Thursday, February 23, 2006

Honestly, WHORES. Or, Reina judges a play without seeing or reading it.

So, a while back there was a show playing at Steppenwolf that I refused to review. I like to go in with an open mind, and this was one of those plays that I thought I would despise based on the plot synopsis. I hate to talk smack about a writer whose work I've never seen, but Adam Rapp? It's like you wrote "Red Light Winter" with the express purpose of making me hate it. I mean, "love triangle between two men and a prostitute." It might as well have been titled "How to convince Reina to skip a play in eight words or less." I skimmed the reviews, and even the positive ones confirmed my suspicions. So, I skipped, and pre-emptively lost respect for Mr. Rapp.

Anyways, I just opened up this week's issue of the New Yorker to find a big review of the New York production of "Red Light Winter." Now, the big review is generally pretty long, and goes into a lot of detail, so you might think some exculpatory nuance would be revealed. Oh, but nay. Every single detail the critic revealed made me hate the play more. And it was a glowing review! An absolute tonguebath! Read it here:
Here's a little sample re: Lisa Joyce as the hooker: "She is a languid, soft-spoken object of desire; in her pliancy, she exudes a sense of lostness. " Gag me. It sounds like the classic hooker relationship plot, plus the guys' relationship from "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (minus the funny), plus the blog rantings of that weirdo who keeps looking at my friendster profile and thinks that women hate "nice guys."* Can anything possibly be well written and acted enough to win me over after this?

Now, a lot of this is a matter of taste. I'm so over that whole Neil Labute thing about cruel bastards and sad sacks with no personal resources who are only interested in sex and obsessive love. Maybe it seems propulsive, vile and compelling the first time, but then it's just your own personal little fantasia. It's just little. Why would I spend so much time with boring, horrible idiots? Plus, it is about a prostitute, and I've developed a Pavlovian hate reaction to sex worker characters, especially in plays that think they are gritty and real. And, darn it, I need actual women on the stage some of the time. Just occasionally!

So, am I being terribly unfair? Has anyone seen this play? Is anyone else so over this whole aesthetic in drama? What sex worker characters do you find acceptable? (I have a short list, mostly from genre stuff.) And what do you all do when you're pretty sure you'll hate a play before you see it? I like to think that I judge plays on execution rather than subject and content, but this seems to be an exception.

*Please note that many woman like nice guys. Many women hate pathetic misogynists.

p.s. Sorry about the formatting weirdness and the black ads. It'll be fixed when I have time. Meanwhile, enjoy the ease of reading black type on white!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Um, well, please don't hate me because I'm currently musicalising Brecht's "The Good Person of Szechuan", whose title character Shen Te is a prostitute, or starts out as a prostitute anyway.

Of course, Brecht being Brecht, Shen Te's profession is a statement - she lives in a society in which people have become a commodity, in which financial value is everything and moral value is nothing. Nearly *everyone* in that play is a whore, because nearly everyone sells themselves - and each other - out for pecuniary gain.

(Also, Brecht being Brecht, he never understood, feared and possibly loathed women. But I shall be downplaying this aspect in my adaptation.)

I suppose the point about Shen Te is, she doesn't want to be a prostitute, she wants to be something better, and refuses to let it define her. Also, prostitution is not courted as an illicit male fantasy but rather lambasted outright for being the physically and morally degrading social practise it is.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I didn't see "Red Light Winter" if only because I saw "Blackbird" at Profiles and it smacked of the playwright leaping up and down in the middle of a crowd with his hand raised, shouting "Look at me! Look at me! I'm gritty!" He appears to keep a laundry list of human frailties and checks about a dozen or so to use before writing a play. It's rather tiresome.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Reina said...

Oh! Matt! I forgot to mention Brecht. I find "Good Person" acceptable, mostly because it is entirely about economics. Which is really far more what prostitution is about. Plus, she's a main character, not a love interest, and while there's a romantic subplot, it really ain't the thing.

Rob- tiresome indeed. Check out the village voice critic:,feingold,72173,11.html

Money quote:
"Mixed into my discomfort was a flickering suspicion that only part of the unpleasantness was authentically observed or experienced, while part—maybe even the larger part—was self-conscious, put in not because it was germane to Rapp's vision but because he thought it would make the play seem more "real." He wouldn't be the first or the only working artist to think so: Someday, some social historian or philosopher will trace the way our culture has come to confuse reality with negativity."

This sort of thing gets on my nerves even when there are no prostitutes or strippers.

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The play does sound pretty terrible, I'm a bit disappointed in the critic, John Lahr. He's a good profiler, Molly Fitz gave me a book of his for my birthday a couple of years ago.


12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But then I dislike most critics. No offense.


12:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What kind of shitty critic judges a work prior to actually seeing it?

11:28 AM  

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