Monday, May 24, 2010

"pool (no water)" - Monkey Wrench Collective

Wayne Booth's landmark 1961 treatise on literary criticism, Rhetoric of Fiction, was a reaction to critcal trends that erased the authorial voice as a defining (or, at least, recognizable) presence in fiction. I have always tended to agree with his conclusions. No matter how much an author tries to divorce himself from the work he is crafting, there will always be telltale signs of his own DNA.

Sometimes, the deeply-rooted angst of the writer is obvious from the public individual we see or read about. But even reclusive authors like the late J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon tell us much about themselves through their fiction without our having to read the details of their private lives splashed onto tabloid covers.

[Booth was also a moralist who happened to believe that authors should be accountable for the moral stands they take and that amorality was an unpardonable sin (James Joyce's Ulysses was not exactly one of his favorite books, as I recall)--I've always had a more difficult time agreeing with him about that.]

I mention these points because the inaugural production of Monkey Wrench Collective in its own new space on North Harbor Blvd. in downtown Fullerton prompts a discussion of them.

British bete noir dramatist Mark Ravenhill has gained attention by pushing people's buttons, while at the same time attracting critical favor at the artful way he does it. pool (no water), first produced in London in 2006, is the latest of his works to be produced and directed by Dave Barton, Monkey Wrench's founder and a co-founder of the now-defunct Rude Guerrilla Theater Company. Dave's had a fascination with Ravenhill's drama and has become regarded as an expert on the subject.

pool (no water) concerns a circle of friends, bohemian artists all, who find time passing them by. The growing success of one of their number, whom they adore, reveals an underside to their feelings that thrills them but also repels them: jealousy & hate. She invites them to her home where she now has a pool and implores them all to skinny-dip as they did when they were younger. Their reluctance (their bodies are saggier now) gives way to her pleas and they gleefully strip down, surround her and toss her into the pool.

To disclose more of the plot could be a bit of a spoiler. Suffice it to say that the narcissistic and self-destructive behavior of this group of friends, as described by Ravenhill, inevitably makes one wonder if this is a sort of coming-of-age story by its author--reflecting on, perhaps, his past bohemian ways and his current success.

The successful artist, mostly known to us from her friends' comments, does not especially seem to be rubbing her good fortune in their faces to warrant their ire; but when she eventually lashes back in a brief display of anger towards their behavior, I suppose it's natural to wonder for a moment if there wasn't just a little something about the person she's become that justified it. If so, perhaps we're capturing a glimpse of conscience (and self-consciousness) on Ravenhill's part.

Then again...the structuralist critics could be right, and the whole thing has nothing to do with Ravenhill "the man".

As for Monkey Wrench's production...their tiny, brick-walled storefront on the main street is a lovely space for this kind of work. Dave Barton and two other credited directors Melita Ann Sagar and Lee Samuel Tanng have taken Ravenhill's 70-minute musings and woven into them a kinetic, lively and engaging production, carefully choreographed and infused with music. The cast is a well-oiled ensemble that never misses a beat. It's playing to full houses on the weekends through June 6, and is a welcome addition to Fullerton's bustling scene of small, hip theatre companies.

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