Author's Reaction to
Darkness at Sunset and Vine
A Novella By Ginger Mayerson
Adapted by Dr. Kelly S. Taylor, Andrea Baldwin, Andrew Calvert, Chandler Thompson, Jay Wilkinson, and Adam Wood
After attending our production of Darkness at Sunset and Vine at UNT, Ginger Mayerson had the following comments on the adaptation and on her motivations for writing her novella:
I'd like to thank Kelly Taylor for bringing my very angry novella to life and commend her and her squad, because they're performance commandos, really, for breathing life into my work as if with a flamethrower. That said, I can only add that Nellie Gail is considerably grander when she's standing three feet in front of one than smoldering on the page. I thoroughly commend Messrs. Calvert, Wood, Thompson, Wilkerson, Badger, and Notebloom for the massive amounts of thoughts, charm and brute force energy they put into the production.
And a special salute to Andrea Baldwin, who fearlessly took on the role of the most genial sociopath in all of dystopian Los Angeles and powerfully portrayed the bleak wry weary minimalist humanity I wrote into Nellie Gail that could have been lost so easily in all the blood and horror of the story. Andrea portrayed Nellie as a woman who could stare down genocide with ruthless and fearless intelligence. As that man said, more or less, whoever fights monsters should take care they become a monster. Of course Nellie, via Andrea, stands that on its head by becoming less of a monster when she decides to start fighting them. A hearty thank you to all of you for blasting Darkness at Sunset and Vine off the page and into the wider world.
Andrew Calvert, Adam Wood, Chandler Thompson, Jay Wilkinson, as actors, and Kevin Badger, and Kris Noteboom in more technical roles, did an exceptional job supporting the story and keeping things moving. I know very little about co-operative directing, but I do know a good ensemble when I see it. The lads ran rings around the stage, being wherever they needed to be to support the story or add a dash of color, with Kevin Badger neatly demarcating the sections, giving the actors a moment to catch their breath and then be off like rockets again. If they were in a jazz ensemble, they'd be a saxophone choir: soloing here and there, but usually supporting the harmonic structure and each other in the middle ground. An example of that in the performance was that every time Nellie goes to her place, there's a new permutation of weirdoes waiting for her and Drew, Adam, Chandler, and Jay completely made each weirdo weirdly distinct and then some. The ensembles and solos came together, dispersed, reformed, and the cycle was repeated again and again with discreet tones, textures and rhythms that were rich in variety and saturated with powerful semiotics. I never felt that I was looking at the same guy twice, or gal, as in Sara Lee's case.
Sara Lee's character was devised in haste and partly for a throw away joke, but she really came alive with Adam Wood's homicidal budding linguist camp performance. He only has her up for less than a minute, and yet she was as fully formed as if she'd sprung like Athena. But earlier in the show, Adam plays the second villain, Mr. Glen, with a drawl and a snarl which ought to be a word like, dranarl or snrawl or something, and he gets more syllables than I ever thought possible out of words like bullshit, which is bu-ul-shi-eet by the time he finally gets through with it. Impressive, most impressive. As I recall, he gives an amazing performance sitting down, merely twisting his body up at Nellie while twisting his words and human decency as well. When he does spring up, it's to shoot S. Crow in a way that looks like two teenagers humping in the backseat of a car. Really; it's on video and everything. I don't know what that blocking started out as, but that's what it looked like by the last show. Too bad there couldn't have been a few more performances, like a dozen, to see how far those moves could have gone. But, oh well, what might have been, saddest words, etc.
The character of S. Crow flies by in the novella, but he gets a star turn and an over-the-top death in this production. Andrew Calvert is, from the first moment he speaks to Nellie, the jittery emaciated heavily armed scarecrow of a man I wrote. I only saw two nights, but, as I mention above, when Glen kills him, it becomes more and more lewd with the two of them bumping around on the floor. It's one of the funnier deaths in the whole show, if you can wrap your mind around that.
Andrew also rocks the house as Dr. Max, the exiled economist freedom fighter who lays it on the line with Nellie about Fydor Chandler and the good of the many vs. the good of the one and how that might be the same thing in this instance. Andrew plays Max as the only person in the story who really realizes how dangerous and amoral Nellie is, and yet he is also the only person who finds some finer feelings in Nellie to appeal to. He takes a tremendous risk in asking her to do the right thing in all the insanity that surrounds them both. In the novella, Max's cohort stays passively in the background. In the production they are nervously circling the unarmed Nellie and being reminded by Max that they're all on the same side. Andrew plays Max as a man with a larger purpose than just his survival, one of the few characters with any vision, but as a man who is going to survive to see his vision realized. He explains to Nellie the danger she's in and then mocks her gently, goading her into the right frame of mind without preaching, something she'd kill him with her bare hands and acid irony for. Andrew put Max's shrewd wisdom across the footlights with a combination of the power in his voice and a certain air of nervousness that worked better than the confident sneer he'd had on paper. Andrew played Max as a guy who can't fail, because if he does, nothing much will matter anymore. He has to make sure Nellie knows that, and Andrew really got that message across to all of us.
Jay Wilkinson aced putting some fire and dimension in Rush, just call me Rush, one of the colder, flatter villains in the story. A man so sure of his lofty status he can't be bothered to give anyone his real name. As a villain, Rush must project entitlement, condescension, rage and arrogance at the same time. Jay managed to do all those things while almost dancing to the rhythm of his delivery. Rush is a desperate man under the expensive tailoring, as if his WASP male privilege was eating him from the inside out while he is trying to hold onto the last vestiges of it. Much of what Jay had to do as Rush, and did very well, was project menace and cruelty with his voice and posture without wrinkling the suit one could almost see he was wearing. It was eerie how much ghostly sartorial semiology was going on in that performance. Some actors let their costumes do their acting. Somehow Jay got the audience to imagine his costume, which was a very sharp ensemble, but didn't let it get in the way of his acting. Weird, deeply weird it was, but effective if I'm still thinking about it.
Chandler Thompson gets a double-wide gold star for playing two Mayersonian villains. He played Sara Lee's father, Mr. James, with exactly the right mix of sick fatherly concern and menace. With Mr. James, Chandler set the tone for what's left of the debased US government and the sleazy characters yet to come. His second villain was Kevin, whom he played as a demented drooling monster. I thought his portrayal was effective and humorous, but not what I had thought it would be. The Kevin in my head is an icy, soulless bureaucrat, the kind of guy who signs a requisition for mass murder, terror, and pillage as easily as he orders lunch. Actually all my villains are, on paper, a little colder and deader than they were in this production, but what goes on in my head wouldn't make good theater even on a good day. I laughed very much at the interaction between Kevin and Rush, who is justifiably terrified of him. Chandler also portrayed the Tiny Gun Man who works for Dr. Max. TGM's job is to keep his tiny gun on Nellie, who menaces him and smacks his gun away repeatedly. Chandler's wordless performance is brilliant as a man with one job, however silly, that he's going to do well or die in the effort.
There are too many good moments to pick out of this production and obsess on. I've hit the ones that have stayed with me nearly two months later, which says a lot about their impact and staying power. Everyone in this cast did an outstanding job of soloing and supporting and they did it with more grace and brio than I could have imagined possible in the blood-soaked nihilist wasteland of Darkness at Sunset and Vine.
I can't really express how moved I was seeing my writing come to life before my very eyes and ears. Moved, touched, pleased, frightened, startled, delighted, and occasionally a little freaked out only touches on part of what I felt in Denton last April. I think I should mentions the one thing that freaked me out the most and has stayed with me in many ways was the suicide bomber scene. It was a perfect fit into the visual narrative of this production, absolutely letter-perfect. But I didn't write it and I didn't realize how much I'd subconsciously shied away from that particular idea until I saw it. In fact, my mind refused to see it until the second performance when what I thought I saw in the first and didn't ask about afterwards was, well, really what I saw. An American Suicide Bomber in pantomime, which didn't make it any less disturbing for me. I'm here to tell ya, it was a very powerful theatrical device, maybe too powerful. Our own people resorting to suicide bombing as the ultimate protest against an unjust government would be the end for the United States as we know, even the fucked up version we have now, it would really be over. Even I have some hope the will to revive the Constitution, that piece of paper of ideas so many have died for, even I have some faith that our country can pull itself together again and become a place where life gets better, or at least not worse, every generation. Even though I believe the best future is for the United States to break up regionally and ideologically, I deeply hope this can happen without the horror of homegrown suicide bombers in the streets. And, frankly, I hope I'm dead before my county reaches the level of despair, desperation and hopelessness that sends young men and women into the streets to kill as many people as possible and themselves with a bomb strapped to their body. The United States as we know it and hope for it to be again, will truly be finished when suicide bombing becomes the only means, however futile and tragic, of striking back at the power structure. When terror, terror by the State or by citizenry, replaces all mechanisms of dissent, dialogue and change, (I'm sure democracy will be long gone by then) there will be no place for people like me in the United States. There will be nothing that resembles what the United States once was or could be or even dreamed it could be. And I suspect that historians will date the beginning of the dream's end in the last month of the last year of the last century.
My life changed rather unpleasantly on December 12, 2000. I had, up until that moment, really thought that what was good about our political process was unshakable, or at least had some merit. Perhaps only my faith in it was unshakable. When the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount in a vote strictly on partisan lines, is was disgusted that they'd not only disenfranchised Florida voters, they'd disenfranchised the entire country. Whey they tell you "your vote matters" they're not talking about the 526 votes Gore didn't get due to the butterfly ballot, Nader, voter intimidation, sunspots, gremlins, Katherine Harris, whatever. What they mean is your vote matters...if you're a Supreme Court Justice. Yes, I was bitter, I was outraged, I argued with anyone who'd take me on, I was reading the papers, the blogs, and Vincent Bugliosi's most excellent book None Dare Call It Treason, where the future of Bushco lawlessness is subtly predicted in the explanation of the majority Court's psychotic reactionary disregard for the Democratic process by stopping the recount. (Dear God, we just wanted all the votes counted properly so we could know, really know, but no, 5-4 gets to decide, and now look at us.) But I still thought our government had enough checks and balances, or enough goodness left in it to honor those checks and balances, to plod along with four years of the bush junta. Of course all that changed on September 11, 2001 when, with the notable exception of Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland, California, our Congress handed 200+ years of more or less democracy into the keeping of the spoiled scion of an amoral family headed by a guy who was born on 3rd base but thought he'd hit a triple, as a witty Texan once said. Alas, I was not laughing: I had never been afraid of my government...until then.
I am not a conspiracy theorist, I really cannot stand those people. But in the shock of events on September 11, 2001, two things went through my mind: 1) something designed to get our minds off what a fuck-up Bush II was/is, something to scare us a little, shake us up a bit got away from the Bush family and its mafia and scared us a lot; and 2) Jesus, we got the fucking worst possible government in DC at this moment for this to have happened. And when we had the sympathy and support of most of the world, when a meaningful and concerted effort to rid the world of terrorism could have been put into action, GW Bush told the world to fuck off: he was doing it his way and his way involved bombs, bombs, bombs, more bombs, and getting the Bin Laden family out of the US on special planes when everything else was grounded. And if anything in this whole perverted mess makes me weep, it's the lost opportunity that evil idiot threw away.
By 2003, I was blogging as fast as I could if only to verify what I knew was true and right before it disappeared down the memory hole. Blogging might be a joke now, but in 2003 in was a way to stay sane in all the war madness. I know I was against and I know why and it's all on my blog. Being an amateur historian has its ups and downs, but only a complete idiot could possibly think invading Iraq was a good idea. And only sick, demented monsters like GW Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld could call murdering civilians Shock and Awe. Yes, murdering civilians, blowing the limbs off young boys, wiping out entire families, and all from the safety of their offices where they made the worst decision in the history of the United States. My country, my people, my history will never get the blood off its hands in my lifetime, if ever.
I wish I had been being overly dramatic. I had no idea just how bad it was going to get.
On September 7, 2003 President Bush lied to us again:
"Our strategy in Iraq will require new resources. We have conducted a thorough assessment of our military and reconstruction needs in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan. I will soon submit to Congress a request for $87 billion. The request will cover ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which we expect will cost $66 billion over the next year. This budget request will also support our commitment to helping the Iraqi and Afghan people rebuild their own nations, after decades of oppression and mismanagement. We will provide funds to help them improve security. And we will help them to restore basic services, such as electricity and water, and to build new schools, roads, and medical clinics. This effort is essential to the stability of those nations, and therefore, to our own security. Now and in the future, we will support our troops and we will keep our word to the more than 50 million people of Afghanistan and Iraq."
That night in 2003, as I read to this speech on my computer, I could not know that over 100K Iraqis would die, that Abu Ghraib would question my faith in our military and humanity, that billions would go missing somewhere between Halliburton and, well, Halliburton. I could not know over four thousand American soldiers would die in the service of a government that was unworthy of their sacrifice, I could not know the America I was raised to love would promote torture, despotism, fear, greed, slavery, rape, murder, and more murder for the goals of one small group of men who'd come to power, legally or not, but who'd taken the tragic opportunity of September 11 to sweep away any moral or legal obstacles to their plans to rule through fear, because they cannot govern through consent. And so they did. And so they continue to do so. Monstrous men - Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld - and their minions not much less monstrous than themselves.
But that night in September 2003 I could not know any of this, I could only go cold with rage and fury that the moral and fiscal consequences of Bush's murderous Iraq invasion were going to sow horror in my country for generations and that it was so fucking unnecessary. I was too angry to cry, to furious to move, and the only thing I could do was open a word processing window and pound out the first five thousand words of Darkness at Sunset and Vine. DASAV is 20K words. I wrote it in five days and somehow managed to work my 9-5 job as well. This story poured out of me in a torrent of fury and sorrow in between bouts of pounding on my desk and howling with rage. I am not a patriot. I love my country because its mine. I hadn't realized how much I love it and writing a story might not seem like much of a fight for something one loves, but it was the only fight I had in me at that moment. Even a California girl will turn and fight with whatever is at hand when her back is against the surf. And this is how I felt in September 2003. Five years later, I've calmed down a little, but I've only banked my fire with hope and sadness, it could flare up again with the right provocation (and, yes, I am looking at the White House as I write that, and will be looking at it, hard, until Jan 20, 2009 supposing there isn't another "terrorist" event and Bush doesn't declare himself President for Life).
At the time I was writing DASAV, my beloved California, for various insane and greedy reasons, was in the throes of recalling Governor Gray Davis, an unlucky and mediocre bureaucrat. Maybe I was just kidding myself, but at the time it seemed like the recall could go either way and DASAV was written as if Davis had won the recall, but the Bush family sent troops into California to install Schwarzenegger as governor. Would Californians fight this kind of invasion? For the purposes of fiction, I said yes, but looking around at the suckers like Darryl Issa and the clowns who elected Schwarzenegger, twice yet, I wonder. At one point in the second novella, The End of History at Sunset and Vine, Nellie's dinner date (yeah, I know, Nellie on a date, laugh riot, right?) opines that he didn't like what happened to his State. Nellie politely refrains from saying out loud that she thinks her State got what it deserved. It's too long and complicated to go into in this screed, but through overuse of the referendum mechanism, which means we vote more than Switzerland, a manipulative, if not malevolent business culture and media, and just being stupid and greedy, California has bankrupted its government, painted itself into a corner, tied its hands, and knocked over a candle to set the house on fire, which the under-funded emergency services aren't going to get to in time. But, hey, dude! Arnold Schwarzenegger is our governor, and the only thing that stands between our citizenry and complete moral, physical and financial collapse is the California Nurses Association and a couple of unions. But, hey, dude! Arnold Schwarzenegger is our governor, and- oh, just fucking, never mind.
The Enron scandal was also a factor in Governor Davis' downfall, that wasn't clear to most people until after he was ousted. Most people still think he was a big loser because he couldn't control energy prices and, in truth, he couldn't control them under the deregulated system most of California adopted in the mid 90s, led by Republican governor Pete Wilson, who governed under some kind of powerful curse so that California experienced nothing but catastrophe after disaster, including, but not limited to, earthquakes, weeks of wildfires, urban rioting, and energy deregulation, during his terms in Sacramento. Although Dr. Taylor's production did not feature my concept of power, who had it and why, in post-Occupation Los Angeles, I wrote quite a bit on how LA and parts of the State I liked might survive through the good management of a few farsighted individuals and the brute force and street smarts of the rest of the citizens determined to stay in town. The fate of Los Angeles and California were very much on my mind in the aftermath of the Enron free-market assault on my foolish State. During the 90s energy deregulation madness in California, the head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Mr. David Freeman, refused to deregulate our utilities. It was not mandatory and, being an intelligent man who could remember longer than last week and might have done some reading on the history of unrestrained capitalism, he could see deregulating a vital service was not just a bad idea, it was a really fucking stupid idea. So he refused to do it. Our DWP has flaws, but deregulation is not one of them. This is why the DWP is keeping the lights on and the water flowing and raking a percentage off the top of every dollar circulating on the net in the City of Angels in 2016. How would they do it? They'd hire thugs like Nellie to protect their aqueducts and power stations, as well as dig up alternative energy sources that were getting dusty through disuse. The original El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula founded in 1781 had (and likely still has) enough water to support about 14,000 souls. The Los Angeles Nellie lives in is about that number or less, and I surmised that the DWP could find a way to support that many paying customers with electricity and water. In the later novellas, I expound on the Metropolitan Transit Authority's role in policing their bus routes and how AT&T keeps the internet working, but nearly destroys everything in a further grab for power.
DASAV is set in Los Angeles after the Federal Occupation which resulted in Der Terminator, sorry, Der Schwarzenegger, being installed as Gov for Life. I was discussing this with a friend in Michigan, who said LA would be impossible to occupy. This is likely true, but, courtesy of Bush 1, we have had US Marines patrolling the streets of South Central LA after the 1992 Rodney King Rebellion, so troops on the street isn't just a possibility in America, it has been a reality in Los Angeles. You see, here in Hollywood, we don't just live our dreams, we live our nightmares, too.
Much of the novella DASAV concerns how things got so messed up. That the goals of the Bush family and their mafias was to create a passive slave society (through drugs, terror, and starvation, physical and spiritual) in which their looting could go unimpeded. Most of the American intelligencia has fled. Philanthropic George Soros and opportunistic Bill Gates have essentially purchased Mexico as a haven for anyone smart enough to get there in time. (Canada has sensibly closed and mined their border with the US, but do help out in the third novella.) It is in Mexico, as brilliantly administered by economists Paul Krugman and Jeffery Sacks, that economists, scientists, linguists, and other such brainy and advanced-degrees types have been formulating plans to retake their country. The technology sector that has fled with the brain trust has been manufacturing and exporting the sexy ti-tandex outfits Nellie wears for protection and the titanium Colt she packs for action. Within the United States, Nellie's former colleague, the brilliant linguist and vicious urban tactician (or vicious linguist and brilliant urban tactician, either way) Fydor Chandler, has been leading a guerilla resistance, but the strain is driving him mad. Nellie's idol, Dr. Max of Dr. Max's Live Nude Economics - the best show on the Internet Broadcast - currently exiled in Mexico, comes to Nellie to ask her to convince Fydor to lead his people to join forces with Max in Mexico. It is Nellie's history with Fydor that leads Max to believe she might be able to convince him with emotion where mere reason would fail. Among Fydor's followers is the fantastically idealistic and tragically young Sara Lee, who has shrewdly taken a member of the Bush family hostage in a serious blow against their authority. It's Sara Lee's action that triggers all the events that ultimately lead to Nellie ending up if not on the right side of history, at least on the right side of what's left of her conscience.
Okay, I get this question a lot: Why are all the freedom fighters linguists?
Oh, why not? Just because one never sees a linguist with a rocket launcher doesn't mean it couldn't happen. Why should rhetoricians have all the fun?
There are two more novellas in the trilogy: The End of History at Sunset and Vine, wherein Chelsea Clinton is coming to LA to lead the revolution. Yay? The Greens, the Christian Right, and Kevin, the evil functionary from part 1 are trying to destroy what's left of the US, starting with Nellie and Los Angeles. In part 3, A New American Century at Sunset and Vine, the bad guys this time are working directly for the Bush family and their mafias using Fundamentalist Christian Rightwing refugees as human shields to get the Bush family and their money out of the US before the whole mess implodes. Also in this final story, Nellie and Fydor learn some important things about LA infrastructure, spend some quality time in a underground library cum bunker, Chinatown, and Nellie meets the followers of the cult of Santa Gloria Molina, who are not quite what they seem to be. Also in the last story, Nellie and Fydor, in their own inimitable way, launch the second American Revolution with style, wit and a little more than the usual level of mayhem. All this fun fun fun is merely a mouseclicky away at http://dasav.com
However clever these novellas might sound now, five years later, at the time I was writing them it was painful. These novellas are my plea to my country, which seems hell bent on destroying everything that's ever been good about it, to stop, please stop, before it's too late. Why, America, why does it even seem possible that such things as happen in Darkness at Sunset and Vine could ever occur, but with a less happy ending? Why have you handed yourself to the monsters of the Bush family and their mafias? Why? Are we too numb, too stupid, to beaten down to fight for the only things that mean anything in this crazy mixed up world? To fight for our freedom, our future, and the ideals Americans have been willing to die for for over 200 years? Have we forgotten that it's better to die on our feet than live on our knees? Or did we never really know it? Or will we just not care? Until it really is too late.