Thursday, May 26, 2011

Grasses of a Thousand Colors by Wallace Shawn (2009)

Our lovely friend Ike lent Dr. M a copy of Wallace Shawn's play "Grasses of a Thousand Colors" (2009) recently, and since it was readable and in my house, I decided to read it. I really like Wallace Shawn as an actor, and I enjoyed My Dinner with Andre (which Shawn wrote and costarred in with Andre Gregory, who happened to direct the stage version of "Grasses of a Thousand Colors"), so I was interested to read one of his plays. And I think I liked it! Or rather, I know I liked it, although I'm not always sure why.

In "Grasses of a Thousand Colors," our protagonist, Ben (who was played by Wallace Shawn), is a sexually obsessed scientist who made great breakthroughs in genetic modification of food. He is addressing the audience as the author of a memoir, looking back over his successes and failures, and criss-crossing it all with the females of his life: his wife, Cerise; his lovers Robin and Rose; and one very mysterious white cat named Blanche.

In the end, the play, and Ben's life, come down to two things: eating and sex. Eating is no good anymore because the genetic trick that solved the food crisis by letting animals survive on the dead corpses of other animals has poisoned the food supply and resulted in excessive vomiting, an inability to eat potatoes, and death. Sex is no good anymore because as soon as our hero finds a new woman to satisfy his often-described penis, things change and the sexual relationship drifts apart. In fact, the only consistent lover he has is the beautiful long-haired Blanche, but even she becomes standoffish and bored after Robin cuts her head off.

So you see: it is a confusing play. And it involves a lot of barfing, penis describing, and cat sex. And yet it is extremely enjoyable! There is, as you might expect, a lot of humor hidden in the psychological symbolism of this play, and it is impossible to read it without hearing Shawn's unique voice speaking all of Ben's lines. Three hours might seem a little long for live theatre, but I wish I could have seen Gregory's staging of the play -- I feel like even more of the humor and playfulness would come out in a live performance.

Thanks, Ike!

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