August 03, 2005
PLAY DESCRIPTION BY RAYMOND FEDERMAN (AS TOLD TO LARRY McCAFFERY)
OK, let me tell you what happened in Avignon. We arrived there on July 4th and immediately I was in a rehearsal - and at first I thought we would never make it - there were still lot of loose pieces - and we had to make a couple of films of me because in the play I appear both in person and virtually, either on a TV screen or on the black curtain that covers the entire back of the stage and on which language [from the books of course - Amer Eldorado the French Tioli is the main text - but there are also texts from quitte ou double (French DON)] and from the Voice - and sometimes I appear virtually inside the words or sitting on the words - for instance the Lou Lou page in Don appears and suddenly there is Federman sitting on the L telling stories about Lou Lou - you get the picture.
[O'Grady's Note: The Lou Lou page in Double or Nothing from original 1971 Swallow Press edition.]
[O'Grady's Note: Lou Lou page in Double or Nothing from 1992 Fiction Collective Two reprint.]
But let me lead you into the theater.
You enter le théâtre des 25 toises through a long tunnel [remember this play is being performed at the famous Chartreuse of Avignon - an ancient monastery where the Avignon Popes resided: a huge complex system of structures. And one of these structures has been made into a theater - for us! So you enter through that long but high tunnel and you are already in the play. First you stop to watch a TV playing a collage of Godard and Federman. Then you see on a pile of sand the dedication Pour Sam and next to it, under glass, a copy of Le cahier de l'herne Beckett. On the other side of the path that leads to the theater facing Beckett there is a copy of Le Figaro of July 16 1942 [front page - but of course no mention of what WAS happening in Paris that day]. While you progress along this tunnel you hear the voice of Federman speaking words - just words from the various books - and on a curtain before you [which you will have to cross - not to enter the theater but another space in the tunnel] you see words from the books being projected and as you advance you suddenly see the selectricstud surrounded by piles of crumpled sheets of typing paper and behind the typewriter in a hole you hear the voice of Federman speaking the words from The Voice in the Closet. To your right on the ground you also see maps of America and France and Korea and Japan made of sand and you follow little arrows that indicate Federman's journey from Paris to Tokyo and back.
Oh, suddenly, the statue of liberty appears in a hole in the wall and keeps turning and turning - and then the Eiffel Tower fades away on the curtain - and you enter through the curtain into the second space. There to your left you see the Buick Special - well, not the real one - a wooden one with the license plate MOINOUS and you go in - four people at the time - and you push a button and there in front of you on a screen you watch the Buick crashing into the pine tree. When you come out, dizzy, you see more things from the books -- and finally you climb a few steps and you enter the theater.
At first you are shocked - it is small - almost like a cave -- like being inside of a skull - only 50 people can sit there - and not on chairs or fauteuils - on cushions on the ground that form a series of steps, about six of them, so that a dozen people or so can sit on each step on the cushions. It is very hot in Avignon in July so it's hot inside the theater. The spectators are wearing casual clothes - and then you notice a guy wearing all black - pants, shoes, socks, shirt, and a black sport coat - on such a hot day you wonder if this guy may be an undertaker - he looks so black. He is sitting on the left side of the first row of cushions, facing the space where the drama - well, let's call it the tragicomedy -- is going to take place. In front of him a few feet away on the stage there is a black box. It's a television covered with a black cloth. On the right of the stage towards the back, another box - a big one - a closet - with flying horses all over it. And in the back of the stage, a black curtain from floor to ceiling. It's 7:20 p.m, the theater is full [in fact sold out every evening] -- extra spectators were squeezed in - the freeloaders -- journalists, photographers, friends of the author or of the director/actor or the other actors -- it's hot - the man in black is sweating and everybody is whispering - it must be the author. But why in black and why a coat on such a hot day - he is also wondering that as he feels the sweat running down his back inside his black shirt - but he must play his part.
Suddenly, the lights go out and in the darkness one hears the voice of Federman, who gradually appears on the screen of the TV under the black cloth - but this Federman is wearing a colorful sport shirt & has longer hair than the one sitting in front, if it's him -- and the Federman on the screen tells with his best French accent how he learned English when he first came to America, working in factories, playing jazz with black musicians, then how he really learned the fucking English language in the army and how he was sent to Korea to fight the war, and then Japan, etc., and when he got out of the army, 26 years old, he started his real studies and read Shakespeare for the first time -- etc etc. And he concludes by saying that he arrived in America with nothing - just a little black immigrant suitcase with nothing in it - but he brought with him something very important - the French language, which he never lost, even if now he speaks it and writes it badly. As he said this the Federman on the screen smiles. Then this Federman fades away as the stage light comes on and a boy brings in [well not really a boy - a young man - it's Frenchy] a chair and places it center stage near the box with the flying horses -- he stares at the author for a moment - the Federman sitting in the first row - and disappears. And now the actor who plays the real fictitious Federman comes on stage dressed exactly like the real Federman sitting on the first row - all in black – and he begins to speak. But this is not Federman, it's only the director of the play who is not on stage as an actor pretending to be Federman (are you still with me?) and as he speaks words appear behind him on the black curtain and the words are in motion -
[O'Grady's Note: A recent score from Powell's City of Books, The Novel in Motion: An Approach to Modern Fiction by Richard Pearce contains the chapter, "Riding the Surf: Raymond Federman, Walter Abish, and Ronald Sukenick," 1983, Ohio State University Press.]
The Federman on stage is telling the story of Frenchy -- how he came to America, how he was drafted into the army, how he volunteered for the paratroopers, etc. and suddenly, a paratrooper appears dressed in the uniform of the 82nd Airborne Division and is told by the actor who is now the captain of Frenchy's outfit with the 82nd Airborne Division that he is being shipped overseas but that he has 30 days' leave to get his ass to California - but of course we know the story - the fucking army fucked up and Frenchy must now go to Camp Drum in upper New York State in his old Buick Special, with a stop in nouillorque, etc., etc.
And the actor now plays Frenchy driving his Buick, Frenchy writing love letters which he reads to the spectators [oh I forgot to mention that the questions and interruptions from the spectators are projected on the black curtain and each time they appear they force the actor playing Frenchy to answer these questions and therefore he digressed from what he was saying, and sometimes he seems totally lost in his own tale - as it should be], so Federman -- the virtual one -- appears on the screen and tries to clarify things or else tells something different -- well no need to go on with this -- you get the idea. The spectators laugh but they also go silent sometime when the gruesome parts of the story are told or shown on the black curtain -- for instance when the word Auschwitz flashes quickly on the curtain -- and then you almost hear some of them wiping their eyes and clearing their throats when Charlie Parker plays "Tenderly" with Frenchy's sax -- and then and then and suddenly from where he is sitting the real Federman starts shouting to the spectators about l'ecriture and the problem of reading and so on - and he jumps on stage, throws the chair that was before him aside, turns to the spectators, stares at them, and gives them a little speech about how he is fed up with all that fucking ecriture that bugs the shit out of us. And he reads to them from Amer Eldorado the passage called Au pied du Livre, a violent invective against realism and naturalism or what he calls the mimetic guignol. And then the actor comes next to Federman and they continue reading that text, both of them together, until Federman throws the book on the floor and walks offstage, cursing literature.
Then the actor exits and suddenly [oh I forgot - at one point the play is interrupted to tell the spectators about the questionnaire - which they will have to fill out when they exit - you know the questionnaire from Tioli] --
[O'Grady's Note: The questionnaire from Take It or Leave It.]
And who brings the questionnaire on stage? No, not the Frenchy paratrooper dressed in the 82nd uniform - he has appeared on stage several times -- in fact, even in civilian clothes during the Charlie Parker scene smoking cigarettes or pot. No, not that paratrooper, but Marilyn herself dressed in an outrageous long red dress bien decolleté, wearing silver high heel shoes and a pink sort of cowboy hat -- she's gorgeous! -- not only as Marilyn but as Lucy, her real name -- wow! I could have devoured her -- and she's the one who hands the questionnaire to the actor who explains to the spectators the principle while Marilyn exits through the spectators to go place the questionnaire next to the selectricstud in the tunnel. But her exit is fabulous - she walks up the steps carrying a lamp [with a red lampshade] above her head (very symbolic you will say - not at all - very sexy!) as she bangs her feet on the step, standing erect and gorgeous. OK, after the real Federman has gone off stage, cursing les belles-lettres, the young man who was the paratrooper, now dressed with the same black suit the actor and the real Federman wear, walks on stage in semi-darkness with the little black suitcase in his hand - and then disappears in the closet and after a few more flashing of language on the black curtain suddenly a body flies out of the closet [literally flying out - the young Frenchy in his black suit - not the boy out of the closet -- who is a judo expert and literally makes a somersault out of the closet] and lands flat on his face, claiming that he is dead. But then he slowly gets up, picks up his suitcase, and says goodbye to his old Buick Special - the closet now being the symbol of the car -- and says to that old pile of debris may the angels guide you to the paradise of junk [by the way the crash that the spectators saw in the fake Buick in the tunnel is now replayed on the TV screen and we hear the sound of the crash].
Then all gets black -- and after a moment a light behind the black curtain appears and there one sees the head of Federman inside squares within squares -- only his head in the light -- and this Federman [the boy in the closet?] recites lines [which he had to learn by heart] from The Voice in the Closet. The lights go out when he finishes with the words -- foutaise fausseté [bullshit -- falseness] and suddenly one hears that beautiful recording of "Lover Man" played by Charlie Parker -- and it gets louder and then softer and softer and fades away. And the light comes on and the fucking spectators can't believe what they have just seen and they applaud and applaud and shout bravo and first Federman [the one who was sitting on the front row] appears and they applaud and he gestures to the director/actor to come and stage and more applause and they bow to the spectator and then exit and the two other actors -- the paratrooper and Marilyn come on stage and they are applauded and they call Federman and Louis Castel [the director/actor] on stage and more applause and shouting -- as if one were at the comédie française. And as the actors exit, on the black curtain in the back appears the virtual Federman dressed in his black costume, and he gestures to the side and Louis Castel also appears virtually and they bow to the spectators and they motion for the real Federman and Castel to come on stage and everybody is confused because nobody knows who is the real Federman - but in the course of the play they also meet Moinous - and now they know who Moinous is ...
Well, this is a brief description of the spectacle - there was more to it. The entire play was filmed one day [during an extra matinee] by the French television and the film was broadcast nationally on July 20. On July 16, the television interview that Federman gave in Paris to the television network ARTE [Franco-German TV that broadcast all over Europe, and even as far as Israel since my cousin Sarah saw it] was broadcast. It was a fantastic collage of not only the interview but all kinds of photos and other elements from Federman's existence and fiction - a real great piece of documentary. Meanwhile, reviews and articles about the play and about the Avignon festival were coming out every day - a big article about Federman's [the name of the play - just like that] in Le Monde of July 15 - as well as in many other papers. Only the article in The Figaro was negative [obvious from the tone and what was said that this journalist is a anti-semite who didn't even stay to the end of the play - fuck him]; otherwise only praise. Some people even say [after having seen dozen of plays at the festival] that Federman's is the best. As a result, a number of theater directors and administrators of theaters all over France are already booking our play - we may even play in Berlin - and hopefully in Paris - and why not in New York? We are working on that.