Theatre Thursdays - The NOT Christmas Edition!

Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays! This post has NOTHING to do with Christmas! And it's a long one (warning you now). We're on to Shakespeare once again. We're also on to more than just a monologue again. We have one monologue, one snippet of dialogue, and some spot-on contextual commentary. I just couldn't help myself.

Today's play is Measure for Measure, which belongs to the group of comedies sometimes called "the problem plays." Exactly which plays constitute the "problem" group and precisely what time frame that period encompasses are two things very much up for debate, but Measure for Measure seems to be a point of agreement for all sides of this academic tug-of-war. It is NOTHING if not problematic for nearly every main character.

Poor, poor Isabella. Gal just wants to become a nun and have done with the secular world. Not only is Isabella saddled with a horndog older brother who's landed himself a death sentence for knocking up his fiancee (because that is the law in Vienna, where we are), but she's also prettier than a daisy. That's what Angelo thinks, at least. Angelo is standing in for the Duke of Vienna while the Duke is away. Angelo, being an upstanding citizen, offers to pardon Isabella's brother... if she'll give him her virginity. She protests and declines and says "no," but he just gets nastier and more threatening, because he is a politician and a perv. Not only is Angelo sleazy enough to propose essentially raping her, he points out that, should she try to tell on him, no one would take her word over his. Here, she weighs her options in a wrenching soliloquy coming heavy on the heels of a ruthless scene:

To whom should I complain? Did I tell this,
Who would believe me? O perilous mouths,
That bear in them one and the self-same tongue,
Either of condemnation or approof;
Bidding the law make court'sy to their will:
Hooking both right and wrong to the appetite,
To follow as it draws! I'll to my brother:
Though he hath fallen by prompture of the blood,
Yet hath he in him such a mind of honour.
That, had he twenty heads to tender down
On twenty bloody blocks, he'ld yield them up,
Before his sister should her body stoop
To such abhorr'd pollution.
Then, Isabel, live chaste, and, brother, die:
More than our brother is our chastity.
I'll tell him yet of Angelo's request,
And fit his mind to death, for his soul's rest.

So that's Isabella's train of thought: very... utilitarian. ("More than our brother is our chastity?" Really? Wow, that's some commitment to virtue.) Claudio's not so keen on this strategy, surprisingly...

While Isabella and Claudio whine at each other ("Why won't you just sleep with him?" "You're so mean!" "No, YOU'RE mean!"), the Duke of Vienna (who actually didn't go out of town at all, but decided to skulk around dressed up as a friar, for some reason) enters and hears all about the perfidy of Angelo. Having known Angelo for years, the Duke knows that Angelo jilted a woman named Mariana once upon a time. The Duke-in-cognito arranges for Isabella to pull a Helena*: Tell Angelo to expect her in bed, then smuggle in Mariana wearing a veil, of course, because no one would find it weird if you showed up in bed with a full veil. Of course not. I guess some people are just kinky like that.

What with one thing and another, Angelo falls for it and sleeps with Mariana. The Duke "returns from out of town" sans religious costume. Isabella, believing her brother's execution has gone forward despite the agreement with Angelo, pleads with the Duke to listen to what a rat-bastard Angelo really is. He tells her to tell it to Angelo, because he appears to enjoy really effed up mind games:

O worthy duke,
You bid me seek redemption of the devil:
Hear me yourself; for that which I must speak
Must either punish me, not being believed,
Or wring redress from you. Hear me, O hear me, here!

My lord, her wits, I fear me, are not firm:
She hath been a suitor to me for her brother
Cut off by course of justice,--

By course of justice!

And she will speak most bitterly and strange.

Most strange, but yet most truly, will I speak:
That Angelo's forsworn; is it not strange?
That Angelo's a murderer; is 't not strange?
That Angelo is an adulterous thief,
An hypocrite, a virgin-violator;
Is it not strange and strange?

Nay, it is ten times strange.

It is not truer he is Angelo
Than this is all as true as it is strange:
Nay, it is ten times true; for truth is truth
To the end of reckoning.

Away with her! Poor soul,
She speaks this in the infirmity of sense.

O prince, I conjure thee, as thou believest
There is another comfort than this world,
That thou neglect me not, with that opinion
That I am touch'd with madness! Make not impossible
That which but seems unlike: 'tis not impossible
But one, the wicked'st caitiff on the ground,
May seem as shy, as grave, as just, as absolute
As Angelo; even so may Angelo,
In all his dressings, characts, titles, forms,
Be an arch-villain; believe it, royal prince:
If he be less, he's nothing; but he's more,
Had I more name for badness.

And do you know what the Duke does then? Do you know what he does? He has Isabella taken away under guard because he is not done with his effed up mind game yet! WTF?!

Anyway, in the end, the Duke admits to Isabella that he was the friar who hatched the Mariana plan with her. Dukey also compels Claudio (who is not dead) to marry his knocked up fiancee; forces Angelo to marry Mariana; and confesses to Isabella that he has fallen in love with her, offering her his hand in marriage. Unfortunately for Isabella, this isn't really so much a "suggestion": He's the Duke. He gets what he wants. Think Prince Humperdink. All the... uh... happy couples leave the stage together.

And that, children, is why Measure for Measure ranks as the most undeniably Problem of the "problem plays." In the classical sense, it is a comedy: everyone ends up married and no one - not even the bad guy! - ends up missing a skull. However, at least two of the three marriages (the possible exception is Claudio's) are being forced upon at least half of the new spouses.

I'd definitely call that a "problem" for someone.

*That would be Helena from All's Well That Ends Well, who tricks her husband into sleeping with her instead of a younger woman and is only able to secure her marriage by getting knocked up on that single, miraculous night. Happy ending!!!


A Room Of One's Own

Yup. Virginia Woolf. I went there, baby.

Living in a two-room Manhattan apartment is tough sometimes. Here's a good example.

My husband is buddies with a teenage kid who lives downstairs (yes, really). Sometimes the kid comes up to play video games and whatnot, and occasionally the kid brings friends. The kid's nice and all, but sometimes the kid's visit coincides with dinner time. That happens because my husband, though he has many talents and strengths, cannot think ahead for shit. His sense of cause and effect doesn't always present itself in a fully developed manner. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes it's infuriating. Mostly it ends up being somewhere in between.

But I hate it when it fucks with my dinner.

That's a somewhat normative reaction. I mean, who really likes to be 10 minutes away from food, really hungry, then, BAM! COMPANY!? "Why didn't you consider our general evening schedule before asking this person over? That's not polite to your spouse/living partner" is a reasonable question to have in that circumstance. It's normal to dislike that kind of situation. But you know who *really* dislikes that? People with eating disorders or related issues. We haaaaaate it. Our food is our ritual is our space is our time is our self is our identity. Fuck with our food and we will fuck. you. up. (Yes, I'm spelling it out today, as you may have noticed.)

You know the most really, truly horrible freakout I remember having? It was over some braised lamb. My dad made it in the summer of my first major recovery from anorexia and it freaked. me. out. It was a whole big scene, but suffice to say, it ended with me weeping at the table and choking down most of my meager portion of very healthily braised lamb. The point being, OH MY GOD, I have my FOOD PLAN for the day or minute or meal or week, and do not FUCK with it, because it is what helps me deal with EVERYTHING ELSE.

This still comes up from time to time, only, now it comes up when I'm, you know, annoyed that two teenage boys are at my two-room home and my dinner just got here and, dammit, I don't want to eat in front of them because it may be silly, but I'm self-conscious about eating in from of people to whom I'm not close (I don't know if that will ever go away). Am I explaining this well? I don't think I am. Well, suffice to say, now that I'm a moderate way along Recovery Road, I notice the food OMGWTF stuff pop up when it's really about something other than food. Which I suspect it mostly always was. Or so the psychologists tell me.

But you know what? Now I can realize what it's about; take the laptop into the bedroom; and "verbalize" a little later without having a meltdown over chicken parm and two teenagers.



Theatre Thursdays

Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays. This week we chalk another one up to Feminism in the 20th Century.

I was in this play in college. I played Clovis, the mentally disturbed wife. I was hilariously anorexic at the time (it was riotous!) so I definitely pulled off the sick look. What I didn't pull off, and why I think that no one under, say, 25 should be allowed to act? Emotional intelligence. First of all, being anorexic or bulimic for any length of time (clinical diagnosis only begins after 3 months of sustained symptoms) is the equivalent of shooting Novocaine into your emotional center. Second of all, to play a wife and mother? I don't think you necessarily have to be a wife or a mother, but you sure as hell have to understand the world more thoroughly than a pampered 21-year-old does.

Don't get me wrong: This is a play that intends to be something more original that what it is, inspired by a groundbreaking work of poetry (Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich), and about characters based on Impressionists including Édouard Manet. But the ideas are there, and I wish I had appreciated them at the time. It's about women with men, and women with women, and husbands and wives, and complacency and frustration and devotion. It's about girls with their fathers, and boys with the women who raise them. It's a play on how differences between us and our beloveds make and break our lives.

DOLORES. When I was young, I went with any man who wanted me and I stayed with them until they didn't want me anymore. I kept thinking that if I had someone, someone of my very own, it would be more than happiness. It would be like discovering the reason for my existence, the very reason for being the person I am.
Then I came here. Because of a woman. The first place I'd ever come not because of a man. I'd worked at the hospital eight years when your mother was carried in bald and screaming. When I met her, she asked me who I was, and I said, all I know of myself, where I come from, who I am, is that my name is Dolores, which means sorrow. (SHE laughs.) Well, it is funny because I've always thought of myself as a rather contented person. Clovis said, I like your name. So I came here.

*These two monologues essentially open the play, and are interspersed with a scene between Dolores (Clovis' nurse), Clovis, and Clovis' nine-year-old son Mylo.

(LIGHTS fade on Dolores and Mylo and come up slowly, illuminating CLOVIS in the graveyard. CLOVIS kneels at the altar she has built around one of the grave markers. [Her creation is something similar to altar boxes or to Joseph Cornell's shadow boxes and assemblages.] CLOVIS faces a small headstone. Glued to the surface of the headstone are shards of colored broken glass. The altar piece is filled with shiny things that catch and refract light. Colored glass jars, a string of glass beads, a ladies' hand mirror, half-filled bottles of perfume, silver earrings, shiny stones, a ruby ring, a piece of Venetian carnival glass, glittering pieces, reflective surfaces. This place is Clovis' sanctuary.
SHE holds out the shiny stone. SHE fixes the bottles working on her sanctuary. SHE talks to someone she senses is there. We glimpse a vision of a LITTLE GIRL. A mirage. A flutter of a skirt, a wisp of hair, a whisper.)

CLOVIS. I like this place at dawn. I breathe easier out here away from the house.
The party is tonight. I hope I'll be fine. Victor says it's time. A year and a half. I should be able to manage a dinner.
I keep having this dream where I'm eleven and my father and I run through a field up a hill. We're out of breath and laughing. It's a beautiful sunny day and we're surrounded by light. I lean back my head, close my eyes, and smell the most extraordinary fragrance. Cinnamon. My father says to me, you can take this moment with you for the rest of your life.
That day with my father I felt I could run and laugh forever and would always be surrounded by the most extraordinary smell. (CLOVIS looks around her sanctuary.) This is now my field of cinnamon.

Dream of a Common Language, Act 1, scene 1
by Heather McDonald


Theatre Thursdays

Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays. Today we're delving into postmodern theatre. Fun!

Heiner Müller is often considered one of the most groundbreaker 20th century playwrights, but I won't pretend to know a jot about him other than his seminal work: Hamletmachine. The book of the play, depending on translation and text size, is only about 6 pages long. Usually the play itself is about 2 1/2 hours long. Yes, that's correct: 2 1/2 hours. Müller was East German and he wrote this baby in 1977 or so, at the height (or depth) of East German oppression, politics, angst, etc. The characters are Hamlet and Ophelia, with a chorus including Gertrude, Claudius, etc. and so forth, though how many actors, who speaks which lines, etc., are all arguably up to the director. (I'm sure Müller would disagree with that statement, though.) The original German text contains, where in all caps, the ORIGINAL original lines in English. (Do you see what I mean? Even if you're seeing Hamletmachine in, say, Berlin or Paris, the lines in ALL CAPS are said in English, for they are from the canon of the Western dramatic world, Hamlet.)

I do wish you'd read the whole thing, because yanking out Ophelia's monologues loses something in translation... not to mention the entirety of what little narrative there is. Herewith, Ophelia's monologues, from Carl Weber's translation, my personal favorite:

2: The Europe of the Women

Enormous room. Ophelia. Her heart is a clock.


I am Ophelia. The one the river didn't keep. The woman dangling from the rope. The woman with her arteries cut open. The woman with the overdose. SHOW ON HER LIPS. The woman with her head in the gas stove. Yesterday I stopped killing myself. I'm alone with my breasts my thighs my womb. I smash the tools of my captivity, the chair the table the bed. I destroy the battlefield that was my home. I fling open the doors so the wind gets in and the scream of the world. I smash the window. With my bleeding hands I tear the photos of the men I loved and who used me on the bed on the table on the chair on the ground. I set fire to my prison. I throw my clothes into the fire. I wrench the clock that was my heart out of my breast. I walk into the street clothed in my blood.

5: Fiercely Enduring/Millenniums/In Fearful Armour

The deep sea. Ophelia in a wheelchair. Fish, debris, dead bodies, and limbs drift by.


While two men in white smocks wrap gauze around her and the wheelchair, from bottom to top.

This is Electra speaking. In the heart of darkness. Under the sun of torture. To the capitals of the world. In the name of the victims. I eject all the sperm I have received. I turn the milk of my breasts into lethal poison. I take back the world I gave birth to. I choke between my thighs the world I gave birth to. I bury it in my womb. Down with the happiness of submission. Long live hate and contempt, rebellion and death. When she walks through your bedrooms carrying butcher knives you'll know the truth.

The men exit. Ophelia remains on stage, motionless in her white wrappings.

Acts 2 and 5


Just Like That Episode Of Full House Where DJ Skips Meals

Over Thanksgiving week in Atlanta, I took a few spare minutes to be very sad for myself as I used to be. It was a good exercise, and not as self-indulgent as it sounds (not quite, anyway). My mom swears up and down that she is finally going to "do something" to my old bedroom, so I was tasked with setting aside whatever I didn't want chucked out or sent the way of the Goodwill. I didn't find much: a coin collection from my paternal grandparents' many travels and international homes; a Renaissance fair dress that cost me the entirety of my second-to-tenth-grades savings; an old book of Scandinavian fairy tales; plays; an astrology chart set; some old spell books (yes, you read that right: spell books).

During this excavation I came across high school pictures, which turned out to be a punch in the gut. What I couldn't get over was how fat I felt at that time. Here I was, looking at these images of my 14- to 18-year-old self, probably 105-115 lbs. and 5'1"-5'3", and I remember feeling fat when each of those pictures was taken. I thought I needed to lose weight for essentially my entire high school experience. Ridiculous. How sad to have wasted so much mental and emotional energy stressing over something that wasn't even true, and that I equated erroneously with "fixing" myself. Sad, sad, sad.

My eating disorder grew from a conviction that something was wrong with me. Plenty of girls (too many) go on diets and/or obsess about every new curve or dimple. Not all of those girls go on to develop disordered eating habits, let alone full-blown anorexia or bulimia (or both). Whatever invisible and silent divide there is between girls like I was (and am, to a certain extent) and girls who go on to say, "Eff you, buddy," to their sicker impulses: that's the Rubik's Cube of adolescent (and increasingly adult) psychology. And I'm sorry (I'm not), but I don't believe that divide has anything to do with "will power" or "choice" - regardless of which side a person inhabits. The puzzle is one of those "nature vs. nurture" or "nature, nurture et al." jumbles that shrinks may never suss out.

So while that whole mess remains a mystery, and since I've already expended so much time and energy in unraveling said mystery, I will go ahead and concentrate on enjoying what I have now. On not berating myself. On mentally giving the finger to everyone who won't STFU about diet, weight, blah blah blah. On immersing myself in reality and owning my weight and shape and health and curves the way they are now, or whenever. *cue maudlin sitcom music* And on forgiving myself allllllll the years of abuse I put myself through, both mentally and physically. *end maudlin sitcom music*

Aren't you glad that all of life's problems can be solved in a half hour or a blog post? Yeah, me too.


Just Keep Swimming

If it seems that my posts have been paltry lately, or few and far between, it's because they have been. I find I don't have much to say at the moment, and can't really justify posting for the sake of posting, hence Theatre Thursdays and bitching ad infinitum about the inanity of modern American grammar as practiced in the general population.

Part of the reason I haven't been writing much is that I started Cynical Nymph as an eating disorder recovery journal (interspersed with verbal diarrhea that my former therapists would tell me is all related to the e.d. anyway), and I've actually been doing remarkably well for the past three months, symptom-wise. So, I often feel there's not much to say on that front.

Note to self: It only took about 27 years, but I finally learned to spell "diarrhea" without having to think about it. I'm so proud.

Of course, there's still plenty to say. I'm at a point where it feels natural not to think about doing unnatural things (though I do keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it very well might). However, that hardly means that I am all confidence and body appreciation and self-worship over here. I'm doing my damnedest to re-train myself and my thoughts, as I spent 4 weeks in the early autumn practicing with others like myself. (Anyone in the NYC area looking for a great, unconventional e.d. support group, email me. Seriously.)

The holidays are tough. Part of this difficulty is self-fulfilling prophecy: anyone who knows about addictions even tangentially knows to be wary of relapse during the holiday season, so nerves are already on edge going in. Some of the grating-fingernails-on-a-chalkboard characteristic of the holidays is also (I think) due to the fact that they're a memorable time of year. With an eating disorder, you can remember (trust me) exactly what you looked like, felt like, fit into, didn't fit into, ate, drank, and accomplished for the previous holidays of your illness, whatever its length. I, for instance, am trying really, really hard - wading through sludge up to your waist hard - to remind myself that not only am I not anorexic* anymore, I'm also not 18 or 21 anymore, so why on Earth should I be shaped like an 18- or 21-year-old? It bears repeating (and repeating, and repeating) to myself that, "Who cares if I don't fit into blah, or have a waist measurement of blah, or have a different, larger curve to my blah blah?" My head feels like a broken record a lot of the time with the, "I am behaving naturally and healthily," and the, "my body is how it wants to be," and the, "I look great. I'm the chubbiest woman in my husband's family. I look great. I look like a cow. I look great." Very often I feel like a hamster on a wheel. But, you know, without burning the calories. Or maybe like Dory in Finding Nemo. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming swimming swimming!" Ooh, now I want to watch Finding Nemo. What a kickass movie.

Happy Holidays. Be good to yourself. Just keep swimming. ^_^

*Not sure how to classify myself in terms of bulimia. Having been without symptoms for 3 months, I do believe that I can't be clinically classified at this point in time as having bulimia nervosa. So, ha ha ha, I'm cured! Someone tell BlueCross BlueShield! Oh, wait...


Theatre Thursdays

Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays. I was hoping to make it a few more weeks without using Shakespeare, but who are we kidding? He refuses to be shirked for too long, and three weeks is too long.

Ah, the Percy family. Gotta love 'em. They ended up on utterly the wrong side of history, yet they have the appeal of winners because they're so... zesty. Specifically, you gotta love Lady Percy, who really knows how to play what Tranny Head might call the green beans card. Her asshat husband has been ignoring her for two weeks straight while he gets up to some rebellious antics with her brother (not a euphemism). So not only is this gal not getting laid, which is basically her only power play in Renaissance England, she's also being kept out of all the fun civil war plans just because she has ovaries.

"Nuh-uh," is her take on that, "I'm a Mortimer [another feisty ancient family on the wrong side of the Wars of the Roses], and I won't take your shite. You are gonna tell me what's up, or else." So here, she butters him up but good by using the only weapon she has: green beans... and by surreptitiously calling him a little girly man for having bad dreams.

Oh, and later in the scene she threatens to break his dick off. This betty is pure pep.

LADY PERCY: O my good lord, why are you thus alone?
For what offense have I this fortnight been
A banished woman from my Harry's bed?
Tell me, sweet lord, what is't that takes from thee
Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?
Why dost thou bend thine eyes upon the earth,
And start so often when thou sit'st alone?
Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks
And given my treasures and my rights of thee
To thick-eyed musing and cursed melancholy?
In thy faint slumbers I by thee have watched,
And heard thee murmur tales of iron wars,
Speak terms of manage to thy bounding steed,
Cry 'Courage! to the field!' And thou hast talked
Of sallies and retires, of trenches, tents,
Of palisadoes, frontiers, parapets,
Of basilisks, of cannon, culverin,
Of prisoners' ransom, and of soldiers slain,
And all the currents of a heady fight.
Thy spirit within thee hath been so at war,
And thus hath so bestirred thee in thy sleep,
That beads of sweat have stood upon thy brow
Like bubbles in a late-disturbèd stream,
And in thy face strange motions have appeared,
Such as we see when men restrain their breath
On some great sudden hest. O, what portents are these?
Some heavy business hath my lord in hand,
And I must know it, else he loves me not.

Henry IV, part 1
Act II, scene iv