“For the Page as well as the Stage”
A Review by Joey Media
Some days, it is splendid to be a reviewer.
Most days, honestly. But the days when a little gift is delivered to my email in-box in the form of a book—or a play—that is in need of some attention, some publicity… those are the best for me.
Of the nearly 200 reviews I have written, roughly 180 of them are of fiction and nonfiction books. I have also reviewed music and videos. And also some plays.
Plays are interesting to review. An argument is often made that teaching Shakespeare as literature instead of theatre is detrimental. Well, of course you are missing the performance element, which is what the plays were expressly written for… but more people have probably read those plays than seen them, so overall it’s been helpful.
And here we are, five months into the pandemic, with Broadway shut down until at least 2021 and regional and small theatres struggling and closing. As a result, (millions of) people are watching plays on cable: Hamilton comes to mind, as well as the Danny Boyle–directed Frankenstein from the National Theatre starring Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch that was available on YouTube several months ago.
I have been hired to adapt one of my musicals—a Gothic horror—to be performed live in Los Angeles, as well as being filmed very cinematically at dress rehearsals and again opening night, and live-streamed and then edited into a film version for Blu-Ray and streaming.
It is clear that this is a brave new world for theatre and for plays.
So why not take the time to read some?
The Blood of Squirrels is a good place to start. It’s at times funny and at others threatening and cruel. It reminds me a bit of J. M. Ballard’s High Rise (novel to film) and also Yasmina Reza’s Carnage (play to film). Watching civilization devolve over incidental, every day things is instructive. And, if you are a fan of Yeats and Joyce, there are elements you will love.
The play takes place at a campsite in the south of France, where a trio of Irish druids, an English soldier and former mercenary and his wife, and an English refrigerator repairman and his wife are forced to engage through proximity, as their tents are all in a row and they share a central table.
We all know how that goes.
The place is picturesque—lofty pines lit by moonlight set the opening scene. This points to one of the advantages of reading rather than seeing a play. The mind is not shackled by the budgets and levels of talent that often cuff a production and thwart the playwright’s vision.
Have the Internet handy. There is plenty of beautiful Gaelic language and chant and you will want to type it in to one of those pronunciation programs and hear it spoken proper.
As the seven characters come together in the evening, we quickly learn their different styles and see how they conflict. The two English couples are vastly different, highlighting the kinds of inter-country class conflicts that are so obvious in the United States at present.
The trio of modern Druids, a married couple and their daughter, are of course spiritual and intimately tied to nature, and they are also incredibly well read and polyglots—the kinds of well-rounded, deeply interesting people that so many others cannot stand.
Especially in a happenstance meeting on vacation.
We have all been there (me being closer to the side of the Druids…)
Rosenstock’s dialogue is face-paced and intelligent, cutting to socioeconomic and political issues running deep and far and wide. Language—rich, alliterative, rhythmically interesting, and energized—is one of Rosenstock’s strengths (a benefit of also being a poet). When, in the warm glow just post the heat of passion, one the characters says, “Invisible. Inaudible. Inviolable” I wanted to pick up the mantra and make some magic myself (read that as you will).
So do some of the others. This isn’t your grandma’s community theatre in an airless black box in July.
He offers some monologues, suggesting that they could be delivered as voiceovers, that illuminate the characters’ inner-most thoughts. And that is yet another reason a read of this play is encouraged. Having the text there in front of you to see how the verbal and cerebral conflict and coalesce truly is a treat.
Fans of The Crown (me included) will love the banter, fan-girling, and origin-storying regarding the prince of Wales and duke of Edinburgh.
This is just some of the humor, which partners with a dose of genuine magic, to give this set-in-the-woods theatre piece a lovely mix of energies.
What might be most enjoyable is the wisdom of youth represented by the pre-teen Druid apprentice, Lasairfhíona. She would be hard to cast for the average theatre company, but I suggest you picture a young Saoirse Ronan, or even Dakota Fanning.
It’s the theatre director in me. But I have to say it works.
Given the different backgrounds and nationalities of the characters (there are a few Germans in there as well), there is plenty of (refreshingly) non-PC dialogue and antics, my favorite being one of the Englishmen holding up his Union Jack boxer shorts for all the campsite to see.
It’s not all frolicking and farce, however. There are poignant gems of wisdom. Moments that pass by quickly on the stage, but which you can savor with a read. For example, “A very eloquent man. Eloquence and persuasive rhetoric are often applied by deceivers, manipulators.”
In the end, there are the requisite revelations about inner and outer character and the changes in perspective and possibility that a story arc demands.
As to the title… squirrels. It helps to know your Yeats… but you can let the characters unpack it just as well.
Should you find yourself so inspired that you want to become a theatre producer (online even, with Zoom, a current, compelling trend), or you happen to know one among this rare and dying breed (I am semi-retired), queries in relation to performance rights may be addressed to the author’s editor, Dr. Mícheál Ó hAodha, via the publishers.
TITLE: The Blood of Squirrels, a play
AUTHOR: Gabriel Rosenstock
PUBLSIHER: Original Writing Ltd