of the New Ear.
Friday May 13th 2005.
Royal Festival Hall, London.
watching a movie, in a theater or at home, and starting to doze.
You can't keep your eyes open, but the sound of the film still seeps
in through your ears, which sadly are never closed. Your mind paints
the picture itself in that meaningful but not quite visual way that
dreams play out. This is the experience I'd like you to have now."-
Carter Burwell, program notes
The first of the two radio plays performed was that of the Coen
brothers. A short, hilarious piece entitled, Sawbones. This one
is a lot easier to summarise than Kaufman's offering but still,
after just one listen, is a little difficult. Basically Sawbones
is a "TV show" about a wild west veterinary, Varlan
"Sawbones" Smith, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and
his encounters with the other members of the town including the
woman of his dreams, Agnes Barley (Marcia Gay Harden) and the
other point in the love triangle, the coward Frank MacReady (Steve
Buscemi). There are other, smaller characters in the "TV
show" who are variously played by the same three actors.
As the "TV show" plays out it is being "watched"
fanatically and simultaneously by a husband and wife, Jerry and
Joan Nelson (John Goodman and Brooke Smith) and an unnamed door-to-door
salesman played by John Slattery. The two sets of actors were
cannily split up on the stage with the Sawbones cast on the viewers
left and the TV show fans on the right.
Sawbones was split up in to three episodes of the "TV show"
each separated by Carter Burwell's exquisitely catchy and believable
theme tune. I found the first third hard to follow as it wasn't
until the second part that I realised the format of the play (the
TV show and the viewers), however, this first episode of Sawbones
concerned a gunshot being delivered into Frank MacReady's stomach
by our hero veterinary, Sawbones. MacReady was then operated on,
and his life saved by Sawbones. MacReady now had two excellent
stomachs fashioned out of one bad one. There was a line in it
about how, if he swallowed something into a full stomach, he could
regurgitate it and send it on down to the other one! Marko Costanzo,
the foley artist, deserves a special mention for this part of
the act- for the sounds of the intestinal operation he utilised
those long, thin balloons and when he was done with the sound
effect creation what was left but some balloon sculpted animals-
genius! While this first episode was on TV Joan was busily engaged
in a session of extra-marital sex with the door-to-door salesman
while Jerry was away at work, he was a fireman. Hilariously he
telephoned home to discuss the episode of Sawbones with his wife
only to get the answering machine where he left a protracted but
sweet message which we can heard over the orgasmic sounds of his
cheating wife and the TV show.
The second episode of Sawbones he declares his love for Agnes
only to be told that she loves another- Frank!!! Obviously he's
pretty gutted and sets off for the wilds alone. During this episode
Jerry is back home having befallen an accident at work which has
left him with a metal leg (truly, truly awesome foley work by
Marko Costanzo as it scrapes and thuds along the ground), a smashed
hand and, hilariously, burnt retinas. There's a knock at the door
during the show and, in an effort to keep his independence, Jerry
gets up to answer. Scrape, thump, scrape, thump all the way to
the door only to be greeted by the door-to-door lothario. There
is an effort to fight but blind and with a metal arm and leg,
this is not easy.
In the third and final episode poor old Sawbones is found having
been trampled and, to be honest, I can't really remember too much
about this final episode of the "TV show" as it was
overshadowed somewhat by the letters sent to and fro between Joan
and the salesman. It appears that the salesman has taken Jerry's
old job, after he was sacked form his salesman job following Jerry's
barrage of letters to the firm.
I wish I could have a transcript or a recording of the play so
that I could better relate plot points and gags but, alas, I am
forced to rely on my ailing memory. Hopefully we can look forward
to some kind of broadcast or CD release or something in the future.
If this brief outline has confused you I wouldn't even bother
trying to understand "Hope Leaves the Theater"...
DOWNLOAD SAWBONES PART ONE!
DOWNLOAD SAWBONES PART TWO!
Leaves The Theater:
Written and directed by Charlie
The Mouse, Esther, Sailor #2, Rose, Miss Alison Finnigan,
Traitor, Voice, Magistrate, Becky, Woman by Side of Road,
Choir of Angels
Oscar, Sheldrake, Boy #1, Tragic Monster, Man in Car, The
Puppeteer, Sir Isaac Newton, Ben, William of Essex, Sailor
#3. Wolf, Jan Wenner
Kelly, Jane, The Empress of Japan, Mrs. Finnigan, Boy #2,
Joan of Arc, Daisy, Teresa D'Urseau, Radio Man, Sailor #1,
The Killer, Broken Katie
ten minutes later
later that day
of Rolling Stone magazine, 1969
room of an Argentinian freighter, 1943
Thursday, 6:53 EST
exactly thirty years later
living room, midnight of the same day
of a hurricane, Easter Island, now
one thousand years later
Where do you start with this one?!??!
Kaufman is, obviously, completely bonkers. The kind of bonkers
that the old cliché supposes is close to genius. Having
enjoyed immensely his movies (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation,
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) I thought I would be well
versed in what to expect. How wrong I was!
To summarise this radio play is going to be very difficult so
bear with me please. The play "began" only it didn't
(see- told you it was going to be hard!) with three people in
an elevator, not just any elevator mind but one that is in a building
with over 2000 floors. Meryl Streep playing some bitter, twisted,
middle-ages spinster, in the lift with her are a seemingly lovely,
lovey-dovey couple (Peter Dinklage and Hope Davis). She hates
them! She hates herself. She hates her own sagging breasts. She
hates EVERYTHING. Streep also did the voice of the floor announcer,
which was hilarious, each floor contained not things such as ladie’s
wear but more like misery and woe.
Turns out the three are merely people on the way to see the play
in the same way I was, only not. They take their "seats"
and it's only now that the house lights dim and the play starts
proper. It's hard to pinpoint what the main crux of the play was
supposed to be as, no sooner has it started, when Hope Davis'
mobile phone rings. Only it's not the Hope Davis sat down on the
stage it's the Hope Davies that is figuratively sitting in the
audience with us. It's her mother calling. Streep throws the most
hilarious diva tantrum you ever heard, shaming the audience Hope
to leave the theatre (Hope Leaves the Theatre).
The story then follows Davis as she makes her way home through
New York in the pouring rain (again hat's doffed to Costanzo's
exceptional foley work). She is accosted by a bum, hit on amateurishly
by a guy and muses on the qualities of Philip Seymour Hoffman's
performance in the previous play (Sawbones) and that she could
have been the third Coen brother. Finally she gets home and logs
on to chat hilariously, and I mean HILARIOUSLY, with another Dinklage
character over instant messenger. Costanzo's mimicry of computer
use including, but not limited to, keyboarding sounds and beeps
for outgoing/incoming messages. Her mother calls to say that she
had called the mobile phone again to apologise for calling in
the first place. She didn't receive the second call because...
she'd left her phone in the theatre by accident which we, the
real audience, hear and enjoy another Streep rant. During the
rant it transpired that this was Kaufman's final written work
before he tragically committed suicide (that Kaufman- he never
stops does he!).
Davis rings her mobile to find out if she can arrange to get it
back. A nice gentleman answers to say that he has it and hastily
turned if off when it rang a second time. They arrange for it
to be sent to her work after an aborted attempt to arrange a date.
This brings us to the final twist in Hope Leaves the Theater.
The guy who found the phone is writing a review of the play. He
hates Kaufman and all his mind-bending gimmicks and, during the
writing of the review, he states that Kaufman even wrote in a
reviewer, which, of course, is himself!!!
The program too, is part of the show. It's full of bogus characters
and scenes. For instance Streep's list of characters includes
The Empress of Japan, Boy #2, Joan of Arc, and The Killer, while
Dinklage's lists Tragic Monster, Sir Isaac Newton and Wolf. Some
of the scenes listed include The Offices of Rolling Stone (1969);
The Void, Thursday, 6:53am EST; Elevator, exactly 30 years later;
the eye of the Hurricane, Easter Island, now and Elevator, one
thousand years later. He's a wag is Kaufman :-)
was Carter Burwell's thing. Apparently the origin of Theater of
the New Ear lies with the Royal Festival Hall, who asked Burwell
if he would he interested in performing some of his movie scores
live at the theatre. He declined but did say that he'd be interested
in writing something especially, which is where he roped in some
old pals, Joel and Ethan Coen and Charlie Kaufman (Burwell has
composed music for ALL of the Coen's films and two of Kaufman's-
Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). In some ways the Coen brother's
short play seems like a set up to the main piece which is Kaufman
and Streep's. There are gags in Kaufman's piece that reference
Sawbones directly and Streep is, undoubtedly the star of the show-
the applause she got when she came on stage was deafening in comparison
to the polite applause received by Goodman, Buscemi, Seymour Hoffman
As touched on above special credit needs to be given to Marko
Costanzo whose live sound effect creation was entertainment enough
in itself. From simple things like footsteps (often in ladies
shoes which were WAY to small) to more complex things like rainfall,
and the hum of cathode ray tubes, he made it all seem so effortless
with his perfect timing and made it a kind of cabaret. Also, Carter
Burwell and the band, Parabola, played, if I remember correctly,
continuously the entire way through. Often very quiet background
music but continuously non the less. Worthy of particular note
was the "Sawbones" theme tune, the lift musak and the
song at the climax of the Kaufman piece.
I would DEFINITELY
recommend seeing/hearing this to anyone with a pulse, however
I don't know how likely it is to be performed on another tour
so we may have to make do with the forthcoming radio broadcasts.
The play was
originally put on at St. Annes's Warehouse in Brookly, New York
on 28th, 29th and 30th April 2005.
Radio, who co-funded this venture, are broadcasting the whole
thing sometime in the Summer (in the US I think). If anyone reading
this finds out any more information about this I would appreciate
an email (email@example.com). What would be even better is
if someone recorded it... though, we all would, of course, prefer
an official CD release.
two friends made the 430 mile, 7 hour round trip from Liverpool
to London in order to see the play, for which I had managed to
secure us some rear stalls seats after battling with a rapidly
selling out ticket allocation on the Royal Festival Hall's website.
The trip down was uneventful, unless you count the consuming of
my own body weight in Fox's Glacier Mints an event. Typically
for me, we arrived hours early, which, my friend assured me was
better than being late. We took in some sights, the London Eye,
(not so) Big Ben and Dali's lanky-legged elephant before making
our way around to the RFH. We saw a queue and, to be honest, thought
it was the queue to get in, but it was a throng of professional
autograph hunters waiting at the artist's entrance. Now, I've
never hunted autographs before but I did have my Barton Fink DVD
with me just in case I got the opportunity to meet Joel and Ethan.
To be honest, I was a bit weirded out by the whole autograph thing
so I decided not to endeavour to get any. This decision left me
in turmoil for about ten minutes! This could be my ONLY opportunity
to meet the Coen brothers and I had decided not to accost them
for autographs. Six plus years of running this site and I'm going
to pass up possibly my only chance to meet them? I felt horrible,
I truly did. I just didn't know what to do. In the end though,
the dilemma was answered, in part, for me by the cool-as-you like
arrival of Ethan Coen.
stars had arrived in various vehicles with blacked out windows,
Ethan and his wife pulled up in a normal, black London taxi and,
rather than head in through the artist's entrance, went in through
the normal entrance un-noticed by anyone but me it seemed. I actually
made a move to approach them until it was clear they were not
using the artist's entrance, then I figured it was a man and his
wife on a night out, trying to enter the place discreetly- the
last thing they would have wanted was me ruining their stealthy
entrance. So, out of respect for their privacy I felt it best
to leave well alone. Maybe one day there will be another, more
appropriate chance to meet up. I told myself that, had they wanted
to get in touch with me it's easy enough for them to do so through
a quick Google search, but I guess they're private guys.
I saw arrive before I decided to get seated myself were Meryl
Streep who appeared from inside and disappeared rather quickly;
John Goodman who was the only one I saw who came to say hi and
sign a few autographs for the waiting people; Peter Dinklage,
Charlie Kaufman and Philip Seymour Hoffman who all arrived together
and hurried inside. Apparently Steve Buscemi only arrived 20 minutes
before the play started!
the play immensely, and cursing my memory for not remembering
more of it, we three wandered back to my car for the journey home,
the decision having been taken not to lurk around the artist’s
entrance. With a halfway stop at a service station somewhere on
the M6 we stopped for a cuppa before completing the trek home.
"review" of the NY shows
short Guardian review of the London show
Meryl Streep article with brief part on TOTNE
if you have ANY photos of these events please email them to me (firstname.lastname@example.org)
|Ethan Coen (and wife, Tricia Cooke) arriving
|Joel and Ethan Coen arriving
|Joel and Ethan Coen arriving
|Joel and Ethan Coen arriving
|Philip Seymour Hoffman and Charlie Kaufman arriving
|Charlie Kaufman arriving
|Joel and Ethan at the St Anne's Warehouse gig. Thanks to Martin for the piccie.