Monday, July 15, 2013

The Designated Mourner

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
In Wally Shawn’s The Designated Mourner currently revived at the Public Theater, under the direction of Andre Gregory, neither Jack (Wally Shawn), self-described as “a former student of English literature who went downhill from there,” nor Judy (Deborah Eisenberg) his wife, nor Howard, Judy’s father (Larry Pine), who has written a book called The Enemy and who flies “each day on wings of scorn” talk to each other. They speak all their monologues as if the others weren’t there and what interactions that do occur are replays of scenes from the past. In one sense the very form of the play which might be subtitled Strange Interlude For Smarties tells the whole story. The Designated Mourner conforms to the Aristotelian unities to the extent that there is unity of time, place and action (the central action being the downfall of Western civilization), but the comparison to Aristotle, perhaps the greatest and most powerful symbol of the western esthetic, ends there—since in the most profound sense The Designated Mourner has no beginning, middle and end. That’s the genius of the play and its problem as it takes the form of a Socratic dialogue/monologue that could go on forever. What are the subjects? Them and us (“the disemboweling of the overboweled”), hi and lo brow, and most particularly the nature of the self. At one point Jack has an affair with Peg, a girl who operates a lemonade stand. “Jack I love you,” she says. “Is she talking about me,” Jack remarks. “My name rang oddly in my ears.” Of course the disembodied self is a theme that might have appeared in Beckett, albeit with different syntax. If The Designated Mourner were a horror film, then Oedipus would have been the creature that Dr. Frankenstein created. The first half of the play is all about triangulation in both its sexual and historical forms with the second “act,” which suffers from its share of redundancy, having to do with the downfall of the Holy Trinity of Howard, Jack and Judy,  as Western Civilization meets it’s maker. The father dies just in time for the son to lose his hard-on. “My dick lay limply in my trousers like a lunch packed by mother,” Jack comments, as he relieves himself of Judy and relieves himself (and defecates) on a volume of John Donne’s poetry. 

1 comment:

  1. jylle benson-gaussJuly 16, 2013 at 10:28 AM

    This blog post makes me miss New York City and recall the differences between the rural life and the urban (the feel of pavement beneath my shoes and great theater being just two). Can grass between my bare toes and sunsets over the lake really compensate for being deprived of experiencing the theatrical productions and art movies that you review here?
    I would love to have seen this play.


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