October 31, 2012
Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8
Interviewed by Lloyd Richards
By eighteen, by the time I went to university, I knew that somehow my life was going to be about putting words on paper. Originally I thought I was going to write the great South African novel, then poetry, and only when I was twenty-four or five did the thought of theater come into my head. That obviously relates to my meeting my wife Sheila, who, when I met her, was an out-of-work actress.
I can’t think of a single one of my plays that does not represent a coincidence between an external and an internal event. Something outside of me, outside even my own life, something I read in a newspaper or witness on the street, something I see or hear, fascinates me. I see it for its dramatic potential. That external event affords me the opportunity to deal with what has been building up inside me. For example, the writing of The Bloodknot. I remember the genesis of that, even though it happened twenty-five years ago. I am singularly prone to that most human of all diseases—guilt. I’ve had my fair measure of it. But the image that generated The Bloodknot had absolutely nothing to do with the racial situation in South Africa. The seminal moment was my returning home late one night and going into the room where my brother was sleeping. My brother is a white man like myself. I looked down at him, and saw in that sleeping body and face, all his pain. Life had been very hard on him, and it was just written on his flesh. It was a scalding moment for me. I was absolutely overcome by my sense of what time had done to what I remembered as a proud and powerful body. I saw the pain: that is the seminal image in The Bloodknot.
I was trying to examine . . . . the existential guilt that I feel when another person suffers, is victimized, and I can do nothing about it. South Africa afforded me the most perfect device for examining this guilt without going into the area of the absurd as Ionesco did by giving a man a rhinoceros’s horn.
I got to know an Afrikaner in Port Elizabeth who had been committed to the struggle for decency and dignity and human rights, but who was suddenly suspected of being a police informer. His name was Piet. Piet’s story gave me a chance to deal with the fact that you cannot simply dispose of the Afrikaner as the villain in the South African situation. If that’s the only sense you have of the Afrikaner in South Africa at this moment, your thinking is too naive, and you are never really going to understand what is happening in that country. You’ll never understand how we landed in the present situation or what’s going to come out of it. The terrible and challenging thing about the Afrikaner is his complexity: he is not just bad; there’s good as well. The case of Piet Bezuidenhout occurred at a time when I was ready to put an Afrikaner—not a hero, but a survivor—up on the stage. That was my internal provocation.
If you’d like to read what people such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.
Part II of this Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.
Leave a Comment » | acting, actors, drama, family, playwriting, poetry, quotes, relationships, theater, writing | Tagged: Africa, brother, drama, family, friends, history, plays, playwriting, politics, relationships, South Africa, theater, travel, writing | Permalink
Posted by Jim
June 8, 2009
I overheard the following snatch of conversation between a young man and woman, strangers to me, while standing in line behind them at a Towson, Maryland, delicatessen. Since I was too busy reading the menu to consider writing it down, this was transcribed from memory. (And anyway, I never carry a pen or pencil.)
SHE: You’re doing it again.
SHE: Smiling to yourself. What’s that you’re thinking?
HE: It just popped into my head, I guess because your sister’s going to be a June bride and my brother’s getting married in October. I was thinking how much I love weddings—especially wedding receptions and the dancing and all—and how much I hate the very idea of marriage itself.
At that dramatic point in the dialogue the young folks (a couple?) gave their sandwich orders to the deli clerk and moved on, leaving me to wonder what happened next.
Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.
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Posted by Jim
June 1, 2009
By Susan Middaugh
The dress hung in my mother’s attic for over 20 years and in my basement for nearly a decade. The heavy plastic, which protected the gown after its one and only wearing, had collected dust and grime from years of neglect. But the contents of the plastic bag, sealed tightly by a local dry cleaner, who may have been a curator in a previous life, retained the same winsome appeal that had attracted me in the first place. It was still a pretty dress, simple but elegant, with a single row of flowers down the front and along the bottom edge. The dry cleaner had even taken the trouble to shape the dress in a female form and fluffed it throughout with pink tissue paper, visible at the neck.
After my parents died, my brother and sisters and I divvied up stuff that had accumulated during our parents’ 45-year marriage. One of the items I became the custodian of was my own wedding dress. Although divorced for many years, I couldn’t bear to toss it. Maybe my teenage daughter, Liza, would want to wear it someday. When I got home, I threw the dress — gently — giving it plenty of room, into a basement closet, containing extra leaves for my dining room table, some curtain rods and an old suitcase, and promptly forgot about it.
With the approach of Liza’s 25th birthday, it was time for me to take stock of this still lovely size-nine dress that had hung in a closet for nearly 30 years. Although there were no nuptials in Liza’s forecast, the prospect of revisiting “something old, something new, something borrowed . . . ” was in my mind, if not in hers. Looking around for a family precedent, I found there was none. My own mother, who had married during the war, wore a suit, flowered hat, and modest furs for the occasion. Mom did not save her wedding garments for me and my four younger sisters — except in black and white photographs. What about my grandmothers, one married twice, the other dead by the time I was seven? With Mona and Nana, the subject of wedding dresses never came up.
As a rule, the women in my family don’t like hand me downs. Except for me, they don’t buy at thrift stores or consignment shops. They like to open a gift and see the tags. They like being first. They like new. Hand me downs weren’t an issue for me as a child because I am the oldest. As an adult, I like finding something of value in a second-hand shop — whether a sturdy bookcase for my office, a sweater in mint condition or a Dana Buchman skirt at a considerable discount. If in the first or second wearing, the clothing still carries another woman’s scent, I don’t mind. I breathe deep and for a moment pretend to be someone else — a woman from a different century perhaps, another race, thinner, younger, wiser, funnier. For whatever reason, this woman has cast off and recycled this garment instead of tossing it in the dustbin or wearing it herself till it is threadbare. I am the beneficiary. Secondhand is not necessarily second best so long as there is life and laundry detergent.
Given my own family’s preference for new, who are the women who pass down their wedding dresses to daughters, granddaughters or nieces and do so with an expectation of receptivity? Certainly there are practical aspects to this tradition. An obvious one is that the wedding garment fits or may be altered to fit the bride; another that she likes the taste or style of her relative. A more subtle consideration and perhaps the overriding one: was the donor’s marriage essentially a happy one? Did the man and woman truly love one another? It seems to me that women who have had happy marriages are more inclined to want to share those feelings in a symbolic way – through the gift or loan of a wedding dress.
What then of former brides like myself whose marriages ended in divorce? According to the statistics, we are one out of every two. Do we do our daughters a favor, do we have their best interests in mind if we expect them to clothe themselves in our past? Because I hope my daughter will fare better in affairs of the heart and in matrimony than I did the first time, I chose to donate my wedding dress to charity. It is my hope that a stranger will see the dress for what it is — gently used and with some history, but no baggage.
I can see her now, a young June bride very much in love and with high hopes, as she raises the plastic covering. “What a pretty dress. Simple yet elegant. Let me try it on.”
Copyright © 2009 Susan Middaugh.
Susan Middaugh is a self-employed business writer in Baltimore who also writes the occasional personal essay. Her essays have appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Baltimore Sun and on the website New-Works.org. Susan is also a playwright with short and full length works produced in the United States, Canada and England. The One Act Play Depot in Canada has published her short play, Such Good Neighbors. Her personal essay, Turning Green, was published on this blog on April 21, 2009. To read it, check out the April archives in the sidebar. Also in the sidebar, under the blogroll, business and writing labels, there are links to Susan’s Have Pen Will Travel website.
Photo Illustration Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.
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Posted by Jim
July 30, 2008
Short Fiction/Part Three
The next morning Bernie showed up at the police station and Fred laid out his plan. Fred, eight months Bernie’s senior, tall and handsome, had taken the younger boy in tow in their freshman year of high school. Now, as adults, Fred the mentor with Bernie as supplicant were roles they continued to play. Fred explained that his drug enforcement department had been given a federal grant to conduct an investigation which he hoped would nail the town’s lone drug dealer, but he needed insider help. Fred also knew that Betty was fresh out of Goochland, knew of Bernie’s history with her, and Helen had updated him on Bernie’s positive progress to becoming a model husband and citizen. In Fred’s view, all this made Bernie the natural candidate for undercover police work. Betty would be the bait to set up the sting. Fred was sure Bernie would go along with the program as pay back for the many times he, Fred, had kept Bernie out of the can. So he was surprised big-time when Bernie flat-out refused to get involved. “Trouble’s not what I’m looking for,” Bernie said, sounding for all the world like a country song lyric, “trouble’s where I’ve been.”
Fred just smiled and continued laying out the plan, waiting for the right moment to play his ace in the hole. He told Bernie that his assignment, should he agree to assist the authorities in their quest to rid the community of the illegal substance operation being fronted out of Rexton’s convenience store, his task would be to lure Betty to Chuck’s apartment, then have her call Rexton’s and instruct the owner to deliver some fine white party powder. Once the viper showed up with the goods and they had the transaction on videotape, his squad of highly trained cops would take it from there.
“Things are different now,” Bernie said. “It’s not like the old days. I don’t have nothing to do with that woman.” He was getting more and more upset. “When Betty went to jail I expected it would be the last I seen her. Honest. Especially when the rumor got around she was stabbed dead in a lesbo love triangle in her cell. That’s exactly what I told Helen, and she believed it. Shit, I believed it, too. And that’s how I want to leave it.”
Bernie was almost like a brother to him, but over time Fred had developed a commitment to law enforcement stronger than blood—at this point in his career he would have nabbed his mother for dealing, too, if she didn’t have a really good excuse—so without a pang of conscience he smiled and played his trump card. In his soothingly official voice Fred informed Bernie that Chuck was already in on the sting, had even been deputized, and Fred described the tiny surveillance camera they had planted in Chuck’s VCR. When Bernie heard that news he went as pale as an Allman Brother and sat down. Fred asked if he would like to see a playback of the threesome action the camera had recorded the night before. Bernie barely had the strength to shake his head. When Fred inquired if Bernie had changed his mind about cooperating with the investigation, all the defeated man could do was nod.
A week later, as the trio of Bernie, Betty and Chuck await the drug drop-off, Betty’s last words on earth are recorded by the camera in Chuck’s VCR. Later, they will be presented as evidence at the inquest into the killings. In the grainy, slightly out of focus image, we see Bernie and Betty on Chuck’s davenport. Chuck is off to one side, only half in frame, sitting on the arm of the sofa. Bernie says to Betty, “O. K., girl—it’s true—we’ve seen a lot of miles together, and it’s still fun, but after this, that’s it.”
Betty smiles. “Whatever you say, Bern.”
Leaning into the frame, overacting for the camera, Chuck points at Bernie and says to Betty, “He might be my buddy but he don’t speak for me.”
Bernie ignores Chuck and continues to Betty. “Even good times have to end, baby—from here on out you’ll just have to find another ex-sweetheart to party with instead.”
“Right you are,” Betty says. “After today we will go our separate ways.”
At this point in the surveillance tape there is a knock on the door.
The final part of My Wife Thinks You’re Dead will post tomorrow.
Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.
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Posted by Jim