The Curious Theater Branch

at Link’s Hall

Last night, after I got home from the theater, I had a nightmare. I was digging in a sandbox, I think, unearthing dismembered penises, which I and my fellow scientists were hoping to surgically reattach. Some of the penises were beyond hope. Yet a few still breathed and, once washed off, looked like they had a chance. It was grim work, but I was part of a team effort, and that helped me to keep a cool head. Luckily, I awoke just before we headed into surgery.

Sometimes theater doesn’t make sense, or it makes the kind of sense that dreams make. Or as in the case of 2 Tales With Legs, only a dream can make sense of it. From what little I understand of Freud, dreams touch the untouchable; they put a curious finger on an inchoate anxiety. It could be a warning or simply an unraveling of tension. Theater can perform the same function. And the reason I believe I had such a surreal response to 2 Tales With Legs is that its two one-acts just begin to touch upon an anxiety so large, so menacing, that once touched, a follow-up nightmare was the only way I could gather it within my grasp.

The first one-act in 2 Tales With Legs is a dramatization of Bertolt Brecht’s short story “Bargan Gives Up.” Bargan is the leader of a crew of pirates engaged in raping the coast of Chile. The enterprise turns out to be lucrative, which ensures the crew’s loyalty and respect. But as Bargan isolates himself more and more, limiting his company to the villainous club-footed pirate Croze, the crew becomes wary. Bargan neglects his role as leader. The crew gets lost in the jungle. And Croze’s treachery against the crew and Bargan himself goes unpunished. In the inevitable mutiny, Bargan trades his ship for Croze’s release. Why? Who knows?

I can’t say I hated the play, since it doesn’t inspire that much of an effort. But the music (by John Sutherland and Jenny Magnus) is unremarkable, and the singing is immeasurably worse. Jenny Magnus’s staging is self-consciously juvenile, in the spirit of a third-grade talent show–a spirit the cast doesn’t seem quite capable of sharing. Did I say cast? What I meant to say was a bunch of people in Halloween costumes. In and of itself, “Bargan Gives Up” is strictly amateur night.

The second half of the bill is Beau O’Reilly’s monologue “Donald Didn’t Do It.” Just what Donald didn’t do remains a mystery even now, but Donald repeatedly denies it, whatever it was, although he also admits that “Donald did his deed, but in due time.” Got that? Me neither. And I can’t explain why the monologue is so deliberately obscure about “the deed,” yet so graphic on such subjects as the “love lump” in Donald’s lap. Anyway, Donald is subject to depression, and nothing alleviates it. Not the women’s rugby team that he watched, for hours, eating hamburgers. Not his interest in Leon Trotsky. Not even talking to himself, which only depressed him more. As Donald says, “Nothing was not enough.” Then Donald happened upon a whore named Water, and “lust rang in him like a Chinese gong.” When Water went down on Donald, he says he came and came like he was never going to stop. And a scabby brown dog licked it up off the sidewalk.

What can I say? I like the occasional flourishes of alliteration, particularly the “penis the size of Pennsylvania.” I certainly liked it more than the pirate thing. I guess I like watching Beau O’Reilly. He’s an accomplished sort of gargoyle, intense, and with an eerily magnetic persona that both permeates and transcends his meandering monologue. Most of all, there’s no sense of uncertainty in O’Reilly’s performance, no lapse. I, or you, may not comprehend what he’s getting at, but he gives the sure impression that he knows what he’s talking about.

Now, this isn’t the sort of production that you can immediately understand and appreciate. It requires reflection. You have to leave the theater and see how these jigsaw impressions connect, which I did. And, since it was still early, I ran over to Theater Oobleck to catch their benefit performance of Eat My Fuck, already in progress. When I arrived, a cast of three Punchinellos were batting each other with large, pink nerf phalluses. A little later in the show, a half-naked woman slathered in raw egg and sprinkled with glitter expressed her desire to have someone’s testicles removed and coated in chocolate. By the end of the evening I felt like broken glass had rained on my head.

I walked home like a zombie. All this phallic imagery–both at the Curious Theater Branch and at Theater Oobleck (who, coincidentally, have a collaborative relationship)–was starting to worry me. I remembered the queasy feeling I got at the Mapplethorpe exhibit at the MCA earlier in the week. More penises, more distress. And for some reason (maybe it was the pirates’ rape of the Chilean coast) I got to thinking about the oil spill in Prince William Sound. But I was too exhausted to sort it all out, and I went to bed and dreamed of penises in a sandbox.

No, it wasn’t a satisfactory evening of theater in the conventional sense. I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, or the nightmare, for that matter. Still, it all paid off in a big way. Because, insofar as dreams are visions, I was witness to a sordid vision of man literally cut off from nature, man the despoiler, man whose seed falls upon the sidewalk. And in that condition–like the pirates lost in the jungle, following a leader they no longer trust–man has lost his way. And the reason it seems, is that man has lost his manhood.