manager that the postcards have come in and they look fab. Haven’t seen them yet, but I have a limited supply to mail. If you’re interested, drop me an email.

Will try to check in before our first show, but looking doubtful. Thanks to all the amazing Superfriends for filling in.

Bonus points for squeezing in a mention of “The Breast”

Superfriend CAAF here, to say, as one might of the dearly departed, “Ed would want this mentioned.” In this weekend’s NYTBR, Tom Bissell writes a wonderfully smart review of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.

It is not unheard of for a novelist of exceptional talent to write a deliberately difficult book. This urge does not necessarily result in novels with nameless characters, mutating typography or unpunctuated attempts to explore the aphotic realm of human consciousness. It is also not an urge unique to modernism or experimentalism. Some novelists just seem to say, What the hell. John Updike’s odd (and wonderful) early novel ”The Centaur” seems to have been written from this impulse, as do Philip Roth’s equally bizarre novel ”The Breast,” Norman Mailer’s ”Why Are We in Vietnam?” and Kazuo Ishiguro’s ”Unconsoled.” Among this crowd, the young British novelist David Mitchell stands out. Deliberately difficult novels are the only novels he seems to be interested in writing.

This is to the good; the tree of literature drops its best fruit after being shaken with conviction and intelligence. Mitchell is neither abstrusely arch nor a wizard of scenic dislocation. One does not sense that — unlike, say, William Gaddis, Carole Maso or Walter Abish — Mitchell is trying to chop down the tree of literature in order to replace it with something treelike. On the contrary, his prose is straightforward and, quite often, magnificent. Mitchell is as good at aphorism (”Faith, the least exclusive club on earth, has the craftiest doorman”) as he is at description (”Now and then goldfish splish and gleam like new pennies dropped in water”). The difficulty comes in how Mitchell chooses to construct his novels — or rather, how he does not choose to construct his novels.

Related: Some of Bissell’s points figure in Emma Garman’s manifesto on the merits of snark over at Maud’s.

monday morning theatrics starring Wilton Barnhardt

This is Superfriend Bond Girl poking my head up on Monday morning with a surprise for Ed.

Last year, Mr. Bond Girl received Wilton Barnhardt’s novel Emma Who Saved My Life for Christmas and I immediately snatched it and read it in big gulps. I read it again. Then we went out and bought Wilton’s other books — the Biblical thriller Gospel (DFW wishes he footnoted like this!) and the brutally hilarious satire on D.C. and L.A. Show World. Wilton is one of those writers who offers something different but brilliant in each of his books and I order you to seek out his work. He’s currently teaching at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and you can read more about his background here (this was the most detailed bio I could find, but is obvs. not current).

Anyway, Emma Who Saved My Life (which is so beloved around here that it usually just gets referred to as “Emma”) is at the top of at least three of my lists — best novels about New York, best novels period and, most relevant today, best novels about theater. It’s funny and wise. In honor of Ed’s new play Wrestling an Alligator, I wrote Wilton and asked if he’d reflect on his most memorable theater experiences. Here’s what he said, and I’m not italicizing in order to make it easier to read. Everything below is not me:

The best in theater is not very exicting in retelling: I was there, you weren’t, nyeh nyeh nyeh. Angela Lansbury in a Broadway revival of Mame when I was in elementary school. Christopher Plummer and Rosemary Harris in Ibsen’s The Master Builder. Angels in America. The 1980′s all day version of Nicholas Nickleby. John Wood as Salieri in Amadeus. Jennifer Holliday’s big blowout number in Dreamgirls. Eh, but excellence is not nearly as interesting secondhand as flop-city.

The worst I ever saw was a version of The Tempest in which every aspect of the production was askew or flat-out awful. They decided to stage it in a planetarium. What made it so good was that a lot of the cast was talented so there was the added amazement of seeing good people humiliated by the poverty of the production. Oh, it was good for about two minutes there at the beginning. All right, the sky dims to violet, then the stars come out–so far so good–and someone on a mike begins the prologue… but the mike wasn’t booked up right and squeaked and fedback all through the show. Otherwise the acoustics were predictably abominable. The actors, on a spindly jerry-rigged platform which wobbled and tantalized the audience with whether the actors were going to fall forward into the seats, screamed to be heard but enunciation was useless. The Prospero was drunk, drunk, drunk, in the manner of Foster Brooks, hiccupping and flubbing lines right and left. Miranda had a Georgette Engel little-girl-up-way-high voice that did achieve audiblity, alas. She kept gamely feeding Prospero his lines:

“We are… [hiccup] we are…”
“Such things, Prospero?”
“Such things… [belch] as uh…”
“Dreams, beautiful dreams–”
“Dreams are made on!”

It wasn’t just drunkenness; his Prospero was stentorian old-school faux-Brit-hammery plus drunkenness. I’m sure the character of Tucker K. Broome in my first novel (set in the theater), Emma Who Saved My Life, owed more than a little to that actor. The director felt, apparently, that the male actors had to be further humiliated by wearing speedos and thongs and next to nothing, shipwrecked as they were. Ordinarily, I am pro-skimpy-attire/nudity in theater but maybe not with these guys. The whole Caliban buffoonery was played for high phsyical slapstick and the guys (sweating like pigs–the air had mysterious stopped circulating in the planetarium) all were choreographed to fall into each other’s ass-cracks and crotches, and rather than any laughter, there was horror and profound unease as if a gay porn film would break out at any moment (and the guys were femme enough to convince you it might). Well, you say, what about those fabulous special effects only a planetarium can achieve? And I say, WHAT special effects? A planetarium can do stars and project slides on the ceiling, maybe make a laser dance in one place, and that’s about it. A teetering Prospero summons forth a banquet… and a slide, a picture cut out from Good Housekeeping and blurrily photographed (this is all pre-digital), miraculously appears on the ceiling (in a defined slide-rectangle) to hoots of derision from the audience, particulary as the cast goes on to praise such magic, such wonder! It was horrendous from start to finish and NO ONE left at intermission; everyone stayed to see how they would mess up the second half–it was that good! There was open laughter and catcalling by the end. Whatever sympathy we all had for the actors had evaporated–hours of our lives had been sacrificed to this production and there was a hint of lynch-mob in the air…

I once met the legendary critic (and guy who picked the Tony nominations for years) Jay Carr of the Detroit News and Boston Globe, a witty, wonderful man who knew/knows more about theater than most acting companies put together. He told me the alltime best fiasco ever witnessed. It was a local company (Buffalo, I think) attempting a Wagner opera–always wrong, always ill advised–in which at the end, a hundred trained pigeons had been purchased, put in cages above the stage, and were to be released as a spectacle as the final act concluded (the birds were supposed to fly to pens up in the unused highest balcony). All production long (which was mediocre and wearisome for the audience–the perfect set up), the birds shat liberally on the singers. Jay said people noticed but weren’t sure what was going on; occasionally, a feather would float down. A blue feather. Yes, they PAINTED the pigeons so they would seem like bluebirds of happiness. Painting animals (again, not a promising idea) had its drawbacks: by act three, blue paint was melting in the heat and hot lights along the catwalks and blue paintdrops were appearing on the cast. At this point, the audience was laughing, having more or less figured out that birds were up above the stage dripping and shitting and molting. Nothing the cast did from this point on mattered–everything was a hoot. Overweight local opera would-be stars were splattered in mid-aria, and in wiping away the blue paint, it smeared and didn’t come off. Then the finale.

A demoralized cast sang the final notes, the birds were released… and all one hundred painted pigeons, long dead from being cooked to death in the lights, fell to the stage, plop plop plop, while the chorus dodged the assault. Jay Carr reported that he had never seen the “rolling in the aisles” cliche until this incident; people were doubled-over with laughter, they could not breathe, they staggered to the aisles in hysterics and helplessness. Nothing, in American theater, I’m fairly sure, has been seen on that scale before or since. Indeed, I wonder if it actually happened; perhaps it’s a theatrical urban legend. Maybe your readers can clear this up.

Wrestling Update

One of the original ideas behind the Wrestling site was to include a blog, thus allowing the public a look into our glorious fishbowl. Time, however, has prevented this from happening. Since Return of the Reluctant has remained sadly devoid of any new material, I thought I’d use this space to post updates on the play. (For those seeking literary-related content, look elsewhere until mid-September.) The updates will also be mirrored over at the Wrestling site, thus eviscerating two birds with one kidney stone.

First, the good news. The show is coming along well. By some miracle, we’re on schedule — due largely to the contributions of our amazing stage manager Zarina Khan, to whom I have officially pledged both kidneys. The first forty minutes have been blocked and we’re now working on the last twenty. The cast is doing a remarkable job. I’m amazed by their energy and commitment. We’ve shifted our rehearsals to a converted loft with a platform that (again, by some miracle) closely matches the stage dimensions of the Exit at Taylor theatre.

There was a bit of a headache (no pun intended) over our flickering fluorescent opening — specifically, over how we’d do it. Thankfully our key stagehand Umar Qureshi came up with the incredibly obvious idea of using a slow strobe. (Work enough sixteen hour days and you too will avoid the obvious.) Which was doubly amazing, given that we had considered just about every other idea aside from this astonishingly simple solution. (It happened too with the design, when Staci Hamacher, one of our capable techies, pointed out the obvious: Mix two paints together and you get the shade you want.)

The remarkable Marisa Williams (who does fantastic typographical and photography work and whom you should hire for your freelancing needs — posthaste) has designed our postcards (fab fab stuff!), and we will be unleashing this publicity upon San Francisco next week.

Our file cabinet created by Randy Markham resembles a fabulous amalgam between something out of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Edward Gorey. Our flat, which was designed by Paul Tognotti, will be painted this week. We’ve designed the flat so that it can be set up in seconds. (The Fringe people require us to setup and strike within 15 minutes, which includes carrying our set into the theatre and rigging the light — an insane situation by just about any standard. Thankfully, we have a stopwatch.) The alligator painting should be in our hands by the end of this week. Our desk too has been crafted, so that we can assemble the top onto our two bases. We hope to have photos of the set up soon.

We’re still short on stagehands. And while efforts are underway to recruit volunteers on this front, we’re looking for a few sturdy souls to help us lug and assemble our set. We’re a low-budget operation, but what we can offer in return is a comp ticket for any of the four shows and entry into our exclusive debauchery-laden wrap party. If you’re in the San Francisco area and you’re interested in helping us out for a few hours, please drop me a line.

For all interested parties, we hope to see you at one of the shows! Check the website for info. If you’re interested in getting in early on the action, advance tickets go on sale on Wednesday (which if my calculations are correct, might be tomorrow).

Last but not least, this production could not have happened without the cast and crew on board. They will be plugged and otherwise celebrated in the weeks to come. The fact that so many talented people have put their heads together for this has blown me away.

damn bad, Svet

I confess that I still delight in piling the incoming submissions high on my office table and regarding the stack — and then each envelope — as holding the possibility of the new. Is this the voice, the sound, the unexpected spark-making combination that will start something going? Reading and sifting allows me to see myself as an agent in the literary culture — which I have to believe impinges at least somewhat on our common lives. It helps me sustain some bit of that just-around-the-corner feeling that makes the historical moment feel like a work in progress.

Why does Sven come off as some billionaire on an island counting his stacks of money? Delude yourself all you like, Sven. If being the editor of some magazine was the req, then just imagine Keith Blanchard roaring his damn Porsche around the publishers. I haven’t heard such horrible logic since my macho li’l bro told me he was going to culinary school because he liked being next to the honeys.

note to the master of the house

Jeff Turretine reviews Cloud Atlas in this week’s Book World, and it’s followed by a fascinating q and a with David Mitchell.

BW: What did you learn in the process of writing it?

DM: I learned that art is about people: Ideas are well and good, but without characters to hang them on, fiction falls limp. I learned that language is to the human experience what spectography is to light: Every word holds a tiny infinity of nuances, a genealogy, a social set of possible users, and that although a writer must sometimes pretend to use language lightly, he should never actually do so — the stuff is near sacred. I learned that maybe I should have a go at a linear narrative next time! I learned that the farther back in time you go, the denser the research required, and the more necessary it is to hide it.

Tanenhaus Watch — August 22, 2004

This week, it’s very hit-or-miss at the NYTBR. However, Tanenhaus should be commended for taking a few risks (he scores by throwing in de Beauvoir and Persepolis 2, but Klosterman is a serious mistake). Suzy Hansen’s article on plagiarism is a nice journalistic piece, but it belongs in the magazine. All in all, we’re disappointed that we couldn’t put on our oven mitts, because we were definitely in a brownie-baking mood. We’ll let the statistics stand alone.

Total Full-Length Reviews: 5
Full-Length Fiction Reviews: 3 (While the fiction-to-nonfiction ratio still seems right, five reviews is still on the slim side. Sam thus lost out on the brownie point here this week.)
Full-Length Nonfiction Reviews: 2
tanenhauswatch2.jpgAppearance by Choire Sicha? Yes, and Sam has him wisely taking on “tough girl fiction.” (One and a half special brownie points awarded.)
Number of Non-U.S. Authors Covered: 2
Kickass Retrospective? Yes! On Simone de Beauvoir. (Special brownie point awarded.)
Articles Written by Women: 6 (We’d like to think we had some infuence here, but we’d be kidding ourselves. Nevertheless, one and a half special brownie points awarded for the dramatic shift here.)
Number of Articles Covering Comics: 1, a nice review of Persepolis 2, respectful and inviting (special brownie point awarded)
Laura Miller’s Presence? Yes (minus one brownie point). And it’s pretty bad this week. (Minus an additional brownie point for a preposterously phrased opening sentence and because she completely fails to understand the joys of Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer’s The Phantom Tollbooth, which was a hell of a lot more than a frickin’ “road trip.”)
tbba2.jpgThe WTF? Assignment: Chuck Klosterman, who we thought would bring a humorous take on self-help books in his Real College review, but instead decides to pull a Wieseltier and dispense his own advice. (minus one brownie point)

TOTAL NUMBER OF BROWNIE POINTS FOR AUGUST 22, 2004: 2
Does Sam Tanenhaus Get a Brownie This Week? No (minimum 3 brownie points needed to score brownie)

Zorro he was not

Recently, I wondered aloud about the seemingly substantial number of Great Writers who suffered brothel-related misadventures/trauma in pubescence. Someone appropriately named “tlon” simply replied “Borges,” and sure enough, here it is in this month’s Harper’s (and elsewhere, no doubt) in a review of Edwin Williamson’s Borges: A Life:

Williamson has Borges caught between the noble sword of his heroic grandfather and the gaucho knife. His mother enforced the one; his father, the other. Borges went off to his first day of school with a knife his father gave him for fighting duels on the playground.

[...]

When Borges was a shy adolescent, his father made an appointment for him at a Swiss whorehouse. He couldn’t bring himself to go. The trauma of this reluctance, Williamson explains, remained with him throughout life: he had let down his father’s chivalric ideal of a man wielding sword and penis with equal fervor, a man with balls enough to engage in a bloody knife fight at every opportunity. On the other hand, he had lived up to his mother’s ideal of moral purity.

Somewhere, surely, a Freudian is smiling.

Gone for Weeks

Show being prepped. Not enough sleep. Barely enough time to change socks and comb hair. Read my lips: no new content (until first week of Sept.). Interested parties (i.e., all 2 of you) may venture forth to the Wrestling blog (soon to be added) if you care, where inside dirt (of an amicable sort) will be dished. Superfriends?

[UPDATE: And yes, we know we can't spell. Thank you for noticing. Forgive us. We'll fix it soon. We're looking more and more like Keith Richards. And the hell of it is, aside from caffeine, there have been no drugs involved.]

They Just Don’t Understand Vincent Gallo’s Genius!

Some solid hoots from the Times:

Mr. Gallo argues that the whole episode was exaggerated by the press and points out that the movie received a standing ovation at its official Cannes showing. In any case, it is coming to American theaters with some of the worst advance word in recent cinematic memory, almost daring moviegoers to go see it.

Denial’s a bitch, ain’t it, Vince?

After making “Buffalo ’66″ Mr. Gallo said he had all but decided to leave filmmaking because he hated working with stars (he publicly insulted his costars, Christina Ricci and Anjelica Huston, as well as Ms. Sevigny), with unions and with almost everybody else involved in the movie business.

Gallo, by the way, is 42.

A few years ago, he says, he was offered what amounted to a blank check by a Japanese distribution company to make another movie, which at that point was little more than a vague concept and a title — “The Brown Bunny.” He said he had come up with the name before envisioning any kind of story (rabbits are his favorite animals, and he has always been a little obsessed with the color brown).

Hey, Vince, I love ducks and black myself, but you don’t see me making a movie called The Black Duck.

When he explained that the movie would involve a scene of real oral sex, Ms. Sevigny said she was hesitant but eventually concluded that the scene was integral to the movie. (She also smokes crack during the scene — but that, she said, was faked.)

So in the Vincent Gallo universe, it’s an act of artistic integrity to debase Chloe Sevigny by demanding real oral sex, but it’s appropriate verisimilitude when you fake smoking crack.

“If people are sitting there watching `The Brown Bunny’ and waiting for the motel scene, then I just can’t relate to them.”

It’s the insomniacs who will be doing just that when they tune into your movie on Showtime at some ungodly hour looking for T&A. Too bad, Vince. That’s your target audience.

“I feel much better now that I’ve placed this piece of work in the world.”

Helpful hint to Vince’s publicist: “A piece of _____” often connotes something else.

(via Amy’s Robot)

Wrestling Relaunch

We’ve relaunched the Wrestling an Alligator site. Character bios, actor bios, a revised excerpt, and a coherent design are some of the fringe benefits (no pun intended). More’s coming this week. Stay tuned. Please also note that if you’re interested in catching the show, advance tickets will be available starting on August 25.

Tanenhaus Watch

This week’s New York Times Book Review features a review from Margaret Atwood on Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk (along with an interview), a measured essay on John Kerry from Hitch, a poetry roundup, a Breslin profile, and a healthier ratio of fiction-to-nonfiction coverage. With the exception of this digressive review of Robert Olen Butler’s Had a Good Time, this is a very nice rebound from last week’s Wieseltier catastrophe, finding a suitable balance between Tanenhaus’s nonfiction interests and the fiction coverage long promised. However, sustained fiction coverage is the operative name of the game. We’ll be pleased if Tanenhaus delivers, with particular foci upon debut authors and off-the-beaten-track titles. But to ensure that he does, we’ll be initiating a Tanenhaus scorecard every week.

tanenhauswatch1.jpg
Total Full-Length Reviews: 7
Full-Length Fiction Reviews: 4 (special brownie point awarded)
Full-Length Nonfiction Reviews: 3
Number of Non-U.S. Authors Covered: 1
Articles Written by Women: 2 (You can do better, Sam)
Boring Review? Yes, by Al Gore (minus one brownie point)
Fiction Authors Interviewed: 1 (special brownie point awarded)
Number of Articles Covering Poetry: 1 (special brownie point awarded)
Laura Miller’s Presence? None (special brownie point awarded)

TOTAL NUMBER OF BROWNIE POINTS FOR AUGUST 15, 2004: 3
Does Sam Tanenhaus Get a Brownie This Week? Yes (minimum 3 brownie points needed to score brownie)

the beautiful and the banal

Superfriend butting in here to say: Let’s have a Tom Shales kind of morning, shall we? He’s in rare form — and believe you me, I don’t say that lightly, still not having forgiven him for not understanding why Jon Stewart is funny.

He takes on last night’s NBC coverage of the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. And he is dead on. Mostly.

He isn’t quite as impressed as I was by the pageantry of it, which is truly some of the most amazing theater I’ve ever seen on that scale. Theater managers all over the world have to be dreaming of replicating effects like the human statues and the costumed people that seemed animated through the effect of exquisite make-up and wardrobe that moved like drawings. One of the best things about it was its complete disregard for any sensibilities other than the aesthetic — you would never see anything that interesting in an American-created Olympic opening, because we would be too afraid at pissing people off by showing a glimpse of a human breast, or having a couple roll around lustily in a giant lake, or the Greek god Eros flying around in naught but a drapey loincloth. The switchboards would light up, the hands would cover the mouths and we’d be reading about it for three months. It would disintegrate our moral fabric. Right?

But incorporate some athletes at the end and some stupid commentary so people don’t feel threatened by the intellect behind it all, the symbolism (which is surely rated I for inappropriate on television), and people can deal. As long it’s happening in Greece.

Bob Costas and Katie Couric should be ashamed at their running idiocy during the entirety of the show’s majestic portion. They only seemed to get their sea-legs when the parade of athletes started. I actually turned to Mr. BondGirl at one point and said, “This is what it’s come to?”

This comment was provoked by Katie Couric’s reading off an index card that the foustanela skirts several men on one of the floats were wearing consist of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. To which Costas replies, “I wouldn’t want to have to press that!”

I. Wouldn’t. Want. To. Have. To. Press. That.

Bon mots singled out by Tom Shales in his column included:

The very quotable Archimedes . . . was an excitable guy,” Costas said as if talking about another of his chumpy sports chums. “But we must make allowances for genius, I guess.”

…Costas to recite the plot of “Oedipus Rex” — how he murdered his father and married his mother, with Costas adding that this was “a sequence of events that seldom turns out well.”

Once Couric and Costas shut up and put aside all the notes about Greece that NBC Sports researchers had assembled for them, the pageant had other inspired touches besides Cube Man. The huge stadium seemingly turned into a large man-made lake for costumed performers to skate on. A 9-year-old boy had the thrill of gliding around on the pond in what looked like a giant paper hat. It eventually broke into several pieces that were suspended by wires and dangled up into the stratosphere, or near it. Ever-ready with the concise acerbic remark, Couric looked at the kid and declared, “He’s so cute!”*

* Note to Shales, the kid in the paper hat actually came BEFORE Cube guy. What happened was the giant face representing early sculpture broke apart into all those more natural representations of the human form, and which then settled into the lake to represent the Greek islands. Quite awesome actually. But unfortunately, B & K still had plenty of notes and yammering to do.

I suggest you check out the Washington Post’s photo gallery, which has the only photos that come close to getting the cool stuff, such as the amazing Centaur and the columnistas. It’s here. (You’ll have to click to photo 4 or 5 to get to the good stuff.) The BBC has some decent pics here.

Perhaps if we combined a plot from Six Feet Under, where David gets carjacked and hijacks the entire rest of the episode with melodrama, with Bob and Katie, we’d have a winner. Bob and Katie carjacked outside the Olympics, the cast of Six Feet Under must narrate the opening ceremonies.

Operating on the Edge

Tom Shales has an interesting column on character assassination, when television shows, often fueled by desperation (and in HBO’s case, the imprimatur of the edge), beat up on their characters. Specifically, he points to Six Feet Under and its recent carjacking episode (which I also ranted about). Shales suggests that the edge is as much of a blessing as a curse. On one hand, it can give us genuine moments into subcultures that Standards & Practices would fly into a ridiculous uproar over. But Shales also implies that the edge gives the writers too much breathing room to resort to their worst impulses.

What Shales fails to point out (along with Joy Press in the Voice last week) is that when we are given recurring characters and they fail to live up to the character traits that they have been established with, this is the part that kills. Because an audience, particularly an audience that cares, does pay attention. They are attuned to the little moments, even if it’s only an instinctive meshing between audience and creators. One egregious example that comes almost immediately to mind is the disappointing ending of Birdy. Beyond the anticlimactic letdown (which I won’t give away), there’s the implication that the character is too intriguingly complex to do something that puerile. Or the final act of Cymbeline (famously rewritten by George Bernard Shaw) in which all of the characters are supposed to stand about on stage, interjecting when a subplot needs to end, after exhibiting so much life.

To offer a personal example, in an early draft of my play, Wrestling an Alligator, I had a character commit a horrible action. I wanted to illustrate this character’s brutality and how this sort of thing is encouraged in the business world. I made every effort to make the moment as horrible as possible — to not hold back from my own personal feelings and convictions, to operate on the edge that the good people at the Fringe were so healthily advocating. When this draft was circulated and received comments from some very helpful souls, I was then forced to justify this action and reassess why it was there. These conversations were very beneficial and resulted in rethinking the moment, rewriting, and finding the right tone. It was not really a question of how far I could go, although I did want to ensure that the moment was lively and different. But, above all, my concern was to find the right moment for the character. As it turned out, when we staged the scene last week, the tailored moment hit close to the emotions without really compromising the giddy intent.

I’m pleased to report that Six Feet Under has begun to rebound from its slump, although, in my view, it’s trying a bit to hard to recapture its momentum. And I would argue that, had the show trusted its audience a little more, it wouldn’t have to try nearly as hard to discard or modify the wishy-washy arcs. In the case of the carjacking episode, I don’t believe the writers seriously asked themselves whether the moments were all justified. This, more than anything else, is why the ratings have dropped.

Moby Lives Again!

Melville House has unleashed a new series of politically themed books: Irreparable Harm by Renata Adler, The Road to Illegitimacy by Mark Danner, and The Big Chill, a piece of journalism on the Bush inaugural protest penned by Uncle Moby himself, Dennis Loy Johnson. The books are small, attractive, and reasonably priced at $8.95/piece. As to their content, my hope is to get around to covering these sometime in the next few months.

Rashomon

Maud has the scoop on the Crouch-Peck affair from Crouch’s lunch companion, ZZ Packer. Packer’s story closely matches Yablonsky’s. Even if Crouch is genuinely sorry, it still doesn’t excuse his boorish behavior, which is inexcusable in any context, much less the fact that an apology to Peck is long outstanding.

The more I hear about this, the more this whole thing reminds me of the thrown drink episode in John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra.

Complimentary Eggers Titles

The new Eggers book is called How We Are Hungry, which comes hot off the hells of You Shall Know Our Velocity. Since titles denoting unseen plural entities seem to be Mr. Eggers’ forte, we (that is I) proudly offer him some titles for his next eight books:

We Shall Pay Your Traffic Tickets
You Know Us When We Lean Against Me
How We Are Thirsty
Your Pet Panda Was Taken For a Walk
Why You Know We Know You Are Naughty
How You Understand Our Kazoo Playing
Buy Us a Drink and Put It On Dave Eggers’ Coaster
Our Backbreaking Work of Fictional Prowess

Hit ‘N Run

[Paul Ford Turns 30] [Happy Two, Lit Saloon] [Birnbaum v. Charles McCarry] [Congrats, Sarah] [Dan Green Makes Good] [Cornel West on Chekhov's 100 (NPR)] [Goethe had a forbidden fling?] [Steinbeck's son: enfant terrible?] [Get off Faulkner's lawn!] [Obscenity still on the books?] [Bye bye Booknotes] [Walden's 150. Updike's penned a new intro.] [Me-moirs now big in Canada?] [Buzz on The Calligrapher?] [Chick lit penned by dude?] [Stunning Teachout Development]

An Idiosyncratic Contribution

Hi folks, well I suppose there’s some degree of irony that I’m hanging out at Casa Ed when I’m not even blogging at my own site for the rest of the week, but when your mind dovetails into mindless parody, one has to find an outlet for it somewhere. Besides, now I can fulfill my true calling as the Court Jester of the Superfriends Kingdom.

And so, I present….

CHASING DUBYA

From Kevin Smith, acclaimed writer-director of Clerks, Dogma and Jersey Girl and the most original filmmaker of his generation, his most audacious movie yet, adapted from a novel by Nicholson Baker.

Meet Jay.

Meet Silent Bob.

Jay summons his old friend Silent Bob to a motel room not far from the bowels of New Jersey. During the course of an afternoon, they share a pizza, smoke copious amounts of marijuana and plow through several six-packs of beer from the room’s fridge. They chat about everything from Silent Bob’s success on Atkins to comic books to the unfortunate fate of their attempts to score with women.

And Jay explains to Silent Bob exactly why and how he is planning to commit a murder that will change the course of history.

[Interior: seedy motel room, equipped only with a television, fridge, bad artwork on the lefthand wall, two single beds, and a table. JAY and SILENT BOB sit at the table, directly across from each other, both facing the TV.]

JAY: Guess what?

SILENT BOB: [shrugs]

JAY: I have the best fucking idea ever. You know what I’m going to do? I am so fucking excited about this, it is not even funny! It’s so unbelievably best! Buzz!

SILENT BOB: [tilts head upwards]

JAY: You’re gonna shit yourself when I tell you, just completely fucking get wasted. Because it is the best fucking thing I have ever thought of.

SILENT BOB: [jerks head insistently, as if to say, “get to the fucking point”]

JAY: I’m gonna kill the President! YEAH!!!

SILENT BOB: [says nothing]

JAY: I know, isn’t that fucking awesome! I’m going to take out that motherfucking cocksucker of a president. He’s the worst! He’s gotta go! Fuck yeah!

SILENT BOB: [says nothing]

JAY: I’m sick and tired of working in a fucking convenience store all day, reading the same fucking comic books and seeing the same fucking people—sorry man, I don’t mean you, just every other motherfucking asshole—I gotta do something different. Something that will make me eternally cool in this fucking wasteland. And the prez—he’s a total abortion, man, how can you stand it? With his weird lookin’ eyes and his funny voice and that whole Darth Vader shit going on. Doesn’t it make you fucking MAD?

SILENT BOB: [folds arms, tries to cover up the fact that he’s rolling his eyes every six seconds]

JAY: I mean look! LOOK! [leans over to the right and pulls out a stash of leaflets. He puts them on the table.] I spent fuckin’ hours working on these babies, getting them just right.

SILENT BOB: [picks up a leaflet and starts reading. His face darkens. He puts the leaflet back down on the table, then stares directly at Jay and sneers.]

JAY: I never should have invited you here, assclown. You’d never get it. Besides you didn’t read that long enough. I bet you didn’t even get to the part where I talk about why the president has fucked up the country—and more importantly, my fucking life–in seventeen different ways. What kind of fucking friend are you that you can’t listen to me when I need you to help me out most?

SILENT BOB: [says nothing]

JAY: What do you mean, why? You know why! Read the fucking leaflet!

SILENT BOB: [says nothing]

JAY: [picks up the leaflet and starts reading.] Oh. Fuck. I didn’t mean to say that. Fuck.

SILENT BOB: [looks at Jay, then looks at the fridge]

JAY: Huh?

SILENT BOB: [widens eyes at Jay, then points to the fridge]

JAY: Oh. You wanna beer? [opens the fridge, removes two beers and sets them on the table. SILENT BOB takes one, JAY takes the other.]

JAY: So like I was saying—

SILENT BOB: [glares, then rolls his eyes.]

JAY: Oh. Yeah, I guess I see what you mean. It does sound kinda fucking stupid, doesn’t it?

SILENT BOB: [nods]

JAY: Well, OK. You bring any weed?

SILENT BOB: [nods]

JAY: Yeah, gimme some.

[SILENT BOB pulls several joints out from his pocket, gives one to JAY. Both light up and take deep drags. Both exhale at the same time.]

JAY: This is the best fucking weed I’ve ever had. Swear to GOD! So, what was I saying again?

SILENT BOB: [shrugs. He gets up and turns the TV on. A bunch of girls in bikinis and wet t-shirts appear on the screen]

JAY: Yeaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh…..

[END OF SCENE]