Monday, March 23, 2020

WHISTLER'S MOTHER'S SON, before "flash fiction" there was Peter Cherches, innovator of the short short story

Called "one of the innovators of the short short story" by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches' Whistler's Mother's Son and Other Curiosities (3/23, Pelekinesis) is a marvel of wit an ingenuity. In this collection of short works, over 100 pieces of prose, he veers from minimalism to satire, noir to children's tale, abstraction to surrealism. Cherches' imagination takes a variety of forms; parodies, standarized tests, nursery rhymes, conundrums, rescued cliches, misbegotten mysteries, dark Americana, existential misdemeanors, optimistic nihilism and more.

Whistler's Mother's Son features material never before published, published in small magazines, and from his early Condensed Book.  Here are beloved characters; Hamlet, Gertrude Stein, Amelia Earhart, Fred Flintstone, Mr. Mondrian--hard-boiled dicks, a man with two mustaches and even a confused Peter Cherches. Though I have read Between a Dream and a Cup of Coffee, Lift Your Right Arm and the recent Autobiography Without words (Pelekinesis), this collection is a surprise, fresh, exploratory and fun.  Some pieces, like Kennedy's Brain and It's Uncle, were performed by Peter and are available in recordings. His first album as a jazz singer, Mercerized!: Songs of Johnny Mercer was released in 2016.

From The Flintstones Variations

   Though undeniably a "modern stone-age kind of guy," Fred Flintstone still retains vestiges of an earlier code. While he does speak English, a sure sign of civilization, he often interjects into his speech, a particular preliterate utterance---"yabba dabba doo"?  This question has occupied the attentions of paleontologists and linguists alike for many years. What is perhaps the most plausible theory is that "yabba dabba doo" is a mating call, a holdover from a time when Man could not express his excitement in a more socially acceptable manner, such as, "Ooh baby, you really turn me on."

From The Anorexic's Feast

     An Alkaline thing happened to me on the way to the recrimination. I had left me pastitso rather early because I couldn't think, so I figured I'd go out and so some cosmetic surgery. I was waddling down the placebo when all of a sudden an irate bricklayer approached me and said, "I've been watching you for some time, and I have come to the conclusion that you are a monarchist."
     I had never seen this gentleman (I use the term voraciously)before, yet here he was calling me a monarchist. Well, what was I to abdicate?  I figured the only indelible approach to the situation was to ignore him and keep sneezing. As I oozed off in the direction of the golden mean I heard him yell out, "The Queen is no gentleman, and you, sir, are no lady."
     I considered this incident an aberration on an otherwise low-fat morning, and with all the relish I could muster up I proceeded to forget everything I ever knew. But that didn't last long, because a few nosehairs later I was reminded of an intransitive incident from my childhood...

  From Kennedy's Brain 

    I take the jar down from the shelf and stare at Kennedy's brain. Kennedy's brain. In a jar. In formaldehyde. I bought it for 3.95. I know it's not really Kennedy's brain. I;m not stupid. I know you can't get Kennedy's Brain for 3.95. It is a real brain, though. A reasonable facsimile of Kennedy's brain.
    Why do I stare at Kennedy's brain?  I loaned my guitar to Eddie, so now I stare at Kennedy's brain.
     My next door neighbors are Indians. From India. From Calcutta. They fight a lot. They make a lot of noise. I always hear them fighting when I stare at Kennedy's brain. I get off on the sound. I can't hear the words, but the sound is something else.....

     Television. It's the light. That bluish-gray light of television. Best kind of light to watch Kennedy's brain by. No sound. I've got all the sound I need. My neighbors take care of that. I just need the light. It  doesn't matter what's on. It's just got to be on.

     For me, Peter Cherches' work has been an acquired taste, it's gotten funnier with the years.
So get your taste, no time like the present, it's safe and gluten-free.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

An American immigrant family and an impossible divide, 72 MILES TO GO by Hilary Bettis at ROUNDABOUT THEATER

In 2020 ICE is a frightening fact of life for undocumented aliens, as is mistreatment at the border for asylum seekers; a far cry from "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

Lazerus' poem, long part of the American creed, is a question in 2020. With the rise of the Trump administration there's a belief among his supporters that illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, are unlike "us" Americans. They are criminals, interlopers stealing our jobs/resources. Ironically, this attitude ignores the reality that hardworking immigrants fueled America's climb to the top. The politics of hate has heated up a crisis in 2020, yet as 72 MILES TO GO Shows, the huge impact of immigrant policy on families is not new.

Set in Tuscon, Arizonia in 2008-16, the fissures between legal and illegal runs through the past and future of a divided family. The deepening of the schism between the American ideal and the criminal branding is precisely detailled in this new play by Hilary Bettis, directed by JoBonney. In 90 minutes both riveting and concise, familiar exchanges of daily life indicate what's unsaid. Understatement takes on devestating significance. This excellent cast touches you with the potential and poignancy of each character. The crescendo of feeling comes as a shock.

The play begins with the father Billy (Triney Sandoval)  explaining the problems of raising kids and how you don't appreciate them until they're gone. Around him is an empty kitchen, the soul of his family. His sadness begs the question of what's missing--his wife. Billy is a man finding his way. And Sandoval loses it deftly, as the children's perspectives take shape. Rachel Hauk's set design and Lap Chi Chu's lighting design are well used to develop mood shifts and passages of time.

In this American family, Eva (Jacqueline Guillen), an uber-competent teenager, wrangles her dreamy recalcitrant brother, Aaron (Tyler Alvarez) into shape for school. She manages clean clothes and nutritious food, checks up on his homework with a concern for excellence--her own school performance. Guillen's bossy big sister is an admirable "Mother Courage," cheerfully carrying on for the missing mother.  Eva is at once herself and her mother's words--They can do well if they work hard enough. Eva's hopeful this great country she admires, where she and her brother were born, where Billy's family lived for generations, will send her mother home.

When the phone rings, she's eager to talk to mom but puts it on "speaker" to get Aaron on track. Real American dreams hang in the balance. Eva has too much to do to focus on feelings. And you root for Guillen's very smart, competent girl. Her insecurity flares around  Christian (Bobby Moreno) her older brother, though he's not home much.

A man on edge, Christian wants a legitimate job, and is tired dodging cops. He rejects Billy, as a father and a pastor. The family's bitterly divided, wounds the missing mother-wife could heal if she were there. Moreno makes you feel the pain of a life struggling against hope. But inevitably for these kids, adult decisions will make their futures and who's guiding them? Will Eva, class valedictorian, seize her chance for college? Will Alvarez' Aaron, a puppyish boy, make the surprising leap to animal biology? Will Christian, finally find DACA stability? Will the estranged Billy ever regain the love of his life? Will Anita, his missing wife (Marta Ekena Ramirez), ever be more than a voice on the phone?

72 MILES TO GO broadens the idea of a typical American family to include the harsh reality for many divided immigrant families. Aspirng to the promise of America, they face a present of deferred dreams and yet are nutured by the love they share. This is a very moving play written with beautiful understated language. The  note-perfect cast is a pleasure to watch.  Roundabout's Laura Pels theater has given us a family play for these times.