Monday, July 23, 2018

Eat and You Belong to Us

Play #136

Eat and You Belong to Us by MJ Kaufman

I honestly can't quite say what I thought of this play. I tried to explain it to my husband, and found that any sort of summary was woefully inadequate. The play centers around the family of wives Karen and Sally. Their teenage child Jamie is genderqueer and prefers that they alternate her pronouns between she and xe, as an expression of how much "she" Jamie actually is. The "she" part of Jamie's identity, xe insists, is part of xer connection to Joan of Arc, who xe suspects xe may have have some relation to. The final element of the family is Grands - Karen's parent (formerly her mother) - who, in xer 80s, has decided to undergo "gender affirmative" surgery (a term I have never heard, but one that I think is deeply important). Karen is having a hard time following all of these changes - calling her mother "Grands" or her parent instead of "Mom," and learning her daughter's preferred pronouns - but Sally is pushing Karen to try to find her way into accepting her family members as they ask to be. After a particularly frustrating argument, Jamie runs out to the field outside the family home where she is surrounded by a handful of Joan of Arcs who whisk her away to a battlefield in 15th Century France. There, like these other Joans before her, Jamie must take on the role of Joan - leading the army, facing up to patriarchal forces that surround her, and eventually even being burned at the stake. What starts out as a great adventure eventually gives way to the painful realities of the battlefield when a frightened young soldier she had comforted ends up being killed in battle. While Jamie is back in France, Karen and Sally fret for days about their missing daughter, while also starting to get to know the gay male couple from next door, Ted and Joe. Eventually, Grands and Jamie share their Joan of Arc moment and are able to return home.

The play deals with a lot of layers of identity, which is interesting and even a little confusing on the page, but I think that it would become a great deal clearer in performance. It asks a lot of complicated questions, and has a lot of fun with how we deal with expectations and ideals when they don't quite live up to what we had hoped. An interesting play that I probably need to read a few more times before I really have a strong grasp of it, but I would venture to say that it's probably worth the additional reads.

Hey Brother

Play #135

Hey Brother by Bekah Brunstetter

I was kind of bummed out by this play, because I generally like the playwright's work a lot, but I did not enjoy this play. At the center of the play we have brothers Ben and Isaac who are living together in Ben's oceanside home in North Carolina. Isaac is a grad student who, it seems, is benefiting from his brother's wealth and stability, but that isn't really all there is to it. Ben goes out drinking... a lot... and Isaac is often left to pick up after him. It seems that Ben is not dealing well with the recent end of a long term relationship. As we go along, we also meet Kris, who is a young, Asian-American woman working on becoming a playwright. Her attempts at a historical drama often feel stilted as we encounter readings of it in her class (as performed by the same actors who play the main brothers). But when she meets Isaac online, her relationship with both brothers begins to influence her play as well as her personal behavior. The conflict between the two brothers is stirred up over time as Kris becomes infatuated with both of them, and eventually Ben throws himself in the sea in a gesture that may or may not have been some sort of poetic suicide attempt.

I didn't really feel any emotional connection to these characters; I found them cold and selfish in a lot of ways, and wasn't really particularly interested in them. So I couldn't quite figure out why they were all so swept up in each other, because I wasn't. There might actually be some decent scene material in here, but in general, it was not a play that leaped up off the page and begged to be seen, in my opinion.