JANE HUTTO : Nature's Nod
KENNETH REXROTH : Beckett and Ionesco
BILL CARROLL : Fear of a Flat Planet
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Nature's Nod 073POEMRr Fear of a Flat  Planet  
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Nature's Nod
When in autumn leaves so dry Drift across a dusty sky, Or V's of birds on migrant trail Seem like skyward ships that sail, Then my heart begins to soar Knowing fall days lie before Me like a gift of beauty rare With cloudless days and frosty air. And though I know that winter's blast Will overtake this brief repast, There's something deep inside of me Content with nature's pageantry Because it's all a gift from God, Who speaks to us through nature's nod.
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Nature's Nod Beckett and Ionesco Fear of a Flat  Planet  
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Beckett and Ionesco
[March 6, 1960]

By now I guess everybody who planned to see Ionesco’s Jack and The Chairs that the Actors’ Workshop has been giving at the Encore has done so. The plays were held over by popular demand for several weekends. This last sentence is usually used for super spectacles, light comedies and an occasional mystery. That in San Francisco it should be applied to plays by Ionesco, Beckett, Adamov, Genet, Arrabal, the whole new school of theater, never ceases to astonish wandering highbrows from Manhattan and points transatlantic. Not only that — but Sam Beckett’s Endgame is coming next, “returned by popular demand.” As far as local popular demand is concerned, the boys could still be playing Waiting for Godot to full houses. It was threatening to become San Francisco’s unofficial City Anthem when the actors finally took it off because they were tired of playing it. What sort of new and strange “popular demand” is this?

Don’t let anybody fool you, these playwrights may be the sensation of Paris and London, but they don’t draw any such audiences there. They hardly draw audiences at all in Great Britain, where their plays are put on before tiny clubs. In Paris, up until very recently, they played in tumble-down converted nickelodeons, with really amateur casts, straight out of the American Little Theater movement of the twenties, to indifferent audiences, largely of foreigners, for very short runs. In New York, they flopped, hard. There must be something to this notorious San Francisco sophistication. Maybe we are creating the basic patterns of mid-twentieth century culture here. Everybody says so the networks, the news services, the picture magazines, BBC, the European weeklies. The news has even penetrated Hollywood; alas, as yet only on the Grade B (or is it C, or possibly even X?) level.

I think the real difference is that the rest of the world has come to these new plays with overly self-conscious attitudes. They are not all that intellectual. “The Theater of Anguish,” “Theater Cruel,” “Anti-Theater” — balderdash. The first thing that comes to mind after the curtain comes down in Jack is, what a vehicle for Buster Keaton and Zazu Pitts in their salad days! And then, fine as the Actors’ Workshop people are, you realize how much Buster Keaton and Zazu Pitts would have improved the play, tightened it up, given insistent pace and, not least, meaningful contemporary reference.

Possibly in Bordeaux they still need to satirize the folkways of the French lower middle classes of the middle of the last century. But there are far greater evils and follies abroad in modern Paris, and San Francisco, too, for that matter, and a satirical art which beats only dead dogs is, perhaps, not “Anti-Theater,” but it is certainly anti-satire. It leaves the audience with comfortable feelings of amused superiority. Likewise The Chairs. This is potentially a fulminating cap of an idea: Properly hitched up, it could set off a charge of TNT. But again, good as our actors, Symonds, Linenthal and Israel are, and they are splendid, think of Laurel and Hardy and Ben Turpin. The upper classes may just be discovering this theatrical medium, but it has been there under their noses all the time, in the tent shows at village fairs and in the low dives of the slums of Paris or Berlin. When we saw Waiting for Godot in San Francisco we immediately recognized it for what it was, a deepened and enriched burlesque routine, a wonderful chance for four broken-down, wino, gravel-voiced, unemployed, burleycue clowns to put across what they really thought about it all.

Beckett is a great dramatist. He touches all the hidden nerves that lie at the sources of life and at the same time he is a perfect conjuror of all the enthusiastic monkeyshines that are the pure essence of show business. Ionesco, no. His plays are clockwork mechanisms of dramaturgy. They race and rattle along, ominous ticks are heard in the air, bells ring, the cuckoo bird pops out and says, “Angel Food” in deaf and dumb hand language — but the characters are completely devoid of interiors. The objects of Ionesco’s satires are not relevant. Everybody can have a relaxed time disapproving of the feudal imbecilities and servilities of a bygone concierge of a ruined castle in Graustark or of the stultifying lives of the petty bourgeois families of the French provinces, three generations ago. This is entertainment, not drama, and if its exoticism didn’t throw us, we’d recognize it as pretty commercialized entertainment. Think on the other hand of the impact if the Old Man and Old Woman of The Chairs were called Uncle Tom and Aunt Jemima and the scene was the closed mansion of a “progressive” millionairess, off seeking strange gods in Haiti for the winter season. Think of the things wrong with the contemporary American family or the contemporary French one (the same things, by the way, and don’t let any Francophiles tell you any different) that might have given substance to the story of Jack.

No. This is not humour noir — black humor of bitterness and revolt — it is just plain theatrical merchandise — light comedy with a few gimmicks borrowed from the surrealists and existentialists. Its much vaunted “mystification” is no more mysterious than the inexplicable goings on that used to go on in the Marx Brothers or Olson and Johnson — it’s just a little more clumsy, and so seems highbrow to misguided Americans.

Right now in Paris there is an Ionesco on, all about how everybody in a village gets a new disease, rhinocerositosis, and turns into rhinoceroses, except one indomitable soul who says, “No! Never! Not me! I am human and human I shall remain.” The parable is obvious. Too obvious. Too convenient. The Communists can say, “He means Fascism.” The Fascists can say, “He means Communism.” The chauvinists may say, “He means Americanism.” There’s something in it for everybody. And who is it who accuses our mass media of never treading on anybody’s toes? After all, everybody’s human, nobody’s a rhinoceros, yet.

Still, this whole new departure in drama is refreshing. It does mean new style, new formulas, new kinds of plot, and the return of the theater to its popular base in ancient, enduring folk forms, the circus clown, the burlesque comic, the nightclub turn. Nobody anywhere does it any better than the Actors’ Workshop. Furthermore, they say they want plays by local writers, they want to build up our own kind of new departure in the theater. (They, to hark back to last week’s column, do have sets by Bob La Vigne, and even a show of Bruce Conner out in the hall!) Coming up soon is a new play by James Schevill. I wish others hereabouts who think they can write would come up with some plays. Whose medium is this anyway? I say, after watching the rather aimless and trivial dilemmas of Jack, “Buster Keaton belongs to us! And besides, we’ve got some real dilemmas, absolute honeys.”

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Nature's Nod Beckett and Ionesco Fear of a Flat  Planet  
POETRY requires a mature audience ENTER only if you are 18+ under 18? GoTo Games

Fear of a Flat  Planet
The October mountains of Missoula, Montana Autumn blond with their curves of higher degree equations (Although they know no theorems No mathematics) Remind me that you are not here. Only the linear speech of others Words, stuck like pins into my skin, Announcing the great ideas of fullness< The data of water falling into an eternally empty bucket. The mountains watch but say nothing. I would flow with them, assume their slopes If you were here to be them.
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