Saturday, June 19, 2010

Subversive Shorts!

None of us can know our own personal deficits. They are blind spots; lacunae, to borrow the title from a recent Barbara Kingsolver novel I admired. (I'm now savoring her nonfictional take on living close to the land, reading it slowly in imitation of the manner of eating which will provide the best reward, local and global, as she celebrates.)

We can know our deficits only by a kind of emotional triangulation from among the feedback we receive, trying to filter out that which is motivated by the lacunae in others; sometimes these are projections which might have nothing at all to do with us. We can try to modulate the ways in which we discourage useful feedback. Our resistances and sensitivities and bluster and anger. Our touchiness.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle must be the most intelligent book I have ever read. It uncovers much of what is really going on with our food culture. Just now, shopping at the local food co-op, I was distressed to learn from how far away my veggies had been shipped. But at least the Co-Op does provide that information now. I have been informed, and that's a start. The books wasn't meant as entertainment, but it's written well. Eat your spinach. As though it wasn't, well, yummy when well prepared and not repetitive to the point of evermore!

There is no delegating out my responsibility to make good choices, though good enough will nearly always be quite good by my lights. I have no real direct experience with the kind of fresh and lovingly raised food that Kingsolver celebrates and grows and worries over. I want to know why she will devote only a year and not a lifetime? Slowly. My standards aren't that high.

Last night I was among the ever more flush audience at Subversive Theatre for opening night of the "B" lineup, the "Brecht" series of their annual festival of short one-act plays. I liked them all. I don't know how to hoot as do the insiders, but I clapped loudly, only later learning that I should see the "A" or "Artaud" lineup if I want to see the good stuff.

The place felt cool; more comfortable than I remember. I remark on the irony now, that this theater has purchased an air conditioner, even as one of the shorts - a  post-apocalyptic play set in the future when air conditioning is illegal and ice, bizarrely, is the erotic toy of choice - might make it seem a Hummer of a buy. There are no perfect, no pure, no ideal choices. There is no escaping irony. None.

How would I know? How would I know which of these short plays and how, degraded women to make an ideological point? I could tell that some did to some women present. I can tell the difference among didactic and entertaining and emotive. There is no accounting, none, for personal reaction, though.

There was only one play which really moved me that way, theatrically and not in my mind alone: three characters, the mother and father of a soldier deployed in Iraq, at a coffee shop to meet his sweetheart. She would be travelling through Turkey, abandoning her Olympic hopes, to assist her lover in his escape from the travesty of this so-called War. The father celebrated his own service medals and couldn't face the shame of his only son, the deserter. The mother handed over her St. Christopher medals, finally resisting instruction from her Man - direct orders actually. She remained behind to sip her tea. Sending her husband home, startling when the barrista called her name in stentorian fashion. The absent husband's coffee finally ready post-departure. In her name. Old habits. Die hard. Go AWOL. With difficulty. The girl's parents care only for her Olympic glory. Echoes of the gods of the first piece.

The Medals play was the main course for me, meaning that it moved me to understand in a way which had a chance to change me. I recognize these in-formations of my own self. The ways in which I am inhibited from making change in the world around me. Barked orders, timid forays, checking my moves against the norms.

Oh, I mean that one short, but you know, it was that they were short which made them so easy to swallow. A kind of ratatouille when taken as a whole, or, no, different foods on a single plate, or no, courses, maybe as part of a gourmet dinner. My reach exceeds my grasp, of theater, of food, of what it is that will make people more certain in ways to do less harm.

Others among the shorts were meant more purely to enlighten. The vegetable side dishes. The vitamins. To teach the audience about our prison system, and how cruel it is to families. To teach about our petro-based agriculture. To demonstrate how that line to distinguish humanity from beastliness gets pushed ever farther back until we can justify even torture, on animal Prozac and Muzak and climate controlled comfort in their solitary feedlot pens. Not so unlike the assisted living facility where I recently moved my Dad. Why wouldn't you be happy there, Dad? You can't do anything for yourself. Anyhow.

It's hard to see all the distortions - how it might be that there is no choice but to raise animals this way for slaughter; to justify their suffering by making a fine and final distinction between animal and human. Kingsolver gently mocks the purity of vegetarians, since animal death is also implicated in vegetable growth in human cultivated plots. But many vegetarians might eat meat if the animal's end was that surprising to it; that unanticipated and the life was merely cut short instead of denied at the outset.

Which justification would you like for your daily bread? That it does, in fact, taste that much better when raised with love and locally and without having been distorted by breeding to make the long trip from grower to grocer? Or that you will feel better spending more and tasting less, always waiting for the prize in its true season. How much more would you spend?

I admired the cleverness of each of these pieces, but in the end, I guess, I still choose to be enlightened in a manner which entertains, which moves, which stops short of teaching, didactically, someone else's certainties. I would prefer to witness someone acting out what we all must go through to make the right choices; to fill in all our own gaps. Vitamins are only necessary in the first place because we breed out the complexities of the food we eat. I've been so informed.

I can have no idea how food might taste if we were to raise it properly, without industrial feedlots, allowing fuller genetic variation, and bringing harvests closer to their markets. I still rather suspect that the food I prepare with love still tastes that much better than the stuff I could prepare if limited to a radius of 50 miles in its true season.

I have this feeling that it's not all bad. That the present distortions will be rectified, that this is all the inevitable result of an oil-bender which can't last much more than the hundred years of its allotment. A mere human lifetime, give or take. I have a feeling that people will start to understand how our pleasures distort and destroy so many lives; animal, vegetable and even miracle by the displaced and outsourced decisions we leave to the marketplace. I suspect that we will learn to nuzzle one another again, and walk away from our wombs with views in which we hibernate to be born anew.

But I am absolutely certain that nothing will change without courageous re-presentations of what is going on. That line between pure entertainment and truly moving art has become so distorted now that theater must mock cinema, cirque du soleil enterprise in scope. Phantom of some former opera. So, I remain glad for Subversive Theatre, and for protests the world over, and for pure didactic instruction. I don't care if it's someone else's certainty, if they are moved to act. I am lacking in taste, I guess. My lacuna. I moderate my gluttony by small bites, chewed slowly, followed by drink and not only for the bodily satisfaction. I've been so informed.


Anonymous said...

Hold onto your pants. When you saw these Shorts, did you actually think about the play as you drooled these periods on your keyboard, or are you truly oblivious to the meaning of Theater? I am not one to usually go to the theater, but my cousin is in two of these Shorts, both the A and B night, and she did an amazing job! The point of Theater is not to be picky and choosy, and I admit, I can be that way also, but its about what you can take away from each piece. There are so many critical people in the world nowadays who are out to find one thing that doesn't mesh well with them, bring it to an exaggerated huge, and expose their own perspective, instead of encouraging them to reach out. Second, A and B nights have their equal value. How dare you raise some shows above the others! How would you like it if you were writing an excellent book, and it could only be sold every three days, because another author has the other four, and because people chose yours and listened to fathomless rumors while you are standing right in front of them that the other author is better? As the good Abe Lincoln said, "All men are created equal." If you cannot respect the hard work and dedication that my cousin and all these other wonderful people put into the show, you don't deserve to have a computer. It's people like you who make it hard for people starting their careers.

Lex said...

sorry to put your shorts in a knot - I loved the whole production and thought the acting was fabulous, and since your cousin was one of them I'm certain that I thought he/she was as well. It wasn't me who thought "A" was better, how would I know? I haven't seen it yet. Read again, with a sense or irony. I thought the show was wonderful - a gourmet and healthy fare, as I tried to say. But, OK, I'm pretty hard to read. Sorry.

Lex said...

Sorry - can't help myself! I was alerted to this:
A neurological account of lacunae. I know these when I lose something, my brain imprints a negative so that the thing I'm looking for literally disappears. Now I have the explanation I've been looking for my whole life. And so, yes, I find it ironic that commentators on blogs are always critical of someone else's criticism; angry at someone else's anger. I think, actually, that this is the main issue which must and in fact will be worked out on the Internet. I find that hopeful. Can't wait to be berated for it!!