Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You In The Closet And I'm Feelin' So Sad - Arthur L. Kopit

1959. Harvard. Undergrad Arthur Kopit writes the play that will launch his career, and defines a generational response to the horrors the world has faced. Well, maybe not the last statement, although the glowing introduction in my copy may have you believe this.

Written in 3 long scenes. Oh Dad, Poor Dad... introduces Madame Rosepettle and her son Jonathan Rosepettle. Madam travels the world, having adventures, with her husbands taxidermied body and her submissive son in tow. Jonathan, called constantly by his father's three names instead of his own, is confined to his rooms in various hotels and busied with his coin, stamp and book collections - terrified of his mother he dares not cross her.

When his eye is caught by Rosalie, who he watches with his telescope that he made from glass and tubing in order to get a better view of an airplane passing overhead, his mother breaks from tradition and invites her up in order to show her son what a lame slut she is. This doesn't happen, Rosalie connives to make a key and return to rescue the young man and make him her husband.

She has a chance, because earlier Jonathan has listened to his mother tell the story of his father and her plans to keep him sheltered forever. But - the seduction is too much for Jonathan, the corpse of his father falls out of the closet and...horrors ensue.

As Madam cries when faced by the horrendous scene, ending the play, "What is the meaning of this?"

There's a clear voice here, a slap-dash comedic style dancing across the page - easily imagined on stage - set-pieces ( a chorus of bell-boys attending to Madam's every whim, her stuttering son following her with a pad and pencil - a seduction by a girl dressed in crinolines and red-cheeks). A world in a Havana Hotel room, overlooking the bay, with a silver, siamese cat eating, pirahna and two Venus Fly-Traps (to add to the list of terrifying females of the play...), a boys world - a fun place to visit, perhaps, but also a world that's going to turn on any one of us without a dick.

I've been reading a lot of works by young men in the 50s at the moment. It's an odd time and the works share a similiar voice. A self-conscious attempt to be modern. Attitudes towards women laden with tradition, expectations, conflicts and eagerness. Either a complete disregard of family - or a total dependence on them. I imagine these young men, children born after the war, cherished new hopes after the dark days of rationing and daily news briefs - sent off to school, given every advantage, and charged to make the world new. There's such self-confidence, bravado in them - is this typical of boys of 20? is it just that this era published them, celebrated them young? or is it unique to a period desirous of erasing the past, stepping into a new future, with a new vision of America and the world?

And that's my digression for the evening. On to the Golden Globes and a bottle of beer. Tomorrow I think I'll read something newer. Consider the present. Where we are. What we want now.

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