Thursday, January 19, 2012

poor Mac Wellman

That's what Akiva Fox, writing in an academic organ The Thread calls him. "Poor Mac Wellman."

It seems to me that Mac Wellman is doing pretty damn well for himself. Not alot of people get paid to masturbate.

You think that's harsh? Check this out and try to tell me that isn't the most egregious example of wankerage you've ever read.

Wellman doesn't just get paid to wank it, he gets awards, he gets accolades for it, as his web site bio will tell you. So why does Akiva Fox feel bad for Mac Wellman? Apparently because he isn't as well-loved as Shakespeare. Here's the context:
Shakespeare... like every great writer, a person who used language in unexpected ways to show other human beings themselves in all their inexplicable fullness. He was not a god; he was not perfect; he was not a genre; he was a writer who strung words together around the time Modern English was coalescing. He was in the right place at the right time. Had he been born in our time, like poor Mac Wellman, he might have fallen on deaf ears. Shakespeare was lucky and good, which is what all geniuses seem to be. The danger of undue reverence is that it leads to vagueness, generality, and every other fatal enemy of art. We tend to think it’s enough to say the words in the right order. Any other playwright, directed and acted the way we approach Shakespeare’s work, would have his work savaged by every critic within scribbling distance.
Apparently only reverence of Shakespeare is dangerous. Reverence for Mac Wellman seems to be an acceptable risk.

The fact that both Akiva Fox's essay and the essay he is responding to, Adam Sobsey's Shakespeare Problem both look to Mac Wellman for some kind of guidance on the subject of Shakespeare is bizarre in the extreme.  I can't think of a playwright further from William Shakespeare, in approach, in affect, in audience-orientation, than Mac Wellman.  But I'll let Wikipedia tell it:
Wellman is best known for his experimental work in the theater which rebels against theatrical conventions, often abandoning such traditional elements as plot and character altogether.
While Shakespeare's language was often innovative (and also, often long-winded and tiresome) he certainly didn't abandon plot and character. He was enough of a traditionalist that plot and character were critical - in fact one of the reasons for his standing as a genius is the way he improved on the character and plotting of his original source material.

I took a workshop at the Flea Theatre with Mac Wellman over ten years ago. It was a two-part workshop and he gave us homework in the week between part one and part two, and I thought the homework was so ridiculous, so far from the nuts and bolts of crafting a play, that I just dropped the hell out. I don't remember now what the homework entailed -  I just remember being filled with the pointless futility of it all.

It wasn't a good portent during part one when Wellman explained that while he was interested in the pagan philosopher/mathematician Hypatia of Alexandria, it wasn't because she was an atheist heroine martyred by a Christian mob. He wasn't interested in the dramatic aspects of her life and achievements, the fact that she was a sort of atheist Joan of Arc. In other words, he wasn't interested in the bits that Shakespeare would have been interested in.

I haven't seen Wellman's play, HYPATIA, but I strongly suspect that the NYTimes review is honest and accurate, and it does not surprise me a bit:
Hypatia, played by Sophia Fox-Long with the self-involvement of someone hearing inner voices, is mostly at center stage, engaging with various folks as she passes ethereally through the ages. Meanwhile a variety of narrators, who are never identified but whose costuming and locutions place them anachronistically outside the basic time frame, are spotlighted and blacked out as they take turns speaking.

One has the manner and dress of a television newswoman, another a businessman speaking in Brooklynese, a third a nightclub torch singer. A fourth emanates from an electronic device. Their echolalic repetitions as they puzzle over the legend of the main character are perhaps a suggestion that the mysteries that so appealed to Hypatia -- the nature of zero, for instance -- have remained symbolically in force through the ages. But perhaps not.
Why have an atheist Joan of Arc when you can have Hypatia the flower child in lah-lah land?

No, the plays of Mac Wellman are pretty much the opposite of the plays of William Shakespeare, and I don't think Wellman has any insights into Shakepeare's works that are at all useful. The poor man will just have to get by with getting paid to wank-off for his usual audience of academics. I'm sure the people working at Foxconn pity the hell out of him.

Fortunately someone was interested in telling Hypatia's real story: