Monday, January 28, 2013

Douglas Messerli | "The Good House" (on Stacey Levine's Susan Moneymaker, Large and Small"


the good house
by Douglas Messerli
 
Stacey Levine Susan Moneymaker, Large and Small: A Ten-minute Play (Brooklyn, New York: Belladonna Books, 2007)

Certainly no one might make claims that fiction writer, Stacey Levine’s first (and I believe only play to date) is a major contribution to theatrical literature; it is the work of a writer trying-out of a new genre, and is a piece that is highly connected to her considerable achievements in short and longer fiction. One can most surely assert, however, that Susan Moneymaker, Large and Small is a true delight which leads one to hope the author will try her hand at other theater pieces.*

      The “excitable” Moneymaker family—middle-aged Uncle, Aunt, Mother, and Father—begin and end their minutes on stage discussing and observing their young niece and daughter, Susan. Each member of this family is slightly disappointed in Susan, particularly since she has not yet found a husband; yet, as all doting families believe, she is beautiful and smart, a “magnificent girl,” a student at “the top of her class.” She could become a veterinary or lecture in physics.

     While the family “enjoys” breakfast—if you can describe their series of near-meaningless non sequiturs as joyful—they recall events around and about Susan, including Mother’s “loss of confidence” during her long-ago pregnancy by peering into a tub of eels. But the friendly smile of a policeman has healed her, and now she is strong, even though she hates the neighbors! At one moment Susan, so declares the family’s ornery Grandfather, is fifteen, while others claim that she is much older. Indeed, the Grandfather, the most comical figure throughout, is generally not to be believed as he yells out several attacks upon family members: “You pack of cretins! Get out of town!”

      In their determination that Susan will marry rich and become famous—presumably to help support them—there is something detestable about this toasty and Tastee cake-chewing bunch, who when Susan does show up, declare just what they’ve been up to:

mother: Susan? Oh, Susan Lynne Moneymaker! We’ve been chatting
                and planning, do you know? We want so much for you,
                angel.

What began as a droll conversation, suddenly turns absurdly frightening as the family declare that she must marry the milkman’s son, Lad, eventually throwing the two together on the couch, where the couple seem to either fall asleep or into death:
 
aunt: Everyone, everyone, look at Susan and Lad!
mother: So still. They’re like angels, aren’t they?
father: Soon their life will begin.
aunt: I say it’s sweet!
Pause.
father: Why aren’t they moving?
Pause.
aunt: Could they be dead?
Pause.
uncle: Oh-ho, give ‘em a minute, those young tigers. Their
             lives’ll begin in a just a moment, I’m telling you. 

     Only the Grandfather, in his memory of their life when they lived by the river, near a “brilliant house”—wherein lay hanging bridges, birds in the windows, and rooms that slightly sway— comprehends, so it seems, that the family has abandoned something near paradise. “It was near our own home, all right. Close enough. But then we had to move away, you pack of louses, and we got farther way from the good house.”

     Obviously, all that is left is a group of determined bourgeois voyeurs to which the younger folk cannot even respond. If Susan is large in their dreams, she is made small by their selfish behavior.

Los Angeles, January 22, 2013

*Levine has assured me that she did write a new radio play, "The Post Office." "Susan Moneymaker" was performed in Seattle. 

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