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Journey's End

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Sep. 27th, 2002 | 03:20 am
mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
music: the quiet of my room at night

Journey's End, by R.C. Sherriff is perhaps England's best loved play.

Wait. Stop. I sound like I'm writing a paper. For English class. Or, in this case, modern British Drama, the course for which I had to read the aforementioned play. The play is, of course one of England's favorite plays -- in any given season, at least one repertory company will be guaranteed to produce it. This fact has been verified by my friend and suite mate who spent the last semester in London taking theatre courses and a couple other English related things. Or perhaps one of them was psychology related. I don't remember. But that is neither here nor there.

The remarkable thing about this play is that it is about World War I and that in reading it, it feels very modern. It feels almost cliche, in fact, since the sympathetic characters are all killed in the war, the character you don't really like because he doesn't seem to feel anything comes out as unscathed as you can perceive and so on. Of course, in 1928, the world hadn't been inundated with wars and war movies -- World War I was something different -- it was on a scale of proportions which man hadn't imagined he could -- distancing self again.

I am beginning to think that I feel somehow burdened here in livejournal. As though I was hitting on something a moment ago writing someplace else, and then I stopped myself to write here and I don't know where to begin. I was reflecting on how I have stopped writing, how I used to put so much stock in poetry and fiction, how I used to turn to them as friends and confidantes when I was curled up in a pool of teenage angst. I felt that no one except my words could or would understand me, and so I wrote. And then, I came to college and began to find myself -- I began to have a real social life and friends and things to do that keep me away from my home and away from my computer, and even away from the little notebooks where I might otherwise write in idle moments.

I don't remember the last Friday night that I spent at home just existing.

But I stopped writing. And now, as I begin to start again, or to want to, or to think of it, I find novels and poetry unappealing as modes of fiction. Even the short story, which can be so powerful in so few words is lost to me. What captures my attentions is the play. I think that somehow, theatre is more dynamic than novels -- any great book can be said to have a timelessness about it, but it is so clearly other people and another world that you are imagining yourself a part of, so controlled by an author's hand that it feels somehow less honest to me.

A play, a good play, can be produced in so many ways, and is forever victim to trends in acting and directing -- if Broadway's season is full of dark, heavy-handed directing, a show about war will become a play that is clearly against war. In the current fashion of bright lights, candy colors and enough rhinestones to carpet a cathedral, a play like Journey's End could become a comedy.

The remarkable thing about this play is that it feels like a cliche, like it's all been done before. It has a dry British humor to it that seems at first out of place, and yet by the end seemed necessary to me... something vital that let me stomach the tragedy.

Two things changed for me about the play, however, when we watched a brief clip of the World War I Sitcom "Black Adder" which aired on the BBC and was voted "England's most beloved sit-com." I watched that and looked at the original cast list of this play (noting Sir Laurence Olivier in the lead) and thought -- when this was staged in 1928, the fluff would have been overplayed and emphasized, and the horrifying shocking parts -- the deaths, would have been slid in, as if they were a part of the plot, but not the focus of the play. Reading it today, having seen war films like Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan, I have been conditioned to believe that anything about war must display blood and guts and people losing their minds and their souls just trying to live another day.

Journey's End WAS about World War I -- it had to have some of the blood and guts, and the insanity. It couldn't keep that out -- that was something that just became true of modern war, something that was really different about World War I that separated it from history's previous wars. But a play that felt to me like it was an anti-war message because of the horrible things that I read about happening was probably not so much an anti-war message as it was a portrayal of what life in the trenches was like -- why people came home shell-shocked. A play that, with humor, could tell wives and mothers why their sons and husbands were never quite the same when they came back.

But I as a person am so much against war, and am so sickened by the horrors of it that get portrayed so graphically that I read this play as if it were a modern war film, a film with the tone of the terrible things that happen and what's wrong with humanity that we cause this destruction among ourselves.

If it weren't for the current tones of this "genre" of war-related art, I could have read the play differently. The text wouldn't change, but the way it was emphasized and imprinted into my mind would.

The way an actor chooses to read and speak a line implies so much about how a play is seen and felt and interpreted -- and the plays that endure leave such interpretation open in such a way that it does make me, at least, feel that the theatre is something bigger, more enduring and more dynamic than all of us. And while some say that its time as a high art is running out and that it is being exhausted, I belive that the theatre is a form which will never outgrow its prime. It will continue to adapt because it has to. If an audience can't understand these characters in front of them, can't believe in them, then the play is lost and it withers and dies.

"See the humanity" my playwriting professor once told me. In a play, there must be humanity. There must ALWAYS be humanity.

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