Monday, February 15, 2010

The Gaoler's Ache For The Nearly Dead - by Howard Barker

Continuing reading Barker today, while waiting for an oil change. A TV blaring a game show. I'd even thought that today wouldn't be a bad day to sit in a waiting room. The Olympics are on. That'll be just fine. But, they weren't on at the Toyota Dealership, and one woman who responded, 'on this is alright' when asked about changing it or turning it off prevented deliverance for the crowded room. I struggled to focus on this play, wishing for a culture that respected some silence and had fewer commercials.

Smaller somewhat than the other two read & written about here. The play is set during the french revolution, an alternate history of sorts. The King is beheaded early on and the queen and her son, now the king, are consigned to prison. Where a face through a door, the goaler, watches all. He's been told to report that he sees mother having sexual relations with her son. And over the course of his surveillance he sees just this, a progression of their physical closeness. The queen is brought in front of the crowd - the 'Moral Public' to be tried and he is called to report this observed transgression. He refuses. He says he saw nothing. He says he was told to see it, and so he saw it, but that is not the truth. The play ends with the prosecutor for the people kissed by the queen, his mouth filled with monarchical spittle, and then pushing the young king around on his rocking horse.

The play takes the notion of the queens body not being her own, but belonging to the people - also the obsession with that body and it's wastes, it's sexual activity - and combines it with the watching of her, the prying into private moments and turning that out for the public to see. It makes me think of Karen Finley's work (just reading the review of her new piece, The Jackie Look, in the Times) And about celebrity culture, the people peeking into every aspect of those lives - waiting to take down the figure for any transgression that offends it's "Moral Sense" but it is the obsessive attention of the people that bestows the power in the first place.

And to further confound any interpretation or moral sensibility the queen did lie with her son, at his incitement - him being the king and therefore able to claim any act as his own. Messy Messy Messy. The Crowd in the play a character unto itself, without lines but creating the music, the underscoring of energy throughout the piece. He uses the stage to present simultaneous action - things happening in the private space of the bedroom then the prison cell, while the public metes out its punishments and asserts its unassailable good.

Apologies for incoherence. I am faced with a sense that my political understandings have been shaped too long by this American binary system, that I am looking for the clear point of view, the which is right/left, which is progressive/conservative and Barker is not playing that game. Not at all. And so struggling on. Another tomorrow...

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