Sunday, April 06, 2008


Will have to wait. I have about 800 comedy reviews to spew out here but have been too busy seeing said comedy to write 'em up. Gimme a day or two and I'll cough up the goods, I swear. For now, though, I just have to mention the squalid orgy of hatred and misanthropic degeneration I witnessed last night before I lose the angry fire it has stirred in my belly.


Too true. I'm speaking (typing) of GUYS AND DOLLS which is a musical (musical theatre) that has me wanting to barf (blog).

Just when I was beginning to rethink my stance on musicals.

So here's the deal: we have a Guy and a Doll who have been engaged for 13 years because he refuses to set a date. Good comic set-up with plenty of potential. Which after about five seconds made me wonder: who would endure such a thing for 13 years? Clearly a guy of Olympic patheticism and a doll so self-loathing that she'll put up with the dude. Or maybe she's that in love with him? 13 YEARS, people.

And we have another Guy who bets that he can make any woman come with him for what can euphemistically be called a "party flight to Cuba" (actually that's literal, not euphemistic) and the Doll he's matched with, an uptight Salvation Army worker whose main talent is disapproving of anything that actually exists and who has a chorus line who don't even get to dance once. That's how uptight she is. Until she meets her Guy, goes to Cuba - there might have been some light-hearted wooing in there but that's probably wishful-thinking/REM activity on my behalf - and gets duped by her Guy into downing a few litres of Bacardi, getting into a scragfight with a Havana local and "losing her inhibitions" with the "man of her dreams". The idea that a positive sexual awakening is the result of drink-spiking, girl-on-girl violence and waking up to find some seedy gambler licking your tonsils - well, I fear for the previous generation, I really do. In my day that would (does) result in moral panic and the demonisation of youth. I guess date rape was different back in the day.

Once we've left our Girl Gone Wild in Cuba and returned to New York, the Guys are back to their no good ways with constant gambling and fiancee-neglecting and fear of commitment expressed through dance. The Guys in question seem to have a near-pathological obsession with playing the game of "craps" which forces them to huddle in sewers where they can play with their craps and wave guns at one another. The Dolls up above try to get the Guys to resurface and give up the whole crap thing, but they just can't help themselves. The show itself doesn't condemn them either, suggesting that it's only natural - a Guy's gotta do what a Guy's gotta do. Or, given the crap metaphor, when a man's gotta go, a man's gotta go.

All of our Guys end up with their respective Dolls - and let's face it, the terms are suggestive - but how do these independent women reconcile themselves to the fact that their fellas are way more interested in anything that doesn't actually involve them than with anything that does? I'm omitting, of course, the intermittent scenes at the strip club in which the Guys and the audience whoop up the disrobing of females in ways that involve none of the plot whatsoever. Well, the eventual merging of sexes is allowable after a poignant song in which our two lead heroines realise that the best thing to do is to marry whatever beau will take you, failings and all, and then attempt to change his disgusting ways once the merger has been made legally binding. There's an empowering message: snare any shitty guy who'll have you and then hope you can plead him into submission.

Guys and Dolls makes a certain amount of sense in an historical context. As a postwar Broadway musical, I can see it as an attempt to appropriate the sexual liberalism of an earlier exotic Weimar cabaret style and introduce it as a commercially acceptable expression of American freedom in the 1950s. But beneath its apparent sauciness is a rigid, almost hysterical conservatism which suggests that Guys are inherently monstrous and Dolls oughta learn to put up with that and let's just shut up and dance because the alternatives are too horrific to consider. I'd like to see a version of this show that brings to the surface its subliminated nastiness. That shows the characters in all their self-hatred and misery and failure and doesn't dress it up as nostalgic rom-com nonsense

Maybe the unanimous standing ovation at opening night was a crowd saying damn you, Born Dancin', for expecting of a musical something resembling a social statement. Damn you for considering our response as a possible expression of our own submerged frustrations with the concessions we made decades ago when we married our wealthy opening-night-worthy spouses in the hopes that we could change them, one day, just like in the show. Because come on - the songs were pretty sweet.

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