Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cat-sitting noir

A new sub-genre!

So last night I saw Martin McDonagh's play The Lieutenant of Inishmore as my official Birthday Treat (plus dinner at the Algonquin afterwards, which was better in theory than in practice as the kitchen closed at 10:30, the popovers were unbelievably shriveled up and the bread rather multiply warmed over, also the lugubrious waiter kept on coming and mournfully telling us things like--cf. before arrival of entrees--that if we wanted dessert we would have to order it right then before the kitchen was locked--the last word accompanied by an eloquent and sinister gesture--for the evening), and it is the best thing I have seen for an awfully long time--what a very, very good play--I was laughing out loud almost every minute, it was painfully funny, and unbelievably violent too. There's this insane Grand Guignol-style twist at the end that's incredibly effective--you've got the most gormless characters surrounded by (oh, sorry, spoiler) dead bodies they're hacking up with saws and they start saying things like "All this killing--when will it stop?" and it at once shows up the cant of the peace process and its associated rhetoric (you're laughing so hard you can hardly see at the absurdity of these people saying such things in such a context) and makes the anti-violence point in an extraordinarily effective because bizarre and oblique way--this would be a good one to add to my satire syllabus....

(The other cat-sitting noir I've experienced recently is Charlie Huston's Caught Stealing--here are some thoughts on that book and its sequel. But I was more reminded of the mood of one of my favorite trilogies, the Mangel books by Charlie Williams: go ahead, just get them, they are the funniest and most violent things you will ever read, Charlie is a total genius and the books' narrator is basically the best-realized character since Shakespeare wrote Falstaff, the first one in the trilogy is Deadfolk and the second is Fags and Lager. Here's why I loved Fags and Lager--oh dear, that does sound elegiac, doesn't it?)

(Oh, and here is me mournfully complaining while living in Boston that I wouldn't be able to see the play before it closed--but they moved the production to Broadway for a longer run, I would hate to have missed this one. It is a strange thing how much harder it is to write a good play than a good novel--many many hundreds or even thousands of great novels are written every year, but only a handful of really top-quality plays and scarcely more medium-good ones--often they collapse in the third act, but frequently they're no good even in the beginning. I do not know why this should be, but I guess it has something to do with how fully you need to be able to imagine the scenarios and to motivate the actors and so forth to reproduce that vision. The structural work involved in playwriting is also particularly challenging, because it happens in real time there is a lot less give than in the novel, which each reader experiences in any case at his or her own pace.)

Oh, and one other thing I loved about The Lieutenant of Inishmore: it is the work of a genius of hyphenation! I love hyphens, I'm fond of semi-colons as well but I think the hyphen is probably my single favorite punctuation mark; I have no idea whether the script actually contains hyphens or some alternative, but the language is seriously and wonderfully hyphen-heavy (cat-braining; the Irish Be-Nice-To-Cats National Army, etc. etc.). I must get the printed copy of the play and see how it's all done....

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