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Tuesday, 29 November
No Parking

On one of our nights in Chicago, one of our gracious hosts, S., had lined up some theater tickets for us. At Steppenwolf, no less! The wife was very excited; more so than me, I admit. "That's right . . . you hate theater now," said S. Or, more accurately, as my friends V. and J. independently pointed out, "You hate everything." I thought of the reasons for hope: respected theater . . . uh . . . free tickets, I guess . . .

"I looked it up online, and it's only seventy minutes long anyway," said S. I started to feel better. I can endure anything for an hour or so. I have watched "CSI: Miami." Nothing can do permanent damage in an hour.

"What's it called?" I asked, starting to feel better for mere seconds; then S. told me. " '4.48 Psychosis,' " replied S. I started to feel worse suddenly. It's by a local group that's really got a good rep going," S. continued. Hey, what the fuck? "Yeah, Steppenwolf, right?" I was starting to get short of breath, but that was probably also because the cat was stepping on my balls and waving his ass in my face. "Oh, it's not a Steppenwolf show," S. explained as my eyeballs pulsed and wowed. "The company is just renting their space." S. averted his eyes. "Well, their garage space."

All my blood immediately turned to aspic. S. was really enjoying himself watching me enter a fugue state as I contemplated spending a quality evening in Steppenwolf Theater's fucking parking garage watching a band of sweaty little macaques performing the oh-so-primly titled "4.48 Psychosis." S. smiled sweetly before delivering the deathblow. "Oh, and it's environmental theater," he said. "So, no chairs."

Environmental theater, you see, eschews such pedestrian trappings such as audience seating. No, in environmental theater, you, the audience member, wander like a bedouin around the spaaace, maaaan, being careful not to fuck with the actors who are totally right there begging to be fucked with or to kick over their water bottles or anything. Exploooore the spaaaace! Whoops, not that space or that space or that space, though, because those are for acting.

And so it came to be that one night we travelled to the world-famous Steppenwolf Theater Parking Garage facility for a little show.

A word about that show, by the way. "4.48 Psychosis" is an ostensibly poetic piece about a woman who wants to kill herself. (SPOILER: She does!) The playwright, Sarah Kane, achieved some fame in the theater world, particularly when, in 2000 or so, a few months after writing this play, she killed herself. Go ahead an insert your own really easy joke here. The 4.48 in the title refers to 4:48 AM, which Kane describes as the only time of the day when she feels lucid. Or, perhaps, psychotic. Or, these days, cold.

It blows off any real attempt at linear plot, which is fine, were it not for the fact that what she replaces the plot with is an excruciatingly tedious litany of "poetic" imagery, fractured non-sequitur, strained therapeutic hoo-ha, and an awful lot of "Look at me! I HATE ME!" Get in line, sister! I was here first!

It is a truly awful script, and I wish that whoever decided to do this show had, oh, I don't know, read it. Or sobered up and reread it. The opening line in the show is the lead actress': "I am sad." Gee, lady, we just got here. Should we go? Kane's play also features her therapist, who in at least one scene should be amusing as she tells Kane (yes, I'm just saying that the play is about Kane and not worrying about it) that everything is all her fault, but the actress isn't up to it, or the director didn't notice that it was a grimly funny scene, and anyway, there died one potential moment of amusement under the carriage wheels of this abysmal production. In another nice bit of me-against-the-world-ism, Kane's boyfriend sleeps through the entire production, except for one scene where he inexplicably gets some giant thing rammed up his asshole. (Then he goes back to sleep.) The subtext seemed to be: "My boyfriend sure is a turd. He sleeps while I'm sad, which is all the time! He should get something rammed up his asshole." At the risk of sounding insensitive--which I'm sure will be a first--if I were this woman's boyfriend, I think I too would sleep as much as humanly possible.

I actually like to imagine this actor's internal monologue during the show:

ZZZZZ.

ZZzzzz.

(Snuffle.)

ZZZZzzz.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! MY ASSHOLE!

ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzz.

As if all this weren't enough, the show also features three young women who function as a sort of chorus. You can never get enough mileage out of three women, can you? Just ask the Greeks! Or Niel Gaiman. Fates? Furies? Graces? Oh, who cares. They wore some nice costumes, though, sort of ballerina costumes with kind of a Bride of Chucky spin on them. Unfortunately, they also had some odd halos which were actually dead baby dolls hanging over their heads. You know? If you bring out the dead babies, you'd better be ready to pull the trigger on the whole dead baby topic.

But no. So that was pointless too.

It was all very agonizing, of course. S., happily, did find some worth to it: he thought the director had some good visual ideas and nice staging (at least for a piece where the actors are forever shooing you away from wherever they need to be writing in chalk on the floor, or eating oranges [yeah]). I couldn't disagree; for one thing, I'm no director, that old saw about all actors just wanting to direct notwithstanding.

(It actually sounds like the worst punishment in the world to me. Here you have an artistic vision for some show, and then you have to sit around for weeks and weeks and watch cantankerous, scuttling backfuckers like me utterly fail to make it come true, every night. It's much easier to act. Directors come home every night and wail, "Those cretins are destroying me by inches!" Actors come home and flatly think, "Ruined the director's dreams again. Hey, whiskey!")

The show was a preposterous dud in nearly every way, then. We autopsied it afterwards as we shambled to a bar, any bar; S. was still finding good things to say about the direction, I was muttering darkly about dead baby-halos, and the wife as usual made up for my horrid manners by thanking S. for procuring the tickets for us in the first place. (Hey, it was a very sweet thing of S. to do.) We had a perfectly lovely time whiling away the rest of the evening.

That night--or that morning, really--I woke up. I felt strange. I looked at the clock's glowing numbers with a chill. 4:48. I did a quick mental inventory: Was I sad? No. Was I suicidal? No. Was I really fucking sleepy? Yes.

Then the wife rammed something really huge right up my asshole. I screamed; I screamed with pain . . . but also exhilaration!

I thought, I'm totally going to write a play about this!

See you in the garage.


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Comments

Wow, it's legal to put things up an actor's bunghole on stage in Chicago? Now, that's my kind of town! It's my kind of razzmatazz.

Comment number: 006142   Posted by: flamingbanjo on November 29, 2005 10:41 AM from IP: 64.65.181.81

flamingbanjo: It's not only legal...I think it's requisite. How else can you explain David Schwimmer?

Comment number: 006143   Posted by: rob on November 29, 2005 12:01 PM from IP: 207.141.19.81

Isn't this Kane woman the woman who wrote Blasted of Seattle fame?

At least these women weren't running around the "environmental" space singing the praises of their vaginas. Hell, that probably would have made for a better evening.

Comment number: 006144   Posted by: Stine on November 29, 2005 12:22 PM from IP: 70.58.74.156

Briliant. Almost makes me wish I could see the play for myself, just so I could marvel at the dead-baby halos and mutter with appreciation, "Oh yes, they said this bit would be annoying. And it is!"

Comment number: 006145   Posted by: Clare on November 30, 2005 04:29 AM from IP: 81.111.228.70

Yes, the Sarah Kane who wrote Blasted and Crave is, I'm pretty sure, the one of which we speak. She's having a busy year for a dead chick.

Comment number: 006146   Posted by: thelyamhound on November 30, 2005 09:41 AM from IP: 216.163.67.5

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