Saw Jungle's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf last night.
My favorite quote from the evening was the guy walking out behind us at 11:30 at night who, when his companion asked him what he thought, he replied, "Well, sometimes it's nice to be poked in the eye."
I think the Theater Alliance should make T-shirts with that slogan on it. "Theater: Where you'll think it's nice to be poked in the eye." (I've got other T-shirt ideas, but I'll save them until someone asks.)
So, it's a really amazing and difficult play, funny and stunning, and I do think that at one point for a very long time my jaw was hanging open in awe. I also think that not a single person left at either of the intermissions—though I'm sure that many people contemplated it. I know I contemplated leaving and not because I didn't want to see the rest but because I knew how it ended, and I wasn't sure I could take it.
That said, this afternoon, I find myself puzzled by this feeling that I can't seem to shake. It's this:
I don't really recognize those people. The people on stage. The characters. They don't seem universal to me the way they once did when I was young and learning about theater.
I get the way in which people who love each other can be cruel to each other. I get how we can be motivated almost unconsciously to do things that we would never admit we would do. I get that the world is a complicated place and youth is naïve and almost evilly so, and age requires a certain, horrible accommodation to the realities of the world. I get the general ideas.
But, specifically—I'm afraid to admit for fear that I'll seem shallow— the pressures the characters feel, especially the gender roles, just don't match up with my experience of life: the young blond he-shall-inherit-the-earth archetype who marries the ditzy blond with a hysterical pregnancy, who he marries because she is pregnant, and they cannot be divorced. The older, frustrated, brilliant wife who's aspirations and power must be channeled through the man she chooses to marry. And, maybe most of the all, the older, ineffectual white male professor who's grand ambitions have come to nothing.
I've met cruel people. I've met alcoholics and addicts too. I just mean that this universe just seems so white and male and pre-1970s to me.
I grew up in the middle of Generation X where my highest ambition, and the ambitions of people around me was to, at best, play some good music under the stars on a beautiful night in New Mexico or something. The perfect moment. The perfect evening. We were watching the Baby Boomer bullshit go into its greed phase, and it was soul-sucking.
And the marriage thing too. I didn't get married until I was 30. A lot of my friends didn't get married until their 30s, and still aren't married. More than a few of my friends had babies with women or men who they didn't marry, or divorced quickly.
And this idea that really is essential to this play that a woman is, in some fashion, defined by the babies she does (or does not as the case may be) make. I understand that people used to believe it, but I simply didn't grow up with it in my bones. It doesn't resonate.
Of course babies are still important to women, and men, of my generation. It just feels different, importantly different. My father would say I'd understand when I'm older, but now I am older, and it still feels different to me than it probably did to him.
It all just seemed very much from an older white male's perspective. And it's kind of even hard to say how, but it does. It's more than just the characters. It's almost a structural thing; something about the underlying assumptions that the playwright assumes the audience is making. Something. . . And this something just made it ultimately, today, seem actually to be tiresome rather than inspiring theater.
Now I'm white. Jewish but white, but as I think back on my life in Chicago and New York and San Francisco and wherever else (the Middle East, Central America), white people haven't always been the majority. . . It just seems strange to me how limited by that perspective I suddenly felt this play to be.
Of course, this doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the performances, and the set, etc. (Is enjoy the right word for something like a poke in the eye?) Or that it isn't a classic, important play with dialogue that makes me think I should just give up writing and drown myself in a large dictionary. I'm just wondering whether the "mirror" this play is supposed to hold up to reality is a mirror with an expiration date; and I wonder whether I'll ever see plays on stage which I feel do resonate with the experience of life I have had.
What are the great Generation X plays? Is there such a thing? If not, why not?
Or maybe I just missed something and, once again, don't know what I'm talking about. Whenever I have an odd experience in a theater when everyone else is praising without hesitation I always do wonder whether I just swallowed some stupid pills that evening. It's possible.
But I can't help but wonder whether the subtle generational difference is really starting to make a difference. I'm finally too old to want to watch someone else's worldview when I'm pretty positive that it isn't close to my experience of the world. I've only got so much more time left--
Wait. Hold on. I mean: Of course, entering into other people's world, and suddenly understanding, is actually one of the perks of art. I love entering other people's worlds. . . I think I just mean that I'm actually particularly tired of watching this particular brand of upper-class Baby Boomer, white male perspective on the world. I feel like I've spent enough time on that. I feel like we all have.
Does anyone else know what I'm talking about?