PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 22.3 (2000) 88-89
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Carl Morse: Redoubtable Dramatist
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh
Exposure to Carl Morse's writing must give a shock to Americans, something like what they might feel if, when dutifully idling through the halls of the Vatican, they might come across a sculpture depicting a naked youth caressed by a sexually excited faun. Embarrassment. Shock. Outrage. Cover your eyes. Find a crucifixion to gaze at as an anodyne. Give us nails through the feet rather than a pat on the bum. We don't see this kind of filth in the U.S.A. It's against the law. We are so conditioned to and accepting of kiddy-porn rhetoric, the thin edge of the wedge of censorship, that to see a taboo depicted is to feel dirty and guilty. No one, not even Al Goldstein, the redoubtable champion of free speech, dares speak up here. Children, the flag, prayer, motherhood--in this prurient climate any observation of our quaint and vicious mores becomes in itself a seditious and moral offense. When such observations are drawn by Carl Morse, his pen dripping with trenchant and rollicking wit, the impact is more than our purveyors of determinedly "inoffensive" theatre dare to deal with. Even more than the audience, producers fear to offend corporate and government patronage sources.
One thinks of Joe Orton with his subversive wit, and how producers subverted his texts. For example, in Entertaining Mr. Sloan, the youthful Mr. Sloan is the object of the rapacious attentions of Ed Kemp. That is bad enough, but Ed Kemp is a handsome, young, testosterone-charged macho man, tough, self-assured, confident in his sexual powers, not afraid of a punch-up at a soccer stadium. Invariably, on stage, the character is presented as a weak, effeminate, kinky old queen, the stock gay character to hold in contempt, and a cheap joke. This "Simonizing," of course, emasculates Orton's intention.
Carl Morse does not yield a millimeter to pleas to "lighten up," as indicated by his titles: The Curse of the Future Fairies (poems), and, for theatre pieces, Impolite to My Butchers (a revenge oratorio), Breeder Slime Never Die: Three Comedies of Fertility and Free Will (Minimum Wage, Shootout! or He Died for Beauty, and Dover Beach), Annunciation, Fairy Fuck-In, Flesh and Blood in Cincinnati, and Bruce Spruce, about a gay Christmas tree. Venues where his works have had presentations include La Mama La Galleria, La Mama E.T.C., the Oval House (London), Theatre at 224 Waverly, among others. As writer-in-collaboration with the Medicine Show Theater [End Page 88] Ensemble, Morse provided scenes, lyrics, and speeches for productions performed in the States, including the Lincoln Center summer festivals and the Whitney Museum of Art, and in Europe in Berlin and Bordeaux.
A scholarship student at Yale University, Morse early on achieved academic respectability with his translations, from the French, of Antoine Adam's The Art of Paul Verlaine (NYU Press, 1963) and André Maurois's From Proust to Camus: Profiles of Modern French Writers (Doubleday, 1966). He was for several years Director of Publications at The Museum of Modern Art. He was co-editor of the Lambda Award-winning anthology Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (St. Martin's Press, 1988). His own poems have been published in dozens of magazines and anthologies, and his book reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The New York Native, and The Village Voice. Fruit of Your Loins: Four Plays by Carl Morse was published by Get A Grip Press (London, 1995). The Sunshine State, Morse's latest play, offers roles actors must find irresistible for their slapstick humor, which palliates the etched-in-acid scenes of retirement life in trailer-park America. Not since Philip Wylie has there been such jolly mother-bashing. Yet the play is engaging through its wit and its compassionate message of "you are not alone."
Douglas Blair Turnbaugh is currently working on The Quest for Love, a biography of Sergei Diaghilev. His own...