Monday, September 10, 2012

Theatre Essay: The Last Manly Man Playwright - on RED LIGHT WINTER by Adam Rapp

John Lahr is a happy happy camper. He's discovered yet another manly man playwright who may be a suitable successor to uber-manly David Mamet.

Adam Rapp's manly brutal manliness inspires Lahr to flights of manly critic manliness:
Davis is a tour de force of liveliness; he feeds off the deadness in others, which goes some way toward explaining his allegiance to his depressed and inept friend, who, when Davis enters, has just attempted to hang himself from a coat peg with his shoelace.
Here we see the cruel manly man arrive to jump start the loser - not to say feminized - sensitive writer man.
Davis, who is a wunderkind of the publishing world back in New York, fancies himself an agent of delight. He is as pathologically confident as Matt is pathologically shy; he generates life, but at an emotional price to those who capitulate to his infectious energy.
The manly character is not just cruel, he's patholigically confident. Well who wants to see a play about a character who is merely excessively over-confident?
It's easy to understand Davis's appeal to Matt: he embodies the wildness, the appetite, the sense of maverick liberation that Matt yearns for and raves about in Henry Miller's writing. 'Miller was a genius. Carver was all craft and no substance,' Matt lectures, provoked into a rare moment of eloquence by his disdain for Raymond Carver's "little tales of suburban paralysis."'
More notes of manliness. 'maverick liberation' and a disdain for 'suburban paralysis.' And of course references to other literary manly men.
Rapp, in his introduction to the published play, refers to Davis as a "sexual carnivore... a collector of seduction anecdotes."
But of course. He would hardly be a manly man if he was not a sexual carnivore. Sexual herbivores just don't cut it in manly man land.
A soi-disant French singer who turns out to be a window whore and an American, whom Davis has picked up in his troll through the red-light distract. Christina, we learn, is part of a pre-arranged plan to get the earnest, sex-starved Matt laid. (Matt's only significant girlfriend since college, he later reveals, fell for and is now sort of, like engaged to Davis.) She is a languid, soft-spoken object of desire; in her pliancy, she exudes a sense of lostness. Her big, kohl-lined eyes sparkle at Davis's brazen high jinks.
The Christina character is the perfect female in a manly man play. A prostitute who is also languid, soft-spoken, pliant and lost, who approves of the manly man's "high jinks."
You're an idiot, he tells her. You think you know me... because I stuck my finger up your ass while I fucked you like the whore you are? We made love, Christina says, insisting on his goodness. The ensuing violent, sexual scene - it might be the best and the worst hting they've ever felt, the stage directions read - escalates into a powerful dance of death.
Yes, the beautiful pliant prostitute insists on seeing goodness. And now the sexbot must fulfull her ultimate role in the manly man fantasy - she must engage in a violent sexual dance of death.

The genius of the Patriarchy is that it insists that male fantasies are not male fantasies - they are Meaningful Lessons For Us All. And to complete the mirage, Lahr even confesses, in the mini-review of Barefoot in the Park that follows directly after the Rapp review, to finding patriarchal attitudes insufferable.

As I read reviews of the play by other critics, all male, I noticed a recurring theme. They tend to think that Rapp's previous plays weren't especially good, and this play, while swell and rip-roaring with sex and violence and cruelty (he's compared to Neil LaBute) is flawed too. But they love him anyway. Which supports my theory that male critics are just dying for a manly man playwright to represent their fantasies. The fact that 95% of all movies are male fantasies isn't enough to satisfy them. They really want Adam Rapp to succeed.

A perfect illustration of critics' love of Rapp for his manly manliness while regretfully acknowledging his limitations as a dramatist can be found in the opening paragraph of Michael Feingold's review in the Village Voice:
Despite my admiration for Adam Rapp's writing, I've stayed away from his plays the last few years - no easy task, given his prolific output - because they were starting to give me the locked-in feeling of a gifted artist endlessly circling round and round the same material, looking for someplace else to go but unceratin what direction to take next. In Rapp's case, this sense of imprisonment was particularly grueling because of the relentless sordidness in his work: characters always at the bottom of life, actions always the harshest and ugliest.
Rapp is such a gifted artist that Feingold's been avoiding his plays!

Lahr finishes his Rapp review with what we all, manly men fantasists or no, should take away from the show:
...he brings memorable news about the heart, telling us both how it fools itself and how it kills itself.
The heart kills itself.

By hanging itself from a coat peg with its shoelace.

c. 2012 by Nancy McClernan