Second Evening of Poets Theater at Small Press Traffic

Friday Night January 22nd
(from the program)


written & directed by cassandra smith

Henry Haberdash.....Matthew Timmons
Jackson Pollock.....David Buuck
Frank O'Hara.....Brandon Brown

The Gay Way
by Joe Brainard (1972)
directed by Sara Larsen

Bob....Ted Rees
Dick....Evan Kennedy
Censors....Cassie Smith & Sara Larsen

The Corpse
by Russell Atkins (1954)
directed by Kevin Killian

Widow....Cliff Hengst
Hired Men....Scott Hewicker and Wayne Smith
Inspector....Craig Goodman

I* N* T* E* R* M* I* S* S* I* O* N*


Monkey Talk
by Tonya Foster
directed by Taylor Brady

Rafique Franfs (as Queen Kong & Sojourner Williams)
Taylor Brady (as Carl Denham & Agent Jack Driscoll)
Michael Cross (as the MC)

Join our distinguished panelists, literary scholar Sojourner Williams and FBI Agent Jack Driscoll, as we consider authenticity and the performance of blackness in the relationship between poet and cultural icon Queen Kong, publisher and socialite Carl Denham, and the all-seeing eye of state power.

Song #3
by Bruce Andrews (1973)
performed by David Brazil & Erika Staiti

The Origins of Old Son
by Robert Duncan (1955)
adapted & directed by David Brazil

Old Son....Brandon Brown
Medusa....Erin Morrill
Grandma....Sara Larsen
Bird Doll....Michael Cross

After dinner, comes civilization.

Poets Theater 2010 was curated by David Buuck, C.S. Giscombe, and Lauren Shufran.

SPT'second night of Poets Theater 2010 was entirely different from its first. In part a celebration of Patrick Durgin's The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater 1945-1985, edited by Kevin Killian and David Brazil, the night's festivities offered several plays from the anthology: Russell Atkins's "The Corpse," Robert Duncan's "The Origin of Old Son," Joe Brainard's "The Gay Way," and Bruce Andrew's "Song #3." The evening also featured two new plays, Tonya Foster's "Monkey Talk" and cassandra smith's "Interview."

Several of these plays included multimedia stagings. smith's "Interview" featured photographs of David Buuck eerily inhabiting the form of Jackson Pollock and Brandon Brown as Frank O'Hara. Pollock remained mute throughout, while most of the lines belonged to the garrulous Henry Haberdash who queried Pollack about his painting and the relationship of one drop to another. After each one-way dialogue, Haberdash blurted out, "Thanks, Jack, I feel great!"

Foster's "Monkey Talk" included excerpts from videotaped interviews with southern good-ole white boy Carl Denham and Queen Kong whose authenticity as a black southern woman was interrogated by Denham and Agent Driscoll. Onstage, Sojourner Williams and Agent Driscoll commented on this documentary "evidence," discussed Kong's essay "Seems" (Seams?) in a battle of interpretation. The play exposes the perilous and powerful valences of location and perspective, exploring how they undergird racism on the one hand, and enable resistances on the other. Some of the lines I jotted down:

"Blackness requires one to see from multiple perspectives" says Williams.

"If Eve had been a black woman, she might have made the same choices, but at least she would have seen where the snake was coming from."

"I wasn't willing to be the exceptional other."

"Maybe I just saw others, behind the other."

"The Gay Way" is a short little play that was staged by Larsen. The scene is a "New York City "Village" bedroom of the mid-fifties." Here is Brainard's text:

[The curtain rises....two young men (BOB and DICK) are in bed together, asleep. Arm n arm, their bodies covered fro the waists down with a white sheet. Morning sunlight is streaming through the window as BOB begins to stir.]

BOB: (Yawning): I guess I'd better be getting up.

[As BOB begins to pull back the sheet the curtain quickly drops [Larsen used a transparent sheet] because, you see, male nudity was not allowed on stage in the mid-Fifties. And homosexual themes were heavily frowned upon.

As the indignant audience storms out of the theater shouting "God damned pansies!" and "We want our money back!" the play continues behind the curtain as DICK gets out of bed and joins BOB on the floor for some very wild love making (use your imagination here) much to the amusement of the stage hands who, you see, are the real audience.]



Unfortunately, only a limited number of 'seats" will be available due to union laws pertaining to a "fixed" number of stage hands allowed on stage per performance.

The author has nothing against a male and female production so long as a homosexual "audience" is used and the title be changed, appropriately, to "The Straight Way."

Should your production be raided, the author recommends that you try to accept the raid as "part of the play."

I've never read any of Russell Atkins work. What a mistake! The syntax and diction of "The Corpse" written in 1954 is almost Elizabethan. The play opens with a woman coming to a burial ground to see the body of her lover, Larenuf. Over the course of the play, the audience discovers that this a recurring event. The woman is aided by two hired men who ritually unearth the dead man's coffin. The play is humorous with Cliff Hengst as the grief-stricken widow and the perplexed but money hungry hired men; it is also punctured by lush and strangely moving meditations on recognition, identity, passion. Here's a little tidbit from the beginning.

Larenuf. Of course you would be thus.
Bravely waiting on the worse

Second Hired Man:
He seems only a little changed, Lady.

Ah, Larenuf, you lie here passed merely nowhere.
The head, the lips, familiar there.

I wished you "other worlds" knowing you were here.

I say again--it is hard not to say--ashes or gone all;
Dead, were you suddenly unrecognizable;
Had you been jaded, unsympathetic or old,

I would have bowed off as they resignedly
Through the heath'd faint perfumed array.
{more to HIRED MEN]
Kissable he is. Yet he is from kissing far.
The moons of this eyelids extinguished are.
A blur comes there. The face cakes more.

There is not the same, though same the setting.
Of his Sahara'd cheek, some sordid etching.

Now this place moved upon, keeping has of his lifelike hand.
And all ends.
Leave me a moment, will you?

Andrews' "Song #3" was staged as an aggressive/passionate ping-pong match of sorts as Erika Staiti and David Brazil traded pitches across the stage with David hurling all the lines with love in them--Love Nest, Pagan Love Song, Love in the afternoon, The Man I Love, I Live to Love, Easy to Love, etc.,--and Erika volleying back with--Massacre, Thunder Afloat, The Hypnotic Eye, Cannibal Girls, Hands of a Strangler, etc. Light-hearted music as the backdrop.

"The Origins of Old Son," Duncan's play, was somewhat modified by David Brazil to include a bit about Charles Olson (played by Brandon Brown) and Janis Joplin (Sara Larsen) having a date, with an appearance from the be-caped Robert Duncan himself (Kevin Killian)who claims he brings his "tyrannical intelligence and his black cape" and then immobilizes Olson. Before Olson is put out, Olson/Brandon gets to spout "all that matters is the thing. the thing that is the thing" and "I'm here to represent poetry. If you want to talk about actuality....actuality it falls like a doom upon us all!" The play then mushroomed into Duncan's script with Sara Larsen's lovely southern accent and Erin Morrill's impressive Medusa. Mouths got bloody and in the end the cast plus some audience members shut down this part of the night with dancing on the stage.

The collection of plays from the second evening provided a rich banquet---bits from different periods and poets--some alive, others dead; some East and some West Coast writers. At the same time, there was a great deal of crossover among the directors and casts for many of these plays. The universe of players was small. This made for an interesting tension--widely different and disparate texts performed by a small band of players. As I write this, oddly, I'm suddenly reminded of my visit last summer to Frederick Church's Persian Hudson River Valley mansion, called Olana. The parlor included a landing that served as a stage, complete with curtains, upon which, our docent told us, the family and guests performed tableaux vivants for one another. Poets Theater reminds me a bit of that 19th century form of entertainment though the tableaux were silent while poets theater is usually garrulity itself!

Kevin and David's introduction to the Kenning Anthology provides a very useful historical and formal contextualization of poets theater. Here's how they frame poets theater at the close of the intro:

Though there's no rigid definition of poets theater, one way to try to articulate its shape through time is to try and catch it performing its social function. These plays occupy a charged social space between the disputed territories of performativity, theatricality, and the textual. In trying to think of a general principle that might connect all three, and to define "the social function" of poets theater, we were led to think about the social function of Greek theater in the classical age. Theater, as a public, indeed civic, event, was that instrument via which the body of the citizens could see and experience itself, and most particularly its deepest conflicts and crises. In tragedy, this takes the form of explorations of kinship, law, justice, right, piety and so on. In Old Comedy, whose only extant exemplar is Aristophanes, the citizens of the polis can see satirized both individuals (Aristophanes mocks Socrates by name in The Clouds, just as poets theater might satirize some literary buffoon in a roman à clef mode) and types. There's also plenty of space for word play, in-jokes, throwaway topical references, and so on.

Anyway, it's here something close to the spirit of poets theater proper obtrudes. If instead of the instrument of self-reflection of the polis we think of this theater as the instrument for self-reflection of the coterie we might throw some light on what it has meant in our period. David Buuck's 2007 "Some Remarks on Poets Theater," written for a San Francisco festival of contemporary work, defines the genre in terms of what he calls counter-professionalism, anti-illusionism, rigorous amateurism. The very conditions of coterie production, often enough involving impromptu performance spaces, improvised props, and zero budget, call forth a style of theater whose disorderly elements bring to mind the topsy-turvy "world turned upside down" that Mikhail Bahktin characterizes in his writings on Rabelais as the carnivalesque.

Obliged, then, to arrive at a conclusion about the genre of poets theater, we might claim that its disorderly hybridity is its genre--that it is, perhaps, a genre in the process of formation, emerging out of the destabilization of sorts of prior forms, social as well as literary. In other words, new scenes of production and new social formations equal new genres. And this is one of them--perhaps, despite its apparently minor character, a crucial one (xiii-xiv).

Dear Readers, I can only urge you to: Go buy this anthology. A must have! Find it here at SPD. Here's an interview with Kevin about the anthology.

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