Grace here. Again. As a 26-year-old-woman, I have more than a passing curiosity about the psyche of the 20-something-year-old man. Based on what I’ve learned from Theater J 5×5 alumnus Seamus Sullivan and the early work of Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth, it’s a tangled web they weave.
On the surface, the two fantastic comedies (one written by Seamus over the past year, the other written by Ari Roth when he was about 25 and recently presented for the first time) have nothing in common.
Seamus’s show, Incurable (produced by the Awesome Flying V and Wayward Theatre Company as part of the Capital Fringe Festival), was about Dale Prewett’s penis being colonized by a Utopian civilization, aptly named Genitopia—and his resulting relationship neuroses.
Ari Roth’s play, Giant Shadows, (written in 1986 and presented in a staged reading by Theater J and the Theatre Lab as part of The Theatre Lab’s Acting in a Professional Production class) which he wrote when he was about twenty-five, was about Andy Glickstein’s attempt to get to the bottom of his family’s tangled, Holocaust-stained history—and his resulting relationship neuroses.
Both shows have protagonists who are veritable Gordian knots of guilt—commitment-phobic, life-phobic men determined not to be happy, but self-aware enough that they’re funny and not irritating.
For instance, here’s a great passage from Incurable, in which Dale Prewett bemoans his inability to show the same sort of emotion in his personal life that he feels in his artistic life:
DALE: …EVERY time it gets serious with someone I start doing the emotional equivalent of looking at my watch. Some part of me switches off. But, like, anything aesthetic- expressionist painting, or when I’m driving and the Pixies come on and Black Francis does a guitar solo, or, or the opening credits of Ninja Turtles-He starts sniffling.
CARLY: Okay. Okay. Shhh.
DALE:I have this stupid idea that when I’m with the right person it’ll be like guitar music.
CARLY: That’s not stupid.
DALE: It’s never going to happen because my feelings are broken and I have a deathpenis!
25 years ago, Ari Roth’s protagonist was grappling with these exact concerns [Well, not the exact same concerns, but similar] writing:
ANDY: They would show this movie [Brian’s Song] once a year right before Monday Night Football and I would, like, cry ten different times in different places but it would never come out in front of the family. I can actually remember going to the bathroom to urinate and immediately I would start crying; shaking; my jaw would be, like, shivering, and there I was, peeing, thinking, “God. Here I’m losing all this bodily fluid over some stupid ABC Movie starring James Caan and Dick BUTKUS, and, and I have never been able to replicate this same emotional outpouring during real life!”
I decided to play theatre-Yente, and send Ari and Seamus one another’s scripts, with a note saying, “Lenny Bruce was right—Irishmen who’ve lost their religion are Jews.”
But maybe it’s more than just Ari and Seamus dealing with these issues. Reading over their excerpts, another angsty young man, troubled by misplaced tears and untapped passions comes to mind:
Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That from her working all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
Make mad the guilty and appal the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears. Yet I,
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing;
I know that Hamlet’s age is a subject of great contention, but if Incurable and Giant Shadows are anything to go on, Hamlet was definitely in his twenties.