Friday, January 30, 2009

John Herbert McDowell on SUPERFREAK

I think we have to be extremely careful, and much much slower in assessing what we think, feel or say about Donald Brooks' THE DEATH OF JOE CINO. It is, maybe, the one and only truly unbelievable theater event of all of our last 15 years of ferment. Grotowski, Living, Open -- everybody is left quite thoroughly behind in the face of a concept like this. That anything so monstrous and shocking should really have happened in a public theater defies the imagination.
The fact of its being and secondly the violent reaction to its being, raise incredible questions. As to who we are and where we're at. For one thing: The direct action taken against this show by people who have not seen it, is deeply disturbing -- the worst of all possible betrayals. It plunges us back into McCarthyism and all those thousand years of know-nothing censors -- the people who waged, successfully, campaigns as to what we could see, hear or read: without having seen, heard or read it themselves. Have we reached the first really triumphant point of possible honesty on stage, and screen only to have some of the very people who fought for this freedom for so long, completely invalidate it when the knife thrusts home?
I really don't know what the show is all about. Only the last ten minutes hit me viscerally (the death scene and its fantastic accusations against the living). I do not know Donald Brooks. I think the real title of the show is THE DEATH OF DONALD BROOKS. Given the particular world into which it sprang, the show itself seems like a pretty suicidal gesture. The brilliance of the production has not been much mentioned. I thought that the extraordinary direction pretty much made up for the sleaziness of the writing (and I'm not speaking of the subject matter but the writing as a separate fact). Where has Mr. Brooks directed or not been asked to direct?

What provoked an assault on where we live that hit us with such an astonishing brutality in this year of 1969 -- when we thought we were pretty well beyond such an emotional reaction?I hated this play. Yet I wonder if it is not the ultimate necessary step right now. What does it mean when somebody gets on stage and says and does terrible things about people you love? Maybe the highest function of art is to upset the audience. HELLO DOLLY does not; FORENSIC AND THE NAVIGATORS does. This play upset me immeasurably. Where am I and where is it? I still can't think clearly about it some weeks later. We must think longer about it and where it puts us.

-- John Herbert McDowell, ABEL Magazine, November, 1969

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