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Manchester Chekhov Monster
...a trilogy...

California has slowed me down. I've lost some of my edge, my wit. It totally sucks when you come up with your witty comeback the next fucking day. What good will it do you then, repeating it in the shower over and over again while shampoo gets in your eyes.

The other night in a bar, three twenty-something pretty boys were doing their best to be Wilco. I was doing what came naturally in a bar---stomping my feet in time to music. The Wilco-wannabes were way not pleased. I hope I didn't make them cry. I really am a nice person. I live in California after all.

Outside the bar, I told an acquaintance of mine what happened. A big time music guy, he told me the following story which I will try to repeat as verbatim as possible:

There's a bootleg recording by Bob Dylan. Most usually mislabel it as the Royal Albert Hall, but it was really a show up in Manchester, England. Dylan had just gone electric with all the amps, and the folk fans were not happy about it. So he was up in Manchester, it was Manchester, and not the Royal Albert Hall. And between sets, the audience clapped slowly, and they were shouting, so he started singing oooonca ponnnna tymmmm, so no one could understand him. You can hear it on the bootleg---not the Royal Albert Hall bootleg, the Manchester bootleg.

How do you answer that story? I think it had a point---something about the relation of the performer and the audience. Maybe he was saying that the audience should just shut up and put up with whatever crap is served in front of them. Or maybe he just wanted to show off his knowledge of Bob Dylan bootlegs. Still, a precocious 21 year old Bobby D would have been preferable to the Wilco-wannabes.

Still, I didn't know how to respond to the story. I didn't have a witty comeback or a bunch of witty comebacks. I had nothing. My mind was blank, so I stared at music guy blankly.

‘Uh. Yep. That's nice.' I think I said.

What? That's it? No Joan Baez reference? No riffing on a lyric? ‘All he had to do was blow some wind'. No, ‘well that's Manchester for ya'? Nothing. I'm losing it. Or maybe I've lost it. Yep, I'm at my wit's end.

Recently, I went to a reading of a modern adaptation of Chekhov's Three Sisters. In hindsight I don't know why I went. Although I like Chekhov a lot, Three Sisters has always annoyed me. The three sisters lonnnng to go to Moscow. Sometimes during especially tedious productions, I have wanted to jump up and shout, GO TO MOSCOW! JUST GO! GO! GO!

Yes, I understand intellectually that the whole point of the play is that they don't go to Moscow and that this hesitation and inactivity forms the basis of modern drama and tragic comedy and that Moscow is quite cold in the winter and that we Americans like our theatre filled with action action action! I have seen Chekhov plays played well, and they are a heart wrenching delight. Unfortunately, the reading was slightly less enjoyable than the Wilco wannabes.

At the intermission, I decided to go out and not come back. As I pulled myself out of my Chekhovian inertia, I overheard two women talking. How could I not overhear them? Everyone in the theatre heard them. They were talking to inform everyone of how smart they were.

‘I'm in mourning for my life. That's from another Chekhov play, The Cherry Orchard.' One woman said to the other. The other woman nodded, and they walked out.

I frowned at the empty space they had just occupied. If you're going to quote from Chekhov, at least get the play right, bitch. That line is from The Sea Gull, not The Cherry Orchard. Masha says it after she is asked why she is wearing black clothes. I know this because that line was one of my mantras in college.

Sometimes I can't stand people who go to the theatre. I wanted to stand in the middle of the lobby and shout I'M IN MOURNING FROM MY LIFE IS THE SEA GULL, NOT THE CHERRY ORCHARD!!! But that would be uncivilized and I might never be allowed to see plays in that theatre again---and it's a very nice theatre, and such actions are mean and snobby and would not change anyone's perception of Chekhov's genius, so better to just walk away.

So I walked away. I didn't go back for the second half, and I remember feeling quite happy about that.

Finally, last night, I went to see Dylan Moran's one-man show Monster at UCLA. I had caught an episode or two of his quite funny British sitcom, Black Books, in which he played the evil book store owner---you know the type, the one who looks at you like you don't DESERVE to read Kafka.

The evil book store guy is a dying breed. You don't see many evil book people in the book superstores. I think they have been defeated by piles and piles of mass market pulp. Now, they're thinking, oh you're reading Kafka, bless you, bless you.

Wanting to laugh in my shallow narcissistic existence, I paid my twenty-six dollars over to UCLA ($6 handling---handling what I wondered---surely not my ticket, they lost my ticket). Still, I was determined to laugh. Laughter is good. Laughter is nice.

I sat down in my seat in front of two women of a middle age. I started to make notes on my Alan Alda story. I was going to be happy, damn it. The women behind me started talking about the latest Ian McEwan book (Saturday).

‘It was brilliant! Brilllliant! It takes place on a single day. I read it in two days.' She said, then on and on with superlatives. When women reach a certain maturity, some of them go wayyy heavy into superlative land. Lots of mundane things become Outstanding! Excellent! Brilliant! Wonderful! I hope I don't become a superlative woman where the depth of my brain is measured in exclamation points.

My ring of hell expanded when an aging hippie couple sat next to me. The woman was on my right and super tense, so the aging hippie man massaged her shoulders.

Dylan Moran shuffled on stage holding a wine glass of white wine or apple juice (never was quite sure which---he sipped it). He was late. He had started late. But that was okay. We're kind of mellow out here in California. It's cool. We'll just hang.

Dylan Moran started doing his Dylan Moran thing which included shuffling around the stage and being funny. At first, he seemed depressingly self-aware of the dancing monkey show that was himself. He went into a downward spiraling spiel about Los Angeles and how straaaange it is. Oh wow, what a fucking newsflash. I'm glad I came, so he could tell me these things.

The aging hippie woman even shouted Grey Davis's name up to him when he asked about the Governor before the Governator. The aging hippie woman had a really annoying voice---like she had been stoned a lot, but it just wasn't funny anymore.

Dylan Moran continued on with news and how much American news is stupid and how Americans know nothing as a result. Then he seemed to lose his place and looked out at the audience.

‘Where was I?' he said.

‘We know nothing.' I said in response.

I was starting to get depressed. Not as depressed as when I saw the Chekhov adaptation. Shivers. Still, I was getting a bit depressed. I wanted to gulp down his fucking wine while smoking one of his fucking Marlboro lights. I use to love Marlboro lights. I sighed internally.

Fortunately, something in Dylan Moran's mind clicked (perhaps it was the realization that he was onstage in front of people), and he started to groove. He became funny, witty even. I was laughing. Not just a hee-hee that's so funny. Not just a hah-hah-hah I soooo get you man. No, I was laughing from the gut. Dylan Moran made me laugh from the gut. He made me bend over and stare at the darkness of the theatre floor while making sounds that resembled a cat coughing up a hairball. That's a good sound---especially to the person making it.

The second half got even better. There was a big guy on the other side of me who also was howling. Near the end, Dylan Moran asked if there were any questions. And true to form, my mind blanked. I had no witty question. I had nothing. I was . . .I was. . .speechless.

‘Why is your show called Monster?' asked the aging hippie woman next to me. Her voice really annoyed me, and she had asked a dumb question. Yes, there are dumb questions in this world.

‘I don't know. It's just a title you know. Why do you think it's called ‘Monster'?' Dylan Moran said. Please God, let this not lead to a long boring monologue from the aging hippie woman. My prayer was answered.

‘Who did your mother name you after?' one of women behind me asked.

‘The poet.' He said.

A few more bits of business, and then he was done. Driving down Westwood, I figured out my question twenty minutes too late. Damn it! It was so fucking obvious. I had become too mellow a Californian. I really gotta work on this wit thing. The question I could have asked:

‘How's the wine? And may I try some please?'

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