Attachment is a Nasty Business

I don't feel so hot, so posting is limited at the moment. Here is an interview with Melissa James Gibson, the playwright who wrote [sic] (which we loved) and now Suitcase, both produced at Soho Rep. We saw it last week and really enjoyed it, as did the rather actorly (Nina Hellman of The Civilans, David Greenspan, etc.) audience. Apparently, I should have written about this earlier, as tickets just went from $15 to $35. Still, it's probably worth going, and certainly is more worth your time than any Broadway crap.

There is an amazing, weird, disjointed quality to the dialogue in her plays. I had thought it was the way they are directed, but now that I've read the interview and seen an excerpt of the latest play, I realize that's the way they're written.

From the interview:

Rail: The idiosyncratic punctuation that you use for the character lines seems to offer an alternative to the more clichéd aspects of psychology in theater. Instead of rendering articulations of "emotion," your characters seem to follow a musical score; one that expresses more ephemeral aspects of inner thought through pattern and rhythm. How did you begin to use these stylistic conventions?

Gibson: I was just finding, more and more, that proper sentences and punctuation weren’t adequately expressing what was in my head, in terms of dialogue. Punctuation has its place, of course, but it can lessen the degree to which subtlety and contradiction and ambivalence reside in verbal communication. And since a play is a blueprint for an oral form, it just makes more sense to me, for my work, to keep the language open to the switching of tracks it must constantly accommodate. I’ve come to rely on carefully chosen capitalization, line breaks and what I half-jokingly call "actor intention tips," which basically alert the actor to the fact that the intention behind the line may be at odds with what actually is said. In terms of the rhythms of the words, I do sort of think of the line breaks as thought breaks. For me, these are just another signal to the actor about the patterns inside a character’s head. Obviously, I’m borrowing some of the tools of poetry and music, though I am, much to my sadness, neither a poet nor a musician. So maybe it’s like I’m operating a power saw without wearing safety goggles.

Rail: There is also a strong thread of narrative fragmentation running through your pieces. Your characters are often collecting found objects, listening to voices in the stairwell, seeing snippets of home video through windows. The stories are never really beginning or ending.

Gibson: Well, lives don’t behave. We are porous and susceptible beings and even when our intentions are definite we ineluctably veer. The veering is what interests me— that and the secret conversation that underlies every out loud one. I just feel such great affection for the evidence of our tragic, silly, smart and stupid selves.

Here is a sample of the play:

(Ring ring. Jen turns down the volume on the tape player and answers the phone.)

Is it
Bleaker or more bleak I can
never remember that rule Bleaker
doesn’t even sound like a word
when you say it in
isolation Try saying it Bleaker Bleaker Bleaker
Ew there’s a guy outside clipping his
toenails into the sewer Jen
are you there

I’m here I thought
you might be my advisor

Did you hear from your advisor

She’s trying to
Reach Me

(Sallie’s gaze has landed on an apartment in the building across the way, where the film is showing again. Sallie picks up a pair of binoculars and looks through them as she continues to converse. We see what she sees, a section of home movies from circa 1940:

A little girl, her father and her mother are sledding. The father wears a suit and overcoat, while the mother wears heels and a fur. They all take a turn on the sled.)

How do you know

She’s left

Uh oh

And yesterday I received a


Are you there

Sorry I got distracted
Someone across the way is watching some old
footage What did you receive

A letter Old

Home movies or
something What
sort of letter

She wanted to know where things
stood dissertation-wise

What did you tell her

It was a letter Sallie

(focused on the film)
Oh right
Isn’t it beautiful Jen I mean is
there anything more beautiful Jen than
people who dress in blatant disregard of their

Oh I don’t know blatancy is problematic if you ask me Blatancy makes me
nervous She
said she was going through a messy divorce


My advisor In her letter

That’s too bad

So she’s trying to straighten out her affairs so
to speak

So she can focus her energy on her messy

I guess She said attachment is a
nasty business


That’s a quote from her letter Attachment
Is A Nasty Business

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This page contains a single entry by published on February 16, 2004 11:47 PM.

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