Saturday, March 5, 2022

Acres of Time: Signifying Solace

Handmade sonic instrument used in Lance Austin Olsen’s sound environment.

Lost Foundry/Fukushima Rising: a collaborative site-specific installation curated by Sue Donaldson, featuring paintings/soundtracks by Lance Austin Olsen and a sculptural diorama by Jeremy Borsos, from February 4-March 6, in Victoria, British Columbia.   

“What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the actual links which exist. It's not what you see that is art; art is the gap between the things you see.” – Marcel Duchamp

The obscure psychic explorer Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) once confidently asserted, “The medicine of the future will be music and sound,” a seemingly cryptic remark that comes more clearly into focus when one contemplates the power of sonics to alter everything from our perception of time and space to the condition of our own bodies. Especially subsequent to 1945, when the compositions of John Cage and Conlon Nancarrow called into question the entire landscape of silence we had previously overlooked, and then later on in the twentieth century, when ambient music created a whole other dimension to listening in a statue of suspended animation approaching rapture, Cayce may finally be coming into his own.

Monday, February 28, 2022

What the Constitution Means to Me: Amateur Night

Cassie Beck in What the Constitution Means to Me. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

In my American Drama class, when we turn from the golden age of Broadway drama to more experimental work of the sixties, seventies and eighties, I like to ask my students if they think that something like Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” For Colored Girls or Jane Wagner’s one-woman piece for Lily Tomlin, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, or Christopher Durang’s two-hander Laughing Wild, where two wildly dissimilar characters monologue in the first half and interact in a dream in the second, is really a play. The question generally arouses considerable discussion, but it’s essentially disingenuous; obviously I believe these are plays (and fine ones) or I wouldn’t include them in my syllabus. But then there’s Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me, currently being presented by Boston’s Huntington Theatre at the Emerson Majestic Theatre, as part of the show’s North American tour. It won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Horton Foote Playwriting Award, was nominated for the Tony and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, yet it isn’t a play at all, in the sense that a play dramatizes something, i.e., adheres to some kind of dramatic structure. Most of it is a screed that details all the ways in which the U.S. Constitution disempowers women. The set-up is that the Schreck character, played originally by the playwright and currently by Cassie Beck, reconstructs the speeches she used to give as a teenager, explicating items in the Constitution in competitions sponsored by the American Legion, in order to amass tuition money for college. Now, in her forties, she riffs on them – personalizing them, drawing on the experiences of her mother, aunt and grandmother and great-grandmother, all victims of domestic abuse. Her stories are horrifying, enraging and inspiring; the way in which Schreck uses them to work up the audience is cruder and more manipulative than the cheapest melodrama. In fact, the main difference between this section (which takes up most of the running time) and cheap melodrama is that even a third-rate writer of melodramas has some skill, however rudimentary. If Schreck is a playwright, I’m a heart surgeon.