Throwback Thursday: Trans Identity and Acceptance in Hir

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


Representation of minority identities in media and fiction is one way the progress of tolerance and acceptance is reached. Such is the case with Hirby Taylor Mac, a play about Max, who is transgender and uses the pronoun “hir” and how hir family attempts to understand hir identity. Mac is a genderqueer author as well, who uses the pronoun “judy.” Hirseeks to portray acceptance of trans identity but ends in a way that I feel can be interpreted as an excuse to push back against acceptance of trans identity rather than for it. Two ways of finding acceptance of trans identity are portrayed; a moderate, hesitant acceptance by Max’s brother Isaac, and a radical, all-or-nothing acceptance by Max’s mother Paige. Isaac’s acceptance of Max seems preferable to Paige’s, as he accepts Max without having to understand hir but his anger and drug addiction undercuts this (Transgender Equality). This seems to push Paige’s views as the ideal, but her views are extreme, and she perpetuates abuse of trans people and trans identity in the way she treats Max. This leaves us with a futile feeling where neither Isaac nor his mother has a good way of accepting Max’s identity, which almost makes it seem as if it is useless to try and be accepting of differences such as transgender individuals.

In order to discuss the ways in which the message of acceptance could have been conveyed better by Hir, the shortcomings of Hir’s message of acceptance are to be examined first. Before this it is important to analyze the intended meaning first. Hiris one one of the most prominent, modern plays, of the few which puts a transgender character explicitly on stage. With the author Taylor Mac also being genderqueer, and the relatively few positive representations of trans characters which have been featured on stage, it is reasonable to assume that Hirargues for acceptance of this identity which is often derided.

This message gets muddled, and does not always come through clearly, as the play seems to bolster Paige’s radical views, of wanting to tear down patriarchal society with queer identities (which she calls “Lugabuttsqueeah” (Mac 68), pronouncing the letters in LGBTQ) and completely change the status quo as the ideal form of acceptance over Isaac’s more hesitant ideas and actions throughout, as Isaac is uncertain about Max’s trans identity but is willing to listen to hir and come to accept and understand hir identity as best he can, even if his understanding is not immediate or without question. In the character descriptions Mac gives, Paige and Isaac’s views can be seen simply. Paige’s mentions that one of her main actions is to “tear apart the old regimes” (Mac 64). While Isaac’s states he tries to “keep things under control…but ultimately fails” (Mac 64), meaning he fails at keeping his family together, and fails at keeping his composure. He also fails to give the audience a reasonable alternative to Paige’s attitudes when he is constantly belittled for his PTSD, and his drug addiction, which makes him less emulable to the audience.

Mac shows the way Paige simply recreates the oppressive society she hated, taking Arnold’s power away from him, she becomes the abuser of the household, seen directly when she tells Isaac in the very beginning, “don’t you touch that air. That air goes off when I say it goes off” (Mac 65). She puts makeup on Arnold and defends it by saying “He’s not all there I. It’s okay. He doesn’t even know.” (Mac 66). In trying to overcome the oppression that she has faced all her life by the hands of her abusive husband’s patriarchal views, Paige does everything opposite of these systems which oppressed her, saying “Places and cupboards are what your father wanted so now they’re your father’s job. And since he just likes to stand by the door hoping to flee, the house is a disaster.” (Mac 66). Despite being the extreme opposite way of living as Arnold, Paige is no less abusive towards her kids, even if the abuse is emotional more than physical. She abuses Isaac by torturing him with the noise of the blender, even once she figures out it triggers his PTSD, the stage directions, at different times, direct a variation of “Paige turns the blender on. Isaac starts puking and Paige turns the blender off. Isaac stops puking. Slight pause. She turns it on and Isaac starts puking.”(Mac 66), and this persists. Paige also treats Max this way whenever Max sides with Isaac over her. When arguing with Paige, because Paige was belittling and triggering Isaac, Paige threatens Max by saying “I will immediately go to your room and flush your entire stash of testosterone down the toilet.” (Mac 76).

Paige’s acceptance of Max does not extend to the times Max’s identity does not serve her ideals or goals. Paige’s acceptance of trans identity is not about how she can support her child, but about how trans identity serves her anti-patriarchal and anti-status-quo ideals. Paige tells Isaac “Max saved me…We are all hir.” (Mac 68), making Max’s identity and transition about herself before letting it be about Max, showing how self-centered her way of accepting Max really is. This is seen when Paige is telling Isaac about Max’s transition, as this lecture “little tomboy Maxine wouldn’t let her father stop her trajectory, so she gets herself some testosterone” (Mac 67). Paige uses Max’s birth name “Maxine” and uses the pronoun “her” rather than “hir”, but lectures Isaac about how “Max gets very upset if you refer to hir as a she” (Mac 68), showing how hypocritical she is, trying to prove that she is the only one that can properly accept Max, which is in fact a possessiveness common in abusive relationships.

Isaac is not immediately comfortable with Max’s pronouns but tries to understand his sibling, and his willing to acceptance hir even without fully understanding Max’s identity. This is seen several times throughout the play, in exchanges such as this one: “ISAAC: You need to decide what kind of zee you’re going to be. MAX: Ze. ISAAC: What kind of ze you’re going to be.” (Mac 73-74). Where Max corrects Isaac and Isaac corrects himself without complaint for Max, Paige belittles every slip up or attempt to understand Isaac makes in her presence. For example, when Max plays the banjo and Isaac asks if it’s to help get girls, this exchange happens: “PAIGE: Max did you see what Isaac did there? He tried to bond with you about chicks, as a way to say your sexuality is okay with him. ISAAC: I am trying.” (Mac 75). Isaac is doing his best to understand Max, while Paige belittles every attempt at trying he makes, assuming he will ultimately not be accepting, like Arnold supposedly was. Paige sees Isaac as a perpetuation of Arnold’s patriarchal ideas, and though Isaac defends his father from Paige’s dressing him as a clown he does acknowledge that “He wasn’t always right.” (Mac 75).

I do not believe the play intends to foreground Paige’s ideas as the ideal, evidenced by the way Max hirself rebels at times against Paige’s opinions and speaking for hir, such as when Paige explains Max’s pronouns to Isaac rather than letting hir do it hirselves, telling Isaac “Ze wants you to say ze or hir as if this had been part of your regular speaking vocabulary your entire life.” (Mac 68). Max hirself even tells Isaac “Paige likes to appropriate my experience, so it doesn’t feel like it’s my experience…It’s fucking exhausting teaching people.” (Mac 72).  Max also directly defies Paige and listens to Isaac in cleaning the house and helping Arnold at the very end, with the play ending with the stage direction “Max cleans. Paige stifles a sob.” (Mac 79). This can show how Max was choosing Isaac’s attitudes over Paige’s, as Isaac spends the play trying to clean up the mess of the house with Paige resisting at every turn. Max cleaning the house could be one way in which the play tells us that Paige’s attitude is not the one that should be emulated. Max, the trans person at the center of this play, confirms that hir is frustrated with Paige, and prefers Isaac’s attitude over Paige’s. But this is a minor moment at the very end which, while showing what may have been the play’s intention, does not undo the message which seems to permeate the entire play. The moments of Paige overshadowing Max throughout the play, and the vilifying of Isaac, leaves us with no legitimized alternative to Paige’s views.

The message Hirseems to actually send is that Paige’s attitude is correct while Isaac’s is wrong because he is not immediately understanding of Max’s identity. Paige’s way of accepting Max boils down to the ways in which Max’s identity benefits her. While Isaac’s way of accepting Max is more hesitant and uncertain but makes the attempt to accept Max even without fully understanding. While Paige’s attitudes seem to be the ideal the play leaves us with, Paige’s behavior can be seen as abusive (towards Isaac and his PTSD and threatening to take Max’s testosterone away) and also tries to dictate how Max should relate to hir gender and oppression of hir identity. This can be harmful ways of understanding trans identity, especially as Paige’s acceptance of Max’s identity comes largely from the ways in which it serves her, rather than Max hirself. Paige’s way of accepting Max, which is immediate but also strictly dictates how Max should feel about hir identity and how Max should present as more feminine rather than masculine. This is clearly seen when Paige gets defensive about Isaac and Max bonding, asking Max “Why are you acting so butch all of a sudden? Where did my sissy transman go?” (Mac 76). This is in contrast to Isaac’s acceptance, which is hesitant and uncertain, as he fumbles pronouns, etc. but a legitimate attempt to understand his younger sibling on hir terms, rather than their mother’s. The major way Isaac’s views are discounted is his mental health, more conservative views on family, and the revelation that he has a drug addiction.

Isaac as a character is vilified by Paige and to the audience. Isaac’s PTSD causes him to throw up repeatedly, which Paige uses to torture him. Just as she humiliates Arnold by dressing him in a nightgown and makeup, she tries to humiliate Isaac for being complicit in the patriarchy and going to war. Paige does not take his PTSD seriously, even though Isaac denies being traumatized. Paige badgers him about his dishonorable discharge and Isaac admits “I got caught blowing crystal meth” (Mac 69). She calls him out saying “You just puked two kidneys and a crack den into that sink.” (Mac 69).  Pointing out his drug addiction allows Paige to negate his opinions and uses the blender to provoke him into throwing up when he disagrees with her. Max thinks the throwing up is in response to hir, when “Isaac, who has been holding in his puke from the blender noise, suddenly can’t hold it in any longer and pukes” (Mac 75). When Isaac tries to reassure Max that it is not about hir, Paige does not defend Isaac to Max, does not try to reassure Max that hir brother will come to accept hir. Put together, this paints a vilifying picture of Isaac that makes it difficult for the audience to want to emulate his way of finding acceptance for Max.

You could argue that Paige’s views are so radical to show the ridiculousness of such radical views – as a way of showing the audience that acceptance doesn’t look that extreme, but this fails to come through, as it is easy to interpret as a reification of the idea that acceptance is all-or-nothing. This interpretation of Paige’s attitudes would be easier to see in Hir if Isaac was not as torn down and vilified as he was. Even though Max seems to prefer hir brother’s way of accepting hir to hir mother’s, Isaac’s attitudes are not likely to be seen as emulable with the way he is otherwise less favorable to emulate, naming controversial patriarchal views and drug addiction. Leaving the audience with only Paige’s attitudes towards acceptance as emulable may in fact lead the audience to believe that acceptance is intolerable if this is what it leads to, undermining the play’s own intended message of acceptance. The play leaves us with the conclusion that Paige’s way of accepting Max is the correct way. A view that may alienate an audience which is on the fence or uneducated on the topic.

The message Hirends up sending is that the only way to be accepting is to be radical and burn down every system of possible oppression and people who are cisgender are worse for it, as Paige seems to embody. If this message is a harmful one, then what should be done, how should acceptance and tolerance be shown? Paige speaks for Max and tries to dictate how much should relate to hir gender/identity which is a poor example of acceptance, dictating the terms of someone’s oppression or identity. Isaac asks Max to tell him what hir needs and feels. Isaac foregrounds Max and Max’s feeling rather than a generalization of trans identity. Paige also expects Max to essentially fix the world around them, using Max’s identity to feel better about herself and how “progressive” she is. Trans identity should be accepted for its own sake, and not for the ways it benefits cisgender people. Isaac’s way of coming to terms with Max’s identity is more accurate to how people typically struggle with accepting someone’s coming out and a more helpful/less hurtful form of ally-ship than Paige demonstrates. Isaac listens to how Max hirself wants to be understood and accepted, rather than dictating what that acceptance looks like. Isaac doesn’t fully understand Max, but is willing to try to, and a willingness to understand and accept hir, without dictating how Max should navigate hir’s own world or oppression is a preferable message than Paige’s radical “new world order” views (GLAAD).

Where Paige’s acceptance comes from how Max’s identity can benefit her, Isaac’s acceptance comes without complete understanding of Max’s identity, but is willing to try. Isaac corrects his incorrect pronoun use when prompted, he begins using Max’s new pronouns “ze” and “hir” despite not fully understanding the change. Isaac does not expect Max to teach him everything the way Paige does, but listens to what Max says and wants and makes the attempt to understand. Isaac tries to bond with Max, over girls (before learning Max is gay), and over cleaning the house. While Isaac is not perfect, and messes up (assuming Max likes girls, not understanding why Max calls certain artists trans etc.), he makes legitimate attempts to understand Max, makes comments about Max’s beard, and instantly accepts Max’s pronouns etc. even before fully understanding, not for his own sake but for Max’s sake, because he loves his younger sibling and wants what’s best for hir. Wants the house clean and for Max to go to school to help Max, not because he is necessarily trying to defy Paige as she seems to think.

Isaac’s acceptance of Max was more honest, realistic, and preferable way of accepting trans identity than their mother’s. However, his anger and drug addiction undercuts this, meaning it is difficult to see Isaac has having the correct view, leaving the play with the idea that Paige might be correct, and that acceptance must be all or nothing. However, Paige’s ideas are radical in a way which may make an uncertain, or even a fully accepting audience, hesitance to adopt her views. Her views also leave something to be desired from the trans perspective as well, as her acceptance comes from a place of how trans identity can benefit her standing in society, and not for the sake of trans individuals. This leaves audiences unable to emulate Paige’s views as well as Isaac’s, leaving a futile feeling where neither he nor his mother has the right way of looking at things, which almost makes it seem as if it is useless to try and be accepting of differences such as transgender individuals. This is almost the exact opposite of what the message should be. If the point of showing trans identity on stage is to represent trans identity and to seek understanding and acceptance of it, Hirfails at asking for this acceptance by ending somewhat hopeless, without either Paige or Isaac to look to for what acceptance should look like. This can be a harmful thing to show, as it can tell audiences that there is no correct way to be accepting, and if they believe Paige is meant to be looked to as an example, they might decide acceptance is not worth the trouble, a dangerous sentiment today, when the fight for trans acceptance is difficult and has not gotten very far.


Works Cited

Mac, Taylor. Hir. Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 2016.

“Tips for Allies of Transgender People.” GLAAD, 15 June 2018, www.glaad.org/transgender/allies.

“Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive.” National Center for Transgender Equality, 5 Oct. 2018, transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-non-binary-people-how-to-be-respectful-and-supportive.

 

Throwback Thursday: Cloud Nine Essay: Where is Tommy?

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


In theater, casting is often very intentional. In Caryl Churchill’s 1978 play Cloud Nine, casting in integral to the themes of gender identity and expression of sexuality at the core of the play. The casting is very specific, and thoroughly thought through, with the choices for the casting of many characters being explained by Churchill herself. However, there is one character in Cloud Nine whose casting is not given an explanation at all, because he is not cast at all. Tommy, who is Victoria’s son in Act II of the play, is referred to as if on stage, but is never on stage at all. The simplistic explanation would be to say that, as every other character is double cast between Act I and Act II, there simply wasn’t another actor to play Tommy without throwing off the parallels of casting between Act I and Act II, but for this, he could have been played by a doll as a parallel to his mother in Act I. Given the intense thought behind the casting of each other character, there has to be a metaphorical or symbolic reasoning behind Tommy not being on stage.

There are established reasons in theater that a character may be unseen or off stage for the duration of the play. Generally, absent characters exist beyond the space the play takes place in (ie. referred to as if in another room, etc.), “the matter of each characters’ absence is closely tied to those characters’ occupation of space.” (Carlson 1).  Tommy is not simply existing offstage though – he is quite literally invisible to the audience. Unseen characters can also represent omnipresence, which Tommy is not, nor is he a narrator or even the central character. Absent characters usually play a key significance and are central to a work. While Tommy is important in what he represents for Victoria’s story, the story being told is not one about Tommy. The traditional use of an absensent character would leave Tommy at home, off stage; instead, he is referred to as if on stage when he simply is not, which is not the traditional convention for absent characters. These are established conventions, and much of Churchill’s play is about subverting expectation and societal norm. Having Tommy be unseen to the audience, while the characters act as if he is there, might to another form of this subversion; where the general expectation is to see this child – he is unseen.

Most unseen characters are absent characters, affecting the story tangentially or omnipresently but not directly as they are not on stage nor interacting with those on stage from the audience’s perspective; Tommy fits the description of an unseen character but not an absent character. The very first mention of him is on the second page of Act II, when his mother says “Tommy, it’s Jimmy’s gun.” (Churchill 49) directly addressing him, but he is not on stage. Tommy isn’t even on the character list at the beginning – a list even Victoria-played-by-a-doll is on. They also speak about Tommy’s possible concussion referring to the “nasty bump” (Churchill 53) on his head as if Tommy is standing right there, but he isn’t; Betty also says “bye bye Tommy” (Churchill 56) later in the scene. There are many references throughout Act II like this, establishing that though the audience is not seeing Tommy, the other characters are. Because multiple characters refer to him, not just Victoria or Martin, we can assume he is a real child, despite his invisibility, not a hallucination. A typically absent character in theater would be referred to as if elsewhere in the world of the play, not as if standing right there when they aren’t, which means Tommy’s absence isn’t following the typical theater conventions of an absent character.

Cloud Nineis largely about subverting societal expectations – alongside the themes of gender, and sexuality subversions, Tommy’s lack of physical presence can be a play on the common social expectation that “children should be seen not heard”. In Act I, Victoria is played by a literal doll – a physical embodiment of this expectation for children, while the story revolves around the adults. Tommy’s absence takes this further – putting him mute and invisible, but still a weight in the minds of his parents, with his well-being constantly brought up. The concept that children should be seen not heard is meant to lessen their burden on their parents – a tenant of well behaved children not adding stress upon their parents (Writing Explained), but Tommy, even silent and invisible, is a major factor for why Victoria holds herself back from loving Lin, and by extension her own happiness. Sometimes societal expectations do not line up to reality, and even stereotypically well-behaved children can be a burden by nature. Where Tommy represents societal expectations of well-behaved children etc., he also shows how expectations do not always work out perfectly in practice.

In contrast to Tommy’s invisibility is Cathy – who is shown as a large and overwhelming presence on stage. Showing this parallel between Tommy and Cathy – inverted expectations of sons (who are meant to be loud and demanding) and daughters (who are meant to play quietly, speak softly) – could be showing how Cathy overshadows Tommy to such a degree that he is not even seen by the audience. In an introduction to the play, Churchill says that “Cathy is played by a man…partly because the size and presence…seemed appropriate to the emotional force of young children…[and] to show more clearly the issues…in learning…correct behavior for a girl.”  Just as Cathy doesn’t met the expectations for a young girl, Tommy doesn’t met the expectations for a young boy – he is silent and Cathy is louder and larger in personality. To the point that the adults even forgot Tommy is with them at times – like when they lose him in the park, and he nearly drowns. In scene II of Act II, Tommy is feeding the ducks, and the adults lose track of him when dealing with their own problems, leading them to ask Cathy, the other child and the only one paying attention to him where he was repeatedly asking variations of “did he fall in the pond?”.  They lose sight of him amidst their own problems.

Parental influence is also a possibility for Tommy’s invisibility. Victoria in Act I is unable to speak or control her own actions (being played by a doll) and in Act II feels trapped into a similar situation, unable to speak candidly to Martin about her unhappiness in their relationship until a ways through the act, unable to leave her son behind to take a new job, a new relationship etc. This concept also applies to Cathy. The implication is Cathy is the way she is because of Lin’s homosexuality – that she is loud and generally displaces more masculine associated traits such as being demanding, or playing in dirt etc. That Cathy “acts like a boy”  while Lin is lesbian (which is commonly associated with a woman acting contrary to gender norms) can be seen as a reinforcement of harmful stereotypes that a homosexual parent will raise a homosexual child.

The idea is that children absorb and learn the behaviors around them. If Tommy isn’t on stage he cannot be negatively influenced. Martin says he’d take custody of Tommy, even though custody is generally afforded to mothers. This is because “between 1967 and 1985, lesbian and gay parents lost many more court battles than they won” (Rivers 917), it was considered that “the best interests of the child always lay in a heterosexual household” (Rivers 920). Alongside the message of tolerance for other sexual orientations expressed in the play – a controversially liberal position at the time, there is also the unstated implication that interactions with those of other orientations will convert of encourage children to have those other orientations. Tommy being off stage could be a way to show how he isn’t directly affect by his mother or uncle’s sexuality, despite the undertone that Harry Bagley made Edward gay, that association with him or Lin converted Victoria; Tommy being unseen is because he is not tied up in this messy implication of sexual desires imprinted or learned by those around him. In this play of sexual caricatures, he isn’t on stage because it doesn’t have a way of subverting gender or sexuality expectations.  By not being seen on stage, he can be seen as breaking this cycle or this stereotype. By not being on stage, not being explicitly affected or “turned gay” after Victoria gets together with Lin might be a way of showing that a parent’s orientation isn’t always transferred on a child, in contrast to the relationship of Lin and Cathy, which you can take as reinforcing the stereotype.

Especially prominent in Act II is the progress of societal norms in terms of marriage and divorce – progress which is generally one step forward and two steps back. Act I shows a strict structure of marriage – that everyone must marry and divorce isn’t an option. By Act II, divorce is more allowable – but still something society would frown on in many instances, for instance Victoria and Martin, because they have a son. Tommy the main reason Victoria is hesitant to leave Martin, because there is still a social expectation to “stay together for the kid.” Martin also threatens to take custody of Tommy away from Victoria, a custody case he might have won because even today homosexual parents are seen as unfit parents in many instances. Tommy is a manifestation of the love Victoria and Martin had for one another, and so Tommy’s invisibility could be symbolic of the lost love between Martin and Victoria.

That Tommy is invisible he is idealized, both Victoria and Martin seem to want custody for reasons not entirely about Tommy, but perhaps the expectation of duty to their offspring or to spite their spouse. Neither gives any mention of which would benefit Tommy, nor any actual interests of his at all. The audience has no information about Tommy, beyond that he is male, he is their son, and he presumably is around Cathy’s age, though there is no specific mention of his age. They love him, but they don’t really see him, he isn’t a separate entity from the marriage and societal script that they have followed. Martin himself even says “I don’t like to say he is my son but he is my son” (Churchill 79) showing that he may not have wanted kids, but is adhering to the societal script. This symbolism is heightened by the fact that, when Victoria decides to leave Martin for Lin, they realize Tommy is missing and might have drowned; a symbol for the death of their marriage. Right before they realize Tommy has gone missing when they think he’s drowned, Victoria and Lin have a conversation about their own relationship, with Victoria admitting she maybe doesn’t love Martin anymore saying “it’s got to stop” (Churchill 65) and asking Lin if Lin loved her. The near-death of Tommy shows how Victoria is considering killing her marriage. Along with this, even at the start of Act II Lin references Tommy’s death as a way to get Victoria to herself, to leave Martin saying “I’ll give [Cathy] a rifle…blast Tommy’s pretty head off” (Churchill 52) showing an awareness that Tommy is what is keeping Victoria and Martin’s marriage together.

Most societal expectations are invisible, intangible things, and Tommy represents these invisible societal expectations on Victoria and Martin’s relationship – unseen, but not out of mind. Tommy himself represents societal expectation, and losing track of him when he nearly drowns is indicative of the play’s larger theme of letting societal expectations fall to the wayside to be true to oneself, and the way societal expectations can seem to be killed in the name of progress but they do not die easily. Even when they think Tommy has drowned, he has not, just as how they think progress has been made, it really has not.

Absent characters have importance through “‘proximate cause’ for the action that occurs onstage…a cause that directly produces an event and without which the event would not have occurred” (Morrow 2). While Tommy does not directly speak to any of the other characters, he is a proximate cause of much of Victoria and Martin’s dialogue, as well as much of the conflict Victoria has over wanting to be with Lin over Martin, he is a driving force of the conflict in Act II. Without Tommy, much of the conflict of Act II doesn’t happen at all, as Victoria would have had an easier time of divorcing Martin. Tommy represents the way societal expectations creates conflict within and between individuals.

The casting choices of this play serve to highlight inner feelings, the breaking from a typical expectation of that character; but Tommy’s role is so instinctively understood that he doesn’t need to be seen. Unlike every other character who shows some deviation from what is accepted by society, Tommy is the reinforcement of societal ideals, he doesn’t need to be seen by an audience that is being shown subversions of societal expectations because he is the societal expectation. Societal expectations aren’t seen, and don’t have to be acknowledged, but they do have a tangibility  to them; by being unseen Tommy is symbolic of the assumptions people make, but that he is unseen doesn’t mean he can be ignored entirely. Societal expectations can be ignored, and many characters in Cloud Ninedo ignore them, but their effect on actions taken cannot be discounted – Tommy is a reference point for what the audience sees as off in the other characters of the play. Regardless of Churchill’s original intent, Tommy’s absence paints him as a reminder and symbol of societies invisible expectations – that even non-tangible things can be hard to break away from. Churchill’s Cloud Nine is a play about changing societal roles, expectations and progress and Tommy serves as a reminder that progress is typically two steps forward but one step back. His character undermines the progress that has been made – that progress is more in name than in reality a lot of the time, even as things change they stay the same. His absence shows how these problems are invisible – he represents the status quo, silently followed, invisible but always present, always a consideration before acting.


Works Cited

Carlson, Stephanie D., “Absent Characters: Stage Space and Social Change in Modern Drama” Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 2016. discoverarchive.vanderbilt.edu/bitstream/handle/1803/8435/Stephanie%20Carlson%20-%20Absent%20Characters.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y.

Churchill, Caryl. Cloud Nine. Theatre Communications Group, 1994.

Morrow, Sarah Emily, “Absent Characters as Proximate Cause in Twentieth Century American Drama.” Thesis, Georgia State University, 2009. scholarworks.gsu.edu/english_theses/58.

Rivers, Daniel. “‘IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD’: LESBIAN AND GAY PARENTING CUSTODY CASES, 1967-1985.” Journal of Social History, vol. 43, no. 4, 2010, pp. 917–943. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40802011.

“What Does Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard Mean?” Writing Explained, writingexplained.org/idiom-dictionary/children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard.

 

Throwback Thursday: Fences Performance Critique

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


Fences by August Wilson premiered in 1985. The play was adapted into a movie in 2016, with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprising their roles, of Troy and Rose respectively, from the 2010 revival of the play on Broadway. The movie adaptation highlights the way Troy is a tragic figure, rather than a merely a sympathetic one. Based on the written play, Troy is a character who has faced a difficult life and perpetuates this in his family life, cheating on his wife and holding his son back from his dreams. Washington’s portrayal highlights the sympathy you could have for Troy more consistently than the play allows, making it a story not only of the way oppression eventually beats a man down, but the way you build a life despite of it. The play leaves it to the audience to decide if Troy can be forgiven or not, determine for themselves if he has truly gone to heaven. However, the movie uses lightening as well as physical cues throughout, to lead us to the interpretation that Troy has gone to heaven, and is ultimately a tragic character, rather than merely a sympathetic but unforgivable one. The film version ultimately gives the ambiguous ending of the play, whether or not Troy could ultimately be forgiven by his family, a definitive interpretation that he would be forgiven, that his faults did not make him irredeemable.

Systematic oppression has put Troy in his position, and though he tries his best, he falls short of living the life he intends. The way in which Troy tries but fails to measure up is clearer in the film, going beyond the stage-directions, which do not indicate Troy is showing emotion his words aren’t conveying. The film shows more humor and kindness in Troy then his stern words alone suggest in the play. Just through reading the play, it is possible to interpret Troy has someone who has lived up to society’s expectation of him, being cruel to his son, and cheating on his wife. The ways in which you can sympathize with him only emerging in specific instances. This is brought out more fully with Washington’s portrayal of the character, shifting the interpretation of Troy’s character and ultimate fate from ambiguous to solidly tragic and forgiven.

Specifically, Troy’s vulnerabilities are clearer in Washington’s portrayal, with soft, sad smiles where the play had no written direction other than stern words – highlighting the way he wasn’t only criticizing Cory, but protecting the only way he knew how. The physicality of Washington’s portrayal of Troy (referring to his facial expressions and tone of voice) leads viewers to a more sympathetic and understanding view of Troy than readers of the script may walk away with. The tone of voice Washington uses in key scenes differs from the tone you would expect from the play-script itself. In his speech to Cory where Troy is lecturing Cory “Who says I have to like you,” (Wilson 37) he is smiling and affectionate, almost joking with his son, there is humor as well as a lecture, rather than just the stern lecture of sacrifice it is in its written form. This interpretation of the play in the movie is further expressed by Cory’s reaction to singing the song with Raynell in the end of the film. While the play never lets us know directly whether Cory himself has forgiven his father for his faults, thus furthering the allowance of the readers to make their own conclusions of his character, the film has Cory crying as he sings, as he takes his mother’s rant about the good and bad parts of his father to heart; Cory accepts Troy as a flawed man, but a man who tried his best nonetheless, and leads the audience to this same interpretation.

Besides physicality, the other major way the film leads to the interpretation of Troy as a tragic character is lightning, most significantly, the lightning in the last scene. Troy’s brother Gabriel believes himself to be the archangel Gabriel, who is the messenger of God, and calls out for St. Peter to open the gates of heaven to let Troy in. The stage directions of the play indicate that the stage lights blackout after Gabriel blows his trumpet and the gates of heaven open to him, but it is ambiguous whether this means Troy has gone to heaven, or it is only a manifestation of Gabriel’s delusion, and could be played either way. The movie has bright gold across the sky, as the clouds part and open up, as the family stares up for several long seconds. The movie ends on golden light streaming through the tree into the backyard, rather than going straight to black after the sound of the trumpet. The end of the movie clearly lets you see that Troy has been forgiven in the eyes of God, rather than leaving it a possible manifestation of Gabriel’s mind.

Personally, my preferred interpretation of the play is to see Troy as a tragic figure, to see him as flawed but sympathetic, rather than irredeemable for his poor choices. Because he is flawed in a lot of ways, but he is human, and no human being has ever not made a mistake, including huge life-changing ones like his affair which results in Raynell. It is far easier to vilify someone, than to forgive them; it is easier to write someone off rather than look deeper into what lead to mistakes being made. Some of Troy’s choices were entirely on him, but others seem almost inevitable. He is harsh on Cory not because he doesn’t love him, but because systematic oppression has beaten his dreams out of him, and he can’t fix that for Cory, so he wants him not to be hurt by the battles Troy was never able to win. You can understand Troy’s behaviors, and forgive them, without excusing them. Troy’s motto seems to be “you gotta take the crookeds with the straights” (Wilson 94) and that is the interpretation of Troy’s character that the film leaves us with, which seems the honest interpretation. You forgive, because it is harder than anger, you take the good and the bad parts of life, and you make the best of the situations you have no power over, because you have power over yourself.


Works Cited

Washington, Denzel, director. Fences. Paramount Pictures, 2016.

Wilson, August. Fences. New Mexico Repertory Theatre, 1989.

Throwback Thursday: Much Ado About Nothing Act 3 Scene 4 – 2014 – Valley Girl Rewrite

Throwback Thursday, where, essentially I post old writing samples, essays and short stories that I dig up from my pile of hoarded papers and school assignments or from the depths of my computer. So everyone can see how my writing has changed/improved over the years.


(Enter Hero, Margaret, and Ursula)

Hero:  Ursula, could you, like, wake up, Beatrice? Cuz, like, you know, today’s my wedding day and she needs to, like, help me into my dress. OMG where is she?

Ursula:  Fine.

(Looks in the distance)

(Hero taps her shoulder)

Hero:  Ursula?

Ursula:  Ya?

Hero:  NOW!

Ursula:  Ok, ok. Shish. Like, take a chill pill.

(She exits)

Hero:  Shoo. Ok, Margaret, like, this is, like, my dress. What do you, like, think girl?

Margaret:  I think, like, that looks like one of those, ummm, dresses from Shakespeare’s time. What was that, like, called again?

(Looks in dictionary on phone)

Hero:  Margaret!

Margaret:  Gosh! Girl, I like, already found it. It was like, called a rebato. Ok, so that dress, like, looks like a rebato, ummm… But extra ugly.

Hero:  What?!

Margaret:  Especially on you.

Hero:  Ok, like, what’s your damage and, like, call the fashion police, cuz you girl, have no style.

Margaret:  Pah-lease, girl. You’re the one, like, with no style. Have you, like, not seen the dress?

Hero:  Whatevs, you’re just jealous.

Margaret:  Am not!

(Stamps foot)

Hero:  OMG! This dress is, like, so heavy!

Margaret:  It’ll, like, be heavier soon. You know, with a man on it.

(Covers her ears)

 Hero:  Oh my gosh, no! Like, my virgin ears! Why would you, like, say something like that?

Margaret:  What? Like, we all know it’s true. I mean, like, you are getting married, you know. What did you, like, think was gonna happen?

Hero: OMG! Like, where’s Beatrice?

(“Deleted Scene” Ursula gets Beatrice)

Ursula:  Beatrice, like, wake up girl! Hero, like, needs your help.

Beatrice:  Uh, why?! Like, it’s not my problem she can’t get dressed by herself.

Ursula:  Well, she is, like, getting married and, like, you are her cousin so…, like, go.

Beatrice:  Uh! Fine, whatever. But really, marriage is bor-ing!

(Back to Hero’s room – Enter Beatrice)

Hero:  Hey girl! Like, finally!

Beatrice:  Hey, like, Ursula said you, like, needed something.

Hero:  Ya, but are you, like, sick or something? OMG if you are, like, get away from me! I CANNOT get sick on my wedding day. (Hides behind Ursula)

Beatrice:  Ok… But no, like, probably not. Just, like ummm, a headache or something.

Margaret (to Hero):  Oh, she’s not sick, girl. She’s in love, like, L-O-V-E, love.

Beatrice (to Margaret): Congrats, you can spell.

Hero (to Margaret):  What kind of other, like, love is there?

Beatrice:  Uh, no girls, I’m not in love. And you can’t talk to me like that, Margaret. You work for me, like, remember!

Margaret:  I do remember but, like, you ARE in love. And I also, like, know the cure for your sickness.

Ursula (to the side): Uh, please don’t kill each other; bloods like, so hard to get out.

(Rolls her eyes)

Beatrice (to Margaret):  What?

Margaret:   Like, Benedick. Duh!

Beatrice: OMG, NO!

Hero:  OMG, YES! I, like, totally ship you guys.

(Beatrice evilly stares at Hero)

Hero: Sorry.

Margaret:  Whatever, we all, like, know it’s true, Ms. In Denial.

Beatrice:  Whatevs, and you know what? I do feel sick, but, like, Benedick is not my cure. It’s, like, to get this stupid wedding over with. Sorry, Hero. Come on, let’s just, like, get you ready.   (To the side after looking at the dress: egh, gag me with a spoon.)

(Ursula gets text)

Ursula:  Girls, Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, Don John, and, like, ALL the other cute guys in town have come to, like, take you to the church.

Hero:  Oh. My. Gosh, it’s, like, almost time. Come on Margaret, Ursula, Beatrice. Like, we have a wedding to attend.

 (They exit)


 

Story time!

So, I didn’t write this by myself. I wrote it in 8th grade with a group of three other girls. We have to dress up and perform this in front of the class.

For the project, the teacher essentially assigned each group a scene and an accent and told us to have at it.

So, we rewrote the scene with a modern setting and valley girl vernacular, as stereotypical as we could be. We dressed in all pink and sequins, did outrageous makeup (all bright colors and way too much of it) and everything.

It was fun, we got an A.

But when we were done and had to change back into our uniforms we realized that no one brought make up remover… So me and my best friend had to walk into are next class with bright purple eye shadow smeared all over, smeared all over mascara/eye liner and so much concealer/foundation that didn’t actually match our skin.

Our teacher was so confused and concerned. She thought I had a black eye.