But as the world's only living critic of Mac Wellman, I feel it's my duty - if I don't do it, nobody else will, either because they've never heard of him or they're one of his sycophants.
I find it annoying that the New York Times quoted a glowing piece about Wellman from "Postmodern Culture" without mentioning the fact that it's written by a self-confessed "good friend" of Wellman. I guess allowing friends to publish pieces about friends is a very postmodern thing to do:
I am part of this community. I met Mac in a ‘Pataphysics workshop in 2003, after seeing a production of Hypatia and Soho Rep. I went on to study with him in the Brooklyn College MFA program from 2004-6, and he has remained a mentor and good friend.I believe that I was also in the Pataphysics workshop that year, although I bailed out after the first disheartening session so I don't remember Karinne Keithley Syers any more than she remembers me.
Her piece begins like this, and if it doesn't make you tired then you my friend are ready for the theater of Mac Wellman.
Syers praises something called "landscape theater" which appears to be, basically, theater where nothing actually happens and says:
Mac Wellman’s theater is filled by a weird array of voices that are neither strictly human, nor even strictly material. These pseudosolid voices map a topological obsession with holes, hollows, and the filling up of space by emptiness. This essay explores Wellman’s theater as a “strange hole,” where hollow spaces become receivers, openings for something unfamiliar to happen in our thinking, an event Wellman calls “apparence.” In The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, the extraordinary prevalence of holes bespeaks an intensification of a philosophical strand in his writing: a ceremonial concern with a weirdness that is wild, a weirdness gone feral in math-fictional space. This essay explores his strategies for writing us into these registers of thinking by examining two kinds of holes. The first is a “hole poetics”: the deployment of holey strategies in the poetic line. This holed line functions as both a preparation for thinking beyond the already-known, and as a scalar, fractal iteration of the topography of this beyond-space which is the second hole, a ceremonial, nasty, terrifying place that Wellman calls “Hoole’s Hole,” where the non-Aristotelian, non-Euclidian event of apparence happens.
But of course this is exactly the pointless pseudosolid, pseudo-intellectual scheisse you can expect from an article about Mac Wellman in a periodical called "Postmodern Culture." Obfuscation and mystification are what the postmodernist writer ever strives for and Syers does not disappoint. And no true disciple of Mac Wellman can resist writing about the Master without passive-aggressive jabs at those modes of theater they despise - theater that deals with human emotions:
Wellman is a node of connection within the New York theater community. A loose assembly of younger writers has formed around him, through his MFA program at Brooklyn College, the ‘Pataphysics workshop series, and his generous presence in the scene. His influence is already profound and continues to grow, not as a “school of Mac Wellman,” but as a broadly cast license to think of plays in terms of language, and to value wrongness, ceremony, and a bit of demonism in the theatrical project (contra the overwhelming prevalence of psychological and moralistic drama).
To the best of my knowledge Wellman has never actually cited the names of these plays that he detests, to make it clear exactly which plays are objectionable. Syers feels that psychological and moralistic drama prevails - so I guess it could be almost anything that is not written by Wellman. I certainly don't see why that couldn't include Shakespeare. I mean, sure, he engaged in plenty of word play, but Shakespeare also included psychological and moralistic drama in his work. Which is why people want to see his work 500 years later.
It's important for Wellman's admirers to let you know that in spite of appearances, Wellman isn't an effete poseur whose only interest is cutesy anal-retentive wordplay, they want you to believe that Wellman (and by associative properties, themselves) is a badass- because Wellman writing a play is like a demonic motherfucking Hell's Angel riding that hog down freedom's highway. Wellman was born to be wild.
That's because Wellman is a rebel, Dottie:
The well-made play conforms to both psychological realism, which unfolds drama as a series of back-story reveals, and the structure of the dramatic arc as the climax and resolution of a central conflict. But beyond the habit of certain kinds of storytelling, what damns these plays for Wellman is their unwillingness to venture beyond already-known conclusions. In his essay “The Theater of Good Intentions,” Wellman attacks this as a form of high-ground moralism. In “Speculations,” his aphoristic landscape essay on theater’s wild spaces, the “Theatre of the Already Known (AK)” (or Geezer Theatre) appears as a kind of arch-dupe-enemy, hanging onto its “re” spelling as a signal of its unwillingness to abandon the boat of high culture. Instead of finding out once again that incest hurts or that racism is bad, Wellman suggests we allow theater to make us venture into spaces where we don’t already know the answer. If the AK, with its moral and emotional conclusions already on hand, requires no actual thinking, an unknown theater would demand it; the experience would be “open in a sense that is hard to even talk about.”
A play that deals with racism???- been there, done that, since A RAISIN IN THE SUN, and Wellman is too much the with-it hipster to care for your "Geezer Theater."
Strangely enough, although postmodernism is reflexively liberal, Wellman sounds a lot like right-winger David Mamet:
The theatre has become vastly political in my lifetime. Where once we had "weepers" (matinee structures featuring women abandoned, impregnated, deserted by their children or spouse, in a survival of the Victorian sensation novel), in the 1960s we began to see this love of melodrama recast as politics, giving the weeping audience not only the pleasure of a good cry, but also a pat on the back for knowing that group X were people, too. All right. The villain always has a waxed mustache, or can be counted on to stand for social positions that have vanished from our country everywhere but on the stage.
"You must pay the rent."
"I can't pay the rent."
"You weak and unacceptable woman, homosexual, African American, go away, I do not want you."
"But, does no one see that we are people, too . . . ?"
It is easy to write this play, as the course of events is known, and one may simply paint in the spaces, according to the predrawn, paint-by-numbers pattern. But the light is not good in the alley. And the alley is the dark, hidden, forbidden human. A trip down into that alley, for the writer or actor, may be disturbing, revolting, frightening – for that is where the monster of our self lives, and there we may find not only the falsity of our constructed personality, but also the truth of our feverishly suppressed perceptions.
Proving that being an asshole knows no partisan bounds.
(Gertrude) Stein, as the original theoretician of the landscape play, laid a still-relevant and provocative groundwork for this means of composition; indeed, her essay “Plays” might be the most important essay on theater writing since Aristotle’s “Poetics.”
I find it hard to believe that Syers considers Poetics to be important, other than as something to react against, since Wellman's only interest in the theater is to do the opposite of whatever Aristotle recommends.
Syers' essay is dense with obfuscation, but every now and then she gets out a paragraph that is nearly perfect in its postmodern impenetrability - a miraculous black hole of intraspecies non-communication:
If we accept the axiom that a Wellman hole fundamentally removes us from knowing where we are or where we are going, then the holed line prepares this form of disorientation. Paired with abrupt shifts and slips in the plot’s landscape, Wellman performs a smaller slipping away from the recognizable and stable whole operative at the scale of the sentence. These small slips undermine the stable experience of knowing where we are, and so reduce the friction that might otherwise slow us down when the plot too takes us suddenly to a place we don’t recognize.
One of my favorite aspects of postmodern prose is the way they throw around STEM terminology to gain credibility. That a Wellman hole fundamentally removes... blah blah blah isn't merely an idea - that would be much too peasantish - it's an axiom. You know, like in math. Because Mac Wellman's plays are rocket science.
What all that axiom twaddle means is that Mac Wellman's plots are incoherent. But Syers can't just come out and say that - much better to babble on about holed lines. And if you suspect that what it really means is that Syers has written herself right up into her own postmodern hole, it only proves that you're too stupid to get Wellman.
And that's what Wellman is all about, Charlie Brown.