Sunday, March 29, 2009

Knowing/Mariette In Ecstasy

I have a friend who often lovingly mocks me for the titles and names in my written work. It's not that my final results are silly or outlandish in any way -- quite the opposite, in fact. But he knows me well enough to know that the seemingly unrelated titles I give to a lot of my work or the seemingly standard names that I give my characters are actually unbelievably deliberate. He also knows that after steeping them in literary or historical references, I obscure these references and then obscure them again another time or two so that the only person who actually knows the origin of the final product is myself. And that I proceed to share these origins with exactly no one. Hell, even my nom de blog is a double reference to two of my defining artists; and the name of the blog is a extremely specific artistic reference to which I can all but guarantee not a single visitor to the blog will ever pick up on. I'm not entirely sure why I feel compelled to include these secrets, but after seeing Knowing in my movie extravaganza, I know why I feel the need to obscure them so completely.

Knowing, in the end, boils down to an end of the world story in which the children of the two main characters are selected by some pseudo-angelic pseudo-extraterrestial race to begin a new world upon the destruction of this one. It becomes an Adam and Eve, part II situation. With the logical step for Adam and Eve, part II being Cain and Abel, writer Ryne Douglas Pearson has chosen the names Caleb and Abby for the children selected to start this new world. The reference is of little to no consequence and I'm willing to bet that 90% of the audience this film finds won't pick it up in the slightest. And yet, from the moment I made the connection, it monopolized my thoughts. As soon as I was able to discern the process within the product, the process became the focus. I appreciate the process -- I really quite enjoy it -- because it the same as my own, but, paradoxically, it only truly works for me when I don't know it exists.

Which is why I bury my references beneath so many filters. I enjoy them and find them important but am also aware that when visible, they can easily serve as a distraction. So, in the long run, if I'm the only one who knows about them, that's probably for the best. Which is odd and probably worthy of the loving mockery in and of itself. Any sympathizers out there or am I just totally off my rocker?


On the subject of being better off not knowing, Mariette In Ecstasy provided a great parallel, but in execution rather than process. A typical nun/stigmata story (Which is my primary complaint -- can someone try a different direction with the stigmata device? The mire of the 'we can't prove it but we can't disprove it, either' conflict has become a dead end. Let's get creative.), one of a couple of things that Mariette has that raise it up a few rungs is Brenda Barrie in the title role. Barrie's Mariette is one of those performances that is so convincingly unnatural that you spend a better part of the show unsure of whether you are watching brilliant acting or brilliant casting. It's a Polly Noonan-esque feat, except rather than mental handicap, Barrie's stock in trade is a floating-on-air ethereal quality. Mariette spends the show elsewhere with such intensity that she turns the idea of distraction on its head -- it's as if our world, the world of the convent, is the pesky one, trying to draw focus from whatever it is she is so diligently drawn to. And it was concrete to such a degree that for much of the show I was convinced that in Barrie, Elise Kauzlaric had found the perfect airhead and directed the hell out of her.

Then we hit the epilogue -- an unnecessary 'checking in' postscript that only ends up pedestrianizing the deliberate and somewhat alien tone of the rest of the show. And, with a some years later update, the mysticism of Barrie's Mariette is lost. It was all an act. A great act, but an act that reveals itself within its own mystery. It was partly that we had spent two hours with this odd creature only to cap it with two minutes of 'normal', and partly because Barrie's 'normal' is much less convincing than Barrie's eerie, but once again, as soon as I discovered the secret I had been dying to find out, everything seemed a lot less impressive. Maybe it's a lesson in keeping my cards hidden.


Alright, it's reader assistance time: I've been doing some real burrowing and have a couple of playwrights I'd love to get some information on. Is anybody out there familiar with Michel Vinaver or Harald Mueller (especially Mueller's Deathraft)? I'm looking for whatever information you might be able to provide.

Also, has anybody ever spent some time with the World Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Theatre? It looks to be a pretty exhaustive resource, but even at the used prices, the whole set is an unnecessary investment if it's just going to be information I could get by trawling the Net for an hour or two. Input?

And thirdly -- really, no one has any scoop on the disappearance of The Table from Chicago Shakes' slate? That's disappointing!


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