Sexuality, Death, and Happiness in the Theatre, Composing, 11/02/2015

Getting back to my theatre work, almost as soon as I came up with the basic storyline of It’s The Best I Can Do!, I realized that the ending, and really the entire character of Cordelia, could easily be seen as expressing a bigoted, conservative point of view about non-straight people. She is, in a very simple way of putting it, a seductress who draws Amy away from her stable, heterosexual marriage. 

Well, you could certainly read it that way if you wanted. At least from the treatment that I posted on Monday. But I should say that I rather like politically ambiguous art, art that can carry a conservative or a progressive or a radical message depending on what you bring to it yourself. And it isn’t just a matter of conservatives viewing an ambiguous work as being conservative, and so on down the line, although that’s often what happens.

The Hurt Locker examined what kind of man could
only feel happy in the horrifying violence of mid-2000s
Iraq, his virtues as well as how he was broken. That's
the most powerful narrative.
One of my favourite war movies of the century so far is The Hurt Locker.* I saw it in the theatres with my friend J-Mac, who’s also a very left-leaning person, more than me in some ways, less than me in others. He saw a very conservative, patriotic movie. I saw a movie that was radically critical of what the Iraq War did to the psyches of its American veterans. That was horrible enough, but even worse now that we know what it did to the psyches of its Iraqi veterans.

* No, I won’t be talking about American Sniper because I haven’t seen it yet. Reading some of the reviews by critics I respect, I’m actually not that interested. Clint Eastwood’s films actually are getting kind of lazy, especially the rubber baby. I’m much more interested in filmmakers in their prime like Paul Thomas Anderson, or brilliant new figures like Miranda July and J. C. Chandor.

I like the way politically ambiguous art can mess around with its audience. So as I develop It’s The Best I Can Do!, Cordelia is going to be its most slippery figure. I'm really quite afraid that people will look at this story and see it as hostile to gay people because a gay person does the most morally reprehensible thing in the story, breaking up Amy and Jamie’s marriage. The very basic description (and even her unusual, Shakespearean name) could imply that Cordelia seduces a virtuous and innocent Amy away from her devotion to her husband. 

That story, however, would be not only offensive and bigoted, but also just plain terrible. It would be a story without drama, the kind of pablum that Kirk Cameron would produce. Amy and Jamie would not exist as personalities, but as perfect victims sacrificed to a devil figure. 

Human stories with a clear villain and a clear hero are dull now. There’s more drama to be wrung through characters who are in conflict between their better and worse natures. Adrian is a man who has literally tried his best to succeed in life, but his best just isn’t good enough. He fell on hard times, ended up having to depend on undependable people through no fault of his own, and his life is falling apart. Jamie is torn because he wants to do best by his brother and his wife, but doesn’t have the energy to manage both at once.

Amy herself is at the end of her rope from the strain of being head of a household that is too big, even for her own successful career. Two people were supposed to support this household, and one opted out from stress. Resentment is inevitable: with every mortgage payment stretching her credit, she looks at her husband and wonders, “Why would dealing with his stress be worth heaping more of it on me?”

What influences on my art is . . . diverse.
When she sees Jamie spending more and more of his time trying to help his brother, who is slipping away from any place where he can even be helped, strain reaches a breaking point. 

Cordelia will appear as a relief, and a way out of a situation where Amy no longer feels respected or fully human. And she has remorse. I’m planning a rather weird scene where she talks to the audience, almost like Dame Edna, engaging them about their own lives. She tries to justify her actions to them, the way only someone whose remorse is tearing at them inside would. 

Because the audience is dynamically involved, what can happen during that scene will be unpredictable. Someone may even call her out on it. The actress would have to improvise her way through the conversation to hit the right thematic marks. But then, I know actors like a challenge. 

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