Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Trolley Car Line Greed


 Don’t get me wrong, A Streetcar Named Desire’s a great rhythmic title and what Tennessee Williams was truly terrific at: serving up seductive labels that stir our imagination well before we take in his plays. Titles the way a second-hand car dealer deploys banners and flags, or someone like Eugene O’Neill strings out Moon for the Misbegotten or Long Day’s Journey into Night, making one wonder if a playwright hits upon a grand tag first, only then writing a play around it, bait before the catch. Until he gets stuck, struck by the great American disease of self-parody of the sort that so pathetically afflicted musical talents like Liberace and Elvis. But what the hell, the marquee’s everything, isn’t it? And all the contrived applause leading to artistic death, small doses at the time, authors as salesmen, sometimes putting on offer very little else. Still, rewarded with lauding by the hour, flattery by the line, and also doing Mr. Williams in, which is a shame. Yes, all of it starting with titles just being titles, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof has nothing to with cats on tin roofs, and as far as I know Night of the Iguana never sported a lizard on stage. As for The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More, well, all right, perhaps a half symbolism there, but you do get my point.

Thus with A Streetcar Named Desire, in fact having little or nothing to do with streetcars. A work containing no more panting or slow-burning desire and emotionally crippled characters unable to unconditionally acknowledge and accept one another and what this leads to, than stage creations by other dramatists, tall and short. Of course everything can be made to fit, including the Elysian Field neighborhood of New Orleans, suddenly a Purgatory rather than the vaunted mythical Valhalla full of frolicking heroes, but convenient poetic license aside, shouldn’t metaphors apart from being beautiful, make some unexpected sense?

Unless, of course… they’re nothing of the kind.

 Beside the ‘Tennessee’ business, the slickness of the State nick-name (Imagine Sir Normandy Halliday?), plus Mr Williams’ imaginative, baroque southern language and much name-dallying rather than tight, contemporary plots, and speaking a handful of languages myself, it always amazed me how European theatre folks took his titles so literally and his work in such vapid awe. For on another level, would anybody in his right mind ever announce Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Below Lactic Forest? Yet that sort of mechanical stuff gets paraded around by civil-servant run, state funded continental European theatre. I mean, a look at the Welsh map quickly reveals there in fact exists the remnant of a forest quaintly called Milk Wood. And certainly, it’s rather difficult figuring out what milk and woods have in common, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s the one part Mr. Thomas didn’t make up. So once there existed a milky white forest, one more commonly associated with Siberia than with Wales. So what! Perhaps already then an obscure metaphor, though certainly not one now. Either way Milk Wood, being a ‘nom propre‘, to be left alone in the way that Montenegro never gets translated as Blackmountain or Carlsberg and Monte Carlo as Charlie’s Mountain. What gets translated is the ‘Under’ part, the preposition, leading to something like

                                En dessous Milk Wood

                                Sotto Milk Wood

                                Onder Milk Wood

                                Unter Milk Wood

                                Debajo Milk Wood

or whatever, in a given idiom. But what at this particular time provokes my brief outburst is the ridiculous translation of A Streetcar Named Desire by those same state perpetrators. For ‘Desire’ shouldn’t be translated into something that despite Tennessee Williams’ naughty insistence never was. A Streetcar Named Desire’s a clever take all right, it has the makings of such a magnificent metaphor, except that this streetcar rides for real, in New Orleans, and an old rickety affair it is. With as end of the line the Desire neighborhood where Desire Street and Desire Parkway reign. In fact End Line Desire or A Streetcar To Oblivion would have been a far more apt title for the play, given its dramatic surge. Still, it does ring so much better than, say, A Subway Direction Idlewild Airport, if, all the way back, in the late forties, the plot had been set in Queens, N.Y.

The problem then with the Europeans is never taking the trouble to travel to New Orleans, and in translation augmenting William’s little title fraud to a degree bordering lunacy. Coming up, and translating it all straight back for you, with titles like Trolley Car Line Greed, producing an image of someone compulsively absconding with public transport units. (Damn, there comes another one. I’m getting mighty tired of this! Do I get anything else done today?)


So that what this is all about is not so much Mr. Williams but the dutiful, industrial productions of his work in Amsterdam, Prague, Antwerp and like cities: all that lazy European hero-worship. Or better still, the living off international name-tags, the going along blindly of it, the lacking of all pride of it, the sad absence of critical judgment of it, the seeking to be looked up to as an important cog in the theatre trade without having a grain of creative judgment or ability oneself. Serving up and getting away with risk-free, pre-approved works: the frequency with which these and other ‘known’ plays are repeated, staggering. This no longer about stage art, but about attempting to obtain stature by association. This about robbing great talent, playwrights nearer by, of oxygen and opportunity. Those who wait and wait and who are often shut out until they die, as production budgets, inevitably limited, get squandered on ‘recognition’ pieces, produced like cultural pabulum, bad translations mostly adding insult to injury.

Did you like it?

– Oh, darling, It gave me the shivers. It was so dutiful…

– Pardon me?

Anyway, when traveling around Europe, should you notice the staging of yet another Tennessee Williams play, advertised for the 100th time in Zurich, Zagreb or Modena, try not to be impressed. And if you haven’t got a clue which particular play’s up except for the author’s name below it simply because you don’t understand the local language, don’t worry. Neither likely do the comfortable, don’t-rock-the boat, hip-on-the-surface-but-tragically-conventional chaps behind such stage fluff. All of it art by committee, with predictable results.

Shocks, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think these ego-tripping, falsely anointed fonctionnaires should ever mount another Trolley Car Line Greed. Anymore than they would A Highway Job Called Robbery, by the superb Oxfordshire Smith.


 Download Anthony Steyning’s terrific new E-Novel: A Kiss by the Clowns

Lofty Labels

Rococo was Baroque’s Dadaism, Postmodernism nothing but Neo-Retro, then again everything’s Neo-Retro!


Download Anthony Steyning’s delicious new E-Novel: A Kiss by the Clowns


Look at the lion and his magnificent manes, his wives plain Janes and nothing to lose sleep over. Look at the male peacock and his fantastic crop, plumes and dancing feet, his lovers ugly as sin. Look at the buck and his enormous antlers, his amours only differentiated by the variety of white targets painted around their ass.  


Now look at humans and a different scenario. She doing all the action, forever dolled up, painted, rinsed, pedicured, manicured or worse. Seducing, wiggling, smiling, out to conquer mainly ugly ‘hims’ endowed with attitude and cash.


And then there’s me, no plumes, no manes, no antlers, no moolah.


Who am I going to get except if I’m lucky, a blind nymphomaniac who hopefully owns a liquor store?


Download Anthony Steyning’s epic new Enovel: A Kiss by the Clowns



Kafka Is Dorothy

Kafka’s is the art of comic exasperation deploying absurd even paranoid pseudo logic, labyrinthine insurance company and regulatory double-thought and dead-end speak, at one point probably convincing Derrida and the rest of deconstructionists, to become plumbers.


Of course, calling officials, their projects and indirectly the Government itself the Arrangement, says a lot about Kafka’s own state of mind. (Personally, I think the Deranged is more like it!), but he still created world literature out of the texts that as an insurance lawyer and later a Workman’s Compensation Board verifier, engulfed him. He imitated the structures of treacherously simplistic but circular language so prevalent in his daily work. Additionally, the endless incompetence and deliberate deception on the part of both the authorities and the public constantly placed him smack in the middle of one contention or another. This triggered his Walter Mitty-like imagination out of self-defence, his day-dreaming both escape and a distancing from recurrent nightmares, off-setting them and other health problems while preserving his sanity.


The crows maintain that a single crow could destroy heaven. This is beyond a doubt, but doesn’t prove anything against heaven, since heaven means, precisely, the impossibility of crows!’ is a famous example of a statement of breath-taking incongruity. It only makes one laugh, and even saying the absence of crows wouldn’t make it much clearer, only a dyslexic atheist perhaps debating the impossibility… of dogs instead of gods, but in the case at hand there could merely be a problem of translation. Anyway, the whole thing a bit like saying a statement by a person doesn’t make sense, because the man is mute. Also a non sequitur, what?


Yes, Kafka was a great tragicomic figure, one for whom in the end even a fire hydrant represented some sort of totalitarian threat. His humour all part of that self-defence, as was exaggeration. For I visited the castle in Prague; it’s an innocent enough structure, housing contemporary government offices, but as it’s located on a hill overlooking the Moldau, in his dreamy eyes exercising an authority far beyond its real scope. Yes, the Prague Castle is as innocent as one on a medieval Spanish hill top, in particular those high coastal fortifications and watch towers in Andalusia, constructed to keep exactly who (?) out, as the invaders were and had been… the Moors themselves!? Part of a paranoiac ‘arrangement’, in other words, the Moors ultimately getting defeated in the interior of the Iberian peninsula, as was to be expected, and by the Christian Kings, not by wily Barbary Coast pirates or some other imaginary naval force. So that these castles were not what they were cracked up to be, more part of someone’s fantasy, as in the case of Kafka.


Shades of combatting windmills then, and Don Quijote. Taken in mostly by the symbolism of the Prague Castle, Kafka did set out to unmask that menacing old fool behind the curtain, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, at the end of the day both lodging victory. For Kafka is not only Don Quijote, Kafka is Dorothy, but a much better writer than she!

Download Anthony Steyning’s splendid, new E-novel: A Kiss by the Clowns



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