Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Taming Of A Shrew

You speak and they say you don’t have the right to.
   You keep your silence, and you are ignored.
If there’s no planet you’re a satellite to,
   You cannot be a player on the board.
Smile and be pretty, like an ingénue.
   Learn how to sew and never drop a stitch.
When you act independent, you’re a shrew.
   When you say what you think, you are a bitch.
No matter how much you have in the bank,
   The currency is always counterfeit.
Spend it, and they will make you walk the plank.
   Times may have changed, but men can’t change for shit:
      Speak softly and they’ll always be engaged.
      They’ll woo the wild, but only wed the caged.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Love That Comes Out Of Friendship

Love that comes out of friendship is the fruit
   Of one tree that you won’t find in the wild.
It’s not born from a hot, frantic pursuit;
   It warms up imperceptibly, like mild
May mornings simmer into August heat—
   Like deep dreams you remember that were lost—
Till suddenly you stop dead in the street
   And look back at that line your heart just crossed.
And if she’s stirred to share that glass of wine,
   What can the two of you do now but blend?
And if she stays on her side of the line,
   She’ll always get what you give as a friend:
      Love to the limit of what she’ll allow
      Because her soul is worth no less a vow.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Saturday, June 18, 2016

An American In Paris

He cradles her small body in his arms
   In silhouette against soft golden light.
Gone are the city’s flowers and gendarmes.
   She is the only Paris rose tonight.


This is how love moves through two souls: alive,
   Nothing to say, and nothing more to prove.
Off-screen, John Alton calls Cue Twenty-Five,
   And dancing colors match their every move.


Alone, a mess, more wrong in me than right,
   I picture you, your head upon my chest
While smoky music fills the smoky light . . .
   But I don’t dance, and you deserve the best.


      So go find love in his arms, and not mine;
      And I will run the lights that make you shine.



Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Friday, June 17, 2016

The Trumping Of The Shrew

Young girl, get out of my mind.

Ever wonder what women will have to put up in a world run by Donald Trump? Look no further than Shakespeare In the Park's current all-female production of Taming Of The Shrew, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, which is just as over-the-top, and almost as incoherent, as the man it's satirizing.

Framed by a beauty pageant whose voiceover announcer is modeled on a New Yorker whose name rhymes with The Ronald, and containing a character (Gremio) who’s a cross between Trump and Sinatra, with a Vegas Rat Pack attitude towards dames, this production has a ton of energy and a RV full of great ideas, but because it panders by going for easy laughs instead of the jugular, it’s like a complacent liberal: it thinks it’s a lot sharper than it really is in exposing misogyny. If the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom, we should be getting a lot more wisdom than we do by the time that raucous curtain call starts. Instead, we just get patted on the back for being smart. 

But fun? God yes. The play’s been trimmed down to two hours with no intermission, and you don’t miss a thing. (Although what I got was a renewed impatience with the whole Bianca subplot. It felt like there was a lot less of Petruchio and Kate in this play.) Instead of the Christopher Sly Induction, we get the beauty pageant, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about Bianca and Katherina right from the start. The Latin lesson between Lucentio and Bianca is replaced with an extended quote from Gone With The Wind. Gremio’s report of the wedding is done totally meta—he comes out with a copy of Shrew in hand to tell us what he’s supposed to say, and then goes off on a sexist rant. The curtain call dance is done to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation,” and in a brilliant touch, it includes elements of the Maori Hata war dance. And towering above it all is Janet McTeer’s Petruchio, a lanky cross between a totally pissed Peter O’Toole and a totally entitled rock and roll bad boy, whose every move and line is just magic. If some of this production comes across as a raucous shit-show, it’s McTeer who is the shit and the show. If the rest of this production was as good as her performance, this would be one of those Park plays people talk about for years.

But it’s not. Cush Jumbo’s Katherina is a study in exuberant overkill, but her final monologue—which should be the coup de grace of the play—totally misses its target because you don’t know what it’s aiming at. She delivers it simply and honestly, with no spin or subtext, and for the first time all evening, you wonder just what is going on with this woman who has been so vocal and forthright about what she feels and believes. Is it a pose? Is it sincere?  

And then you realize that you’ve been asking the same question about a lot of things in this production: “What is this supposed to be?” Like the set. It looks like a traveling carnival, but it also seems to be a trailer park. It’s specific enough so that it should be one thing, and thematically represent something meaningful; but it doesn’t. Or like the fact that, when they get married, husbands get paid off like crooked politicians, with briefcases of cash. Are they being bribed? Are they being rewarded? (Both—right, ladies?) Or like Cush Jumbo’s visual look as Katherina, with those Pippi Longstocking pigtails and those baby doll dresses. Are we supposed to inhale the whiff of pedophilia this implies? Or get creeped out because we’re even smelling it? 

Thematically, the beauty pageant frame is meant to be Meaningful with a capital M—at the start, Bianca enters on a bike that Katherina is pedaling, and her performance is interrupted when Kate, like a protester at a Trump rally, hijacks the microphone and denounces the whole event. Which tells us, right from the start, what to look for in what we’re going to see. And sometimes it’s there, but other times it’s not; and it’s not like it has to be there all the time, but the whole point of staying on message is that you don’t mix them, and in this production, those messages have been put through a Waring blender. In a show where everything is out there, to hilarious effect, it pulls back in crucial places instead of taking that firm extra step, or at least committing to the premise behind its shenanigans. Is this the destruction of a “disobedient” woman, or is it saying that such a thing is impossible? 

The perfect example of how it goes right and then wrong at the same time is the final scene. Katherina extends her hand for Petruchio to step on, and what do you know? She wins the beauty queen title! Which makes perfect sense, given the beginning: you tame a woman to win male beauty prizes. And if it had ended there—with Katherina becoming either the trapped or the willing beauty queen bride—pretty, subservient, a trophy—THAT would have been the perfect sting to the tail of this production. But no sooner does Kate win the contest than she does exactly what she did in the opening: hijack the mike and denounce the whole event—whereupon she’s hustled down a trap door and locked away. While Petruchio just stands there. (While. Petruchio. Just stands there.) And Bianca is named the Beauty Queen, and everyone gets their picture taken together, the end.  

If that doesn’t leave you scratching your head and saying “Huh?” then you are going to adore this production.  

Me, I feel like it was a great concept that wasn’t fulfilled with a lot of great ideas that weren’t tied together. But it has a lot going for it. It’s appealing and enjoyable and full of itself. It blusters, and it preens; it pats itself on the back for being enlightened; it says a lot but its words cancel each other out; and it makes promises that it never commits to. 

In other words, how perfectly male.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Brigadoon, n. 1. A mysterious Scottish village
which appears for only one day every hundred
years. 2. A Lerner & Loewe musical. 3. Anything
eternal and timeless.

You lay your head down heavy on my shoulder.
   I reach around to softly stroke your hair.
I stare at you with lidded eyes that smolder.
   You smile at me like God smiles at a prayer.
We hold that look like children hold hands walking,
   Happy to be together and alive.
No promises, no questions, and no talking:
   Just eyes, deep eyes, into which we both dive.
Tomorrow may be wonderful or tragic.
   Tonight may disappoint or never end.
But this—this moment now—this is just magic—
   A treasure we can share but never spend—
      A brief and timeless breath of harmony
      That sings us in its heart, and sets us free.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I walk the streets, angrily muttering—
   Not talking to myself—talking to you—
Yelling at you—cursing and sputtering—
   Sticking a long verbal pin in a voodoo
Doll with your hair—but you won’t fucking die.
   You’re like a cancer that gets twice as strong
When it’s attacked—you’re like an ugly lie
   The truth keeps proving right instead of wrong.
You’re an infection with no remedy.
   You’re the sweet lethal poison on the dart.
And when I try to rip you out of me,
   Your cat claws just dig deeper in my heart
      And you say the one thing I’m frightened of:
      I like the pain more than I want the love.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Map Of Her Own

                    for Coley Campany

Each morning over coffee she unrolls
   The great map of her life, and fills it in,
Marking last night’s path till there are no holes
   And she can see exactly where she’s been.
Then she regards that looming blank expanse
   That doesn’t have a signpost or a street:
Her future—into which she must advance
   Blind and scared that empty means incomplete.
Her mother’s map was dead ends and lost chances
   Written by husband’s and by children’s hands.
Her pen’s her own, and with it she advances
   Into the unknown—for she understands
      When all that emptiness gets mapped behind her,
      The destination in her soul will find her.

Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Best Day Ever

I think it was the best day that we had,
   That surprise birthday party that I threw you—
The best day that we shared, and nothing bad
   Could kill it, because happiness just slew you.
“You really thought this out,” you said, “you snot,”
   While cutting cake with a white plastic knife.
“Of course,” I said. “I give a lot of thought
   To everything I do. Except my life.”
You laughed. I loved it when I made you laugh.
   I bet you’re laughing now, because those words
So lightly said could be my epitaph—
   For all I’ve done since then is for the birds.
      I love that day like I hate my lost youth.
      It was the only day I told the truth.


Copyright 2016 Matthew J Wells