Monday, January 1, 2018

El Fin de Marissabidilla

After 10.5 years, 767 published posts (and 49 draft posts that will never see the light of day), a lot of pretentiousness and perhaps some measure of wisdom... I think it's time to put marissabidilla to bed.

Don't worry, I don't plan to stop writing, and I'm not going to delete my old posts. But a Blogspot-blog with a punning name no longer feels like something I want to keep maintaining as part of my online presence.

It's obvious that my posting has really dropped off from when I first started the blog: as I enter my thirties, I'm less convinced that all of my thoughts should be made available for public consumption. In my earliest posts, I sense a kind of youthful narcissism, an assumption that everyone automatically would/should care about everything I had to say. I now shake my head at the folly of that.

But, as I said, I still have still some thoughts I want to share; and I still find that sometimes, sitting down at the computer and writing a few paragraphs is the best way for me to know my own mind.

So, in the future, here's where you can continue to find me:
  • -- I bought this domain last year and am in the process of building it into my new online home, including information about my plays and upcoming projects, links to my clippings/other writing, and a space for blogging. There are no blog posts up there at the moment, but I imagine eventually it will be home to the kind of (sporadic) content you saw over the last few years on marissabidilla.
  • @MarissaSkud on Twitter -- I joined Twitter several years ago and have found it very useful for posting quick jokes, comments, links, and other ephemera that (circa 2007-2010) I might have unnecessarily tried to build out into a longer blog post. It's a good place to keep up with me if you don't feel like bookmarking my new website. Follow me!
  • Marissa Skudlarek on Goodreads -- I've been an active Goodreads user for nearly five years: you may have noticed that I tended to cross-post my Goodreads reviews to this blog as well. I don't review everything I read, but if you enjoyed my bookish blog posts, Goodreads is a good way to keep up with that side of me.
  • @Marissa.Skudlarek on Medium -- I recently created a Medium profile in order to participate in a group-blogging project with some friends (we're going to try to visit and review every afternoon-tea service in the Bay Area). I don't currently plan to do other blog posts on Medium, but who knows, that could change.
And, y'know, I'm pretty sure I'm the only Marissa Skudlarek/MarissaSkud on Earth, so if you see that name or username on another site, it's probably me as well.

Be well; think great thoughts; do kind actions.

Happy 2018.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in Books

Before I put the past year (and this blog) to bed, time to do one more year-in-reading round-up.

As usual, this is split into two lists, one for plays/screenplays and one for everything else. I count plays only if they are published and available for general consumption. Works that were rereads for me this year are marked with an asterisk. Works that I read for my book club are marked with a dagger.

  1.  † The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton
  2.  Lunch Poems, by Frank O'Hara
  3.  * The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West -- some thoughts in this post from 2010
  4.  Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation, by Judith Mackrell
  5.  † Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
  6.  Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, illustrated by Edward Gorey -- my thoughts
  7.  † The Bell, by Iris Murdoch -- my thoughts
  8.  Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  9.  * Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
  10.  The Painted Gun, by Bradley Spinelli
  11.  † Chéri, by Colette
  12.  † The Last of Chéri, by Colette
  13.  The Dwindling Party, by Edward Gorey -- my thoughts
  14.  * Complete Short Fiction, by Oscar Wilde
  15.  The Suitors, by Cécile David-Weill -- my thoughts
  16.  † Selected Stories, by Lu Xun
  17.  * A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor -- my thoughts
  18.  Between the Woods and the Water, by Patrick Leigh Fermor -- my thoughts
  19.  Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris
  20.  * Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, by David Ball
  21.  † How to be both, by Ali Smith
  22.  The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  23.  * The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman -- in 2007 I wrote about what this book means to me
  24.  † Howards End, by E.M. Forster
  25.  * The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
  26.  Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, by Artemis Cooper
  27.  † On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
  28.  * The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
  29.  † * Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
  30.  * The Pursuit of Love, by Nancy Mitford
  31.  * Emma, by Jane Austen -- here's something funny I wrote inspired by rereading Emma while on the bus
  32.  Record Collecting for Girls, by Courtney E. Smith -- my thoughts
  33.  The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
  34.  † Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray
  35.  * Act One, by Moss Hart -- when I read this in 2014, I wrote a little something about it for the SF Theater Pub blog
  36.  Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation, by Daisy Hay
  37.  † The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
  38.  * The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  39.  * A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  40.  * A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  41.  * Lyra's Oxford, by Philip Pullman
  42.  The Power of Style, by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins 
These books, by the numbers:
  • 26 British, 9 American, 3 French, 2 Canadian, 1 Irish, 1 Chinese
  • 22 books by 16 different men, 20 books by 17 different women
  • 26 new reads, 16 rereads
  • 20 adult fiction, 11 nonfiction, 7 kids' fiction, 2 adult poetry, 2 kids' poetry
  • This is a 25% increase over last year in volume of books read -- I'm proud that joining a book club has seemingly made me read more, and introduced me to some terrific books that I might not have read otherwise. (especially The Bell, On Beauty, and The Man Who Was Thursday.)
  1.  Honor Bright, by Lue Morgan Douthit -- my thoughts
  2.  Speech & Debate, by Stephen Karam -- my thoughts
  3.  Reckless, by Craig Lucas -- my thoughts
  4.  Small Tragedy, by Craig Lucas -- my thoughts
  5.  In the Red & Brown Water, by Tarell Alvin McCraney
  6.  The Brothers Size, by Tarell Alvin McCraney 
  7.  Marcus, or The Secret of Sweet, by Tarell Alvin McCraney -- my thoughts on McCraney's trilogy
  8.  * Macbeth, by William Shakespeare -- my thoughts
  9.  The Trip to Bountiful, by Horton Foote -- my thoughts
  10.  Vietgone, by Qui Nguyen
  11.  The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman -- my thoughts
  12.  Les combustibles, by Amélie Nothomb -- my thoughts
  13.  * Lady Windermere’s Fan, by Oscar Wilde
  14.  * Salomé, by Oscar Wilde
  15.  A Woman of No Importance, by Oscar Wilde
  16.  * An Ideal Husband, by Oscar Wilde 
  17.  A Florentine Tragedy, by Oscar Wilde
  18.  * The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde -- my thoughts on the Penguin edition of Wilde's plays
  19.  * Assemblywomen, by Aristophanes
  20.  * Cariboo Magi, by Lucia Frangione -- my thoughts
  21.  His Dark Materials, adapted by Nicholas Wright -- my thoughts
  22.  Kiss, by Guillermo Calderón
  23.  Ironbound, by Martyna Majok -- my thoughts
  24.  Rhinoceros, by Eugene Ionesco
  25.  The Leader, by Eugene Ionesco 
  26.  The Future is in Eggs, by Eugene Ionesco -- my thoughts on these 3 Ionesco plays
  27.  * Arms and the Man, by George Bernard Shaw
  28.  * Candida, by George Bernard Shaw
  29.  The Man of Destiny, by George Bernard Shaw
  30.  You Never Can Tell, by George Bernard Shaw 
  31.  Sense and Sensibility, adapted by Emma Thompson (book also included her production diaries)
These plays and screenplays, by the numbers:
  • 11 American, 10 Irish, 3 British, 3 French-Romanian, 1 Belgian, 1 Greek, 1 Canadian, 1 Chilean
  • 26 plays by 13 different men, 5 plays by 5 different women
  • 22 new reads, 9 rereads
  • This is a 50% increase over last year in volume of plays read, and, while the male:female ratio is still pretty terrible, at least it's 5:1 instead of 19:1! 
    Previous Years in Reading lists: 2016, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

    Theatergoing 2017

    In 2017, I saw 39 fully staged theater productions; here they are all in chronological order:
    1. Six Eleven, by E. Hunter Spreen, produced by San Francisco University High School 
    2. Belleville, by Amy Herzog, at Custom Made 
    3. Fun Home, by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, at the Curran (my review)
    4. Sunday in the Park with George, by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, on Broadway 
    5. Sleep No More, by Punchdrunk, at the McKittrick Hotel 
    6. Where All Good Rabbits Go, by Karina Cochran, at Faultline 
    7. Isaac’s Eye, by Lucas Hnath, at Custom Made 
    8. Eclipsed, by Danai Gurira, at the Curran 
    9. Kilgallen/Jones, by Allison Page, at the EXIT 
    10. Putas Asesinas, adapted by Carlos Barrera from Roberto Bolaño, at Third Cloud from the Left
    11. Pint-Sized Plays (March 2017 edition), by various authors, at PianoFight 
    12. The House of Yes, by Wendy MacLeod, at Custom Made 
    13. The Baltimore Waltz, by Paula Vogel, at Magic Theatre (my review)
    14. You’ll Not Feel the Drowning, by Marissa Skudlarek, at Custom Made 
    15. John, by Annie Baker, at ACT 
    16. Breeders, by Dan Giles, at Faultline 
    17. Spell Eternity, by Alandra Hileman, at Quantum Dragon Theater 
    18. Twins, by Stuart Bousel, at PianoFight 
    19. The Events, by David Grieg, at Shotgun Players 
    20. Grandeur, by Han Ong, at Magic Theatre (my review)
    21. ShortLived 2017 (Round 1), by various authors, at PianoFight 
    22. Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, on tour 
    23. Mother Night, adapted by Brian Katz from Kurt Vonnegut, at Custom Made 
    24. A Life on the Ocean Wave, by Carson Beker et al, at the EXIT 
    25. Shortlived 2017 (Finals), at PianoFight 
    26. MacBitch, adapted by Oren Stevens from Shakespeare, at the Breadbox 
    27. The Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence, by Madeleine George, at Shotgun 
    28. A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Part 1, by Taylor Mac, at the Curran
    29. Myth Mouth, by Dandy Darkly, at the Fringe 
    30. Clickshare, by Lucas Kavner, at ACT’s MFA program 
    31. How I Learned to Drive, by Paula Vogel, at Custom Made 
    32. Hamlet, by Shakespeare, at ACT 
    33. The Mineola Twins, by Paula Vogel, at Cutting Ball 
    34. Junk, by Ayad Akhtar, at Lincoln Center Theater 
    35. The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman, at Custom Made 
    36. Bag of Dickens, by various authors, at Killing My Lobster 
    37. Ageless, by Bridgette Dutta Portman, at Quantum Dragon Theater 
    38. Small Mouth Sounds, by Bess Wohl, at ACT 
    39. The Secret Garden, by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, at 42nd Street Moon (my review)
    This is slightly fewer shows than I saw in 2016, but the exciting news is that I saw slightly more plays by women than by men! (The grand total is 17 plays by female writers or all-female teams, 16 by male writers or all-male teams, and 6 mixed-gender collaborations or anthologies. Okay, if my own play hadn't had a workshop in April, it would have been a 16-16 male-female tie.) While this did take some conscious effort on my part, it was by no means difficult to achieve this ratio. Without even intending to, I started 2017 with a streak of 3 plays (plus 1 staged reading) by women; I finished the year with another streak of 3 plays by women, too.

    My advice to anyone who wants to undertake this experiment is that it's not only about seeking out plays by women that you may have overlooked; it's about not going to see plays by men if you think they sound mediocre or boring. Having started the year with an all-female streak, I decided that when I broke the streak, it'd have to be for something really special. The penultimate Broadway preview of Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal definitely qualified -- especially because I got the tickets after taking a red-eye flight to New York and getting in line for rush seats at 7 AM! But I might not have broken the streak for a less exciting show.

    I also saw a baker's dozen of staged readings (5 by solo women, 2 by solo men, 1 by a nonbinary playwright, 5 anthologies):
    1. Las Pajaritas, by Jordan Ramirez Puckett, at Custom Made New Works 
    2. The Mourner, by Bridgette Dutta Portman, at Custom Made New Works 
    3. Siesta Key, by Jonathan Spector, at Custom Made New Works
    4. Erinyes/Eumenides, by Rebecca Longworth, at Custom Made New Works 
    5. River Protectors/Desert Dwellers, by various authors, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival
    6. The Sorrows, by Carson Beker, at Custom Made New Works 
    7. Abzu by Megan Cohen and Tiamat by Stuart Bousel, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival
    8. Ishtar in Syria, by Barry Eitel, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival
    9. Shamash / Enlil / Hadad / Nanna-Sin, by various authors, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival
    10. Attendants of Grove and Field, by various authors, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival 
    11. Queens of Temple and Hall, by various authors, at the San Francisco Olympians Festival 
    12. You’ll Not Feel the Drowning, by Marissa Skudlarek, at Custom Made's NYC reading series
    13. Token, by Lisa Marie Rollins, at Crowded Fire’s Matchbox series 
    And five broadcasts or streams of theater productions that took place elsewhere:
    1. The Encounter, by Simon McBurney, produced by Theatre de Complicité
    2. Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner, National Theatre 
    3. Angels in America: Perestroika, by Tony Kushner, National Theatre 
    4. Present Laughter by Noel Coward, Broadway 
    5. Indecent, by Paula Vogel, Broadway 
    (one of the best things about 2017 for me is that it was a Quadruple Vogel Year, what with 3 very good productions of her work here in SF and the broadcast of Indecent)

    Finally, I also saw 2 live operas, 1 streamed opera, 1 live ballet, and 1 "immersive live art event". Appropriately enough, this includes the first opera I've ever seen by a female composer:
    1. Laughing and Crying, by Repulsive Women, at Z Space
    2. La Circe, by Pietro Andrea Ziani, at Ars Minerva
    3. Manon, by Massenet, at San Francisco Opera
    4. The Nutcracker, by Tchaikovsky, at Cardinal Ballet
    5. Cinderella, by Alma Deutscher, at San Jose Opera (streamed)
    Previous year-end theatergoing reports: 2016, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

    Saturday, December 23, 2017

    I wear black on the outside 'cause I'm in mourning for my life

    Okay, am I seriously the first person on the Internet to propose that the Smiths' "Unloveable" is inspired by Chekhov's The Seagull?

    Consider: the song does not have a lot of lyrics, yet two, possibly three, of its phrases echo memorable lines in The Seagull.

    "I don't have much in my life, but take it, it's yours" = "If you ever need my life, come and take it" (Nina's message for Trigorin)

    "I wear black on the outside 'cause black is how I feel on the inside" = "Why do you always wear black? / I'm in mourning for my life." (first lines, Medvedenko & Masha)

    "And if I seem a little strange, well, that's because I am" (possibly) = "I really liked your play, Konstantin Gavrilovich. Oh, it's a little strange, and I didn't hear the end, but even so it made a deep impression on me." (Dr. Dorn to Konstantin. This one is more of a stretch than the other two, but credit to my friend Alan C. for suggesting it!)

    And it is well-known that Morrissey quotes from plays in some of his other songs -- I don't envy anyone who gets cast in A Taste of Honey these days, now that so many of its lines are more familiar as Smiths lyrics.

    C'mon. I googled "the smiths unloveable seagull" and nothing like this post came up, but I can't be the only sensitive soul who appreciates both 1890s Russian drama and 1980s jangle pop and is equipped to notice this lyrical connection...

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    42nd Street Moon makes a “Garden” grow

    "I Heard Someone Crying": Katie Maupin as Mary, Sharon Rietkirk as Lily,
    Brian Watson as Archibald. Photo by Ben Krantz Studios.

    42nd Street Moon has made a shrewd choice in selecting The Secret Garden, Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved novel, as its holiday show. Like A Christmas Carol, it offers English charm, a story of redemption and rebirth, cute kids, and even a few ghosts—but isn’t so familiar to San Francisco audiences. Furthermore, The Secret Garden was the first Tony-winning musical to have an all-female writing team, but it often gets overlooked in conversations about women’s contributions to Broadway history. In a season when we’re all hearing a lot about the structural forces that make it hard for female artists to succeed, how nice of 42nd Street Moon to revive Norman and Simon’s work – under the guidance of a female director, music director, and choreographer to boot.

    This version of The Secret Garden emphasizes the Gothic aspects of the source material – I never before realized how much Burnett lifted from the Brontë sisters. Mary Lennox, a British child raised in India, comes to Yorkshire to live with Archibald Craven, her uncle-by-marriage, after her parents die of cholera. But Archibald is haunted by the death of his wife Lily, and can hardly relate to Mary—or, worse, to his own son Colin. (In a kid-friendly version of Jane Eyre’s “madwoman in the attic” plotline, Colin is an invalid whose existence is kept secret from Mary until she stumbles upon his sickroom.) The first musical number that stands out is a trio for Mary, Archibald, and ghost-Lily, awake in the middle of the night in this mansion on the lonely moor.

    Norman and Simon also emphasize Mary’s time in India, which can register as the kind of well-meaning early ‘90s “multiculturalism” that nowadays seems a little naïve. When Mary sings an incantation in an Indian language and does gestures from Indian classical dance, I found myself hoping that everyone involved in the production had done their research and was handling things with sensitivity. The Indian characters do seem to be played by actors of South Asian heritage (Michael Mohammed and Anjali Blacker), though it grates somewhat how much time they spend moving furniture and how little time the show actually focuses on them.

    Lily is a tricky role: a beautiful, endlessly loving ghost who sings in a soprano as high and pure as the wind on the moors. Sharon Rietkirk—unamplified, like all the performers—is everything the part requires, but I was a little surprised to find this figure of Victorian “angel in the garden” purity in a female-authored musical.

    Scott Hayes as Ben and Katie Maupin as Mary. Photo by Ben Krantz Studios.
    Fortunately, not all the female characters are so one-dimensional. As played by 12-year-old Katie Maupin, with a clear voice and impressively thick pigtail braids, Mary is an entirely believable little girl. The wild tantrum she throws to avoid being sent away to school garnered spontaneous audience applause. But Maupin, and the writers, also capture Mary’s softer side, the way she gradually blossoms like one of the flowers in her garden. (As you might imagine, this show is big on horticultural metaphors.)

    At first, the casting and costuming of the brothers Archibald and Neville Craven seems a bit odd: Archibald, the older brother, is played by a younger-looking actor, and although the script makes a big deal about Archibald’s hunchback, it is barely noticeable. But all doubts are removed when Brian Watson (as Archibald) and Edward Hightower (as Neville) begin to sing the famous duet “Lily’s Eyes”: Watson’s tenor and Hightower’s baritone blend beautifully.

    I was less impressed with Keith Pinto as Dickon, who helps lead Mary to the secret garden and teaches her how to coax the plants back to life. His Yorkshire accent often sounds more like Southern American, and, especially in his first solo “Winter’s on the Wing,” his singing style is too contemporary and “pop” for Simon’s classically-influenced score.

    Not so Heather Orth, who plays Dickon’s sister, Martha. Her Yorkshire accent is precise, she handles the charm song “A Fine White Horse” and the stirring ballad “Hold On” with ease, and, more than anyone else onstage, remembers that great acting is reacting.

    The holidays are a time for connecting with family, for practicing kindness and generosity, for honoring the past while looking forward to the new year. The Secret Garden, with its fable-like story of a beautiful garden that redeems three lonely people, suits this mood and this time of year perfectly. It asks, what will you work to make blossom in your life come spring?

    The Secret Garden, presented by 42nd Street Moon, runs through December 24 at the Gateway Theater in San Francisco. More info here.

    Friday, October 27, 2017

    Songs for Amazing Comet Girls

    Behold, a photo of the raffle prize I brought to last week's staged reading of my newest play, Carmenta (themed raffle prizes being one of the charms of the San Francisco Olympians Festival).

    Carmenta is a play about motherhood, rock music, and the turns a woman's life can take, so my prize was a book called Record Collecting for Girls and a handwritten playlist of songs that fit the play's mood. Female singers, jangly guitars, '90s nostalgia, empowering and/or mystical lyrics, and no love songs or breakup songs. I call it Songs for Amazing Comet Girls (after a line in the play) -- listen on Spotify or just reference the list of song titles below:
    1.  “Feed the Tree” - Belly
    2. “Can’t Be Sure” - The Sundays
    3. “Gepetto” - Belly
    4. “Running Up That Hill” - Kate Bush
    5.  “Dog Days Are Over” - Florence & the Machine
    6.  “Winter” - Tori Amos
    7.  “Dreams” - The Cranberries 
    8. “Not Too Soon” - Throwing Muses 
    9. “Wonder” - Natalie Merchant 
    10. “Ray of Light” - Madonna   
    Admittedly, the playlist was also a means of sweetening the raffle-prize pot, because I bought the book mainly for its title and don't actually think it's a great read...

    Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a TimeRecord Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time by Courtney E. Smith
    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

    Courtney E. Smith has definite music-nerd cred. She owns hundreds of records, she loves pop-music history, and she used to promote upcoming indie bands at MTV. Unfortunately, all that music cred doesn’t automatically make someone a good music writer. Yes, yes, “writing about music is like dancing about architecture”—Smith even uses this quote in her book, crediting it to Elvis Costello, her all-time favorite musician. But clearly some people are better music-writers (or architecture-dancers) than others. Describing her love for Costello’s music, Smith resorts to banalities like “I found myself really getting into his clever lyrics. His songs are so easy to fall in love with.” Surely it’s possible to come up with livelier commentary than that.

    I picked up Record Collecting for Girls because I’ve been thinking a lot about how women make and listen to music (my new play Carmenta touches on that theme, and I’ve been diving into NPR’s Turning the Tables project). As such, it’s kind of unfortunate how many of these essays are about men. Smith’s tone is somewhere between “cool big sister” and “one of the boys.” She obviously wants young women to explore their musical passions and to hold their own with other music nerds (who tend to be male). But I wish there was more in here about music-related experiences she has had on her own or with female friends, rather than with crushes or boyfriends.

    And yes, I know this is intended as a light, fun memoir/essay collection, not a how-to book, a scholarly study of how women relate to pop music, or an in-depth work of music criticism. All the same, I feel like I read better pop-culture writing on the Internet every day. The online personal-essay boom produced lots of deep, funny, vulnerable writing, and Smith just can’t compete. For instance, one essay here is about how you should never date a guy who loves the Smiths. Isn’t there something amusingly Freudian about a woman named Smith who distrusts men who like The Smiths? But she never gets to that deeper level, she just keeps sniping about Morrissey.

    Sunday, October 8, 2017

    Script Reading Roundup: Majok and Ionesco

    Today's Script Reading Roundup: two talented playwrights of Eastern European heritage with very different styles, approaches, and places in the canon.

    by Martyna Majok
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    The Ironbound is a neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, but it's also an appropriate metaphorical title for this play about a Polish immigrant woman struggling to make the best of a bad set of options. Martyna Majok dramatizes pivotal moments in the life of Darja over the course of more than 20 years, creating a bravura role for an actress in the process. Although the title of the play makes it sound very grim, it has moments of humor and tenderness, and the three male roles reveal unexpected depths. Admittedly, some plot developments at the end failed to convince me: the main difficulty with this kind of character-study, slice-of-life play is wrapping it up in a satisfying way, and I'm not sure Ironbound pulls it off. Still, this is an absorbing and heartfelt drama about the crumbling American dream and the choices Darja makes to cling to it.

    Rhinoceros and Other PlaysRhinoceros and Other Plays by Eugène Ionesco
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    Just after the 2016 U.S. election, Teju Cole published an essay on what Rhinoceros can tell us about the dangers of “minimiz[ing] evil or describ[ing] it as something else.” And it really is uncanny how the dialogue in this play anticipates arguments that I am currently reading online and in newspapers… even though Ionesco's characters are discussing an invasion of terrifying, mindless, destructive animals, and we nowadays are discussing the Trump administration. (Oh, wait.)

    Admittedly, Rhinoceros is one of those plays that was groundbreaking when it was first produced but now feels more familiar. Just as R.U.R. set the pattern for subsequent “robot uprising” stories, Rhinoceros often feels like a prototype for zombie movies. I mean, obviously it’s about people turning into rhinos, not zombies, but it uses a lot of the same tropes: the mysterious outbreak that advances with terrifying speed, the confusion and angst of the dwindling band of survivors, the understanding that this supernatural horror is really a metaphor for something else.

    Though Ionesco’s message about the lure of fascist conformity is pretty grim, there is enough absurdist humor here to keep it an entertaining read (I particularly liked the stage direction “the rhinoceros replies with a violent but tender trumpeting”). It’s also comforting to think that maybe the misfits of the world are the ones best equipped to resist mass hysteria. The protagonist, Berenger, is a bit of an outsider in his small provincial town: he’s melancholic, alcoholic, dissatisfied with life. But he is able to resist the rhinoceros plague after the more outwardly successful citizens succumb.

    I was less impressed with the other two, shorter plays in this volume. While Rhinoceros deals with “normal” people reacting to an absurd situation and involves some degree of psychological realism, the characters in the other plays are shrill, absurdist caricatures. Also, it’s annoying that the The Future is in Eggs is listed as “a kind of sequel to Jacques, or Obedience,” but Jacques isn’t included in this volume (you have to get Grove Press’s other Ionesco compilation, The Bald Soprano and Other Plays , for that).