Tag Archives: Gorky

Here bully, bully…

20 Aug

So, I’m sitting in  a west village* theatre foyer with Leah,  drinking a coffee as big as my head, when she suddenly grabs my arm in that primal tiger-behind-you way.

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“It’s her” she whispers. Or at least thinks she whispers. It came out loud enough for the barista to think there was something wrong with my jug of caffeine.

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Some background.

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In April, I was present for the mounting of an adaptation  I had written of  The Lower Depths. It’s a  Gorky play. It’s a tough play.  (Gorky literally means “bitter.”) A kind of spiteful optimism co-exists with the squalor and misery in the text, as its seventeen or so characters try to figure out which way to step to flee their endless poverty, or indeed, if a step is even worth it.  “Die here. Die there,” mutters Bubnoff. ‘What’s the difference?”
After the opening, I was sitting quietly in the corner of the after party, trying to snatch some clarity or two, when this woman approaches me,  friendly as a smurf and asks, ” Are you the playwright?”
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A small alarm bell rings, but I put that down to my natural introversion and reticence to talk about something while it’s still fresh. If you want to know how I’m feeling today, ask me in a week. Anyway, she asks about Australia, did I travel to NYC just for this, what my intentions were with the adaptation?
“Placid. Yes. To translate Gorky into an American narrative and explore the myth of the American dream.”
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Then she asks, so you have Russian in you?  Uh oh. That’s nearly always a tell.
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And it is.
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She immediately slides into a monologue, that by the time I catch the first actively cruel words, “stupid mess”, I realize she has me cornered me and is eviscerating me with a one to one, face to face, breathless review of my work. Sure, there’s the usual no-one knows Russian plays like I know Russian plays gear, which you can safely ignore unless you’re speaking to, oh I don’t know, a Russian playwright – but mostly it’s a deeply personal attack, peppered with bitter reminisces of the theatre to heighten her point.
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And it is pointy. Stick-in-your-eye pointy.
Anyway, the situation is recognized from across the foyer and Leah rescues me by calling me over, and I gladly scuttle away. It turns out this woman is well-known in NYC theatre. In fact, she is actively banned from a good number of venues  for being, well, her charming self.
Oddly. This information makes it hurt more. A serial sniper banned from theatres for picking fights with box office staff, other punters, general poor form, well, I can’t help but think upon the satisfaction  such a person would gain from being able to corner a playwright and give him what-for.  A snark’s coup de grâce. . I feel like she’s taken something personal from me.
Anyway, she’s asked to leave and I give her a manly serve on the way out. Something along the lines of,” you are!”
And that, is that.
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And now, here she is, sitting behind me in a foyer and a realization, not large, wobbles in. She’s a bully, and bullies cannot function without the element of surprise. That’s their trump card. To ask you a question so they can turn on the response. To feign intrigue so your own can be exposed. They need the fuel of your vulnerability because they need distraction from their own. Great teachers expose weakness as an opportunity to grow. Bullies expose it as pure shame to be buried.
And for all the infantile fantasies I had nurtured about the next time we’d meet and the Wilde’an zingers I would reign on her head like a post a-popcorn-ictic missile parade, the truth was, her having previously exposed her venom, shown herself, I felt a most unusual emotion for me.
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Calm indifference.
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Sometimes, my sense of cosmic reciprocity is empowering. Maybe even noble here and there. But,  a lot of the time it’s really just vanity with a droopy lip looking to tip some tables over.
I thought about the other bullies I had met in my life. Steven Miles in grade two who for some reason would find a reason to punch me in the nose at lunchtime. I met him twenty years later at The Melbourne Cup and he still intimidated me with his uncontrolled need to fill space and strange desire to prove himself my ally.
Simon Pollaq at Tech School who took an instant dislike to my skinny frame and general Timness.  He’d aggressively disagree with anything I’d say in that efficiently crude but menacing way only teenage boys can muster, till the day I came to school with my arm in a sling and he thought spending lunchtime kicking me in the knee was the thing to do.  Rob Gow, another stand-over teen, saw this and apparently offended by the aesthetic, stepped in and sent him scurrying with such calm efficiency that I almost cheered. Rob was true alpha. Pollaq was frightened Beta. He never bothered me after that day and Rob and I, in a sort of dog and duck as best friends news story kinda way, became mates.
Rob was tough. That is nations away from being a bully. Even a frightened thirteen year old boy knows that.
And there are other bullies, from the petty to the morally treasonous,and  I’ suppose, I’d be on a few lists as well.
So,
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it was nice to feel calm indifference to the crazy women who detested my lack of Russianess and to accept, that even within her spinning vitriol, she did have a point or two, although not the point she was intervening to make.  I felt grown up. Maybe that’s a weird thing to acknowledge in your forties. Lessons come when they come I guess. Or maybe they’re always coming and it takes coincidence to notice them.
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Cosmic reciprocity. I owe.
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* changed from “lower west-side.” Leah read that description of  place and politely requested change.
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