Archive for the ‘Mac Wellman’ Category

Harm’s Way, Part III — the summer camp attack

September 18th, 2015 No comments

Harm's WayFortunately, Wellman keeps things hopping in Scene 8 as Santouche stumbles into a gunfight alongside his buddy Fisheye at a saloon—well, I should say “along with” as Santouche sorta forces Fisheye to join up with him and then forces him to go into a viper’s nest via the back door. That’s no matter, Santouche has a score to give and Blackmange is the stick to cut it in.

Here the moral code of the American West is on full display: get the drop on someone and fuck’em in the ass. Santouche is an expert at this. Defying the offered seriousness of the situation it turns out that Blackmange is having a birthday party of all things. I can see the pointy, colorful hats and party favors tongue fucking the trilling inside of my brain from here. Fisheye offers a quick rundown on the weapon situation before being strong-armed by Santouche through the kitchen to flush out the party. As Santouche waits his old fling By Way Of appears to tell Santouche that Blackmange knows the location of his lady friend, Isle of Mercy. But Santouche is an arrogant dirt bag with blood on his mind and only wants to see Blackmange lying laying? Lying – he’s dead—so hasn’t he been placed? For real, tho. Lying in the dirt, red staining the dusty, walked-bare patch of scrub in front of the saloon. And so, Santouche continues cutting off his nose to spite his face. He calls By Way Of a man and then proceeds to call out Blackmange and gun him down…killing Fisheye in the process. Yowza.

A fantastic conversation between Santouche and By Way Of ensues. It truly rivals the ol’ Who’s on First routine in the absurdity of its winding around. Mingled, again, with a bit of ‘Shut the fuck up, Donny”, straight out of Lebowski. The conversation winds down with an accusation by By Way Of toward Santouche about his letting Isle of Mercy go out alone. Then she tells Santouche that she knows a man who can make a stiff talk. (Joke btw about Santouche not being able to recognize a stiff when he sees one.)

Scene 9. By Way Of Being Hidden, Santouche, the corpse of Blackmange, The Wizard. Dude is dressed old school primitive. Garlic and onions. Rattlesnakes. Serious and pompous all the same time. A magic balled-up paste is stuck on Blackmange’s tongue and BAM… Fanny’s your aunt! Blackmange spills the beans on where to find Isle of Mercy—with the Guyanousa. In this scene Santouche tellingly bemoans the fact that you “Can’t get no peace from a man / Even by killing him no more.” The Wizard lands joke number four about a stiff. If Santouche can’t recognize a dead man when he sees one, how can he know anything about himself—or being alive, for that matter?

The Wizard expresses the greatest bit of optimism about America that I’ve read in a long while, or perhaps I’m reading it where none exists:

“…. This is America. Therefore
Anything can happen. … …
Aside from which, the object is
Not to restore the poor stiff
From across the murky deeps of
Styx, which is ridiculous;
But a more pragmatic and wholly
American one: namely to bring
Him temporarily back from across
The shadowy waters of Lethe.”

The “Him” ain’t accidental, either.

What did Blackmange do that has caused such a great hatred in Santouche, you ask?

“Spit in my eye. Told me off
In front of people. Went and stooled
On me good.”

‘Stooled on me good…’ I hate it when that shit happens. Resurrecting a man is called The Con. On whom it is perpetuated is hard to discern. Another stiff joke on Santouche. The Wizard conjures the spirit of Blackmange, we find stuff out, and then The Wizard takes off. In parting he advertises his other services, which includes that “on a good day I can / Throw a close election.” I have a feeling we’ll see The Wizard’s work again.

In Scene 10 Santouche confronts Crow’s-Foot at his newly established Church of Christ Fornicator, which may be the best name for a church ever. The only problem for Crow’s-Foot is that he tries to sell Santouche his Isle of Mercy. My favorite line, by far, is :

“With the Lord doing it in your heart, you’re gonna
Have a big edge on the next man, my friend, and in this
Evil son of a bitch’s world, full of conniving wildcats,
You need every bit of edge you can get.”

A philosophy which Santouche entirely embraces, even though he fails to recognize it in someone else—a tragedy (Thank God) of the type. God knows when they all get together a swarm of locusts ensues.

But Crow’s-Foot is reformed. He no longer sees the “world as a vast, gray country/ Full of liars, cheats, scoundrels, fools who all looked/ Alike. Monsters even… a nightmare lit up only by / The fires of vengeance and hatred.”

As the scene rolls, Crow’s-Foot recognizes the dangerous rage and anger in Santouche and tries to make off—however, he takes out the wrong watch on which to check the time. Santouche notices and that’s all there is for Crow’s-Foot.

Scene 11 is filled with the rage of sexual betrayal in Santouche. It begins very nicely with the Chorus singing a disturbing lyrical ballad to Santouche, and bemoaning bad pop culture. Then we get on to the main course.

Santouche and Isle of Mercy have it out. She pays him off. Isle tries to give Santouche the money three times, with the anger, tension, and confusion rising between each attempt. It end with her throwing the money at Santouche and leaving him. What else can Santouche do but shoot her in the back? She asked for it. She has no respect. And the play wraps to the opening scene. But hark! What is that? A yes, an afterword. Sort of. The play ebbs out with the First and Second Child who were with Isle of Mercy four scenes earlier chanting: “You gonna kill everyone, mister?” at Santouche, who, because he can’t catch them (an presumably kill them) sits down and absorbs their taunts. The taunts that Wellman is throwing back at a certain portion of our “culture.”

Harm’s Way

August 30th, 2015 No comments

Harm's WayI just finished reading Mac Wellman’s 1978 play about angry people doing harmful things: really angry people living in a world where the landscape reflects or projects their inner turmoil.

The landscape that Wellman creates which stands out for me most is Scene Three:

A nightmarish hillside. Dim fires and explosions in the distance. There are three tall poles, or posts, on top of which are mounted wagon wheel. BY WAY OF BEING HIDDEN and two dummies are strapped respectively atop each of these.

The setting is apocalyptic. Getting all filled up on zombie shows: Fear the Walking Dead, and Z Nation (on Netflix), as well as what I’ll repeat, again, is one of the best pieces of social satire I’ve seen in a long time (Zombies of Mass Destruction). Regardless, I’m sort of in a place where I can easily picture total destruction and the haunted backdrop of the destroyed American landscape. Wellman seems to flick his pen to conjure this.

I was reminded of Caryl Churchill whilst reading this. Especially, Far Away.

Just as much as the setting/landscape, the characters are bombed out, devastated people. There’s not too much of humanity left in them and things are pretty bleak. SANTOUCHE, our through line in this fairytale, is an ignorant piece-of-shit killer on the run. He’s on the run for shooting MOTHER who shot her young son (CHILD) because he wouldn’t eat his Wonderbreaded American sandwich. In all fairness, Child did have a nasty mouth of his own alongside an antagonistic attitude. The shit goes down in an “alley between darkened tenements.” Santouche is there with his acquaintance, FISHEYE, whom Santouche verbally abuses like Walter abuses Donny in The Big Lebowsky. Fisheye tells Santouche he better beat it as people have seen the killing. On stage these people are THE CHORUS who also play instruments throughout: “a fiddle, a drum, and a flute or trumpet.”

I appreciate the use of a Chorus more and more now every time I see it utilized. It’s flexible and ambiguous. Convenient and practical. It also adds a bit of spectacle alongside the Brechtian wall-breaking that it provides. In this case, it adds character flavor and music, which is always fucking nice.

Santouche runs off to his special lady ISLE OF MERCY, which is what Santouche must believe a woman is—maybe a special lady or maybe just a lady friend, who knows. This interaction is the first in which Santouche displays his astonishing ignorance of himself and argumentative logic. It’s like watching Bugs Bunny flip an argument on Daffy Duck: “Duck Season.” “Rabbit season.” “Duck season.” “Rabbit season.” “Rabbit Season.” “Duck Season.” Santouche needs something to sell. Isle of Mercy agrees to sell a broken watch and meet up with Santouche later, at a fair across the river, to give him the proceeds.

In Scene Three, besides the startling landscape I described at the outset, Santouche encounters BY WAY OF BEING HIDDEN, who is a gender bent, non-specific Man / Woman. Whilst trying to get Santouche to get him/her down from the wagon wheel pole, BW says:

“Look, I’ll do good by you, you’ll see./
You let me down and I’ll even it up, /
Don’t you worry about that, a man like me /
You can trust, I swear.”

Only to create startling mystery at the end of the scene when BW entices Santouche up to help by stating:

“I’m a girl.”

I was also astonished by the “a man like me / you can trust, I swear.” I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this line: the act of presuming to say it to a complete stranger and, for the stranger hearing it, how to comprehend the naivety expected on the part of the speaker. There is implicit irony in the statement itself, as if there are two completely different people inside of BW: one of who is vouching for the other. Compounding this, of course, is the irony that the man swearing about his trustworthiness claims, a page later, to be not a man at all.

The interaction between BW and Santouche also touches on the problems of trust and willingness that this play relentlessly pounds. Each character is motivated, for the most part, by selfishness. Each wants what he wants. This creates a problem for each character, as, when he finds himself in a tough spot, he must rely on other characters that have no sense of empathy whatsoever. Inclination to help must be bought or traded. There is no trust. Everyone is lying. Everyone is hiding something and trying to get around on someone else.

There is a texture that feels like the old west to this play. A sense of Wellman critiquing the American psyche: the confident self-reliance in situations that are, as often as not, created by some ignorant action to begin with. That, and everyone is packing a gun.

To be continued….

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