Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hot Moves


Existentialism or Karma.

According to most critics and scholars one of the main themes that appear in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is existentialism. This theory is based on the way both characters struggle to define themselves and the world they are in during the course of the play, and their final conclusion that their destiny was ultimately their own fault – that it could have been better had they done things differently. Interestingly enough, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had a previous life that seems to define their end – their fatal destiny is already written in their past life. Perhaps then, Stoppard took these two characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet not with the intention to re-write their story, but just to explain their death, stating that it was actually their own fault.
Atheistic existentialism declares that Existence comes before essence. “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards. Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself.” (Sartre) Stoppard is clearly subscribing to this theory by making the characters fall victims to their own actions and then having them regret not doing things differently. In the last scene Guildenstern says “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said—no. But somehow we missed it.” (He looks around and sees he is alone.) (Stoppard, 125).
On the other hand Hindu philosophy, which believes in life after death, holds the doctrine that if the karma of an individual is good enough, the next birth will be rewarding, and if not, the person may actually devolve and degenerate into a lower life form. Every person is responsible for his or her acts and thoughts, so each person's karma is entirely her own. The law of cause and effect forms an integral part of Hindu philosophy. This law is termed as 'karma', which means to 'act'. In a way the concept of karma is similar to existentialism, the person is responsible for their own existence, the only difference is that Hinduism believes in consecutive lives, and the actions in one life carry on to the next one. In that case, what we do (good or bad actions) in the present life might not show until the next one. (Subhamoy Das)
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the original version this is not a very important event. Stoppard sheds light on these two minor characters, making—I thought– a brilliant choice. In Shakespeare’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern appear almost as disposable characters, as audience we are worried about the life of the protagonist, Hamlet. He was saved from execution, and we feel relieved. The message that this title is conveying is important: There are important lives and less important lives, and in this play we are going to make the less important ones more important. These two characters are for the most part off-stage in Shakespeare’s version. Here, they are always onstage, as the main characters, and Hamlet has a small part.
Stoppard dives into Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and shows us new layers and parts of the story. The original drama remains intact thou, and some of the scenes appear in his adaptation.
Stoppard articulates several layers of performance. In the first act Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are alone flipping a coin, questioning the real and the un-real, in a tribulation that could be an “invisible” scene from Hamlet. With the arrival of The Tragedians the layers start unfolding. They will present a play. They will include Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the play and the play is Hamlet. Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius enter. The characters are played by The Tragedians, or they are the “real” characters of the tragedy. The confusion of roles, real characters and performed characters is the most interesting part of the drama. The characters tell us what the author is doing with the script. The Player explains to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern the technique used by Stoppard in the play: “ We do on stage the things that are supposed to happen off. Which is a kind of integrity, if you look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” (Stoppard, 28). Indeed, we will look at the lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after they exit—in the original drama—when they are not onstage. These layers inside the drama, with characters who die and come back to life suggest a continuum in the life cycle. The player announces the show of death: “Death for all ages and occasions! Death by suspension, convulsion, consumption, incision, execution, asphyxiation and malnutrition…” (Stoppard, 124) After spending a good portion of act one with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this new play, the entrance of Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius reciting the lines from Hamlet feels like the arrival of the ghosts or the beginning of acting—they are after all characters from the previous life. “Which way did we come in? I’ve lost my sense of direction” (Stoppard, 58) Says Rosencrantz. They try to find their way, going in and out of the drama—trying to see if they can exist outside of Hamlet. When the pirates attack and they think Hamlet is dead, they question their own existence without him.
“Rosencrantz- He is dead then. He is dead as far as we are concerned.
Player – Or we are as far as he is/
Guildenstern – The whole thing is pointless without him. (Stoppard, 119- 20)

They arrive to the conclusion that they can’t exist without Hamlet. Their struggle to escape and the moments they realize that they can’t exist without their previous life are the ones that move the action. “We are slipping off the map ,” (Stoppard, 108) says Rosencrantz.
At the beginning of Act Two Rosencrantz and Guildenstern feel insecure after interacting with Hamlet. “I think we can say he made us look ridiculous,” says Rosencrantz, “He murdered us” (Stoppard, 56). These comments seem to refer to the way Hamlet made them look ridiculous and murdered them in the original drama. Even if they are trying to think by themselves and exist outside of Shakespeare’s drama, they seem to be trapped—Shakespeare has already written their fate. In the original version Hamlet tells Horatio that he feels no guilt about sending Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the fate that they were sending him: “Why, man, they did make love to his employment. They are not near my conscience. Their defeat doth by their own insinuation grow.” (Shakespeare, V.2.60). It is clear to Hamlet in the original version that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were responsible for their actions, and that they knew what they were doing. But in Stoppard’s play they don’t seem to remember any wrongdoing.
In both versions The Ambassador from England arrives to announce the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. “This sight is dismal; and our affairs from England come too late. The ears are senseless that should give us hearing to tell him his commandment is fulfilled, that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Where should we have our thanks?” (Stoppard, 56) After a full circle, they meet the same end. Their efforts to escape the drama and their destiny prove to be unproductive. However they end up taking responsibility for their destiny, feeling that it was their fault. “There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said no” (Stoppard, 125). I guess they understand that they could have said no to Claudius, that their destiny, is somehow a consequence of saying yes, accepting their role in the killing or disappearance of Hamlet. Even I they can’t remember that they did it.
“Here is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it,” (Sartre). But I would argue that in this case the essence of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern was there before their existence. As characters of a play by Tom Stoppard, the characters were carrying the essence of the play written by Shakespeare. “Even as you die you know that you will come back in a different hat” (Stoppard, 123), says Guildenstern to the Player. Looking at it from this perspective, and probably without any intention by the author, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, is more of a Hindu play than an existentialist one. Their karma seems to be carried on from their previous life. Rosencrantz asks Guildenstern, “We’ve done nothing wrong! We didn’t harm anyone. Did we?
- I can’t remember, responds Guildenstern. (Stoppard, 125)
They don’t seem to remember their previous life, as it’s usually the case, they just feel the effects of it. But as audience we know what happened in Shakespeare’s version, we know that they actually did something wrong by accepting the task to send Hamlet to his murderers. “Well, we’ll know better next time.” (Stoppard, 126) are the last words of Guildenstern before “disappearing”. Because in this version, as in Shakespeare’s one, they don’t die, they disappear, and the drama goes on as if this second life was just contained in the previous one.

Stoppard, Tom, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987

Sarte, Paul. Existentialism Is a Humanism.
Written: Lecture given in 1946
Source: Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, ed. Walter Kaufman, Meridian Publishing Company, 1989; 
First Published: World Publishing Company in 1956; 
Translator: Philip Mairet.

Subhamoy Das, What Is Karma? The Law of Cause & Effect

Mother Courage


Brecht, Bertolt. Mother Courage and Her Children. New York: The Penguin Group, 2007.

In his epic theater, Brecht proposes a theater of ideas, where people shouldn’t be distracted by their emotions but instead using the play as an instrument of analysis. Mother Courage is a monumental piece of epic theater but it’s also a tragedy.
Brecht removed from his play some of the elements that would lead the audience to emotional reactions to the story—he turned on white lights and he created the “alienating effect”, to keep the audience away from suspense, remaining at all times awake and rational. Paradoxically what we call the horrors of war: carnage and destruction, awakes a strong emotional response in all of us. He successfully tears off many of the meanings attached to war: Heroism, patriotism, and the unavoidable necessity of it, but he can’t dissolve our emotional reaction it.
Our thinking of war cannot exist without the emotional component that is so inherent to it. Our reaction to war cannot be only analytical because it’s embedded with the emotional reaction to death and carnage. Our sentiment and understanding of war is based on our emotional reaction to it.
In Mother Courage Brecht emphasizes war-profiteering to prove his point. Mother Courage makes a living during the 30 years war selling goods from her cart. She is a single mother— her life revolves around survival and her family. So in the end, the tragedy is the story of a mother seeing her children die, one by one.
No distancing effect can takes us away from the pain of Mother Courage having to see the dead body of her son, and say that she didn’t know him to save herself, her daughter and her business, knowing that if nobody claimed his body, it will be thrown into a pit (38). Neither can we be indifferent to her pain when she sings a lullaby to her dead daughter Katrin, after she saved the village with her drumming (81).
Mother Courage represents a behavior that Breach intends to condemn—she makes a profit selling goods during war times. The fact that during the epic she loses her three children, feels like a punishment for her wrong behavior. At the end we are left with a moral of punishment that resembles more a religious lesson than a Marxist one. The concept that we’ll be punished for our wrongdoings, or that wrongdoings will have at the end a bad ending suggests some kind of religious moral that takes away the principle that would sustain a more ethical behavior per se , without seeking recompense or fearing punishment.
In his introduction to the work Norman Roessler writes, “Brecht understood, that all performative discourse on war, even the most antiwar, never rises above “pornography” (xx). Mother Courage is a monumental anti-war play that refrains from romanticizing the war, or making it into a spectacle that will trigger positive feelings.
In Marxist thinking, war, poverty and unemployment are inherent to capitalism, so Mother Courage is herself a victim of the system, even if she takes advantage of its most painful expression, war and death.
“All theater is necessarily political, says Augusto Boal, in his Theatre of the Oppressed, “those who try to separate theater from politics try to lead us into error—and this is a political attitude”. I would argue that we can’t remove politics from theater but we can’t remove emotions from theater either.
Even a cold documentary, journalistic, academic or any kind of non-theatrical public presentation of stories of the war will cause an emotional reaction in the audience— we can’t escape the feelings attached to the concept of war.
Theater as a place for thinking is still theater. Even if we remove the dreamy and cathartic elements of some forms, the ritual is still intact. Even if we turn on the lights and tell the audience what will be happening in each scene, they are still sitting, watching a story that will unfold in front of their eyes. Every theater story deals with representation and some level negotiates with emotions.
Bertolt Brecht successfully guides our emotions towards the political ideas that he wants to convey, but he also fails to make the audience a complete objective witness of pain and death. Even in a sober and analytical state we are witnessing a painful tragedy of loss, death and the horrors of war.

Cloud Nine


Churchill, Caryl. Plays:1. Cloud Nine. London: Methuen Drama, 1996.

As a feminist and a person who cares about political theater and writers concerned with social justice, I appreciate the work of Caryl Churchill. Cloud Nine explores ideas of patriarchy and colonialism that I think are very important to put onstage. I agree with her political views and I appreciate her commitment to theatrical experimentation. I read Cloud Nine many years ago, and my impression of the play was very different then— I liked the text and I was very happy that writers like her were getting international recognition. It was exciting after all these years to have a chance to read the play again to analyze it. To my surprise I was a bit disappointed. I found that even though I still agree with the ideas that she is conveying, now I see the play as an illustration of progressive ideas more than an experimental theater piece that deals with political ideas. I appreciated the change of gender and race of the actors who play the different characters with the intention to stress the expectations that were put on them. I found that to be a clever and effective way of subverting gender paradigms. Her use of humor helps build an entertaining satire, which challenges the stereotype of feminist or political theater as being boring and taking itself too seriously.
Act one is set in Victorian times in the 1950s, at the height of colonialism. The power dynamics between men and women, servant and master are shown through characters resembling caricatures—in that their positions are very extreme. Each one of the characters represents a ‘big idea’: The wife, “women’s oppression”; the husband, “patriarchy”; the servant, “colonialism”. The picture she is painting is huge and general. The characters and the situations are not specific, they lack the complexity of the particular.
Almost every line in this play then, becomes a political statement, since every character conveys a specific meaning and represents a particular group. In this kind of carefully designed illustration, where political ideas will find their way to the audience through the lines of the characters, I find it surprising that child abuse would be thrown casually in the landscape. I doubt that something as important and serious as child molestation was not written into the play with a particular intention. I believe that the scene where Edward is molested by his uncle is part of the ideas that Churchill wants to communicate to us. In that case, I wonder, what exactly is she communicating? Edward seems to enjoy being molested by his uncle Harry, and asks him. “You know what we did when you were here before. I want to do it again. I think about it all the time. I try to do it to myself but it’s not as good. Don’t you want to any more? (270).
The second act is set in London in 1979, when in fact 100 years have passed. It is a difficult task to show in a play how much of the sexism and racism of that society was resolved (or not) after 100 years. So again, the characters carry a similarly heavy weight. They represent “the lesbian”, “the gay”, “the liberated woman”, and “the modern husband”. Churchill makes her point, with a very optimistic view. She shows us some improvement in the power dynamics between the characters. Betty divorces Clive, she begins a new life, now she works and she also masturbates. Martin, Victoria’s husband is a good guy who tries to be supportive and understanding of her desires. Edward is now an adult and he is out gay—he became the housewife his mother would want Victoria to be. Victoria comes out as a lesbian and she has more intellectual interests than her mother ever had. The only issue that remains unresolved is Edward. He doesn’t mention or remember that uncle Harry molested him when he was a child. We know that it happened, but we don’t see the damage, which I believe is the hidden part of this issue, and the one that never gets discussed.
Churchill has been compared to Bertolt Brecht in her style and the way her plays convey a clear political message. But if Brecht was accused of sacrificing artistic value at the service of political commitment, then Cloud Nine is a more extreme case of that. Brecht’s plays display stronger images and metaphors—the narrative is more conventional than hers in a way, but his writing transcends the political message. In Cloud Nine it appears as if the message was already digested before it was given to us.


RUINED, war with a happy ending.

Nottage, Lynn. Ruined. New York: Theater Communications Group, 2009.

In Ruined Nottage brings us very successfully into the horrors of the war in The Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on the violation, rape and exploitation of women. The writing is very realistic, the situation is current and some of the names mentioned in the play are real, creating an almost documentary theater piece. Ruined shows the lives of women who are raped by soldiers, and afterwards they are rejected by their families. The body of women as a site for the war is depicted very effectively. The house of Mama Nadi appears as a refuge and salvation for those girls, being in fact a place where their exploitation will just continue. The women have no exit. Salima, a young girl and mother who was kidnapped by the soldiers who made her his concubine for five months, was then pushed away by her husband and family for dishonoring them. “He called me a filthy dog and said that I tempted them” (67), she says. The victim, as in many places, is blamed for being raped. She ends up in Mama Nadi’s house, working as a prostitute and getting pregnant. When her husband comes back for her, she knows she will be humiliated and rejected again, so she kills herself, stating: “you will not fight your battles on my body anymore” (94). Suicide seems to be the only exit for these girls. But the play proposes a salvation, at least for Mama Nadi. A good man, named Christian, will convince her at the end to settle down with him, and run a business together.
This play that opens a world of suffering in front of our eyes closes with a happy ending: the new couple dancing. I think that the combination of documentary theater and story telling is a very complicated task. The heavy weight of the scenes that happen during the play cannot easily come to an end in a happy ending. The tale ends, as a romantic love story, creating resolution and relief for the audience. But the images and words of the previous scenes stay with us, as an open wound. A good guy and a sweet romantic scene is not enough to heal it. I believe that this play should not provide a happy ending, because the reality that it portrays is still bloody and painful—those women are still trapped and suffering. The bitter taste of the war stays with us even if the tale ends happily. Perhaps the author tried to send a message of hope—and she makes clear decisions in the way she will send her message: The name of the good guy is Christian, and the salvation for Mama Nadi is marriage.
The political situation described in the play is accurate, using real names of dictator’s of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The common citizens are trapped between a brutal savage military army that represents the government, and the rebels. Mama Nadi, similar to Mother Courage, runs her business, profiting from the exploitation and desperation of the girls that have nowhere else to go. We learn at the end that she was also ruined. So the story continues in circles. The reality of the women trapped in the war in The Democratic republic of Congo is a tale to be told, only not with a happy ending. Unlike Mother Courage, Nottage’s inspiration, which does not spare us the grim reality of the heroine’s situation, even at the end – Ruined jeopardizes the message and the effectiveness of the anti-war screed by ending it in salvation.

True West


Shepard, Sam. True West. New York: Samuel French, Inc. 1981.

True West is quintessentially American theater, not only because of the themes in the play, but also the structure of the narrative and consequently, the way in which the protagonists relate with the world, which gives off a distinctly American mindset. The characters feel trapped in a conventional lifestyle that seems deficient. The lack in the culture they inhabit becomes evident in their desperations.
“Some commentators refer to Shepard’s later plays as examples of "magical realism" (a literary genre denned by the works of such writers as Jorge Luis Borges and Federico Garcia Lorca) ” . I find this claim ludicrous. The characters in True West lack any possibility of connecting with magic moments that would break away from the narrative and their earthly life. The author himself makes a point in a note at the beginning of the play that the set, costumes and props should be realistic – even the sound effects (coyotes, grasshoppers) have specific, realistic instructions.
On the other hand Carla J. Macdonough in her book Staging Masculinity states: “In its dialectic, True West is simply following the conventions of the western, which many film critics have discussed as being focused on divided images of masculinity with the world of women or the feminine as backdrop.” This statement is more accurate, the play is totally focused on the two men—the women, and I would add, the world in general, remains far in the background – reduced to some echoes in the distance.
The two brothers: Austin, who attended an Ivy League school, and Lee, the one who didn’t, belong to a different class now (already their names evoke two essential American ‘legends’). These two characters are extreme and stereotypical, the educated screenwriter and a drunk outcast. Then they reverse roles. The Hollywood producer likes outcast’s movie idea, dropping the script of the screenwriter, so the outcast becomes the writer and the writer starts drinking. The good son is out there stealing now, and the thief is writing on the typewriter. Voila.
In this kind of domestic drama, the alcohol is the overused stylistic resource to unleash catharsis, causing a sudden awakening or realization on the part of the characters. What comes out of that realization is mostly bitterness and frustration. This kind of play seems to be departing from the premise that everybody is frustrated and unhappy with his life, and it takes a good amount of alcohol to let the anger out. Most likely, the next day things will continue as normal, or as they were before.
During his catharsis, Austin realizes that he wants to leave everything and go to the desert. Lee, reminds him: “What are you crazy or somethin’? You went to college. Here, you are down here, rollin’in bucks. Floatin’up and down in elevators. And you wanna’ learn how to live on the desert!. And Austin replies - I do, Lee. I really do. There’s nothin’ down here for me. There never was.” (58).
The emptiness and disintegration of the characters has been associated with the consumer culture and the vacuity of the American dream. Austin is a successful man, he has a family but he is empty and lonely. Lee, the free single man, who lived many adventures, feels lonely too. Each one wants the others’ life. The play shows us the characters trapped in a life that they don’t like, but apparently there’s nothing better out there, except exchanging miserable roles.
The archetypical characterization of American culture is very much concerned with family life and professional success. Austin represents that kind of success. The opposite side in this dialectic model is Lee, the free man living in the wild with nature.
True West exposes a shallow and selfish culture that seems to be completely unaware of the rest of the world and lacks essential elements that the characters could reach out in their search for meaning and happiness.
The only people we hear about in the play are the family members: the mother, who left for a trip; the father, who is an alcoholic living alone in the desert; and the two brothers. The Hollywood producer embodies the outside world, he can change their destiny with a snap of his fingers. They mention Ausitn’s family, but we don know their names, and they don’t seem to be relevant. And then there' s the women, or names of women that Lee keeps in little pieces of paper, with the intention to call them one day.
The author and the characters seem to be walking blind in a world that doesn’t penetrate their reality. They recognize their misery, but they believe there’s nothing else out there anyway.

Juan A. Tarancón. Visions of the True West: Sam Shepard. Identity and Myth
Revista Alicantina de estudios Ingleses.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nobel Prize people take back the title

We can't take the prize back, so we decided to rename it The Nicer War prize- or The Just kill the Soldiers prize- Or The Compassionate War prize

Obama's non-acceptance speech

And since I don't believe that peace can be achieve without war, it probably doesn't make any sense for me to accept this award-

A promise of war with less casualties is not even close to peace Obama

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


HEDDA GABLER, a love story.
by Susana Cook

This play unfolds many layers of tension and conflicting worlds. Every moment seems to be charged with meaning, even if it’s not fully clear at times what the meaning is. Ibsen puts together people from different classes and levels of intelligence; showing us differing relationships to love and passion; and the thin line between genius and mediocrity. There’s a strong contrast between Hedda and Ejlert and the rest of the characters. We know that something very essential sets them apart from the rest. Hedda and Ejlert are complex, multidimensional, and dangerous. The rest of the characters are like flat paper figures compared to them—they appear as a frame that shed light on the two main characters. I see Hedda Gabler as a love story, some kind of Romeo and Juliet, between Hedda and Ejlert Lovborg. Hedda and Ejlert try to fit in but they are essentially different from the rest of the characters. They are deeper, they struggle, and at the end the two heroes are dead.
Hedda names the play, the spotlight is on her—this character intrigues us before she comes onstage. Before she appears Miss. Tessman talks about her to Berte, commenting how special she was, and the aura that she had around her: “Do you remember how we used to see her galloping by? How smart she looked in her riding clothes! (345). She also reminds her nephew Tesman how lucky he was by marrying her— Hedda is a trophy wife, “And to think that you should have been the one to carry off Hedda Gabler—the fascinating Hedda Gabbler—who was always surrounded by so many admirers” (347) . We also hear intriguing comments about Ejlert Lovborg before he appears, there’s a feeling of danger around him “Eljert Lovborg is in town, says Mrs. Elvsted, I am afraid he’ll get into trouble” (357). But then, when Hedda comes, (the description that Ibsen gives of Hedda is not spectacular), we see that she is not a femme fatale, but she is somehow powerful and irresistible. There’s a depth to her character and a feeling of danger, “I am afraid of you Hedda” (396) says Mrs. Elvsted to her.
The love between Hedda and Eljert surfaces in small zips from the past “I sometimes feel a shadow between Lovborg and me – a woman’s shadow. Someone he’s never been able to forget… He said that when they parted she threatened to shoot him” (364) says Mrs. Elvsted to Hedda, who is very excited to know that she was not forgotten.
Hedda and Tesman are from a different social class, and that’s an apparent source of tension and disconnect. But Eljert and Hedda are from a different social class as well, but they seem to be connected for a different reason. Judge Brack seems to be the only one who notices that something is going on between them and he points out the innocence of Hedda’s husband, “Jorgen Tesman is certainly a naïve creature” (404) he says. Ibsen shows us some kind of hierarchy of intelligence or genius. Ejlert and Hedda are definitely the geniuses in the play. Tesman is an intelligent man, a researcher, but he doesn’t seem to notice much of what happens around him. Judge Brack can see and perceive their genius, but he is not one of them. Hedda is attracted to extreme expressions of beauty and passion. Her connection with Eljert involves death as a supreme act of courage. We learn that in the past she threatened to kill him. To her husband’s surprise Hedda finds beautiful when she hears that Eljert killed himself with the gun she gave him, “At last, a deed worth doing! There’s a beauty in this. He had the courage to do—the one right thing.” (421). And then she kills herself.
The two heroes die, leaving behind what will never come fully to life: Eljert’s manuscript and Hedda’s baby.

Ibsen, Henrik. Hedda Gabler. 6 Plays by Henrik Ibsen. New York: The Modern Library, 1957.