by Douglas Messerli
Mac Wellman Bad Penny, Bow Bridge, Central Park, New York City / June 8, 1989
Mac Wellman Bad Penny (Los Angeles: Blue Corner Drama, 1990)
Mac Wellman Bad Penny, City Garage, Santa Monica, California / the performance I saw was
on Sunday, August 24, 2008
Having originally published Mac Wellman’s play Bad Penny in 1990, I was pleased to have the opportunity of seeing this play performed at the City Garage in nearby Santa Monica in 2008. Directed by Frederíque Michel, this production was what one might describe as an admirable attempt, particularly given the fact that the play was originally performed outdoors on and about Bow Bridge in Central Park with a much larger cast against the natural beauty and mysteriousness of the stream upon which the character of the Boatman of Bow Bridge rowed a real boat, while the City Garage production was limited to their tiny darkened stage and a cast of six, one of which, Mariko Oka, was asked to perform as the entire chorus.
I was having a basically okay
day until I picked up that bad penny. Now
now it’s ruined. Now I don’t even know what I’m
saying. Weird. This is really weird.
—the City Garage performance seemingly cornered its characters into a concatenation of strange types.
For the Way leads over from the
Fountains of Bethesda, where the Lord
performed certain acts, acts unknown to
us, across the Bow Bridge of our human
knowability, pigheadedness, and the
weisenheimer attitude problem of our
undeserving, slimeball cheesiness; and
scuttles into the Ramble, there, of
utterly craved, totally lost, desperate
and drive incomprehensibility—friend
neither to fin, to feather, nor tusk
of bat, bird, weasel, porcupine, nor gnat.
And we who are not who we are must forever
bury the toxic waste of our hidden hates
in the dark, plutonic abysm of our human
hearts, and be always blessed in the empty promise
of the sky that looks down upon us with
a smile, a divine smile, even as she
crushes us all beneath her silver foot
—the City Garage production, by having Man #3 (whom they characterize as an observing artist) repeat Kat’s first lines, gives the play a false sense of closure, wrapping it up into the daily repetition of its characters’ acts:
I come here every day, every
single day. I come here, to this
spot, every single day and
every single day, every single
goddam day, it’s the same or
it’s different or it rains or it’s
clear or it snows or it’s bright
and beautiful or it’s dark, rainy,
and kinda foul. ….
While Wellman’s original promises us a sort of a terrifying transformation, Michel’s version leaves us in a purgatory of everyday experience, rendering all the cries of despair and hopeful vision of its figures absolutely meaningless.
Los Angeles, September 3, 2008