Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It Came From The Garage - A 2015 Halloween Mix

It's Halloween!  When we all treat processed chocolate like one of the three basic food groups.
Halloween!  When we lose count of all the little girls dressed as Frozen characters and the big girls half-dressed as things we don't want the little girls to see.
Halloween!  When we all dress up like monsters so the monsters won't come and get us, which means we'll all be seeing a ton of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump masks over the next few days.
Halloween!  Where we listen to, uhm, uh . . . song about how women are all witches?
Yeah.  There's not really a tradition of music-listening for this holiday, which means I had to dig a little to make a mix for it.  I tried to stay away from the obvious, assuming that you're all as tired as I am of hearing Bobby "Boris" Pickett singing "The Monster Mash," never mind all that women-are-witches crap, so I'm guessing a lot of these will be new to you. 
1   The Outer Limits – Opening
2   The Beast Of Sunset Strip – Teddy Durant
3   Tombstone #9 – Murray Schafe and the Aristocrats
4   Rockin’ In The Graveyard – Jackie Morningstar
5   Graveyard Stomp – Billy Ghoulston
6   Plan 9 From Outer Space
7   Pet Semetary – The Ramones
8   Devil Gate Drive – Suzi Quatro
9   Voodoo Voodoo – Lavern Baker
10  I’m The Wolfman – Round Robin
11  Werewolf – The Frantics
12  Maria Ouspenskaya Says It For All of Us
13  Werewolves Of London – Warren Zevon
14  The Mummy
15  The Mummy’s Bracelet – Lee Ross
16  The Mummy Walk (Walking Death) – The Contrails
17  I Was A Teenage Monster – The Keystones
18  (I Was A) Teenage Creature – Lord Luther and the Kingsmen
19  Screamin’ Ball (At Dracula Hall) - The Duponts
20  Bo Meets The Monster – Bo Diddley
21  Midnight Monsters Hop – Jack and Jim
22  The Purple People Eater – Sheb Wooley
23  The Purple People Eater Meets The Witchdoctor – The Big Bopper
24  I Put A Spell On You - Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
25  The Outer Limits – Sign-off
      Bonus Track

Here's the link:

2015 Halloween Mix

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Play Submission Blues - The Synopsis

Writing a synopsis is like embalming
   A newborn baby while it’s still alive.
That theatres all demand this is alarming—
   They want to read the map, not take the drive.
The build-up doesn’t matter—just the kicker.
   You have to make them feel it with a feeler.
They want the drama summed up on a sticker
   Like some play version of a used-car dealer.
So you remove what makes your play a play—
   Suspense, change, dialogue, time, laughs, surprise—
Till only the And Thens are left to say
   “And then he did this” or “And then she dies”—
     Just so some intern can, from his high chair,
      Read it and say: “You didn’t make me care.” 

Just like a single building’s not a town,
   Two lines of prose are not two hours of mood.
Plays are like vegetables—you boil them down,
   And they become as bland as British food.
The need to sum up so it can be grasped
   By baby fingers or the LCD
Is just as poisonous as being asped
   By the great viper of conformity—
The snake in the creative garden, who
   Catalogues everything by pigeonhole;
Decrees a list of facts defines the true;
   Believes that life is body parts, not soul;
      And doesn’t want your dialogue or scenes
      But just a paragraph on what it means.

A good play’s like a roller coaster ride—
   A laugh and scream and thrill delivery system.
And every time someone takes me aside
   And says: “These feelings I should have?  Just list ‘em!”
Something inside me dies—and when I grieve,
   It rises up, wielding a vengeful knife
Against those fools who actually believe
   A tombstone with two dates sums up a life.
When everything must add up at the end,
   Like general ledgers audited by Germans,
It’s not a work of art that I’ve just penned—
   It’s either how-to manuals or sermons.
      You want a message?  Here’s a telegram, Pop:

Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Old Times, or, You Pinter--You Brought 'Er.

Roundabout/American Airlines Theatre
With Clive Owen, Kelly Reilly and Eve Best
Directed by Douglas Hodge
You shouldn’t have to think of synonyms
for “loud” and “fast” when you see Pinter plays.
You shouldn’t have to say: “Oh I see how
that line’s supposed to work.  Too bad it didn’t.”
You shouldn’t have to walk out thinking: “Wow—
that was a buck-a-minute show that made
Pinter look like he won the Nobel Prize
for The Emperor’s New Playwrighting Clothes.”
But I did, and it was. Thanks, Roundabout.
I just learned something that I didn’t know—
the bestest way to botch a Pinter play:
release the anger underneath the surface.
Do that, and all the venom disappears;
do that, and not a line will have a sting.
When you speak Pinter dialogue in anger,
then not a single play of his will work.
Especially when the director has
weird tonal background music playing, that
sounds like someone from Radiohead trying
to be Brian Eno, and score subsonics
beneath the lines to tell the audience
that there’s a big eruption brewing, when
the lines themselves should act like a slow fuse.

Having done that, why, don’t forget to put
your three characters on a set designed
to look like the Pole Star surrounded by
circular white star trails—a set tricked out
to say that there is something universal
in what these characters are going through.
But Pinter isn’t saying that; and this
play’s not constructed to support that weight.
It’s too precise to be some ur-encounter
between two women and a man, like say
Adam and Eve and Lilith in the Garden.
There’s nothing primal here except the need
to own a woman by owning her past,
and that’s not mythical—that’s therapy.
There are no gods here, except maybe for
Robert Newton’s painter in Odd Man Out.
So this production’s grand attempt at lifting
this play up to the Sophoclean heights
succeeds in being just another broad
stroke that smears all the subtlety away,
an act of dramaturgical hubris.
And then, if you’re directing this, make sure
you put the icing on the overcooked
cake by telling the actors they can floor it
when they sit in the verbal driver’s seat,
and the play will turn into serve and volley,
not spin and strategy—a power game
instead of sniper fire—where every line’s
a rocket with a payload, instead of
the polite casing for a dum-dum bullet
that does more damage when it hits its mark
than when it's shot.

                              Wait—sorry—wrong—in fact,
don’t even think of guns at all. Think knives.
Albee is bullets. Strindberg is dueling pistols.
Pinter is knives, not noise. Each biting line
is part of some death of a thousand cuts,
where you drop dead before you know you’re bleeding.
It’s a knife fight, where every stab and thrust
happens so fast you never see the blade—
you only see the slicing mark it leaves.
And when the verbal bombs are dropped, they’re tossed
like nonchalant grenades into the room,
exploding not with booms but with dead silence.
The only way to tell if they’ve gone off—
to know for sure that those lines are explosive—
is by their victims, not the sound they make.
Except in this production, where the booms
shatter the windowpanes.  

Speaking of which,
windows and doors exist in Pinter’s words
through which an actor can reveal the fire
that stokes her inner engine—but if she
opens these windows or walks through that door
and lets us see the furor underneath
the “I remember you dead” monologue
(for instance), then it shrinks in size and fails
to be more than melodramatic rage
when—if it was delivered with the calm
of a casual shiv between the ribs—
it should have—and it would have—pierced to the heart. 

Sadly, there’s no such piercing in this blunt
production, though it has its little moments
when, despite all the actors and director
have done to kick him to the Times Square curb,
Pinter appears onstage in all his dark
and quiet terror. It’s not like they’re bad,
the actors; Clive Owen is smug and sleazy,
Kelly Reilly is a hot mystery,
and, yes, Eve Best lives up to her last name.
It’s just that what they’re doing doesn’t serve
what should be served up: something that looks chilled
but really scorches.  

The rule is noise here,
and what that noise says through it all is this:  

“You want to make Pinter look like a hack?
Turn all the speakers up to ten, and make
each bomb go off as loud as dynamite.” 

“Want to make Pinter look shallow?  Then make
each subtle dig as deep as the Pacific,
and fill the stage with snarling cats and dogs
instead of men and women who will hide
their inside animals behind the veil
of civilized behavior, and not once—
not once demean the anger in their souls
by freeing it.” 

And yes, it’s possible
To do Old Times as one great big “Fuck you!”
But it was written to do that while saying
“Well, bless your heart.” Anything more than that
is less than Pinter—it’s just acting out,
not acting. It feels wrong when feelings get
exposed instead of covered up in chatter.
It reads as shallow when you play the deep.
It hangs there weightless when you give it speed.
Bring it to a fast boil, and it will steam
but never scald.  To me, Pinter’s all simmer.
You can’t allow what’s cooking to heat up
Enough to blow its top; you have to keep
It frothing, so it never comes to rest.
It is the covered pot that boils the best.


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Growing Old Is A Shipwreck In Slow Motion

Shipwreck - Ivan Aivazovsky, 1854


Growing old is a shipwreck in slow motion.
   My helm no longer answers to the wheel.
I’m at the mercy of the wind and ocean.
   Decay has made a horror of my keel.
My prow is broken and my sails are tattered.
   The surge threatens to spill me in the drink.
If I should hit a reef, I will be shattered.
   If I try to outrun this storm, I’ll sink.
I look for calm. But there is only one
   That will embrace me when this squall is spent:
The calm after my journeying is done.
   When this old hull’s buried in sediment,
      I’ll take my lifelong promised place below
      And from the great deep to the great deep go. 


Copyright 2015 Matthew J Wells

Friday, October 2, 2015


       for Brian Friel


Green hills rear up to the sky
like an animal untamed
hills where hope and fancy lie
buried like a maiden name 

catalogued and pigeonholed
with a definite position
like the eddy and the shoal
like the devious tradition 

hills with native poetry
paved and garbled by translation
ancient earthy masonry
hidden by the renovation 

till the myth, like extra weight,
is abandoned on the march
to the street sign and the gate
to the label on the larch 

to a country where the breathless
and the breathing live apart
where the tale that once was deathless
is a legend on a chart

So the map becomes the town
and the hand that used to play
marks the shape and distance down
scaling all the land away 

grinding down the mother tongue
separating blood from kin
till the songs that now are sung
smell of drink and might have been 

till each river, pond and pebble,
stream and pasture, land and field
lie imprisoned like a rebel
underneath the tyrant's heel 


I sit in an Irish bar with a dark drink
surrounded by extras and understudies, friends,
and the one girl in the cast who cannot speak, 

all of them politely thinking to themselves
what I think, wondering why the actors with the names
and reputations did not bring my words alive. 

When did they give up, the words beyond them,
and simply move their mouths, making a loud
accented noise, not looking at each other ever? 

When was it when they first turned off their hearts
and all the rest became the vengeance of
the rote mechanical, connect-the-dots?   

When did the life end, and the motion start?
Like God, I offered life and they refused it,
preferring like Frankenstein to make their own. 

Now I sit here sipping a dark bitter drink
and wonder who really makes the monster failure,
is it the fault of life or those alive 

that breeds a death from rows of breathing words?
Is it the lack in us that halts the tongue
or something in the tongue that cannot speak, 

something that plays with us, like a hunting dog
tracking the thing we aim at, shoot at, kill,
only to run away, and leave us fogged  

repeating the heart of a rote speech or a song
till the words escape us, and we end the hard day
as I end this day, sitting and drinking, 

wondering what went wrong. 

                                          And then I think,
well, things go wrong--that is the way of things.
There are no other words.  Not tonight, at least. 

So I drain my drink, and stand in a cloud of smoke,
and a girl with clear tight skin falls at my feet
and gushes while I nod and laugh politely. 

Such a young thing, to be in awe of me,
whose promise hangs behind me like my shadow.
This young thing should find some words of her own, 

not borrow mine, words that she alone will taste
forever like perfection in her ear,
and never be spoken anywhere close to that 

by even the best of speakers, actors, friends,
because they will be her own kissing gifts,
heavily lying on a stranger's lip, 

heavier than the desire for bed behind
two traded tongues, heavier even than love
whose burden is to listen--or pretend to. 

And I shake this girl's hand and watch her leave,
and stumble into the tiny room where drink
is translated; and I think to myself 

that there is a kind of blessing in bad actors.
Because of them, the lines that they deliver,
the things they say that never come alive,  

are never blamed for being less than real.
The actor gets that blame; the fault is his.
Well, I'm all for that.  I'm for anything that makes 

the play look good, the words, the thought, the work.
They all survive, even when translation fails.
And though the heart, the language of the pulse 

which cries a thing unsayable in words,
seems dead, still there is life at the hard end
of this long day's work, because my words 

tonight were seeded into rows, tossed negligently
like hopeful planting in the teeth of famine
on eager fertile ground, on hopeful girls 

with clear clean skin and shining eyes, by those
like me who write and never speak their fears,
but plant a harvest in a field of ears.

Speaking in tongues that are and are not theirs
making their chatter kisses in the dark
dancing apart, two strangers on display
a blood red coat against a dirt brown shawl 

everything else will not be spoken of--
the hatred and the hatred in return
rote jealousy, betrayal, drunken pride--
because the unvoiced is the unbegotten 

because love is the synonym of souls
a man and woman trading pretty names
in bold misunderstood defiance of
a blood red coat against a dirt brown shawl 


Copyright 1995, 2015 Matthew J Wells