Friday, September 14, 2007

Fuck off Variety.

I went to see Kicking a Dead Horse last Night. There's a review of sorts two posts down.
Obviously Karen Fricker from Variety saw it at one time too too. The following is her review.

"Sam Shepard's first new play since 2004, "Kicking a Dead Horse," is altogether a strange beast. And that's not just the dead horse onstage. Some excellent deadpan humor, delivered brilliantly by a refreshingly antic Stephen Rea; autobiographical material that seems a halfhearted attempt on Shepard's part to unload old creative baggage; and the incongruous setting of Ireland's National Theater all add up to an evening that feels like a somewhat misfired in-joke.
The lights come up on a circular stage with two mounds of dirt, a rectangular hole, a pile of riding tackle, and -- yup -- a very real-looking life-size dead horse. A man emerges out of the hole, carrying a shovel. "Fucking horse. Goddamn," he says to the audience, and then kicks the dead horse. Literally.

We are in broad parodic territory here; and initially Rea gets the tone just right. He is Hobart Struther, a New York art dealer who headed out on a desert walkabout to rediscover his "authenticity," only to have his horse keel over. Homage is clearly being paid to Samuel Beckett at his most absurdly comic, as Hobart tries and fails repeatedly to tip the horse into the too-small grave.

The key artist Shepard is glossing here, however, is himself. Hobart made his fortune reselling paintings of the American West at a massive markup. "What I couldn't see was how those old masterpieces would become like demons, trapping me in a life I wasn't meant for," he says self-pityingly.

This and other references (to New York, where Shepard now sometimes lives, and his wife's "golden hair") make clear that Shepard is reflecting on his own career and life, seeming to renounce his past creative patterns by sending them up. But by invoking all his familiar themes -- the American West, dreams of escape, tourism, violence -- Shepard re-inscribes them in his work even as he claims to disavow them.

On one level, he knowingly nods to what he's doing by making the classic Shepardian battle between self and other an internal one: Hobart bickers constantly with himself, another challenge Rea carries off with great skill (if with an overly mobile pan-American accent).

But the legend simply protests too much: if Shepard really wanted to "make a clean break" from the dead-horse weight that is his cowboy-playwright image, then why write another cowboy play? The entire effort is steeped in solipsism, into which it starts to disappear.

The first sign that things are going wrong is the brief appearance of a pretty young woman in a short slip who gives Hobart back his discarded Stetson -- a possible nod to feminist critiques of the treatment of women characters in his plays. But this is a self-reflexive gag too far -- you can't objectify women and pretend not to at the same time (something the creative team may have begun to realize in the run up to production, given that the printed playscript says the woman is meant to be naked.) And when Hobart collapses on the horse's body, sobbing, his crisis now seems to be intended seriously, a tonal about-face that prompts the only bum note of Rea's performance.

This play is part of an ongoing engagement with Shepard's work that saw a fine revival of "True West" last year. But Ireland is an odd context for such a self-referential work; it's unlikely that audiences will have the knowledge required to fully grasp its apparently intended ironies."

Seriously, how much knowledge does one need to have acquired to 'fully grasp its apparently intended ironies' when said ironies are right on the fucking stage in front of you, signposted with every gesture and every sentence uttered? Every spoken line is weighed down, contradicted, agonised over. Rea's character is tearing himself apart in frustration at his fickle contra-directional longings. What's hard to understand? God damn it, does she think we Irish so unsophisticated that we cannot grasp the fury and impotence of waning life?
Well bollocks, obviously Sam Shephard thought otherwise, and judging by the response last night his faith was justified.
Fuck off Variety and fuck off Karen. I hope you have acquired the knowledge needed to fully grasp what I mean by that.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Twenty Major said...

I would respond but I'm too busy drinking myself in a stupor and fighting random passers-by.

4:29 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Wait, it's Friday, I'll come with you if I can wear me lucky green hat and play the spoons.

4:32 p.m.  
Blogger Conan Drumm said...

Eh no, she'll just think you're being ironic.

4:49 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

“the incongruous setting of Ireland's National Theater all add up to an evening that feels like a somewhat misfired in-joke”


Did nobody point out to her it was written for the Abbey. Research Miss Karen research!!

4:50 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

“the incongruous setting of Ireland's National Theater all add up to an evening that feels like a somewhat misfired in-joke”


Did nobody point out to her it was written for the Abbey. Research Miss Karen research!!

4:50 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

What are you doing here Nonny, why aren't you out looking for a four leaf clover? Or a pot o' gold at the end of a rainbow? Don't be getting all high falutin' with yer research, tis far from research we was raised, begob, faith and it was.

4:54 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

Ahh sure I couldn't be doing with that i have to sit in and wait on Bertie to bring me back my change i sent him to the shop years ago!

5:05 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

He won't remember that, so he won't.

5:06 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

heh he, if i was caught saying that I would be sacked. Have you seen anything else by Shepard?

5:21 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Not plays, I've seen a few of his films. I plan on reading a few though, I'd imagine his language is a delight on paper.

5:33 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

Haven’t seen many films. True West was fabulous. Even on paper tis good. Plus Mr Shepard, well he was a hottie in his day, not bad to stare at when you feel the need to pause from reading.

5:54 p.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

Many theatre critics seem to think that being an insufferable snot is aspirational.
Good for you, FMC.

8:59 p.m.  
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9:22 p.m.  

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