Monday, March 10, 2014
I'm not much of one for drama. I do okay with the plays of Shakespeare and Williams, but other than that I tend to get frustrated by the medium. I'm not a huge fan of live theater, and I'm really not a huge fan of reading drama, but somehow I keep finding myself in possession of plays and reading them anyway.
I think that I kidnapped my copy of Seven Plays by Bernard Shaw from a coffee shop (again, my abominable habit of stealing unwanted books) where it had been languishing and ignored in favor of Jack Ryan thrillers, romance novels, and coloring books. It apparently used to belong to Patricia Normand, according to the tag on the inside cover. Patricia, I hope you enjoyed this book at some point. I'm glad that I read the plays but I'm probably never going to read or seek them out again, and I'm certainly never going to read the hundreds of pages of commentary included in this edition. I suppose I can recommend Saint Joan and The Devil's Disciple to casual readers, but the rest of the plays were a little maddening.
Mrs. Warren's Profession
Mrs. Warren was a former whore who financed her lifestyle by running brothels in her middle age. This is offensive to her "new woman" daughter, who estranges herself from her mother. I'm pretty sure there's some huge social statement about women being made here, but the contempt for Mrs. Warren from most of the characters and the iciness of her daughter make the only women in the play the subjects of pity rather than of introspection. Vivie may have cut the mustard as a feminist heroine in the Victorian era, but she's a little too one-dimensional to stand up today.
Arms and the Man
The most charming character in all seven of these plays is the Swiss soldier, the Chocolate Cream Soldier, of Arms and the Man. It's too bad that everyone around him is intolerable because otherwise this might be a tolerably entertaining play. As it is, it's a cute little comedy of errors and ends with a couple of weddings (or at least proposals). Not too much of this is terribly offensive, and it's a quick, funny, read so I might be interested in reading it again at some point in the future.
I get that Shaw was primarily talking about Socialism and Art in this play, but the titular character says something pretty nasty about women. The fact that every woman around the Reverend Morell is draw to him by his weaknesses so that they can support him and bask in the outpouring of their own strength is pretty revolting.
The Devil's Disciple
Okay, this play is actually pretty funny. There's some good tension, the characters are compelling and have real arcs and grow and change as people in the course of the narrative. There is some wonderfully cutting commentary throughout about property rights of women and the need for female independence, though all of that is overshadowed by the drive for political independence. Probably the most amusing part of the play is its commentary on puritanism and prudishness - that they should be abandoned as hypocritical and openly laughed at is what I came away with.
Caesar and Cleopatra
Once more there's a problem with the way women are discussed and portrayed. I was continually disturbed by Cleopatra's obsession with "beautiful round arms," though Caesar comes off as sympathetic and properly doomed. But the speech by Ra at the beginning - eesh, did anyone ever actually memorize and perform that? That speech alone was probably longer than the whole of Julius Caesar and significantly less edifying.
Man and Superman
What the actual fuck. People bitch at me about liking Atlas Shrugged because it's slow-moving and has random, long, speeches tossed in here and there (also because Ayn Rand was legitimately crazy and I don't totally disagree with her on a lot of things). As long as John Galt's speech may be (78 pages in my copy) it sure as hell doesn't make up a third of the length of the book. The Don Juan scene is totally unnecessary, way too long, and what isn't nonsense is patently offensive. Which only makes sense because Shaw was writing a play bemoaning the fact that women force men to marry them and are horrible, conniving bitches. Fuck you, George Bernard Shaw. You clearly had a lot to say about women, their place in the world (all about the fucking glory of motherhood in so many of these plays), and their uses and you ended up writing what amounts to the Andrist's Manifesto. And also, fuck you for including that long-ass dream scene AND a 58 page handbook outlining exactly what's wrong in the relations between men and women and getting the problems pretty much completely reversed. And all of this came from someone who was trying to be a progressive feminist at the time.
Fight the patriarchy!
Here we have a pretty okay little Joan of Arc story that spends most of its screentime as a debate over the rights of the governed versus the rights of those who govern. It is pretty significantly anachronistic in a lot of ways. Joan is not horribly written and none of the other characters makes me want to punch someone in the face for the entire time they're on stage, so this might be the most likeable play of the bunch even considering that someone gets burned to death in it.
Anyway, I think I'm going to be taking a break from drama as a while because of how grumpy this book made me. Maybe I'll break down and read one of my newly-purchased books instead of something from my to-read pile because reading one book after another after another that frustrates me is getting a little exhausting. Happy reading, and fight the patriarchy.
Shaw, George Bernard. Seven Plays by Bernard Shaw with Prefaces and Notes.
Dodd, Mead & Company. New York: New York. 1951.