TWO IMMORALITY PLAYS - review

NIGEL RODENHURST
TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT November 28th 2008

TWO IMMORALITY PLAYS
The Pimp and Solitude: a jazz play
96pp. Oberon. $9.99
ISBN 978 1 84002 813 3

The Pimp and Solitude: a jazz play continue what may appear to be Dic Edwards’s quest to create theatre that provides little consolation. Edwards stands alongside his mentor of the past thirty years, the great socialist playwright Edward Bond, in his steadfast refusal to join the ranks of those who have written plays that have any mainstream appeal or potential for being made into films. The two plays featured in this book have a common motif in that they each centre on the tragic life of a writer. The Pimp is based loosely on the established facts of Baudelaire’s own life. The writer is occluded from his mother’s fortune by her accountant, Ancelle, because of his choice to live “as a poet” with his mixed-race mistress Jeanne, and thus to flout the respectable conventions of the day. Initially, one is steered towards sympathizing with the poet, whose effort to create something transcendent are thwarted by the hard-faced extoller of “double entry book keeping” and racist attitudes. As the drama progresses, however, Ancelle emerges as a partly sympathetic character in his own right – as one who has turned his back on the life of the sensualist (the appeals of “African anarchy”) in favour of the order, endeavour and responsibility he sees as core values to his own ideal society. He also foresees the mass dehumanizing effects technology that were about to engulf Western society in the mid-1800s.

Any initial reaction to Baudelaire as a struggling, sacrificial figure of a poet is also challenged. He is unable to consummate his relationship with Jeanne in part because he sees “keeping a whore as fashion”, eventually raping her and contracting syphilis. From an early promising career, Baudelaire drifts into a life that is characterized by unprincipled notoriety. His ultimate act of duplicity occurs when he agrees to cut six verses from Flowers of Evil; in effect he “sells out”. At the end of the play, however, both he and Ancelle redeem themselves. Baudelaire gives his last earnings to a janitor when he realizes that the man has worked hard throughout his life and been happy without ever being able to read a poem. When Baudelaire dies, Ancelle offers to support Jeanne. Paradoxically, the defender of fiscal propriety comes in this self-sacrificing way to resemble the artist who represents supreme acetic endeavour.

Solitude again centres on the squalid lives of struggling artists. Trecci and Lily are partly based on Sylvia Plath and the Scottish writer and heroin addict Alexander Trocchi. Solitude has not, as yet, been performed on stage, but if audiences were “challenged” by the Pimp (which was first performed in 2006 at the White Bear Theatre Club in London), the certainly will be by this play. The plot involves Lily, a teenager whose playwright father was recently “killed” by the theatre world, and her meeting with Trecci, an experimental artist, a drug addict and possibly a murderer. There are many exchanges about sacrifice for art, the treachery of the publishing world, writing after a “holocaust” and despair as a catalyst for artistic invention. Edwards also engages in some formal experimentation in this play, as it has much the feel of two different plays that have been juxtaposed. The first half is set in a community of artists living in squalor. The second has a domestic setting and ends in a railway platform showdown (reminiscent of many film endings), in which Trecci escapes and Lily is arrested. The latter’s suicide, an attempt to “join” her murdered father, symbolizes Dic Edwards’s concern that theatres are no longer producing challenging plays, and that serious writers are being increasingly marginalized.

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