Friday, October 26, 2018

Of Poetry & Plays

Poetry:  “Welcome to Brooklyn Criminal Court,” by Chris Butters, 2018

Most poetry in the U.S. is apolitical, personal and exclusively aesthetic, or its just plain saccharine and banal.  "Precious" is the word that comes to mind.  Believe me, I’ve attended a good number of local poetry readings here in Minneapolis and it is sometimes quite painful or laughable or both.

Chris Butters is not that kind of poet.  A socialist who worked as a court reporter, he brings reality and feeling together in this poem about Brooklyn Criminal Court, a place where he worked for 30 years.  A witness, so to speak, to all the misery, injustice, fear, humor and bureaucracy of that institution.  

Butters has published prior political poetry books, including “Propaganda of a Seed,” and “Americas” and others.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.  He has been a radical activist for many years and his poetry reflects his social concerns.
Electrical Power Outage at Brooklyn Criminal Court
 This is a link to the written poem.  I can't find a way to upload the .mp3 file yet:    
Chris read it on NYC WBAI (99.5 FM)'s Arts Express radio last month.  Enjoy!

Butters’ poetry books will be available at May Day Books. 


“The Visit,” by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a play by Frank Theatre, 10/29/2018

This is a play about revenge.  Durrenmatt was a Swiss dramatist who in style at least followed Bertold Brecht’s epic methods.  Frank Theatre, as is their wont, staged this at the industrial Minnesota Transportation Museum in St. Paul, a train terminal full of vintage trains and tracks.  The play itself is set in a small, depressed town, Gullen, served by a few trains.  The train station is a key locale in the play.  So it fits…
The Visitor Comes to Town
This is one of the more disturbing plays you might watch, as it tells the story of a young girl of 17, Claire, who gets pregnant and is betrayed by her lover in two ways.  She is ultimately exiled from Gullen due to the pregnancy and the actions of her lover.  The baby later dies due to her poverty as a prostitute in another town.  She wants revenge, and after becoming one of the richest women on earth from fortunate marriages, she impoverishes the town for years unknown to them, then returns … by train.

Claire’s plan is to bribe the broken citizens of the town with a billion marks, IF they agree to kill the man who betrayed her.  And it works, as the citizens eventually vote to kill him and do so collectively.  The man’s wife and children are even in on the plan, yellow shoes and all. Your sympathy is with her, then with him, then – well really, death is not a just penalty for his actions.  But for the rich it is easily accomplished. 

Ultimately deeply cynical but also accurate, it proves money can buy almost anyone. But it also highlights the treatment of women, especially pregnant working-class girls, who in many countries were and still are shunned, sent away and in other ways mistreated - even forced to bear children.  At the time the play was first performed in Switzerland (1956) women could not even vote in that country - they gained the vote in 1971.

A creepy play - partially class conscious, partly feminist, partly reactionary, half funny, half sad…basically disturbing.  And not really Brechtian in theme, just in the staging and theatrical methods.  I say ‘partly reactionary’ because of the moralistic structure of the play – almost like a Brothers Grim horror fairy-tale that is supposed to teach us a lesson through the false extremity of its choice. 

The play is no longer running here, but it may open in your town some day.  Frank Theatre will soon be reprising “The Cradle Will Rock,” a proletarian and left-wing musical they first put on in 2003.  It became the basis of the excellent film by Tim Robbins called “Cradle Will Rock.” That movie added Diego Rivera’s painting of a mural for Nelson Rockefeller, hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and anti-communist agitation against the Federal Theater Project onto Blitzstein’s original play and the real events surrounding its performance. In 2003 those Frank Theatre performances were in a torn-apart Sears store - very prescient, given Sears recent bankruptcy.

Other plays reviewed below:  “Oil & the Jungle,” “Love & Information,” “Ideation,” “Things of Dry Hours,” “Revolt She Said. Revolt Again,” “Puntilla & His Hired Man, Matti,” “The Lower Depths,” “A Bright Room Called Day,” “The Good Person of Setzuan,” “Camino Real,” The Dutchman” and 3 written Sean O’Casey plays.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I saw it in St. Paul, MN, USA
Red Frog
October 26, 2018

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