Bummertime Blues in the Vienna Woods

November 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm (Acting, Culture, music, Theater) (, , , , , , )

Some days it’s just a bummer being sentient.

I feel heartless packing my tupperware lunch while hostages are dying in Mumbai, but what are am I supposed to do, starve? It’s quite surreal watching CNN’s panic-driven coverage and calmly cutting up little squares of roast beef in my serene kitchen.  I feel queasy, because it’s obvious that the networks had been praying to Satan for such a newsworthy story; amidst their anxiousness for their fellow-reporters, glee – get cameras! stories! i-reporters! should we use the holograms again??? – is oozing from every Max Factor-ed pore.  I don’t know what caused me to pull over on the highway on the way home, puking my tupperware lunch 50m from the Kifisia exit, but the nausea had been steadily building all day, and has carried on through my weekend.

Nausea with the play I saw last night, and nausea at the sickness of modern consumerist society, that left a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death in Long Island, and two men dead by their own hand in Southern California. Why does Wal-Mart end up being blamed for not having enough store security? For pity’s sake, what are we? Animals that need herding? Can we not live peacefully without the fear of the whip?

Yes, the credit crunch>recession>New Depression has left many of us much worse off, but can a simple sale at a store cause such pandemonium that people would claw and flatten their fellow beings to get a three dollar DVD or ten cent tomato? How can we act this way? In California, two fearsome hausfraus had brought along their gun-packing escorts to the Black Friday Sale, who actually shot each other in bizarre knightly fashion, after the ladies fought over some frivolous discount item.  I am reminded of Huxley’s Savage, quoting excitedly “O brave new world that has such people in it!”  And what a bummer that brave new world turned out to be.

Perhaps misanthrope Odon von Horvath was right all along. Truly, I have never felt so sickened by a play in my life. On the one, more inconsequential level, the performance Tales from the Vienna Woods proved that the more A-list talent you hire, the worse a show will be. All  my indie favorites (now playing at the National Theatre, thanks to the demise of Nikos Kourkoulos) were there, hamming it up in an obscene parody of themselves. There was my beloved Nikos Kouris, spitting freely and yelling as he tried gamely to support his nasty, cardboard-cut-out character. Aggeliki Papoulia gazed as wide-eyed, trembly-voiced and knobbly-kneed as ever, as she tried to ignore the play she was in.  Themis Bazaka and Akyllas Karazisis had decided between themselves that they would compete for alpha dog status in a shouting match, overpowering even the amazingly strong lungs of wizened Titika Sarigouli.

At first I was confused. I couldn’t understand why director Yiannis Chouvardas would want to mock the genre of big, ensemble musicals in such a mean-spirited way. I mean, Ok, you’ve got the National Theatre, already, it’s yours. Only experimental performances from now on — must you rub it in the face of more mainstream theater-goers? They love the theater, too. We need them to keep coming and paying tickets for our shows, or else we might as well set up shop in our backyard, playing only for ourselves, the self-satisfied, arugula-chomping elitist crowd.  I believe that the National Theatre of any country is obliged to offer fare for all tastes — the name says it all. National. Last night, the curtain went up and we saw a set that could be the backdrop for Guys and Dolls — and were then forced to watch every stock character (the butcher, toymaker, granny, vamp, etc.) turn into horrible, crooked caricatures.

Yet, as the hours (3 of them) wore on, I realized that the course jokes, exaggerated acting, and endless Austrian ditties (one was played at least 9 times — I was amazed at Kat’s self-control) were all trying to cover up what a bad play this actually is. It is not a window into pre-Anschluss Austria, it is a portait of vulgar, nasty, loud, idiotic louts who sing, drink beer and get on with their miserable lives. Von Horvath’s goal, according to the program’s notes, was to “harshly rail against stupidity and lies.”  The author goes on to say that he despises stupidity and lies, and supports logic and honesty. Fine. So why is it that the only character who tries to escape from stupidity, lies and a fiancee who can’t kiss without biting, is left up Shit Creek without a paddle?

Everybody else ends up just the way they began in Act One. They have a few adventures, a few ups and downs, and that’s it. The moral of this play is, all ends well if you don’t try to be an honest person who strives for integrity. The one who does try to follow her heart becomes a single, cabaret-dancing mother – who then loses both her child and her crummy job — and ends up (with permanently sore lips) back in the arms of the fate she tried to escape. If that’s not a bummer, then I don’t know what is.

And let me just say – before I go back to reading up on nuclear fallout and measuring the miles that separate the Indian subcontinent from Greece – that people have using make-up in the theater for the past 2000 years – Mr. Chouvardas, do you think you know better?

Let us ponder. Hmm… that would an emphatic NO.

My gorgeous, Carmen-like friend Kika may be able to get away without wearing makeup, but quite a few of the others were pale, pasty, and scary — logical, with all those bright lights shining on them, non? Think of Ms. Bazaka’s age and lack of eyebrows, and then reconsider if a middle-aged vamp would even go to the window without make-up. But Chouvardas needs to be an iconoclast, so he acts accordingly — even if it is to the detriment of a show.

It’s like those Greek rappers/low-bappers the other night — Totem, DJ Moya, and Xnaria. They have these crazy insecurity complexes, and must, at all costs retain negative attitudes, so, instead of being happy at opening for Public Enemy, they told us 5 times that they’re not getting any money for this show, and rapped with rage against managers to the refrain of “What do I say? Fuck the USA!” The crowd loved it.

Now, that just drives me crazy. You wouldn’t even know what rap was, you dumb bastards, if it wasn’t for the USA. That’s where it was born, like it or not. And you’re wearing your hoodies in emulation of the rappers of that country. So just shut up. Oh, you’re angry white boys? Well, why don’t you say say Fuck Agion Oros and its dirty priests/ Fuck Pasok and Fuck Karamanlis — those are the ones damaging this country, in case you haven’t noticed.

But you don’t notice, because you’re too busy sneering at Public Enemy’s 20-year history, saying to the crowd, “Well, I would have been excited doing this 10 years ago, but nothing good has come out of that country since then.” Dude, don’t open for the legendary Public Enemy, then. Put your money where your mouth is, Monsieur Ellinaras. Some manager must have gotten you this gig — or would you have preferred he wangle your opening for Peggy Zina?

Then Public Enemy took the stage. And I boogied like it was 1989, sweaty and happy, for the next 3 hours. They were simply amazing. Uplifting as hell. Their musicians (on bass, guitar, drums, and the uber-scratching DJ Lord) were excellent, their sound hard, and they did not stop smiling and jumping around like they were still 20 years old. Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s genius lies in the way they mix their “happy” music with lyrics full of political criticism completely lacking in nastiness.

And when you show how happy you are to be on stage performing, when the love for you do is so obvious, then the audience gets in sync with you and just keeps wanting more — without being bummed out or wanting to beat anybody up after the curtain falls.

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