do you crave light like I do

The stars said I need to write. I know they see me. The world is coming back to life and the draft is still unfinished. Do I start it all over or try to land the plane in a random field somewhere, just to say it’s done?

The shitty first draft. A play that can be worked and reworked and cast and rehearsed and turned into a story playing to a room of people who might or might not care.

When I started writing it, quarantine had just started and I was lonely. Am still lonely. Writing a play about a three-way in quarantine seemed fun. Create characters when there aren’t any around you. At first it was fun. The words came easily. Scenes and ideas and dialogue, funny and dark and sexy.

Things eventually started getting murky. Nothing felt like it had a point. Theater didn’t exist. Anger and fire were everywhere. The story felt frivolous and privileged. The words stopped coming.

Beat.

But we aren’t there anymore. Not in that exact moment anyway. Even if that moment is still felt. The sun is out and people have emerged. Theaters are opening and their stories are full of timely heaviness that we are all too accustomed to anyway. I crave light, maybe other people do too.

So there you have it.

the madness of January

I’ve done my best.

Where should I even begin.

I wrote a play about dominatrixes and it got produced for the second time. It closed on Saturday. I was in a good mood (and possibly lightly drunk, I utterly failed dry January). And then my director approached me and said the show needed rewrites. Great why don’t you stab me next time?

Also.

I got a promotion at work. My boss’s boss (the one I have been in love with, yes) and my boss (who I am not in love with, for the record) brought me into a room and slid me an envelope with an offer in it. All this was deeply exciting and then I countered for more money, and somehow this was the scariest thing I did all month. Tomorrow I am meeting with HR for a “comp chat” which I think seems like a good sign.

So there’s that!

Also on Sunday, the man I’m dating told me to meet him at his studio because his metal band would be finishing rehearsing. I thought that meant I would pop by and they would be done, but actually he invited me in and I watched them play. The rest of the band was really sweet and attentive – they even knew my name. I mentioned it later and D said that I was only the third person to stop by and watch in several years.

We then had ramen and had incredible, stare-deep-into-your-eyes sex. He went down on me, on his (new) couch, for what felt like a blissful century. And then I shot off into space. And then we fucked four times.

In the moment January has stressed me out, but looking back at this, things are actually pretty great. Thanks for that.

I saw Hadestown. Here’s what I thought.

Last night I went to a Broadway musical that’s still in previews – Hadestown. It was definitely an experience that I need to process. So I’m going to do that here! I guess that means this is a review then.

Hadestown is a contemporary retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The show takes place on Earth, and in hell. Earth has a distinctly New Orleans feel to it, but no one ever directly says that’s where we are. Hell, meanwhile, feels like a nightmare of the Industrial Revolution. Heat, metal, leather, and so on.

Hadestown has lots of parallels to current American culture, but no hints about why those parallels matter, or what the audience should do with them. Most of the modern connections in Hamilton, for instance, ladder back to a broader theme: the importance of being an active member of the American experiment. Hadestown doesn’t have any such theme, beyond a tacked-on end note about why we should tell stories over and over again, even when they’re sad. And honestly, I don’t even remember what the “why” was.

As a result of the show not having much of, well, a point, many moments feel beautiful, but don’t really go anywhere. In one number, a capitalistic Hades stands at a microphone and sings about building a wall. He then forces all his minions to repeat why that a wall will set them free, because it will allow them to finally feel safe. It’s powerfully disturbing, and apparently was written 8 years before the current US presidential administration. But then… nothing else happens with it. There’s no wall resolution. We just continue jumping from one disjointed (though gorgeous) moment to the next.

Lending to that detached feeling is that so much of the action in Hadestown is told toyou instead of unfurling in front of you. Which, yes, is a tried-and-true storytelling method of Greek theatre. And it’s done with mesmerizing gusto by Andre de Shields as Hermes (a Broadway legend basically playing himself) as well as several charmingly energetic Greek chorus members. But the show relies so heavily on spoon-feeding key details that it misses many opportunities for the audience to connect with the characters and story.

That choice leads to flat, one-dimensional characters who are given depth only by the natural personality of the actors playing them (particularly in the case of de Shields’ Hermes and of Amber Gray, who shoots an electric current of quirkiness into the otherwise utterly nondescript role of hell’s first lady, Persephone). Because of the decision to tell instead of show, many scenes that seemed intended to be emotionally resonant, or even heartbreaking, often just left me wondering “why should I care about this?”

But I was by far in the minority, based on the rest of the audience’s reactions last night. In fact, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a completely different show than the rest of the room. A particularly jarring example of this was in the first song, a jazzy, trombone-heavy introduction to the story you’re about to watch. One by one, cast members strutted to the front of the stage while de Shields rattled off some bullet points about their character. And for almost every single character, the audience lost their freaking minds screaming and clapping. Their enthusiasm stayed consistent throughout the show, and it never quite felt fully deserved. This was especially true in the case of Gray, who is charming but whose Persephone struck me as little more than some manic facial expressions and jittery physicality.

All that said, this show does have some truly awe-inspiring visual moments. Near the end of Act I, as Orpheus kicks off his trek to find his love in the underworld, the stage (which has stayed static throughout the entire act) slowly starts to split apart and expand, all while several huge swinging lanterns throw patches of darkness and warm light all around the theater. The effect is so magical and disorienting that I gasped out loud.

Hadestown never topped this chill-inducing moment for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. It’s not a cohesive, flowing narrative with well-formed characters who grow in front of you. It’s a show full of moments. Some land. Many don’t. But a lot of them sure are pretty. And that’s pretty much it.

Terror Praise

I’ve been working with a dramaturg/mentor to polish a play I wrote (or I should say, a play that fell out of me) after the last breakup. This afternoon she showered compliments on it. And that is not what she does. She reminded me of that several times. That she was not an easy laugher and that she did not just “blow shit up skirts.”

She was such an emphatic champion of what I was doing, it was almost unnerving. She praised the way I string words together to say things, the way scenes got buttoned up, the weird absurdist jokes, everything. She said the play was ready to be read. Submitted to local theaters. That it could be taken to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

It was all I’d wanted to hear. It was also completely terrifying.

The fear of failure. The fear that everyone hears. The fear that you can’t do the thing.

But you can.

And in actuality, it’s simple. You just put one foot in front of the other and keep doing the next small step towards the big thing. That’s how you wrote this whole draft to begin with. Don’t paint pictures or predict the future. Just keep writing. And follow your mentor’s advice.

It’ll be okay. Don’t panic. People believe in you.

By the way, you can do the creative thing too. Whatever it is. I trust you. It’ll be okay.

Blood! Sex! And That’s Just Onstage!

Something obscene was happening onstage. A man was simultaneously bleeding from a head wound and having a violent orgasm.

He sprayed the results into the audience and they held up the plastic tarps they were all wearing. Some cheered. Most grimaced. A few were repeat attendees from the night before. Lucy turned the lights down.

The applause was a surprising roar. That last transition was always a strange one. She brought them back up for curtain call. Jax hadn’t cleaned up the head wound. If anything, he’d smeared it even worse, in only a couple seconds. A lot of people jumped to their feet. Their significant others uneasily followed.

The cast bowed, a strange crew in fishnets and black eye makeup and sticky fluids. Lucy flickered the lights. They skipped offstage. She brought up the house lights and waited until the audience left to clean it all up.

Lucy craved a cigarette. The audience’s collective faces were twisted and confused. Some were laughing still. Reacting to what they had and hadn’t expected. Sometimes it took a while for everyone to funnel out, but tonight they left quickly. Lucy left her box and went backstage for the cleaning supplies.

The gloves were missing. Ugh. She grabbed bleach and paper towels and looked behind everything else. Looked at the floor. Ugh. Looked behind and Chris was watching her. She yelped.

“Nice work tonight.” The gloves flopped on his shoulder.

Lucy glared. “Thank you.”

“Looking for something?”

She sighed and held out her hand. Chris slapped it and laughed too loud. But the gloves fell and she could snatch them. So she did.

“You need to take off that jacket.” She said. “It’s not yours.”

“Oh.” He shirked it off his shoulders, onto the floor. “Excuse me.”

“Now pick it up.” Lucy said.

He just smirked. For too long, again.

“Pick it up,” she said, “and hang it up.”

He did so. “Yes, miss.”

Lucy shook her head, and returned to the stage. Everybody had left, but their muffled voices were loud behind the stage door. She usually liked having the theater attached to a bar. Except right now. Drunk merriment developed while she was on her knees wiping stage blood. And no one ever offered to help her.

Sometimes (when Jax hadn’t made a sticky mess of things), she liked being in there and having that moment of relative quiet. Stillness. Before going back out and watching everybody get wasted, and (let’s face it) getting wasted herself. But tonight the blood was a pain to get out, and the loneliness didn’t feel good. So she wiped it up and threw it away and crept out to the bar with a bag of blood-soaked laundry. Her bones hurt.

Lucy sat at the bar and ordered a double bourbon on ice. It came immediately and was cold and satisfying. Jax was laughing loud from a distance. A crowd of people—audience members and friends and maybe strangers—inevitably circled around him. But he would be over at the bar once he saw her. He always was.

From across the bar, Chris was staring at her while talking to his girlfriend. How did she not notice? But then again Lucy hadn’t noticed either. She would let him talk and flirt with any number of women (sometimes men) and she would do exactly what she was doing now. Drink bourbon and stare off into space. Sometimes with Jax beside her, sometimes not. Until he came to her at the end of the night with those brown and soft eyes. They shouldn’t have made it okay, but somehow they did. But not forever.

The girlfriend knew. And somehow it was still okay. But she wanted to destroy Lucy. Instead she stood with her back to her while Chris stayed forward and stared.

Memories of bitten lips and slapped faces. Sex that was too much for her but that at the same time she’d thought was perfect. Hands on throats and hushed whispers. Sometimes I just fucking hate you. And now he wanted to go again?

“Hey hey!” Jax clapped Lucy on the back. “A bunch of us are having a smoke. Want to come join?”

“Can I leave my stuff here?”

Outside they passed around chocolate cigarettes. Too powerful to buy legally, so Jax would of course find them on the internet. They were brown and narrow, like clove cigarettes. You could take a deep breath and fill your lungs with sweet toxin. The dizziness would instantly hit you. It slammed into her.

Lucy leaned her head back and exhaled a thick cloud. You weren’t supposed to smoke them this fast. The laughing and chatter melted into ambient noise. She just wanted to be here with the stars. Bikes and cars passed on the street. With eyes closed, she could believe they were water. Softly passing. She could pretend they were all water.

Jax was talking to her. From so far away. But still so loud. Telling a new person about her. But what was there to say?

“Lucy over here makes all the gore effects for us. Right?”

She smiled, eyes closed. “Gore meister. That’s me.”

But then something wasn’t right. A stomach churn in the wrong direction. But then it was gone.

Jax smiled and smacked her on the back. He was talking like this about her because he loved her. Everybody around them knew that. And they also knew he was at least one—maybe two—decades older than she was.

“Tell them what you did tonight, Lucy.”

“..Made up a nearly severed head.” She motioned to her own neck. “Like, not all the way off, just with a hack mark halfway through, so you can see the blood and bone and guts and stuff.”

You did that?” the new person said. “That was sick!”

Lucy grinned. “Thanks.”

Jax had left his hand on her shoulder and was squeezing it gently. One night earlier, she had been in his car, too stoned, kissing him in front of her apartment, feeling like she was spiraling too fast, backward on a ferris wheel.

She took one last inhale of the smoke and became even dizzier. Head spun. She backed up next to the bar door, with its silly little posters for upcoming plays and shows. She could pass this off like she was fine.

“But yeah,” Jax was saying, “this new playwright wanted to premiere his piece with us. And he’s just the right kind of sicko for our brand.”

Sicko. What her roommates and parents had called this stuff—these people—when they’d seen them. Not everyone was built to see blood and gore and body parts and sex with all of it thrown at their faces. Sickos.

Lucy opened her eyes. She’d read that play with him, with Chris, and whispered through all the strangest parts, waiting and hoping for him to throw her down and have his way with her. So maybe she was a sicko too.

“I’m going to get my stuff.” She said. But she walked past her bags and into a bathroom stall and squeezed her eyes shut over the bowl and coughed.