8

Ladies Who Write Plays

I should really, really, probably be doing reading for this week’s classes, especially since I have a meeting with my professor to discuss my…discussion-leading on Baal for Wednesday, but I actually finished a book – two in fact – and since I had a pretty good day today and I’m riding high at the moment on some personal successes, I’m going to post a review of one of them: Contemporary Women Playwrights: Into the Twenty-First Century, a collection edited by Penny Farfan and Lesley Ferris.

Written in 2013, it was not exactly the year’s hottest seller, but every time I walked past it in the library, it caught my attention, and for good reason. It was pretty good.

Rather than give a plot summary, here are my picks for favorite and least favorite essays.

Favorite Essays

  • “Transcultural Dramaturgies: Latina Theatre’s Third Wave,” Natalie Alvarez. The author does an excellent job of getting her point across and making the playwrights (Caridad Svich, Tanya Saracho, and Carmen Aguirre) and their plays sound fascinating. Like, I want to order those plays right now.
  • “Writing Across Our Sea of Islands: Contemporary Women Playwrights from Oceania,” Diana Looser. Mostly because I love Nora-Vagi Brash of Papua New Guinea and she is mentioned several times throughout. Looser makes some interesting observations about the nature of Oceanian theatre which really says something.

Least Favorite Essays

  • “Asian American Women Playwrights and the Dilemma of the Identity Play: Staging Heterotopic Subjectivities,” Esther Kim Lee. The subject matter is interesting, but not how the author puts it. I’m sorry, but Esther Kim Lee wrote terribly here. It seems more like a first draft than a final essay. She relies too much on pull quotes, has no variations in sentence structure, and repeats herself constantly. For example, page 250:
    • Paragraph 2 begins with “Nina quickly learns, however, that Mrs. Chae can never replace her mother, whom she sees as having been different from other Korean women in the way she taught her daughter about racial equality” (Lee 250).
    • Paragraph 3 (the very next one) begins like so: “For Nina, the memory of her mother, whom Mrs. Chae can never replace, guides her in creating for her interracial child an ideal surrounding, a kind of utopia that neither she nor Miles could enjoy during their own childhoods” (Lee 250).
  • “Deb Margolin, Robbie McCauley, Peggy Shaw: Affect and Performance,” Elin Diamond. Okay, I’m going to giving Diamond a bit of a break here because I’ve read and enjoyed her stuff before, but I’m just not a Peggy Shaw fan. I saw Split Britches in Chicago and practically slept through it. Clearly, I did not get it. Also, I might have slept a little through this chapter.

Plays/Playwrights I Want to Read Now:

  • Caridad Svich, Prodigal Kiss
  • Tanya Saracho, El Nogalar
  • Carmen Aguirre, The Refugee Hotel
  • Briar Grace-Smith, anything.
  • Riwia Brown, Irirangi Bay
  • Whiti Hereaka, Te Kaupoi
  • Courtney Sina Meredith, Rushing Dolls
  • Kia Corthron, A Cool Dip in a Barren Saharan Crick
  • Chantal Bilodeau, Sila
  • Christopher St. John, The First Actress
  • Judith Thompson, Sled
  • Marie Clements, Burning Vision
  • Julia Cho, 99 Histories

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I did watch Miss Universe yesterday. All three painful hours of off-key singing in Spanish, Nick Jonas running around, Jeannie Mai babbling on about nothing, 70 ladies who flew to the USA just to dance around in a circle, and the abysmal final questions. I was pleasantly surprised and having correctly predicted 7 of the top 15: USA, Venezuela, Philippines, Spain, India, Colombia, and Jamaica. I was ecstatic when 3 of my picks made it to the top 5, and like the rest of the auditorium, was shocked when Jamaica was called as 4th runner-up. At that point, I was rooting for anyone other than USA, and Colombia was basically the best of the other four. Congratulations Ms. Vega, and to Colombia, for your second Miss Universe and first since the 1950s. The biggest problem this year was the complete eschewing of African candidates, two years running, and the fact that 14/15 countries had placed at least once in the past 5 years, with the only exception being Argentina (who placed in 2006, only 9 years ago). I’m of the opinion that either Africa and the Caribbean should stop sending contestants or there be a continent quota. Just saying.

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3

It’s Gonna Be…Read Like Crazy Month!

Today is April 30, and you know what that means?

Yes, that, and also, all seven million (read: maybe seventy or so) of my books will be due at the library, with only a few of them renewable.

So…in honor of the mountains of books in every room of my apartment, 1990s boy bands, and tomorrow being the first of May, I am declaring this next month as Read Like Crazy month. Expect book reviews, Flip The Script, and hopefully book-a-licious posts over the next thirty-one days. Also, if you post a particularly book-tastic review on your blog, I will do something I don’t normally do, give your a link/reblog/trackback (if I can figure out how to do those things).

Also, That’s So Jacob gives a warm and sunny bienvenue to its first visitor from French Polynesia, and since I may have overlooked them, also several hits from Zambia, so big welcome to you as well.

10

Flip The Script: Nora Vagi Brash, Which Way Big Man?

As a dramaturg and a PhD student in theater, scripts occupy 75% of my reading, both for class and in my personal life. There are actually theater students out there who abhor reading scripts and prefer monographs and theoretical writings on theatre, and vice versa, but I like it both ways. Theory, criticism, and history can get dry or jargon-y after awhile, and getting lost in a good play is a quick and easy way to mix pleasure reading with a performance in your mind’s eye. It also helps that rare is the play that goes beyond one hundred pages, so if you claim that you don’t have the interest, time, or patience to read a novel for fun, I suggest plays.

For a recent project (okay, one that was due today that I just sent to my professor right now), I chose to look at a play I’d heard of from the island nation of Papua New Guinea. After I had a copy of the play sent to me all the way from Penn State, I found several other plays that fit the category in the library, including one that was in three different booksSo, I switched up my topic, and after reading Which Way, Big Man? I’ve become the newest fan of playwright/actress Nora-Vagi Brash.

I’ve written several book reviews, and I’ve wanted to transition into writing reviews of some of my favorite scripts, old and new, so here’s a new segment I’ve just come up with entitled Flip The Script. Lame, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything better. Remember, my mind is the same one that came up with Masterpiece YouTube and wrote a whole post about puns, so there you go. I’ll include the basics (playwright, year, character, setting, context, etc.), aim to limit my word count on plot description, and include some pictures and commentary. So, without further ado, I present the first episode of Flip The Script right…now.

The Basics

Which Way, Big Man? was written in 1976 by Nora-Vagi Brash, and premiered in Papua New Guinea that year.

Characters (In Order of Appearance)

  • Gou Haia – Public servant and the newly-appointed Director of National Identity.
  • Sinob Haia – His wife
  • Peta – Their servant
  • Hegame – Gou’s cousin
  • Private Secretary – Sinob’s social secretary
  • Papa – Gou’s father
  • Marian – Gou’s typist
  • James – Gou’s clerk
  • Chuck Braggin-Crowe – Businessman, owner of perfume corporation
  • Vi Braggin-Crowe – His wife
  • Saga – A local university student
  • Professor Noual – A linguist
  • Mrs. Ura Kava – A news reporter
  • Dr. Ilai Kamap – An academic
  • News Announcer – News announcer (offstage/recorded)
  • Also, a character named Tau, a co-worker of Marian and James, is mentioned and spoken to, but does not appear in the cast list nor say any lines.

Setting/Plot

1976, the Haia home in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gou has been promoted to Director of National Identity in the newly independent Papua New Guinea, and his wife Sinob plans a cocktail party in his honor. Gou’s father comes from the village to surprise him, much to Sinob’s behest. At the party, Sinob tries to impress her upper-class, white friends while insulting/ appropriating Papua New Guinea’s culture, language, and traditions. Upon seeing her father-in-law along with Marian, James, and Saga smoking and chewing buai, a tobacco-like substance, Sinob lashes out, only to be called out as neo-colonial for exploiting public funds and wearing a dress she had “specially made,” which is a knock-off. Sinob turns her anger towards Marian, calling her a pamuk (adulterer) for dancing with Gou earlier at the party, before slapping Marian in the face, who does the same to her. Gou steps in and she calls him an adulterer to his face and storms off, ending the party and leaving only Gou and his father on stage to reflect on the situation, especially in light of Gou’s new position.

My Thoughts

A great and simple take on colonialism through a postcolonial lens. Brash makes everything pretty clear-cut. It’s the perfect text for a discussion on postcolonialism and I can’t wait to read more from her.

Historical Background

As a nation who gained independence in the latter part of the twentieth century, Papua New Guinea entered a new world, and along with it, a new worldview. The colonizer-colonized relationship dynamic is one that invokes a clear line between who is in power, and who is not. Under colonial rule, there had been less of an upwardly mobile option for native Papua New Guineans. Even with the advent of higher education, the presence of the colonists undoubtedly affected and most likely limited the amount of autonomy the locals could exert over themselves. The House of Assembly established by the people in the 1960s had enhanced the voices of the island’s colonized residents, yet still the conductor’s baton was still held in the hands of the Australian administration. As the 1970s brought the nation ever closer to independence, the opportunities for social climbing increased as more local representation was needed in order to create an efficient and effective transitional government to bridge the gap between colonial status and independence. With independence came a greater emphasis on social class, and the creation of a new Papua New Guinean elite composed of the literate and the educated colonized people using neocolonialism to perpetuate the cycle of exclusion.

Major Themes 

1. Class. Sinob and Gou, of the newly rich, attempting to impersonate their colonizers, and putting down those who are less educated.

  • Sinob and Gou’s servant, Peta, and although they pay for his education, still require him to call them his “master.”
  • Sinob calls Gou’s father low-class, since he has “betel stained teeth” and doesn’t speak English. She also derides her husband for letting him borrow his clean white shirt, since he will only “get it dirty.”
  • Sinob requests that crystal glasses be ordered for the white guests, and plastic cups for the others.
  • Sinob requests hot and cold Western-style appetizers, calling betel nuts “low-class.”
  • At the party, Sinob calls Marian “just a typist” and orders that she refer to her as Mrs. Gou Haia from now on (which she later gossips about with Vi Braggin-Crowe).

2. Cultural appropriation. This is the practice of picking and choosing elements of culture to share, while branding others as irrelevant or less-than.

  • When Papa suggests a singsing or a traditional party with betel nuts and a pig-roast, Gou tells him that a cocktail party is the thing to do now.
  • Sinob insulting the flower that Papa wears in his hair to the party.
  • At the party, while Sinob slams Tok Pisin and other elements of PNG culture and traditions, Sinob wears a dress made of local fabric and cut in a local style, appropriating the style of dress made by islanders and sold in the markets.

3. Language barriers. Sinob and Gou Haia attempt to navigate two interstitial zones: one of formerly low-class islanders who have risen to a higher social class, and another of English, the language of colonialism and the local Tok Pisin language.

  • In the first scene, they speak only in English, but are clearly able to understand Tok Pisin as Sinob barks orders in English at Peta, the servant, who responds in Tok Pisin.
  • In Scene V, upon the arrival of Gou’s father, we see the extent of the lapse in communication between Gou and his father.

GOU: Father! How are you? We – er – weren’t expecting you.

PAPA: Eh! Pikinini bilong mi! Yu tok Inglis. Na mi traim tok olosem. (Ah, my son, you speak English. I’ll try too.) Your house here, is too far up hill and road. My bones tired from walk. Now I find you is good.

GOU: Father, I have been promoted. I’m to be the director of the Department of National Identity. Do you understand?

PAPA: Pikinini, yu tok wanem long dispel? Mi no save. Yu tok Inglis, na mi no kisim as long tok bilong yu. (Son, what are you talking about? I don’t understand. When you speak English I can’t get to the bottom of what you say.)

GOU: It means I’m to be the boss of a big office. The number one boss.

PAPA: Number one, eh?

GOU: Yes. Tonight, Sinob and I are having a party to celebrate (Brash 154-155).

  • In this brief exchange, we  how Gou’s status has affected his relationship with both his father and his native language. Gou greets his father in English, who responds in Tok Pisin before attempting to keep the conversation going in English. Gou’s choice to respond in English rather than in Tok Pisin (which we know he understands, although we have not yet heard him speak) and his word choice increases the distance between the two. Gou’s father, whose confidence and knowledge in English do not match his son’s, switches back to Tok Pisin. Despite the fact that Papa says “when you speak English I can’t get to the bottom of what you say,” Gou continues in English, refusing to switch to Tok Pisin. On top of the obvious master-servant relationship between the couple and Peta, now we see the insinuation of the English-speaking son putting his native father – both his actual Papa and his first language, the language of his fatherland – beneath him.
  • Scene IV. Dr. Ilai Kamap, the academic, brings up the subject of national language. Despite her position as the wife of the man who is now charge of the task force to discover national identity, Sinob is dismissive of the two dominant non-English languages of Motu and Tok Pisin, calling the latter Pidgin, a nomenclature originated and utilized by the English. She calls them languages of the “village people” and that everyone should speak English, citing the current English-based educational curriculum and that it would “cost a lot more to rewrite the texts (Brash 160).” Professor Noual, the linguist, takes umbrage to the idea, but is ignored by Sinob, who has already moved on to a conversation with Ura Kava about her new dress. As Sinob leaves, Dr. Kamap suggests the creation of a language based on the “seven-hundred-plus languages here…which would include elements from each basic dialectal area,” to which Professor Noual points out the fact that this language already exists and is a national language: Tok Pisin.
  • After his wife storms off and the guests take their leave, only Gou and Papa are left on stage. As soon as they are alone, they have a conversation exclusively in Tok Pisin. According to the footnoted translation, Papa excuses himself to go stay with a cousin, but Gou apologizes to his father for his wife’s display and the toll that urban life has taken on him. Papa responds with understanding, but instead of solely blaming city life, also points out to his son how Sinob bosses him around. He then invites Gou back to the village to join himself and Gou’s mother for Christmas, and that they will make a big feast. Gou insists to his father that he and his mother should not spend money on feeding him, to which his father says that he will be ashamed among the village if Gou will not come home for Christmas. As it is late, Gou offers his father the bed in the guest room, but he refuses, preferring to sleep on the hard living room floor. He does so, leading to the closing image of Gou putting a pillow under his father’s sleeping head to elevate it off the floor, and contemplating his new position with the play’s closing line, “[a]nd so…here I am, your son…the director of National Identity.” It is clear here that Gou is caught in the middle, not only between English and Tok Pisin, but between the comfortable bed of the present and his father, the past, happily sleeping on the floor. In this way, Brash leads her audience with the provocative question of reconciling with identity.
  • Character names: The name of protagonist Gou Haia is a homophone of the English phrase “go higher,” referring to his political ambition as well as his rise in socioeconomic class. His wife is an aptly-named snob, both in her name, Sinob, and in her nature. The haughty white businessman and his wife whom Sinob is desperately trying to impress are named Chuck and Vi Braggin-Crowe, alluding to both Sinob’s and their own tendency to “brag and crow” about their position in society and their opinions of the lower class. A case can even be made for Dr. Ilai Kamap, the academic who suggests the creation of a new language for the new nation, as his surname is a hint to the phrase “come up,” indicating that he is also among the newly-risen members of society.

I have more to say but I’ll stop and publish here because I’ve basically just recreated like half my paper, but stay tuned for more on this play. This entry will probably be edited a few times.

Also, anhyeunasayo to my first visitor from South Korea, and to my 10000th visitor (at least according to my Revolver Map), from Kanata, Ontario, Canada. Not bad, eh?

Works Cited

Beier, Ulli, ed. Voices of Independence: New Black Writing from Papua New Guinea. St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: U of Queensland P, 1980.

Brash, Nora-Vagi. Which Way, Big Man? in Voices of Independence: New Black Writing from Papua New Guinea, ed. Ulli Beier. St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia: U of Queensland P, 1980.

James, Adeola, ed. PNG Women Writers: An Anthology. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Addison Wesley Longman Australia, 1998.

Waiko, John Dademo. A Short History of Papua New Guinea. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Oxford UP Australia, 1993.

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Learning is Pun

Now playing at the Las Vegas Colosseum…

…everyone’s favorite late-nineteenth century Irish playwright and late-twentieth century Canadian pop sensation…

CELINE DION BOUCICAULT

celinedionboucicault2

And this is what I learned in grad school this week and just spent an hour of my life doing.

Oh, and here’s the rough draft, which was significantly less pretty…

celinedionboucicaultOkay, it was hideous, but I tried.