Wednesday, March 31, 2010
I've never read any of Colin Watson's mystery novels, but I can tell by this book that he's a canny observer of early 20th century crime fiction, and its audience. And that's part of the book's interest, as it's subtitled "Crime Stories and Their Audience."
Watson takes us from Conan Doyle's idealized Victorian world to the introduction of A. J. Raffles, the seminal "gentleman burglar" whose exploits were regarded as sporting adventures rather than crimes, and his attacks on opponents as being more akin to tackles on the playing field than violence against his victims. Interestingly, Watson later draws a connection between Raffles and James Bond, reflecting that both operate outside the law, are very gentlemanly, and their adventures are seen as more sporting than brutal, no matter how violent they are. And given the new popularity of James Bond video games, I can say that Watson was reading it right.
He also dips into William Le Queux (who in THE GAMBLERS flattered his readers while offering escapism..."Need I describe the wonders of Paris to you? I think not."), "Sapper" and his Bulldog Drummond series (clicking with between-the-wars jingoism expressed by some at the time), Edgar Wallace and his crank-em-out thrillers (a reproduced cartoon of the period has a bookseller asking a customer, "Read the mid-day Wallace, sir?"), and Sydney Horler's hang-ups with manliness.
And then there's a look at the "Golden Age" of detective fiction, and then he examines attitudes toward Asians and foreigners in general, attitudes toward servants and lower classes, women, English villages a la Christie, amateur detectives, style and bohemianism, and automobiles and daredevil behavior. He ends with two chapters, the first looking at Leslie Charteris' "The Saint" and how the character's longevity (developing from a near-clone of Bulldog Drummond to a stylish adventurer-detective) is due to his adaptability to the changing times. And the very last is about James Bond, who represents a turning point from traditional British tropes to an American-influenced violent realism. (Yeah, despite the Raffles-ish "sporting" style.)
Watson's real strength is looking at how this early crime fiction was a product and reflection of its times and in many cases, of the author's attitudes and hang-ups, ranging from Sydney Horler's anxieties about masculinity to Sax Rohmer's seeming horror of anything Asian. It's eye-opening and informative.
SNOBBERY WITH VIOLENCE was published in 1971 and reprinted a few times, but now is out of print. I borrowed a copy through interlibrary loan, but I'm probably going to prowl Abebooks to find my own copy. There's too much fun stuff here, and anyone reading it will be scribbling down titles for books to look up. (Alas, Le Queux's THE GAMBLERS is out of print and not available as an ebook...annoyingly, as I'm looking for info about Monte Carlo.)
Monday, March 29, 2010
This past Saturday night, I went out to see "Mondo Andronicus" again, and it led to some fond memories, so I thought tonight I'd give you a personal ramble.
Some years ago, I went to a performance at a bar of a delightful little play called "Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children," being put on by DC's late great company Cherry Red. Stage blood frequently jetted out into the audience, and those in the first three rows were given trash bags to defend themselves. I was sitting in the fourth row, when an onstage stabbing occurred, and a jet of blood spurted out, out, over the heads of the people in the first three rows, and landed, splotch, into my lap. Oh well. Later, there was a song about tequila (sung by a naked man who was playing the title character's "Fairy Godpenis"), and during the song, tequila shots were half off at the bar. I ordered one quickly, and then a minute later, someone handed me two of them. I looked around, and nobody was waiting for any, so I figured, what the hell, and downed them. After those, and the two or three beers I had before and after the show, meant that I ended up staggering out into the night, pretty darned drunk and with a lap full of stage blood, looking like I'd just committed a murder, or suffering from some hideous venereal disease. I had to walk around for a while until I was sober enough to drive home, and at one point bumped into two of the actors from the show, including the Fairy Godpenis, upon which time I blurted out that classic line, "I didn't recognize you with your clothes on."
Years went by, and on a wintry night (I believe it was a Valentine's Day, and I know I was single at the time), I attended one of the Lobsterboy burlesque shows at Chief Ike's Mambo Room, in DC's Adams Morgan neighborhood. One dancer, Sugarbabe Goodhue (I think that was her name; I haven't seen her around in the local burly-q scene for a very long time) did a number where she played a woman getting a "Dear Jane" letter, and then retreated behind a stretched-out sheet and did a shadow strip number, and then emerged in a beautiful gown...squeezing a foam-rubber heart drenched in stage blood all over herself. When done, she flung the heart on the stage...and naturally, it bounced off the stage and directly into my lap. We had our picture taken together after the show, and yet again I was staggering out into the streets, pretty darned drunk and with a lapful of stage blood. Luckily, I had taken Metro that night, so I didn't have to worry about sobering up before I went home.
But stage blood and I are well acquainted. I have a shirt that still is stained after I wore it to a Cherry Red show. After Molotov's last show, "Blood, Sweat, and Fears, II," one of my favorite T-shirts was liberally spattered with blood, and Saturday, I had gobbets of the stuff on my white shirt and cashmere sweater vest. And that just tickles me. It washes out, and that just adds to the fun. Call me perverse, but there's something fun about riding home on Metro on a Saturday night, looking like you've just come from a crime scene, casually cleaning the blood off your hands with a Wet One while bouncing your head to the music on your iPod.
And that's me. I'm transgressive in my own way. I think I've always been like that; even in my youth I rarely batted an eye at whatever debauched sexual practices people were partaking in (although I would frequently want to join in), figuring hey, if folks are having fun, everyone's consenting, nobody's being hurt who doesn't want to be hurt, the more power to 'em. At a previous job I had a reputation for being a total degenerate that far outstripped anything I actually did. Even today, I do my best to dress and behave myself in a gentlemanly fashion, but am known for being tart-tongued, mouthy, and prone to outrageous comments and outrageous actions. I could go on about the drinking contests I've won at the Palace of Wonders...or the night I was made an honorary member of a punk-rock group from Tampa while at the first Link Wray tribute concert...or the day I flipped off Newt Gingrich near the National Press Club...or how at one night, at one of Trixie Little's shows, I ended up onstage, with my pants around my ankles, giving a spanking to a aerialist from the Cirque du Soleil. I sometimes think my life is too quiet and dull. Honestly, I do.
I had originally considered hitting a local gay bar for a drink, and maybe find some company, after Saturday's performance of "Mondo Andronicus," but the spattered blood on my clothes had me thinking I should simply go home and soak the blood out of the cashmere. But y'know, maybe next time I won't be so prudent. The idea of some guy pointing out, "Hey, there's blood on your shirt!" and me shrugging and saying, casually, "Well, it's not mine," gives me a perverse chuckle. That's the kind of guy I am.
Oh, and by the way, the cashmere sweater vest is now pristine and blood-free.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
"Titus Andronicus" is one Shakespeare play that gets no respect. Probably the Bard's earliest tragedy, it's like an Elizabethan version of Dario Argento. There's murder, rape, mutilation, revenge, and loads of other fun stuff. But the Victorians shunned it and even today many scholars and theatrical types sniff at it, either feeling it's the work of a young man desperate for a hit, or not the work of Shakespeare at all.
Of course, none of that bothers DC's resident Grand Guignol company, Molotov Theatre Group, which has launched "MONDO ANDRONICUS," the latest glorious assault on good taste and refined sensibilities.
(Now, here at Dust & Corruption, we do try to be civilized and gentlemanly, but every so often, you have to say, what the fuck, and wallow in gore and filth. So, let's see some shit, shall we?)
Walking in, you're alerted to the tone right away. The stage set is basically a graffiti-covered back alley, with Roman and Goth competing like gangs. You can almost smell a reeking trash scent, and this does a good job of setting the tone for the show.
It's the tale of Roman general Titus Andronicus, who returns to Rome triumphant after battling the Goths, bringing with him Tamora, the Queen of the Goths (and no, I'm not talking about emo kids dressed up like vampires) and her sons. He sacrifices one of her sons, despite her pleas, seeing this as his religious duty after the deaths of some of his own sons in the battles. Tamora naturally vows revenge, and ends up marrying the new emperor. She arranges for her surviving sons to rape and mutilate Titus' daughter Lavinia, by cutting out her tongue and lopping off her hands. Tamora is also having an affair with the Moor Aaron, and bears a mixed-race baby. Of course, there's the somewhat famous climax that opens with Titus serving Tamora a pie with her own sons baked in it, that triggers a slaughter that leaves the stage littered with corpses.
Along the way there's a castration, the murder of a nun, assorted mutilations and murders, and onstage puking followed quickly by infanticide. Who could ask for anything more?
Alex Zavistovich is a burly presence as Titus, going a bit beyond the modern Tod Slaughter (that I dubbed him once before) and well portraying Titus' underlying bloodthirstiness and sense of duty to his government...until, of course, he goes off the deep end but manages to retain his cunning. Ty Hallmark is a great Tamora, going from concerned mother to vengeful harpy with full conviction. JaBen Early is a great rapacious Aaron, a creature of pure id. Jenny Donovan is appropriately innocent and tragic as Lavinia, but also gives a glimpse of her as the playful and loving daughter. Cyle Durkee is a blast, bouncing between the roles of Saturninus and Demetrius and giving them both their own personalities. The same is true of the rest of the cast, who all had to do double-duty; Luke Cieslewicz as Bassianus and Chiron, Kevin Finkelstein as Alarbus and Lucius, and Aaron Tone as Quintus and Marcus.
Lucas Maloney's direction keeps things going and is deft and smart. He knows just how much to suggest and how much to show, so that what's left to your imaginations is pretty damn vivid. And stage manager Juely Siegel was excellent at keeping things together and working.
There's a lot that one could make of this...that the cycling war of revenge is a demonstration of the madness of war, or the loss of humanity, or whatever. But that's not what you go to a Molotov show for. It's gore galore, with plenty of black comedy. Molotov cheerfully goes over the line, then turns around and pisses on it. And you'll be loving every second of it.
And...for more fun...at the intermission, you'll be afraid to leave your seat because they present a quick "Skinhead Hamlet" that is sidesplittingly funny. So hit the bathroom before the show!
"Mondo Andronicus" is playing until April 3, 2010, Wed-Sun at 8pm, at 1409 Playbill Cafe, 1409 14th St NW, Washington DC. Tickets are $20. Go see it if you can; this is good gory fun.