12 February 2007

The Riddle of the Sphynx


"We thought this was going to be about Egypt."

That's not a quote from a movie. That's one of the reactions we received this weekend from the thirty-odd senior women of Scranton who attended the reading of the play which is the namesake of today's 'blogination. Instead of being a history of the famous statue, the play was inspired in large part by the riddle the Sphynx (or Sphinx, but never Sfinks) poses to the people of Thebes before using their failure to answer it as an excuse to slaughter excessive amounts of ancient Greeks. ("Wot...is your favorite color?" "Blue. NO, YELLOOOOOOOO...." [There's your movie quote.]) Said riddle being:
What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?
And the answer is, naturally: Ya' momma.

'Twas a goodly weekend, and 'tdid start practically Friday midday with my commute to the Bronx to begin anew the filmmaking classes at Validus Academy. The spirit in the school was bright and eager, and all we were doing was announcing and describing our class to the students so they'd have a better idea what to sign up for. Thus leaving earlier than usual, I had plenty of time to stop by work to get and deposit my check for the week before high-tailin' in to Penn Station to catch the train to Port Jervis, riding with Friend Heather and possibly-newly-acquired-friend Greg Fletcher, the playwright.

The weekend was just what the doctor ordered. I knew I was hungry for stage time, but in spite of my griping these past weeks I somehow underestimated just how badly I needed it. We didn't do much with the reading, just sat semi-circle and read, and my part, though significant to the story, was not overloaded with lines. Yet performing the thing made all the hassle of the trip out, the preternatural cold of northern Pennsylvania, the junk food, etc., quickly meld into contributions to the bliss of reading lines, of playing a character. It was just a reading of a play in development. Still, it did the trick, and today I feel alive again. How do I forget so easily what that feeling is until I have it again?

Part of what was wonderful about the weekend--a huge part--was the warm sense of family I receive every time I go out to Scranton and play my part for TNT's modest notoriety. It's like a homecoming, without all the actual family angst and urgent self-examination. I know my way there, and everything I do makes sense and has some sense of purpose to it. Perhaps this is because it always contains some aspect of vacation--being away from my daily concerns, socializing as part of every place I am, etc. (I can hear Patrick frustratedly [yet playfully] barking: "Like that's a bad thing?!") Certainly our activities whilst not in rehearsal or performance were very recreational. Hedonistic, in one regard. Saturday night we sat and watched the entire season of a Canadian (Canada=hedonism) television series. It was something David and Heather had been specifically wanting to do with me since they happened upon the series about a month ago.

Slings and Arrows, season one, is a six-episode comedy of characters surrounding the creation of a production of Hamlet. It aired on A&E or Bravo (I can't remember which; maybe it was Sundance) a little over a year ago, and I had been psyched to catch it but, as with all things regularly scheduled, forgot about it and missed it, save the final episode, which I caught entirely by chance one Friday night back when I still had cable television. I loved it, that solitary and (for me) undeveloped finale, and was curious about the show thereafter. It didn't resurface in my life until Heather and I were talking and she mentioned that David had seen it and wanted to watch it (again) with me. So we did just that. The whole thing. At a go.

It necessitates a James Liptonian response. "If you haven't yet seen Slings and Arrows . . . you must go to your local Canadian video outlet, purchase the DVDs, drive to a cliff of at least 100 feet in height, cry mercy there to the Gods of Television and cut yourself with the edges of the DVDs in chronological order and allow your wasted blood of life to fall over the cliff's edge before promptly driving home and watching the whole series seventeen times over without cessation for bodily needs. It is SCRUMTRULESCENT . . . ." And that doesn't quite cover it. It takes funny-because-it's-true to all new levels, and not just for theatre people, but people people. After watching it, I felt like I understood again what was so great about what I'm trying to do. It's insane. It's supposed to be insane. As they say in the series, after experiencing the sensation of everything going right on stage, how can life compare?

In April, Friend Heather is moving out to Scranton. In theory, this is a trial run for her, but it includes letting go of her apartment in Brooklyn (due to money needs) and purchasing a car (due to day-to-day needs), so the theory is really more of a hypothesis: This move may be what Heather needs, and good for her life. I hope she's accurate in that. I understand her desire, I think. This weekend past, I could envision myself making the same move. If I settled in Scranton, I would get regular acting work at the theatre, and become a name in that smaller town. I could manage more of my life by myself, creating my own work for my own audience base. And I would be surrounded by a network of friends who bordered on family, and who were much easier to be in regular touch with than my friends in this nutty city of millions. Yeah. I get it, and think about it every time I work out there.

The answer, of course, is Man. As in Humanity. As babies, in the dawn of our existence, we crawl on all fours, then we learn to walk with two legs before needing a cane to progress as the sun sets on our little story. Taoist thought, as I understand it, also divides life into stages, albeit with some greater attention to detail. That's one of the differences betwixt (S&As has had an obnoxious effect on my syntax, and for that I apologize) Tao and Zen; Zen, roughly speaking, says purify and divorce oneself from this material plane toot-sweet, whereas Taoism takes you by the shoulder and says, in a voice that's audible to you but not the rest of the party, "Look, you've got to do what you've got to do right now, and it would be unnatural for you to do otherwise. All I'm saying is, when you get through the ambition, and ardent desire, and angst, you're going to see none of it was what was really important. So don't fight it, but plan for that. I'm going to go get some vinegar punch. You want I should bring a bit back for you?"

So, I could move to Scranton (or New Hampshire, or Maryland, or Virginia) now and get on with it. There's no gauge of legs to dictate when we should change our lives; would that there were. Instead, we're left with our feelings, those unpredictable faeries that Puck us up whenever they get a chance. Stupid Feelings. Being all better-informed about what we want than our brains are. Send out memos, Feelings; send out memos!

They do, of course. The trick seems to be getting our brains to keep their fax machines on and full of paper and toner. And check the fax machine every once-in-a-while, Brain! It's in another room! You gots to check it!

This entry now ending, due to recognition of the fact that I have succumbed to day-job metaphor.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

First off, out of gratitude for another easy lob, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I assume the obviousness of the reference made it beneath Dave's notice. Like I said, I never see movies.
And for the record, my point is that we can do things that feel good,including socializing and art-watching and STILL be working on our art and careers. In fact sometimes something like an all night video-fest with loved ones can be just as beneficial to our well-being, and thus our art/careers, as a play-reading, or challenging scene study class. Obviously one can go too far with the hedonistic approach to improving our lives. I doubt that will ever be your problem. Glad you're feeling rejuvenated, and seeing how all the aspects of the weekend played a part in that. Challenges are important and beneficial; I'm just not sure suffering for its own sake is.

Jeff Wills said...

Your doubt flatters me. Let's plan to temper all that maniacal self-flagellation of mine with some well-earned quality time soon.