Shawn now plays the role of Ben, a doctor who invented a genetically modified nutrient called Grain No. 1. When given to animals, Grain No. 1 causes them to eat voraciously and reproduce constantly, thus ending the global food shortage. But as the effects of this change move up the food chain, grain # 1 not only unlocks a “molecular inhibition” with devastating digestive consequences, it also unlocks a pandemic of sexual inhibition.
Although “Grasses” at first glance appears to be an uplifting tale of food science and the end of ecological times, most of its considerable length – like “The Designated Mourner”, it is divided into six segments of approximately 30 minutes. each – is devoted to this sexual relaxation. . Ben’s beloved penis now becomes an almost autonomous creature, and his adventures a sort of Rabelaisian picaresque. These adventures involve a harem comprising not only his wife, Cherry (Julie Hagerty), her lover Robin (Jennifer Tilly) and another lover, Rose (Emily Cass McDonnell), but also a fantastic royal cat named Blanche.
Yeah, Shawn is going. And go there.
When I saw the New York premiere of “Grasses” at the Public Theater in 2013, I found its itchiness and misogyny overwhelming, even though both were deployed in a satirical manner. With almost no action – also like “The Designated Mourner” the play unfolds like a lecture or a reminiscence, with occasional illustrative scenes – it depends entirely on the delivery, which on stage has become monotonous. No matter how lofty they were, the pornographic passages, like porn in general, quickly paled, and the larger story, unlike the theme of the play, seemed undernourished.
Either the podcast is a big improvement or the world has come so close to the level of Shawn’s dystopian fantasy that I’m now forced to take it more seriously. In any case, “Grasses” as well as “The Designated Mourner” are beautifully redesigned for the ear by director (and longtime Shawn collaborator) André Gregory. the music and sound by Bruce Odland serve both to establish the surrealist atmosphere and to keep you anchored in the temporal landscape otherwise adrift of the narratives. Even the duration of the pieces is put to good use in a format that allows you to serialize the experience.
It helps that the actors – all of whom have performed their roles in previous New York productions – have voices of a distinctive timbre and character. Paradoxically, you know better who is who without seeing them than on stage. Ben’s women are especially terrifying, whether they’re flirting or purring or, ultimately, screaming like maenads. These are identifiers unleashed in a society that is losing its mind.
As horrible as it is, the men played by Shawn are ultimately more dangerous. Their adenoidal squeak and chuck delivery conceal both the stripping of human culture and the ineffectiveness of that culture which are its main themes.
Its delivery is crucial. When Mike Nichols played Jack in David Hare’s 1997 film “The Designated Mourner,” his suave cosmopolitanism made him dangerous from the start. But Shawn’s hellish style suggests the real danger comes from not seeing him until it’s too late. His universe does not end with a bang or even a moan but with an anecdote, joyfully delivered. He may be an apologist for mankind’s worst outrage, but he also rides on your leg: an apocalypse beagle.
The designated mourning and the herbs of a thousand colors
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