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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Thursday, June 16

Rock of Ages & The Lobster

We saw two things a few days ago, with my wife very vocal about her dislike for both. No, “dislike” isn’t strong enough. “Hatred” is more like it. I hated one and was very confused about the other.
First, the mutual hatred. I never thought I’s say anything bad about any Broadway musical. Certainly, I’ve liked some more than others. However, the Arizona Broadway Theatre gave us Rock of Ages, and I wish they’d sent it back like a piece of rancid fish. I had some misgivings about this show selection when I first saw it on the Season 11 lineup. Rock of Ages? Rock? Rock ‘n’ Roll? I’ve detested r-‘n’-r my entire life. I thought when Elvis the Pelvis first showed up in the 50’s that he’d be a very brief flash in the pan. I once told an Elvis fan that the day the music died was the day Elvis first stepped on stage. I thought she was going to kill me. Talk about being wrong. Still, I was always a jazz fan, and jazz and rock were at polar opposites on the musical scale. I did a little research on Rock of Ages and found that it had a very long run on Broadway, from 2009 to 2015. It would have to be pretty good, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? I knew almost immediately during the first number that I wasn’t going to like it. The set was interesting, the interior of the Bourbon Room, a complete bar with stools and booze stage left, the rock band area rear center. Then we heard the company do the opening number, “Noize.” That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show—very loud noise. The voices were all too loud and screechy, the choreography was clunky and unimpressive, the costumes were very close to bare-ass risqué, the story was stupid, the score was mostly a compilation of rock songs from the 70’s and 80’s. I recognized a few of them and was most familiar with “I Wanna Know What Love Is” by the British group Foreigner, a song I liked more than disliked, but then I saw the context in which Stacee Jaxx and Sherrie performed it. She sings “I wanna know what love it, I want you to show me.” So, where did the rock star take her to show her? A stall in the Men’s Room. What a fitting metaphor for the whole show—a toilet that needs flushing. At the intermission after we had our pecan cheesecake dessert, we decided we’d had enough rocking and we rolled out of there. I’ve walked out of only a few movies in my life and now I’ve walked out of my first Broadway musical.
The other thing we saw with some disagreement about our assessments, The Lobster. My wife hated it. I reserved judgment until I’d had time to think about it. The reviews were mostly favorable, talking about it as a dystopian examination of love. “Dystopian” is a word that’s being bandied about more and more often, thanks to such young-adult series as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Back in the old days of science fiction we had the dystopias of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. But those two and the Y-A novels showed us societies that were possible even though negative in the extreme. The Lobster envisions a fantasy future, not even remotely possible. The reviews also describe it as a satiric comedy, but I didn’t hear myself or anyone else in the audience even chuckle, let alone laugh out loud. Black humor was a popular literary device fifty or sixty years ago. But it was funny even though dark. A good example is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. An officer whose last name was Major had a jokester father who filled out his son’s birth certificate as Major Major Major. When he was inducted into the air force in WWII, naturally the paperwork would screw it up and mistakenly give him the rank of major. The man was so terrified of his rank and duties that each morning he’d go to his office and then crawl out the back window to return to his tent for the day. That was absurd and dark, but it was funny. It was the same outlook we saw in the Theatre of the Absurd in the 50’s and 60’s. Playwrights wrote short, absurd plays to mock what they felt was the meaninglessness, the absurdity of life. Eugene Ionesco gave us The Bald Soprano, a play without a soprano, bald or hairy, and nonsensical repetitive dialogue. Other absurdists of the day were Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter. Their plays may have been absurd, but they were funny. Back to The Lobster. The characters are living in a society that insists on everyone living as couples, going through life two-by-two. If you weren’t in a relationship, you were arrested and taken to a hotel/prison where you had 45 days to find a suitable mate. If you went beyond the 45 days, you were taken to the Transformation Room where you were turned into the animal of your choosing. David (Collin Farrell) has just arrived. In his initial interview, he tells the hotel manager (the warden?) that he’d like to be a lobster if he had to be transformed. All male arrivals had for the first day their dominant hand cuffed to their belt behind their back. Since all lone activities in this society of couples were frowned upon, I assumed the locked arm was a reminder that masturbation would not be tolerated. One of the men David meets, the lisping man, was caught masturbating and then punished by having his offending hand thrust into a toaster slot. David checked in with a dog, who was his transformed brother Bob. All the men and women were given identical wardrobes, the men shirts and pants predominantly blue. I almost, almost, chuckled when I saw all the women at a social gathering wearing the same wildly floral dress. The business of finding a suitable partner required that the two people have things in common. The limping man (who tried to visit his mother who had been transformed into a wolf and who was then attacked by the other wolves) faked nosebleeds by slamming his head into tables to demonstrate that he and the nosebleeding woman were compatible. David tried to fake psychosis to match that of a female sociopath. Anything to find a compatible mate before the 45 days run out. Right? To test him, she kicked his brother Bob to death. When David excused himself to go to the bathroom, she followed him and discovered that he was crying. End of that coupling. The scene wasn’t absurdly comic; it was horrific, with her bloody shoe and leg and Bob’s bloody body. Too much in The Lobster was horrific rather than funny. The second story layer involved The Loners, a group of people living in the forest who value singleness instead of togetherness. One might think that the loners were the people the audience would identify with. Wrong. The loners were as unappetizing as the people in the hotel. Two of the loners were caught flirting with each other and had their lips deeply slashed and were then required to kiss before their lip wounds were bandaged. Funny? I don’t think so. David escapes from the hotel and joins the loners where he meets and falls in love with the short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz) whose favorite food was roasted rabbit (forest critters who were probably transformed folk from the hotel). What would happen to these two lovers who didn’t fit in either world? No spoiler from me, just my final assessment: The Lobster was interesting but possibly too violent. And it certainly wasn’t a comedy.
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