Monday, March 02, 2009

Irony only goes so far

The default for Wallace would have been irony—the prevailing tone of his generation. But, as Wallace saw it, irony could critique but it couldn’t nourish or redeem. He told McCaffery, “Look, man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is?”
Yes, things are ridiculous. And then what?

Saw a production of Howard Barker's (Uncle) Vanya last night at the National Theatre School. The play is a postmodern reinvention of Chekhov's play in which the playwright shows up in the second act after several murders have occurred to have a wee talk with Vanya before he dies. Redemption? There is no redemption here. All is lost. Is that sufficiently appropriate for our times? Ach, I tire of irony and distance. At least in theatre one feels something with relatively little guilt for having been moved to feel something.

Bravo to a fine performance by the students. Great set. The play turns not only Chekhov's play on its head but the theatre itself, seating the audience back stage and having the theatre itself appear as the sea at the end of the first act. "If you say it's the sea, it's the sea..."

I had some minor quibbles with the production, mostly in terms of the acting, which started high and remained at a high note. Perhaps it was directorial, but it would have been nice to have some notes amid Vanya's screaming. The production, as I said, was beautiful--set design, lighting, all gorgeous. In terms of the script, it was wonderful to hear the familiar lines come up at strange moments in new contexts but I thought the second act was awash and would have wished for better use of the playwright's arrival and confrontation with his characters. But perhaps that's not a fair assessment given the lapse of time between the original production (of either play) and now, where we have all thought about this so much more, and yes, are rife with even more irony.

Meanwhile a piece by Wallace in the latest New Yorker.

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