Friday, October 31, 2014

The Elephants In The Room

You see me here, standing in front of you;
   I see you standing there, looking at me.
Behind us is what we have both been through;
   Ahead of us is what we’ll do and be.
Six people, any one of whom can make
   Life hell for all the others in this room.
Maybe your past will be our poisoned snake;
   Maybe who I am now will cause our doom.
And maybe who you want to be will judge
   The lot of us and coldly cut her losses,
Or who I want to be will hold a grudge
   Because the other five act like his bosses.
      Our love will die, unless we have the smarts
      To satisfy our past and future hearts.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Shut Up, Henry.

The running gag in Woody Allen's Bananas is "There's something missing."  "There's something missing and I don't know what is," says Louise Lasser every time she and Allen get together.  You'll walk out of the Roundabout's production of The Real Thing saying much the same thing, probably along the lines of "There's something missing and I know exactly what it is."  Namely: heart. 

Because of that, the play’s cleverness feels like a series of lectures by the author rather than a series of scenes with characters.  And having the cast do sing-alongs and humalongs of the pop songs that play every time a scene changes only adds to the distancing.  It’s very Brechtian, but the last thing a Stoppard play needs is lehrstücke.  Take it from someone whose default mode is clever: the only way clever works is if it is an impeccably tailored ensemble which is cut to specifically cover a very dramatic abnormality.  In this production, the suits are empty.    

This is especially true of the main character, Henry, played by Ewan McGregor.  Because there’s no depth beneath them, McGregor's long speeches seem twice as long as they should.  You want  somebody to interrupt him, not because he's talking around something he can’t say, but because he's talking to no purpose, or talking because he's an annoying if clever chatterbox.  You wonder what Maggie Gyllenhaal sees in him.   

All of which would be forgiven if he actually got some laughs, but he doesn’t.   This is true of everyone.   This production is just not that funny.  As a result, you have time to do the most dreaded thing an audience can do during a comedy: ask questions.  Like:  what is this political subplot doing here?  How come the daughter of the divorced marriage never shows up until whatever she feels about the divorce is not an issue anymore?  Will Maggie Gyllenhaal actually get an emotional reaction out of McGregor?  Why can’t we see more of Josh Hamilton?  And what pray tell is that accent Cynthia Nixon is doing? 

And—the deadliest question of all—what is Stoppard actually trying to say?   When you’ve got a long impassioned speech about the need for precision in writing which is spoken by a man who is passionately in love with pop songs from the Sixties, it’s clear that the implied contradiction is supposed to be at least a character revelation, if not a message.  But by the end of this production, all I could think of was that I had just watched a long-winded response to the pithy Noel Coward line: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

And it made me desperate to see Indian Ink again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Lewis Allan Reed
March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013

Is there a song on either side that’s not
   About a drug?  The needle plays a track
About a needle and a track, that’s hot
   With innocence we’ll never rehab back.
We walk the wild side now, and work those hips.
   We are invulnerable: we are young.
A perfect day is when we kiss the lips
   Of overdose, but never feel her tongue.
It’s a gone world where nerves are strung as tight
   As Link Wray’s axe, and New York conversations
Are scored by Charlie Parker’s sax all night,
   And dealers always discount favored nations,
      And heroines do heroin and know
      You always have to reap just what you sow.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Monday, October 27, 2014

After Such Knowledge, What Forgetfulness?

We are the only living things who know
   That we will die, and then we all forget it,
So we can live.  When friends and family go,
   We’re wounded, but we always tourniquet it
By saying: “That’s the rule—I’m the exception.
   Everyone has to follow it but me.
The whole world’s born to live a misconception.
   They get a lifetime; I get eternity.”
I’ll take my final breath on my last day,
   Thinking: “Not me.  Not me.  Not me.  Not me.”
Hearing: “Yes, you.  Even you,” as I pay
   The debt that’s due to my mortality.
      All that’s for publication; but in private,
      Deep down, I know—I KNOW—that I’ll survive it.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Hardest Thing About Rewriting


The hardest thing about rewriting is
   Cutting the lines I love.  They may not ever
Contribute to the play but they have fizz.
   They flow and snap and entertain; they’re clever.
But clever is a paint job, not the house.
   It should enhance the inside, and not smother
Or contradict—like when your favorite blouse
   Says one thing but the outfit says another.
It’s all about the structure, and rebuilding
   Out from the inside till it’s all one whole,
With solid levels, no excessive gilding,
   And architectured lines.  My writer’s goal:
      To make with my clawed hand and Vision pen
      Something I won’t have to rewrite again. 


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Monday, October 20, 2014

After Pessoa

for Daleth Hall

How absurd is it that what hurts the most
   Is our regret for what does not exist.
We yearn not for the real, but for the ghost
   Of what was real—for what we lost or missed.
We long for things impossible, because
   They are impossible—which feeds our hunger;
We feel nostalgia for what never was,
   Reproach for what we never did while younger,
Desire for some great love that might have been,
   Self-pity because we’re not someone else,
And discontent with all that’s genuine—
   Like hating stone because it never melts.
      So does this baseless yearning make us feel
      Pain, entertaining what was never real.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Friday, October 17, 2014

My Greatest Dream

You were my greatest dream.  I chose to be
   Love’s sleepwalker, and see only what kept
My hopes alive, not the dead certainty
   That it would not work out.  And so I slept
In the warm double bed of a sweet lie,
   And I convinced myself our love was true—
That intimacy was our battle cry
   And love a fête we were both party to.
If it’s one thing that I do well, it’s see
   Just what I want to see.  And when I woke,
I woke up broken—not by you; by me—
   And looked at who I was and saw a joke.
      Love still may send me someone to adore.
      I wouldn’t know.  I don’t dream any more.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Indian Ink, or, Arcadia Without The Lectures

A lot of theatre critics bow down to the altar of Arcadia as Tom Stoppard’s best play—probably because its time-shifting structure is just smart enough to flatter their intelligence, without actually being the kind of smart that makes them feel dumber than the playwright.  (The kind, in other words, that always makes them write bad reviews.) 

And while there’s no denying the play’s heady intelligence, heady is exactly the right adjective.  Arcadia’s thrills are intellectual first and emotional second.  Does anybody in the audience actually shed a tear at the end?  You get a vision of the grand sweep of history (complete with footnotes), of things lost and found, but you don’t really mourn the loss of Thomasina.  (And thematically, isn’t it the point of the play that you shouldn’t mourn individual loss?) 

Indian Ink is different.  The smartness isn’t constantly pointing to itself and crying “Look at this, isn’t it brilliant?”  You get a vision of one woman’s life (complete with footnotes), of things lost and found, and you actually do mourn the loss of the main character, even though the set up, a time-shift between the 1930’s and the 1980’s, tells you right from the start that she’s a goner.  It’s a culture-clash story that is very casual and breezy, very conversational instead of rhetorical, but it has the potential to break your heart.  And in the current Roundabout production, it does. 

The plot is simple: female British poet journeys to India for her health, and along the way gets her portrait done by a local painter.  Two portraits, actually.  Out of this, Stoppard manages to comment on colonialism, cultural appropriation, the difference between a revolution and a mutiny, politics, feminism, sex, passion—you know, all that good stuff which never seems to make an appearance in modern American plays.  (Speaking of which, the sole academic in the play is an American, which—in British Playwright Shorthand—makes him the asshole.)  

The script has been touched up and tightened a little for this production.  The acting adds depth and reality to the cleverness of the lines.  Romola Garai plays Flora Crewe, journeying through India and writing letters to her socialist sister around the time of Gandhi’s Salt March. She plays the part so well that you will want to Google Flora Crewe to see if any of her poetry books are still in print.  Rosemary Harris, who plays the surviving sister, can do this kind of thing in her sleep—and because she’s Rosemary Harris, that never happens. And Firdous Bamji is superb as a painter divided between his love of English culture and his own national heritage.
And yes, the play is full of laughs, and no, it’s not Arcadia, but that’s a good thing, because in this production, it’s the one thing Arcadia isn’t: in the end, it’s moving.  It’s touching.  You really get a sense of loss.   And you’ll get a bigger one if you don’t see it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

My Flitcraft Moment - 10/4/14

10/4/14 - 215 Park Ave South, two seconds later

A stone façade almost killed me today.
   It fell onto the sidewalk where my head
Had been two steps ago.  One brief delay—
   Two seconds; three—and I would have been dead.
People around me cried out: “Jesus, guy—
   Are you okay?  You were just standing there!”
Part of me felt that dodged-a-bullet high;
   Another part sent up a trembling prayer.
And one part knew that Life, my constant friend,
   Had dropped its mask and showed me its true face.
And now I have a choice: I can pretend
   I didn’t see it, or I can embrace
      This mortal enemy—cold, cruel and hard—
      That hides behind Life’s affable façade.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells

Friday, October 10, 2014

Selective Vision

Love sees our faults with a forgiving eye—
   Even the worst of them can be excused.
The truth of Love makes everything a lie
   From being boring to being abused.
It’s not that Love is blind—it’s that Love sees
   From the perspective of a higher vision
That says: “Next to the forest, what are trees?”
   And soothes the mind to make the heart’s decision.
And when love fades, all it excused grows clear;
   And when love dies, all that it killed will live
Till every little thing we once thought dear
   Grows into monsters we cannot forgive—
      Unless we choose to always recognize
      Each other through Love’s charitable eyes.

Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

There Is No Future

The present is a cliff, the past a plain
   That rolls back east further than human sight.
As for the future, since there’s no terrain
   Ahead of us—only the dizzy height
Beyond which all is empty, lifeless, dead—
   This cliff is all that anybody knows.
To all who live and try to look ahead,
   The future never comes—the past just grows.
All those who breathed stood where we are today
   And died without anything getting clearer—
Feeling the present slide further away
   And the great unknown future come no nearer.
      There is no future: just what came before.
      Eternity is now and nothing more.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Leave Her To Heaven - 7 Spoiler-Lite Thoughts About Gone Girl

See it with someone whose brains you want to unspool.
Ben Affleck is a great Nick because he’s Ben Affleck.  All the things people say they hate about Ben Affleck’s acting make him the perfect Nick.  They’ll claim he’s just being himself, or tapping into the inner Nick that his hate-fans have seen in everything from Pearl Harbor to Argo.  And his love-fans will rush to his defense, and in the end it really doesn’t matter because what he’s doing, either consciously or unconsciously, works for the character.  Except he’s all buff.  Not buff like a New York magazine writer, but buff like somebody who’s secretly a superhero (oh; right). 

Rosamund Pike is a great Amy because nobody knows who she is.  Unless you remember her as the Bad Bond Girl from Die Another Day, the pretty sister in the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice, Andromeda in the Clash Of The Titans sequel, I-forget-who in An Education, the girl in Reacher, and the girl in The World’s End.  In which case you’ve been waiting for her to hit it big for a good ten years now.  

Rosamund Pike is so obviously overdubbed it sounds like it might be someone else’s voice.  Seriously.  For half the movie, her vocal timbre screams SOUND BOOTH.  Whoever was in charge of ADR for this movie (there are three mixers, one looper and one editor—Gwendolyn Yates Whittle—in the credits) deserves a Razzie nomination. 

Drawbacks for those who have read the book.  Two, for me anyway.  The book goes into great detail about Amy and Nick’s personal histories, which makes them more then just caricatures.  The movie doesn’t—Nick’s Dad makes only one brief appearance, and Amy’s folks are bland and forgettable.  And one story of friend-revenge is eliminated, leaving only a history of lover revenge, which turns a character trait into a sexual trait.  That bugged me.   

The ending is the same as the book.  Me, I didn’t have a problem with it in the book, or the movie, mostly because I saw it as a homage to the kind of ending Jim Thompson would have given these characters.  But I also understand why the ending pissed a lot of people off.  (And we can have a spoiler-unfree conversation about this whenever you like.) 

It’s a roller coaster ride.  Even more than the book, the twists and turns come so fast that the film feels like an edited-for-theatres version of a ten-episode HBO series with a twist at the end of every episode.   

And it’s really really funny.  All kinds of funny: clever funny, crude funny (the wood line), sick funny, over-the-top funny, and (best of all) Tyler Perry funny.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Manhattan Sonnets - Autumn

Autumn is one big weather potpourri—
   It’s hot, it’s cold, it’s beautiful, it’s sucky.
We put up with its worst days patiently
   And will survive its best days (if we’re lucky).
September’s cold and then it’s ninety-five.
   October has two fouls for every fair.
November’s brisk and makes you feel alive,
   Then kills you with a blast of arctic air.
We take our shades off and put layers on
   As colors are all bleached out of the city.
Leaves go from green to gold to brown to gone.
   Dying has never looked so bright and pretty.
      Fall is the season where both life and death
      Are mingled in a single city breath.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Friday, October 3, 2014

Only The Dead Are Perfect


Only the dead are perfect. We can see
   Beyond their end, and map the straightest trail
They could have taken to the victory
   Of all their dreams.  We never let them fail.
The land of Might-Have-Been has many stories,
   But none are tragedies.  We end them all
With happiness, with perfect love, with glories—
   Up comes the winner; down goes the wall.
It is the country where Would Have is king—
   Two words that rule the dead like Should and Must
Command obedience from everything
   That enters life as flesh and leaves as dust:
      The perfect dead, whom we still guide through strife
      To victories they never won in life.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Deal Breaker

There are some fights that I won’t pick with you
   And many lines that I will let you cross.
Frankly, there’s not a whole lot you can do
   To make me lecture you like I’m your boss.
You can be messy and I’ll clean up after.
   You can complain; I’ll always be your ear.
You can be all depressed; I’ll choke my laughter.
   You can be AA and I’ll give up beer.
You can love cheesy novels; I’ll write tripe.
   You can have head lice; I’ll be your shampoo.
You can do opium; I’ll light the pipe.
   You can kick babies; I’ll lend you my shoe.
      But I will gladly kiss goodbye to Cupid
      If you just once treat waiters like they’re stupid.


Copyright 2014 Matthew J Wells