Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three Cheers for Gus Schulenberg's Other Bodies

So last night I started seeing Fringe productions that friends of mine either wrote or directed or are in (or some combination thereof). Gus Schulenberg is rather a new friend -- I was knocked out by his Riding the Bull in last year's Fringe, which is how I became friends with the talented Will Ditterline and Liz Dailey, who are expecting twins (!!) in about a month. (Gus' company is Flux Theatre Ensemble.)

Anyway, together with Will and Liz, we took in Gus' Other Bodies last night -- and wow! Really terrific piece with some extraordinarily gorgeous moments and equally gorgeous language. It's a hard play, perhaps, to follow and to swallow -- the surrealism, the mixed messaging, the strong current of seeming unsurety in terms of where Gus is going, though I thought Heather Cohn, who directed, always made sure the piece seemed as if it was definitively headed somewhere even when the script was strongly hinting otherwise. That's a nice tension to have and it turned out to be pretty gripping from an audience's point of view.

In the second act there was, I thought, one of the most beautiful monologues I'd heard in a dog's age. After the play I asked Gus if he'd mind me posting it here because I felt his dramatization of agony, and his use of imagery, metaphor, and emotional gradients was magnificent. Gus sent me the speech in question this morning and so I am indeed posting it. Don't ask me for the context of the play -- you'll have to see it for yourself. And I know there'll be another run of Other Bodies very soon.

This isn’t theology, Terry, this is fact. This is science, for every cause, an effect. And what cause would effect such suffering? Life can create an infinite variety of feathers and microbes and marsupials but can’t keep its own cells from failing? That is the simplest of tasks, why should it fail? And why should we be created so deeply aware of the suffering that comes from the failing? If that is the effect of life, and in the end, it always is; what on earth could be the cause? A grand device that desires suffering, that is the only cause that God can be; and can you picture Him up there, quivering on his greasy throne, salivating at all the suffering he’ll be dining on every day? He must have the subtlest of palettes to appreciate each nuance of despair.

The thrashing gristle of the car accident, the grey meeliness of lung cancer, the brittle wafer of bone cancer, the faded bouquet of Alzheimers’, the sour chew of Multiple Sclerosis, the hot buzz of malaria, the tequila shot of a stroke, the sweet pate of diabetes, the long cabernet of blood cancer, the warm beef of a heart attack, and that’s just the individual courses, he has the all you can eat buffets of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and we even give him the dessert of war on the house; and yet each and every one of us comes to that final gate and God says, “yes, yes, I know, so sorry about the sickle cell sarcoma, but wasn’t the monarch butterfly pretty good work? Aren’t you grateful for all the late summers and girls in skirts and water falls and good friends and board games I gave you? And how about love, huh? What’s a little cancer to true love?”

And from the beginning of time we have bought it, because he made us nostalgic, he made us sentimental, he made us remember pleasure better than pain. And so this judge pretends that there is a moral to the story, when there is only his mouth gorging into the wreck of our lives.

Terry, I won’t make that mistake. When death comes for me, I won’t bargain away a thing. I will take each and every betrayal that I have cataloged and I will call him to account and when I do…oh, look, breakfast, are you sure you’re not hungry?

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