Monday, October 25, 2010

"Shopping and..." [Content Warning!]

For his first full-length play, written in 1996, UK dramatist Marc Ravenhill hits the mark most of the time as he peers into the pathetic lives of penniless, aimless and addicted young people who have concluded that life consists of little more than dangerous transactions in which sex and drugs are equal opportunity employers. The glimmer of hope, at least in the case of one man and woman, is their fascination with hearing and telling stories--not that the stories themselves ever seem to end happily. But the play, Shopping and F***ing, also sports absurdly funny moments that occasionally balance out the pervasively grim lives of its characters. A few scenes Ravenhill needed to drive the plot forward exhibit some clunkiness--not unexpected from a then-novice writer. Yet the play demonstrates an overarching sophistication in its world view and a perceptive display of the lyrical argot spoken on the streets in Britain--the authenticity of which poses some challenges for the ear of American audiences. (I remember visiting family in Scotland many years ago, and I couldn't understand more than 25% of of what they spoke! As the saying goes, we are "two nations divided by a single language".)

Monkey Wrench Collective's production, staged by artistic director Dave Barton, takes the raw material of this play (and some of it is very raw indeed, though the nudity and heartless sexual encounters never appear gratuitous), and makes clear that Ravenhill's is truly "the well-made play" in its adherence to theatrical conventions. And even if the specific characters and the explicitness in the telling of their stories seems fresh, the structure and motifs remain planted in archetype and wholly recognizable. It bears some resemblance to the subject matter of the book Trainspotting, which preceded it (better known from the 1996 film about young heroin addicts in Glasgow, Scotland), and to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which came out two years earlier. That's not to suggest that it's derivative of these--just my effort to provide you with some guideposts as to the subject matter and, to some degree, the style of Shopping and F***ing--my own obtuse "content warning," I suppose.

(Disclosure: the printed program for Shopping and F***ing says that I'm directing a play for Monkey Wrench later this season. Who knew?)

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