Beat News: October 8 1999

1. I’d always wanted to see a production of Beat poet Michael McClure’s controversial hippie-era-vintage play “The Beard”, which was the subject of a famous Los Angeles censorship battle back when Ronald Reagan was governor of California (other famous censorship targets in that era included “The Love Book” by Lenore Kandel). The play has just been revived in a
thoughtful new production by the venerable La Mama Etc. theater in the East Village in New York, so I got my wish.

I was curious to see, thirty years after the Los Angeles police attempted in vain to shut the play down, just what the fuss had been about. I was expecting something wildly offensive, and was surprised to find a quiet, subtly shaded and intelligent dialogue play about the different ways men and women approach sex. There were only two characters: an archetypal male played by an
actor who looked slighly like Kid Rock wearing a cowboy outfit, and an archetypal woman who resembled Courtney Love
in platinum-blonde mode. This man and woman spend the entire play — literally, the entire play — philosophically debating whether or not they should have sex. This might sound somewhat tedious (actually, it sounds like a lot of my dates when I was in college), but the concept is relevant enough to make it add up to a memorable statement, and an enlightening evening.

In fact the primal battle between men and women is a familiar theme — the play reminded me especially of the cartoons of male and female armies engaged in civil war that James Thurber used to draw, and also of similar “symbolic” treatments of the sexual dialectic like “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre (in which a triangle of three characters illustrate the theme) or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” by Edward Albee (which gives us two matched pairs, a total of four). McClure keeps the concentration on the primal two. His approach to drama is cool and diagrammatic, with none of the emotional build-up and release of a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller play — just the endless Escher-like curving-back-upon-itself of the “big question”, as the man and woman discuss it over and over and over (yeah, the more I think about it, this was a lot like one of my college dates).

I’m happy to report that the iconic characters do have sex in the end, symbolically at least. In the final moment before the curtain drops (actually there is no curtain, but whatever) the blonde woman acheives a blissful sonic orgasm. I admit to being slightly disappointed that she never took any of her clothes off (what’s up with that?) and maybe some women in the audience were disappointed that Kid-Rock-Boy didn’t either. Pretty incredible to think that, back in the sixties, they shut down a theatre for presenting ideas about sex. I think (I hope) we’ve come a long way since then.

If you can’t come to New York City to see this play in person, check out the fragment of the script on McClure’s own excellent
web page, which also presents some of his interesting poetry.

2. Holy Shit! There’s an amazing site of free literary MP3’s at
Everybody from Sylvia Plath to Nicole Blackman, Henry Rollins to Noam Chomsky to Mumia Abu-Jamal to Tom Wolfe. A great selection, and a great public service. The site is fairly new and should grow quickly, but I hope the interface remains as simple as it is now. I’m looking forward to the upcoming “Loudmouth” section where unknowns can present their own fiction and poetry — should be some interesting results there. Do not miss checking this place out.

3. The New York Mets are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1988 — a very good sign for the coming
millennium. Literary Kicks says “Let’s go Mets!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!