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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, part 2, a continuation that shall continue on…

September 15th, 2015 No comments

Harm's WayScene Four is a triumph in hilarity. Isle of Mercy goes across the river to sell the watch and runs into a carny (CROW’S-FOOT) selling a crowd of people (Chorus) on purchasing a ticket to see the mysterious GUYANOUSA inside the carny tent. The description is something to read, my favorite bit being “a creature / So lopsided – with feet the longer on one / Side than the t’other—that it can graze / On the steepest mountain slope.” ‘Than the t’other.’ Must be a brogue. Everyone pays a quarter to see the marvelous beast, which mysteriously breaks free at the proper moment sending the crowd fleeing for their lives, except Isle of Mercy. She wants to see the Guyanousa, leading to some whopping lies by Crow’s-Foot and a back-and-forth between the two characters that’s worth a read. Throughout the exchange, though, Crow’s-Foot, tellingly, degenerates from a consummate barker and performer to a misogynistic slug that verbally abuses Isle of Mercy and convinces her (somehow) to be a whore for him.

The POP STAR interlude at Scene 5 is, by far, one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever read and I’d simply love to see it on stage. The Pop Star is a scarecrow stuck on a post in the ground, and who can only move his “head and hands” as he plays the enormous guitar he holds. His group of followers / fans / mindless inhuman machines (Chorus) do nothing but moan and sway, and “are mounted on short stilts, and they lean together, forming a kind of human tripod.” Throughout, the scene is punctuated by frozen tableaux at the stanza breaks in the Pop Star’s song. The song is dryly repetitive, mindless, and cliché. Into this walk Santouche and By Way Of (BW) seeming very like they are on a date. BW attempts to nudge Santouche into appreciating the music and enjoying himself; however a short series of conversational missteps ends with BW calling Santouche a “bum lay.” Ouch. Santouche doesn’t take kindly to that and the scene ends with him insulting the music, and By Way Of, and stomping off.

Santouche stomps off but soon stumbles into Scene 6, where the MAN “is standing in a waist-deep grave he has dug.” The Man turns out to be WILLIAM McKINLEY who has killed GROVER CLEVELAND because Cleveland would not bury McKinley alive. Being that Mac Wellman is from Cleveland, I get a kick out the references to an Ohio president, a city, and, somewhere, the Chagrin River. As McKinley was the Republican president following Cleveland, I can only assume there is some sort of political commentary here, but it’s gone over my head. However, there’s quite a bit of gunplay in the scene and McKinley was on the wrong end of a gun… So, Cleveland wouldn’t bury McKinley alive, so McKinley shot and killed him. McKinley then pulls his gun on Santouche, who is strongly encouraged by McKinley to talk Cleveland into rising from the dead and finishing what he wouldn’t the first time around. There also appears here the beginning of a running gag regarding Santouche’s inability to recognize “a stiff” when he sees one. Santouche puts on a fine show of talking to Cleveland: he uses some fancy words and some delicate phrasing that’s just real fine to hear. Alas, it is to no avail, but Santouche manages to take the gun from McKinley and, after a brief argument, Santouche buries McKinley alive (in spite of the protests McKinley now makes).

Scene 7 breaks from our episodic journey with Santouche and returns to Isle of Mercy, who is sitting on a rock gazing at the moon while the Chorus as FIRST CHILD and SECOND CHILD sing a short song about Isle of Mercy. The Children then engage Isle of Mercy in a discussion. The discussion is filled with the moon, the stars, a rock with a face on it, and ghosts, and thus is very Fairy Tale/Nursery Rhymish. The children claim “We borned ourselves / Out of rocks.” The discussion turns from this to a “where do babies come from” conversation that is interrupted, at just the right moment, by Crow’s-Foot, who has come to turn Isle of Mercy out for the first time. Crow’s-Foot and Isle of Mercy argue about whether or not IM will whore herself. Crow’s-Foot wins when he threatens to lay into her with another one of his speeches (presumably similar in kind to that about the Guyanousa).

At this point in the play I have been struck at thinking on the journey of Isle of Mercy versus that of Santouche. Isle of Mercy is kind (as her name would imply) and extremely pliable. She is not stupid, so it is stupefying why she makes the choices she makes—even in light of her explanation later in the play (which I’ll discuss). Isle of Mercy is acted on by the world. Santouche on the other hand is not kind and acts on the world, usually with highly adverse consequences. This I’m sure, has Wellman poking holes in sex roles, as compliance and malleability are qualities traditionally associated with women, whilst men thrust themselves into the world a la Camille Paglia. Santouche, acting out of perpetual rage, is unable to see himself (recognize himself) and destroys and misunderstands everything he encounters. Santouche manifests, almost, like a broken Odysseus—having no compass or direction at all. Santouche is dashed against the rocks of fate or chance and has no greater vision than the consequent moment. Wellman, here, is pointing to something very terrible in our society—this nihilism we exude.

To be continued….

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