Tuesday, February 19, 2019

the history
new tag for Wilson
Family Spectacles 


Just a cursory reading of the literature about Robert Wilson's  work, along with remarks by Wilson himself, reveals one  striking, ever repeated, disclaimer: he doesn't mean anything by it. I use that phrase to invoke the cliché whereby people apologize for something they did, hoping they have not offended: "I  didn't mean anything by it." It seems improbable that Wilson  himself would ever say anything like that exactly, own remarks about "meaning" focus on a differently expressed abdication of responsibility. He has said repeatedly that he likes to  leave things up to the audience. "The audience is free to draw its  own conclusions, we don't do that for them," In other words,  there are many possible meanings, and you are free to choose or  construe your own. Typically, Wilson's work elicits a binary commentary: it is both formally beautiful and mysterious. One  critic wrote that Wilson is "a brilliant designer and showman  whose willful obscurity is part of the package." Another that  "structure is the subject most wonderful in its lack of  explanatory power...”
Robert Wilson's theater is of course well known for its subordination of text to design. The design is the thing—architectural  structure, spatial arrangement, physical gesture cum choreography, line, costume, decor, lights—above all, the lights. Wilson is nothing if not a lighting genius. He is a painter manqué (he  studied painting in the '60s, but became discouraged) who found  his medium or "canvas" in the theater. A production by Wilson is always certain to yield the most sumptuous visual delights. The  temporality of the theater, normally a drawback for anybody  interested in making pictures, has become, in Wilson's hands, an  asset, for by slowing down his action to glacial tempo, the full  impact of a "picture" is deployed, and the image is allowed to  change as well In Wilson's theater the action is integral to the  backdrop (lights and all special effects), forming a unified pictorial field; the action doesn't stand out against its decor as in  conventional theater. Both decor and characters move slowly  enough not to disturb the integrity of any single picture, which  may last for some time before dissolving into a new frame. But Wilson's characters do speak and play parts, and the text and  the "drama" of his work have consistently proved resistant to integration. 
During 1984-85, Americans had two major opportunities to  check out the Wilson oeuvre, which has been performed and  developed largely in Europe since the early '70s, after the staggering success of Deafman Glancein Paris in 1971. Einstein  on the Beach, seen in New York in 1977, was revived at the  Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1984; three scenes from the CIVIL  warS(a colossal multilingual conception six years in the making, projected as a 12-hour performance in five acts, 15 scenes;  and 13 entre-actes, or "knee-plays," and involving the contributions of innumerable artists from six nations) were performed in March 1985 at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.[1]  In addition, a relatively small work, The Golden Windows, first  shown in Munich in 1982, appeared for a week's run in October  1985 as part of BAM's now annual Next Wave Festival.  

The Golden Windowsas well as the CIVIL warSor at least  the two sections of the latter—lasting two hours—produced  in Cambridge indicates some altering emphasis or development  in the dramatic and textual aspects of Wilson's work. In The  Golden WindowsWilson's text is more prominent than it has  ever been. While it makes no "sense," it is spoken by four actors,  an older man and woman, a young man and woman, as if it does,  or should. The piece is a “play" in three parts or acts, including a  prologue, lasting nearly two hours without an intermission. The  three parts take place during the evening, at midnight, and in early morning—in other words, in the dark. Wilson alters the  basic "picture" of the piece three times to suit the three acts or  time frames of the unfolding night. There is a looks like a sentry box or telephone booth—sitting on a "hill" or  the peak point of a raked stage, against a starry sky. Downstage  right there is a bench. The older man sits on it to speak the  opening lines. For the first part the little house is situated stage left, for the second in the center, and the third, stage right. 
There are several dramatic events in The Golden Windows  with no necessary causal connections among either them or the  characters. The only reliably causal event is the brilliant emission of light from the door of the "house" whenever it slowly  opens to embrace or exude a character. The beauty of the  scene—night blues and stars and half moon and shafts of gold and geometric/architectural purity—is abraded by a jumbled  and incoherent text. The pictorial integrity of the scene—its  naturalistic relation of parts which remain consistent throughout—is contradicted by characters who speak apparent nonsense  in loaded emphases or inflections, and who appear to have  almost nothing to do with each other. They speak nearly exclusively to themselves or the audience. Their isolation from each other, supported by the non-sequitur nature of the text, is the  most striking aspect of the play. 
There are three "meaningful" interactions amongst the four  characters: the older man hands the older woman a gun; the  older man embraces the young woman; the older woman for a period of time regards the young man as he hangs by the neck on  a rope from the flies, though her lines as she stands there  regarding him have no necessary connection with him. It's impossible, however, not to feel that it's he who may be the  object of her amusement as she laughs and laughs for perhaps  40 seconds, intermittently looking up at him. Certainly it doesn't  seem "nice." And some of their lines at this point suggest "meaning." As the boy or young man is lowered on his rope the  first thing the older woman says is "listen to me don't you know  that you are in my chamber and you are wanted in the observatory at once." Then in the lines which follow, spoken by the boy, it's possible to hear a “son" talking to his "mother":  

come here they had no evidence you are just attending to your duties  they are right under my nose O.k.? i will be back tomorrow afternoon  yeah outside outside line so what i just want to warn you east top of zooooo in state cigarette i do not get it look oh boy yeah i am sorry come on let us see here we are is everything alright is something wrong i told  you nothing i do not want to go to bed what is the matter  

Or these lines contain bits of dialogue between the two. All the  monologues appear to double as interior dialogues. According to  Wilson, he made his visual book separately from his text, and then put them together, much the way John Cage and Merce  Cunningham have collaborated on their audio and movement  scores, or Lee Breuer has developed his animation pieces with Mabou Mines. There are a number of lines or monologues in  Wilson's text for The Golden Windowsthat could be just as  suggestive for that particular moment in the drama as the lines  quoted above. At any rate, since there is no dramatic continuity, story line or character development (let alone portrayal), any  apparent connection among the characters or with their environment is purely fortuitous, random—not meant by the author, but  left for the audience to associate freely in the vacuum created by  an "unstructured" plot.  

The text of The Golden Windowsis like many tiny pieces of a  puzzle cast out of a barrel onto a gorgeous and coherent set. For there is certainly a "picture," or plot, in the text; a narrative  which no amount of "free association" on the part of the audience is going to put together. Even an audience that might  conceivably be adept at seizing "key" lines repeated throughout the text, following them the way one does bits of thematic  material in a concerto, disregarding the "weather," as Wilson  has characterized some of his texts (cliché phrases, trivia,  mundane observations, etc.), disentangling a kind of web of  attributions or rematching the lines to give them to whomever they reallybelong, will be unable to (re)construct the plot that inheres in a puzzle like this. Only the author can tell us. And in The Golden Windowshe doesn't want to. He makes this plain in  his typescript: "don't tell anybody joe is in trouble….”; “i've  got a secret a big surprise… i won't tell you…"; "...well as long as you do not say what it is about." Later:  I’ve got a secret a big surprise i still will not tell”–“one  is for  sure i have no memory …"—a line that Wilson finishes this way: “…which saves me from being sentimental and can  make what i say more poetic afterwards." If Wilson has "no  memory" he may himself not know what his plot is. Here is another line also clearly about his work, this one ending in a  kind of plea: "excuse me i have no comment i have offered you  hypnotism in my work please i i i ah i need your help”­– There are ironic comments: "i am going to figure this character out," or, "just yesterday i was thinking it would be a good story."  
Something big does happen, however, in The Golden Windows:  there is a murder and/or an accident and an earthquake,  the latter somehow symbolizing the former. All the commotion occurs in the middle, or midnight, scene. The first line in this scene is "after murder" repeated seven times. So we know the  murder has already happened. Who did it and how, where or why, etc., remain mysterious. Indications are that perhaps the No. 1 character, the older man, is the culprit, inasmuch as No. 2, the older woman, says, "i can smell you are a real killer" when  they both happen to be on stage at once. She and the daughter  figure, the young woman, together say "please you are a murderer...  it is obnoxious"—lines spoken during the same evening scene, But during the midnight or calamity scene, after the  young man has been lowered from the flies on his rope, after he has spoken a number of lines and has been raised again out of  sight (his boots dangle a while in the shadows above), the older woman/mother figure comes clearly into possession of the (or a)  murder weapon, a silver handgun given to her by the older man  as he exits the "house" in the expected shaft of golden light; all  this is accompanied by a voice-over singing quietly "happy  birthday. .  " The Older man says '"make a wish may not come  true" when he hands her the gun; holding it, she slowly and protractedly scans the area and the audience, pointing the gun all around.  

Wilson's female "murderers" are well known in his work.  His prototype was a Medea figure dating back to Deafman Glancewho took 40 minutes or more to stab two children, a boy  and a girl. The gun-toter in Einstein is patty Hearst. This one in  The Golden Windowswho doesn't kill anything that we can see  becomes party to the natural catastrophe of an earthquake. As  she stands there holding her gun the raked stage splits apart into a lit crevice the shape of a lightning bolt, steam exudes from  the jagged chasm, the falls from the sky and lies on the  ground, enormous boulders tumble very slowly to earth, and a voiceover whispers repeatedly, "after murder…. " Is this the  "accident" referred to throughout the text? Perhaps it is. The accident, like the murder, is never identified, but rather surrounded by disclaimers. "It's nothing more than….,” or  "what happened you name it…." The accident may never  have happened, and references to it may simply be ironic allusions to the sort of thing one expects to happen in classic drama  or the naturalistic theater.  
Many dismal things are spoken of in The Golden Windows  besides the murder and the accident: night sweats, being driven  from home, being lonely, sorry, embarrassed, depressed, worried,  confused, accused, persecuted, needing love, etc. And at least three "dire" things occur—a man hangs on a rope; a lady points  a gun, an earthquake alters the set—but nothing really happens  because no context has been established. Whatever plot there is  has only been alluded to. The audience is asked to behold  beautiful pictures—indeed they are beautiful—and to listen to  words and look at gestures which stand for different states of  being or feeling. The words are invested with feeling as spoken; the gestures are also "heavy"—further emphasizing their dissociation or dislocation. Certainly the audience is being distanced  from the possibility of identifying with, or understanding or  feeling anything for, the characters and their apparent plight. An audience may amuse itself trying to guess what it's all about.  The author may be amused at setting up a kind of guessing  game. The author could be embarrassed to say anything directly  or straightforwardly—i.e. concretely—about the general human  condition, or his own personal situation or background, Beautiful  pictures obscure terrible stories. Life is terrible—who wants to know about it? Life could be just a beautiful picture, dreaming  through the night. This is the way to make life better. The  Golden Windowsis a very interesting "play." In a way it is a  play about wanting to be a play. It contains all the elements,  presented raw, as if crying for an author to take responsibility  for them. Near the end Wilson has his older man say, " . . i will not rest until i have gotten to the bottom of these terrible events” –a  desperate sort of irony.

In the spirit of this line I approached Wilson several times like  a detective. This is not easy because: 1) he is as busy as a  campaigning politician, his global appointments  made for him by a team of office workers and, 2) he is, as might  be expected, quite evasive. No doubt the two circumstances  qualify each other. At first he seemed happy enough to see me. He brought flowers and candy and lots of literature about his  work; and he stayed very late consuming wine and discussing  enthusiastically his preoccupations with style and effect. Gradually I believe it dawned on him that I was interested in  biographical data. I had not accepted his work at "face value." I  was not "against interpretation."[2]1 had failed to choose or  construe my own meanings, The "pure, untranslatable, sensuous  immediacy of [the] images"[3]had left me cold. I might want to replace the work with something I might want intellectual  revenge. I might have a certain contempt for appearances. I  could want to tame the work, make it manageable and comfortable, etc., etc.[4]  the But no, this last would be impossible. Wilson's  work is itself quite tame. Then I might want to expose something  wild and savage that the work clearly contains. I could understand my motives being suspect. I tried hiding them. I wasn't sure what I wanted in any case. I am only sure that some  knowledge of biography can enrich the appreciation of works of  art or help provide access to those that are densely veiled or  opaque to meaning.
Wilson is a charming guy, eager to please, irrepressibly good  humored. Sometimes he whoops and shrieks with laughter, a  very contagious explosion. I've known him since the '60s, but in  the most superficial way. We have a number of mutual friends.  In the early '70s we introduced people to each other. Quite a few people I knew had become "Byrds." (Wilson established his Byrd  Hoffman Foundation in 1969.) I saw Deafman Glance in Paris in  1971 but missed the production of Einstein on the Beach in 1977 at New York's Metropolitan Opera. What particularly struck me  about Wilson's work as I heard or read about it, and then began  seeing it in the '80s, was its identification with huge mythic characters: Einstein, Edison, Stalin, Freud, Queen Victoria, the  King of Spain and most recently Frederick the Great, who is the  "hero" of a section of the CIVIL warsproduced recently in  Cambridge.  
In Wilson's oeuvre there are three types of heros [sic]: the (male)  child, the disabled, and the fabulously great. These three must  be aspects of the same person. They certainly are personas with  which Wilson himself closely identifies, though the "disabled"  aspect has permutated considerably since the days of his Deafman Glance, which starred Raymond Andrews, a deaf-mute  black boy from Alabama whom Wilson legally adopted, and early  work featuring Christopher Knowles, a boy who was reputedly brain damaged  
The "disabled" hanging boy/young man in The Golden Windows, for instance, is a professional actor. Anyway he is the "hero" of the piece, if only because of his striking "condition"—  assumed during the Prologue and during a prominent part of the midnight section. Wilson has made no secret of his own early  difficulty with speech. Until he was 17 he apparently stuttered  badly; and it is well known that he worked with handicapped children in Texas and New York. Of his deaf-mute adoptive son,  Raymond Andrews, Wilson told me he was "born deaf and had  grown up with people who didn't understand that his problem was one of not hearing." In the early '60s Wilson was a consultant in New York for special education offering programs for  children with severe learning disabilities. His disabled boy-child  turns up most recently in his the CIVIL warSas the "child" (in a  family of seven) and as Frederick the Great, the latter played by  a (well-disguised) woman in the Cambridge production.  

Seven figures represent a "real" family: child, father, mother, aunt, young man, young woman and grandfather, The actors in these roles also double as other characters, e.g., Frederick the Great, Katte (Frederick's friend and lover, executed by  his father), and Sophie Dorothea (Frederick's mother, sister of  George II). They all first appear in Act Ill, Scene E, in a large ear  which traverses the stage left to right after an ensemble of 18  Civil War soldiers (played by Harvard students in Cambridge) has emerged (at dawn) from their tents to dress and prepare for  battle, accompanied by a voice-over humming the tune of "My  Merry Oldsmobile," ever so gradually more distinct as the light  comes up and the soldiers with their guns move into formation to  march offstage—everything of course in Wilsonian slow motion.  The "still" of the great car with its passengers disappears stage  right as the soldiers “march" off in the other direction.
This whole scene is like an overture to what follows, Act IV,  Scene A, in which "the family" along with Frederick, Katte, Sophie Dorothea and others, and the 18 young men, now playing  'scribes" or "men with poles" or "furniture movers" or "polar bears" or "submariners," enact a number of pictures, These are  classical Wilson, in the tradition of his Einstein and Stalin; breathtaking theatrical effects. For special results Wilson relies  here on a huge screen suspended to the viewer's left upon which  are projected wonderful clips of animals and landscape and scenes of destruction, Life-size projections of Frederick or "the  family" duplicate their actual appearances on the stage below the screen to the viewer's right. They could be live or on film (no  floor or other support is visible beneath them) but in actuality  they are on film, Frederick appears standing with his cane midst a huge scape of ice floes, then against snowy mountain peaks.  But juxtapositions of live action below and screen images are no  less spectacular, e.g., Frederick staggering (slo-mo) off stage as the filmed statue of a man on a horse falls down over and over  again. Later, stunningly, Frederick emerges live from a trapdoor  on his horse, a lifesize wooden white facsimile made from paintings and constructed by the Cambridge Rep people. 
There are two other trapdoor marvels, in particular the  appearance of a pair of polar bears who emerge after a great big  silver bullet or rocketlike thing has descended over the hole (having first slowly traversed the stage effect as a whole suggesting an outrageous hair dryer closing  down over a white-haired lady crouching at a table (over the  hole or door). The object then emits smoke, in a burst of Handel. It's hard not to cheer when the bears appear.  
The text for these two sections of the CIVIL warSis by both Wilson and the East German playwright, Heiner Müller. Wilson's  text is played in voice-overs for Act Ill, Scene E—typically his "weather," interspersed with lines indicating affect ("it is terrible" or "more hunger") or seemingly appropriate to the action  ("it is a terrible war" or  “… it's reported he's in the hospital”)–delivered in this in a matter-of-fact tone. Along with Müller's own text for Act IV, Scene A, Müller selected fragments  of texts by Frederick the Great and his father, by Shakespeare  (Hamlet,Timon of Athens), Empedocles, Racine (Phaèdre),  Goethe (Erl-King), Kafka (the letter to his father) and Friedrich Hölderin and Maita di Niseemi.  
In Heiner Müller it seems Wilson has found a collaborator as  important to him and his work as composer Philip Glass was to  him in the '70s—or more significantly, perhaps, his two handicapped friends, even earlier—Raymond Andrews and Christopher Knowles. Müller was born in 1929 in what used to be  Saxony to a working class father who was a political activist and small functionary in the Social Democrat Party during the  Weimar Republic after World War I. Wilson says Müller has  changed his life. In Cambridge, where I saw Wilson for another long evening, sans flowers and candy, he asked me several times  enthusiastically what I thought of Müller. Act IV, Scene A, of the  CIVIL wars, featuring Frederick the Great in vignettes from his  life, contains words by Müller that give Wilson's disabled protagonist an emotional weight and substance he has perhaps never had before.  

Wilson himself was born in 1941 in Waco Texas, to a comfortable middle-class family, His father was a successful lawyer who became a "town father." He was a district  attorney as well as acting city manager, and he held office for a  time on the State Legislature. Wilson describes his paternal grandfather, a successful businessman, as "this very powerful  man" whose eight children were crippled by him. Wilson's mother, he says, was a very silent remote woman who never  expressed any emotion—dominated by her husband, yet "quite  powerful in her silence." Wilson says his father was probably  afraid of her, She had been raised in an orphanage after her  father died and her mother was unable to take care of or pay for her six children, so she farmed them all out.
A disappointment to his father, who was a regular guy; Wilson  describes himself as an outsider to his family (he has a younger  sister), spending his time alone and staying up all night in his room on his various “projects"—stuffing the opening between door and floor to hide the light. He still stays up all night. He  likes to say it's because he's afraid he'll miss something. Several lines in The Golden Windows (which occurs, of course, at night)  reveal his involvement with the night as a time to create his own world: "the night is for dreaming...," and, '"i told you i do not  want to go to bed," and, "you are not normal you have got to go  to bed," and so on. 
A charming and sad passage in Louis Aragon's open letter of  1971 to André Breton—the letter which virtually made Wilson's  reputation in Europe and described Wilson's Deafman Glanceas  the "miracle" they had all dreamed Surrealism might become, as  "more beautiful" than anything in the world he, Aragon, had  seen since he was born—connects a father's tyranny with a child's drive to create. Aragon refers to a book called My Lifeby Jerome Cardan, a mathematician, who wrote, says Aragon, "about his childhood dreams, when his father forced him to stay  in bed until the third hour of the day and he had time to notice  cities, animals, horses with their cavaliers, grass, trees, musical  instruments, theaters . , , soldiers, crowds, forms he'd never  seen, prairies, mountains, forests..."  
When Wilson was 18 or 20 and living temporarily in Waco,  perhaps during a college vacation, his father came to see a play  put on by his son, the delinquent kids with whom Wilson worked serving as performers. The kids were all nude in the play, and  his father's comment was that it was "not only sick, but abnormal”. At a rehearsal in Brooklyn for The Golden Windows,  Wilson Showed me admiringly the silver gun he would have his  "older man" hand to his "older woman" during the play. He said  it was a German Luger. I guessed that his father owned guns and  hunted animals. Wilson replied that indeed he did, and that along with football and the other "manly" sports, hunting was  something that failed to interest Wilson himself, though he tried  to please his father nonetheless. For instance, Wilson majored in  business administration at the University of Texas before going  on to Pratt in New York to study architecture,  

Of all Wilson's mythic great men, Frederick the Great may  offer the richest parallels to his own background and  aspirations. A brief biography of Frederick was included in the Cambridge program for the CIVIL warS:  

He despised the despotism of his predecessor, his father, but he imposed  it throughout Europe with an iron will.... Frederick's youth was one  of constant battle With his father.... Resentfully the boy learned his  parade-ground drills, but against his father's will he learned Latin, cultivated his French, and assumed the manners of a dandy. His father  abused him publicly, caning him, kicking him, forcing him to kiss his boots, calling him "a cringing coward, so effeminate ... that he can  neither ride nor shoot." Frederick learned to play the flute and With his Sister Wilhelmina cultivated a love for plays, operas, and  ballets which [his father] considered "godless things increasing the kingdom of the devil,"  

In Act IV, Scene A, of the CIVIL warSthe father/son violence at  the heart of Frederick's story is much muted, and as is usual in  Wilson's work, really transcended by pictorial splendor. Frederick, who became a great tyrant like his father, is depicted in his  glory, posing on his horse; with his cane in dramatic land. or waterscapes; attended by costumed courtiers at his death, etc.  One small event clearly represents a father's humiliation of a  son. The old man or grandfather knocks over a bunch of blue blocks that the '"child" had been playing with, Heiner Müller's  text makes Wilson's father/son theme emotionally vivid. What is  all allusion or reference or avoidance in Wilson's own text and  imagery, becomes real in the words of Müller and his collaborative sources. 
This may be because Müller aggressively or consciously connects his texts with his own father story. In 1958 he wrote that his father, in 1933, was arrested while still in his bed. 

I woke up, the sky outside the window black, noise of voices and  footsteps. In the next room books were thrown onto the floor. I heard  my father's voice.... Through the crack of the door I watched as a  man hit my father in the face. Shivering, the blanket up to my chin, I  lay in bed when the door to my room opened. My father was standing in  the doorway, behind him the strangers, big, in brown uniforms. . . . I  heard him softly my name, I didn't answer. Then my father said: "He is asleep." The door was closed. I heard how they took him  away....  

Müller has said, "That is my guilt. I pretended I was sleeping.  This really is the first scene of my theatre" (my italics). His  experience of "Fascist brutality" and of his first "treason" in the face of it became the trauma of his life and work Müller's father  was eventually released from prison, and father and son became  estranged. His text for Wilson's the CIVIL warS—spoken by  actor No. 6, the bits of his story about his  father: hearing him taken away by strangers in the night; later  seeing his father through the wire mesh of the prison camp gate;  later still, when his father was living in West Berlin and Müller  had "defected" to East Berlin, seeing his father on either side of  a glass door in a hospital. "We stood, the glass between us,  looking at each other." Actor No. l, the "father" (played in  Cambridge by a large black man), speaks the first lines in this  act, taken from a letter to Frederick from his father, the king: 

Thy headstrong wicked will, which loves not thy father! For if one does  all—if one loves one's father over all—then all is done to please him,  not only when standing over you but when he turns his back Further•  more, thou knowest well I cannot stomach an effeminate fellow without  manly inclination, blushing like a girl, who cannot ride nor shoot, and at  the same time cuts an awkward figure—hair brushed like a fool's, not  properly groomed—and I have reprimanded you a thousand times  the subject, but in vain, no improvement seems forthcoming....

The lines are spoken during the first part (of 12) while the  family of seven is seated at table,  
There are many dinner table scenes throughout Wilson's work. Wilson told me that when he was young his family had  "formal" dinners three or four times a week and he would have to wear a coat and tie. Once, when he was about 15 and late for  dinner (he says he was always late for everything—certainly he  was late for our several appointments), his family was knocking on his door, and he crawled out a window and came in through a  back door to a sitting room adjacent to the dining room; he had  put a stocking over his head and had a flashlight (relating this, he giggled) shining on his face: "very theatrical." He slowly and  carefully opened the door; his father was seated at the other end  of the table. Here Wilson yelled, imitating his father's reaction. I  asked him what his mother did. He said she turned around and  said, 'Oh it's only Bob."  
Especially affecting in Act IVI Scene A of the CIVIL warSis  the part called "Frederick the Great," in which Frederick crawls  downstage with his throne-chair on his back while the text of Franz Kafka's famous letter to his father is spoken by seven  characters, together and in alternation.  

Very efficient, at least toward me, your never-failing rhetorical means  of education: reprimands, threats, sarcasm, sneering and, curiously  enough, self-accusation. I don't recall your directly hurling verbal abuse  at me. It wasn't necessary; you had so many other means at your  disposal. .. . I was almost numbed by it, thinking, of course, it was  aimed at me. You even resorted to threatening violence—and it  terrified me—for example: "I'll slash you open like a fish."

Wilson told me his father was "afraid to get close" to him. "It  was a strange thing to me, Jill…I was a strange creature in  the house." A critic described the 1969 production of The King of  Spain ending as the King of Spain "sings a little dirge and rises  slowly from his chair grotesque, beastlike ... raising his huge and misshapen puppet head to confront the audience as the  curtain falls."[5]comfort In his Kafka letter text for the CIVIL warS  Wilson incorporates a number of growls, "I (growl) recall your directly hurling verbal abuse (growl) me It wasn't necessary you  had (growl) . . . ," and so on.  
Wilson's tale of how his father died includes a wonderful, and  as it turns out, specifically theatrical, growl. Incidentally, there is a dog in Frederick the Great's story. Part 10 of Act IV is called  "Dog's Death," Frederick plays with a dog, and later shoots it.  What's more a portion of part 5 calls for actor No. 2, the woman,  to growl continuously. In any case, when Wilson was 25 and  living briefly at home, he entered a mental hospital, which  released him six months later. He'd been wearing a long robe, had let his hair go long, and, whenever his parents spoke to him,  he had barked back at them like a dog. There had never been  any significant contact between himself and the other family members. His mother, he says, never even touched him until he  was leaving for college, when she kissed him on the cheek. 
Anyway, Wilson was in Cologne in 1981 while his father was  dying. He was about to do a performance to a sold-out theater at  the opening of the World Theater Festival. "The mayor was  there, the international press and I don't know who all…,  and everyone was after me: they were supposed to start at seven O'clock, the Germans are very punctual, I told them the show  wouldn't be ready until nine, there was no way I could finish the  technical work. I had five calls that day from Waco, Texas— emergencies, my father was dying of cancer—so finally at about  five to nine I called him at the hospital. I said, 'Hi, Dad, how're  you doin'?' He answered, 'Oh I'm doin' pretty good; how're you doin?' and I said, 'Well, you know, Dad, I wanna talk to you, but  I've gotta do this performance now, I'm in Cologne, Germany,' I  said, 'Listen to this.' I turned the loudspeaker up where you could hear the audience, I was in my dressing room (here Wilson  made sounds like a pack of growling dogs, imitating the  audience; then he laughed). 'I have to go out and perform for that German audience,' I said, 'I'm two hours late: And he said,  'You're two hours late? What the hell are you talkin' to me  for. . ' And he died right then."
When Wilson walked out on stage after the phone call, the  audience was furious. He just stood there. He'd told the stage  manager not to start until he moved. He said to me,  “... You  know something, Jill? You have to hatethe audience; if you don't  hate'em, you'll never win; you have to hate 'em, you say fuck  you…. And I walked out, I just stood there, there were boos,  they were throwing things, five minutes, all of it, I just stood there, they can wait an hour. I waited till it was very quiet, then  I started." The piece was called Man in the Raincoat, and Wilson  had slides of his father in it.
Possibly the most traumatic event in Frederick the Great's life  was the execution of his friend and lover, Katte, by his father.  This event is handled by Wilson and Müller in the CIVIL warS,  Act IV, Scene A, by means of a curious superimposition of genders and characters. The part is called "Frederick and  Katte." Frederick, already played by a female, now plays  Phèdre; and Katte, also played by a woman, doubles as Hippolytus, both from Racine's tragedy, Phèdre. So the models for the  story, two young men, played by women in disguise, are further  removed or masked by having one play a woman, and  the other play a man, Hippolytus. Müller's betrayal theme  (Katte/Hippolytus is sacrificed by Frederick/Phèdre to the  wrath of the father, Theseus) dovetails with Wilson's more hidden deception-and-mortification motifs, solved mythically,  impersonally, grandiosely, by the hero's accession, accompanied  by intimations of the hero's mortality. a tree is best measured  when it is downis the sub-title, or epigraph, to the CIVIL warS. When Wilson was in second grade he was asked what he wanted  to be when he grew up and he said the King of Spain. Wilson's  father/betrayal theme (i.e., not following in his footsteps) is reflected in his successful rebellion and rise to preeminence in  the theater.

Before his father died, Wilson made sure to corral him somehow and bring him into the arena he had conquered.  This, he told me, was not easy. He invited his father to see  Deafman Glancein Paris in 1971. His father declined. Several  years later Wilson called from Paris again; he was doing A Letter  to Queen Victoria. It was 1974. Wilson's mother had died two  years earlier. His father did go; Wilson had him picked up at the airport and driven to the hotel, and then had a car take him to  the theater. The next morning his father returned to Texas  without saying a word about the performance, But three weeks later Wilson received a letter from his father which said, "Son,  your play, a Letter to Queen Victoria, had great poetry." Wilson  laughed uproariously as he told me this.
But in Wilson's estimation the nicest thing his father ever said to him was after the performance of Einsteinat the Metropolitan Opera in 1977. First his father remarked that Wilson must  have made a lot Of money—"you must be a wealthy ma-an." And  Wilson said, "No, I'm not. I produced this, and it cost a million dollars." His father replied, "Ah, that's a lot of money"; and  Wilson said, '"Yes, it is, and I only raised nine-hundred-thousand,  so I'm a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars in debt."  There was a long silence. At last his father delivered his encomium: "Son, I didn't know you were smart enough to be able to lose a hundred-and-twenty-five-thousand dollars." 
Wilson describes himself as the weaker, backward son to his father. He says Stalin, the Shah of Iran, Frederick the Great—they were all weaker sons, and that Stalin became stronger after the death of his first wife. The Stalin play, The Life and Times of..., was centered on this single incident, portrayed as causing a fundamental change in the dictator's career. Wilson presented this play the year Of his mother's death (1973).  
The last words in Act IV, Scene A, of the CIVIL warS are from  Goethe's Erl-King; "The father shudders, riding wild,/ In his  arms he holds the gasping Child,/ Sweating, racing home to  bed;/ In his arms the child lay dead."
Nothing seems so meaningful to Wilson as the death of a child,  or two children, Years ago he saw a movie made by an experimental psychiatrist, Daniel Stern, showing mothers lunging at  their crying infants, who would recoil in what looked like terror.  The film had been slowed down to illustrate what "actually"  happened, This impressed Wilson tremendously. One time after  recounting the film to me he said, "In some societies the first born is killed." At some point he described his father to me as  "terrified" of his mother. Giving directions to the woman who played the role of Medea he said, "You don't know that you  murdered the children," The mothers in Daniel Stern's film, he  says, were surprised and horrified to see their aggressive reactions to their infants' crying. His voice was very low, almost a whisper, when he confirmed that his own mother never  expressed any emotion: "Never, never, never...." 
It would be hard not to see Wilson's '"disabled" hero as this dead child: his mother (Stalin's wife?), his father ("terrified" of  his mother), himself the first born (and only son), his sister (a  shadow figure in my interviews). Wilson, the grown man, "town  father" of an international theater,  “...holds the boy in  clasps him tightly, keeps him warm." 
If his stories mean anything, his texts and pictures must, I  surmise, contain an unexpressed wish—that the culprits, as well  as the victims, in his family scenario, might experience/express their feelings, and come to terms with themselves. The glorification and embalmment of the hero (father and son), along with  the preservation of the "mother," precludes this process. Wilson  has cast this "mother" (and her "daughter") in many caricatured forms, incidentally, as well as in her more straightforward  guise. In The Golden Windows Wilson's characters are, presumably, ordinary people, a "family" of four, but they are as dead as  his grand and mythic figures. They have all arrived someplace,  and assumed certain in a picture. Their origins, and the process by which they got there, are mysterious. What's more, the places at which they've arrived may, to some audiences, not seem appropriate or desirable. What contemporary audience, for  instance, remains willing to accept the stereotype Wilson projects of the female murderer—a figure we can easily recognize  as the all-culpable mother? Or the female victim (e.g., the Patty Hearst facsimile in Wilson's Einstein) who deserves what she  gets, having turned, after all, into a gun-toter? (One thing she '"gets" is to look absurd and ineffectual with her gun.)
But the stereotype of the male super-hero—the weakling male  child who conquers all and wins his rightful throne, place, or  whatever—is equally at issue in contemporary (sexual) politics.  Both figures, the weakling male and the castrating mother—a  classic twin archetype—are subsumed in Wilson's work. And yet,  with Müller as a collaborator, Wilson appears to be humanizing  at least the male half of this pair.
Müller's text for Frederick the Great provides a kind of  "interpretation" of Frederick's past and present situation. Critical interpretation may further help to provide an understanding  of the author/hero's dilemma: namely; the inhibition against connecting his past with his work. "In some cultural contexts  interpretation is a liberating act. A means of revising, of trans-  valuing, of escaping the dead past."[6]The cultural context itself  requires interpretation. What is it in the culture that militates  against forging direct links between history and the work of  individuals?
In Wilson's oeuvre the sex-role stereotypes are so fully embodied, so completely assumed, that they are no longer recognizable  as human; their suffering individuality becomes opaque. What is  it in the culture that forbids examination of parental sex typing?  And what is it in the culture of the art world that particularly  operates against this line Of questioning?
With his discovery of Müller, and current involvement in the  classics (directing Alcestisin Boston, March 1986, King Learin Hamburg, September 1987), it seems possible that Wilson's heretofore muted 'family romance" could erupt in the contextualized  drama he has till now held in contempt, or at the least be supported by an emotional texture that could de-mythicize his  figures—and bring them alive.  

[1] The Cambridge production drew from the Cologne section of the CIVIL warS—specifically, ActIII, Scene E, Act IV, Scene A; and the Epilogue to Act IV–and it ran from February 27 to March 23, 1985. Plans for a full Of  the work have twice fallen through for lack of funds: it was originally for the Olympic Festival in Angeles, then rescheduled for Austin, Texas, in October 1986. As of this writing, there are no current plans to produce the  piece in its entirety, although Act V, the Rome section, Will be performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dec 12-30 1986. In addition, during the fall and  winter of 1986 the 13 "knee plays" (which together constitute some two hours of performance time) will tour ten American cities, including New York
[2] The phrase is Susan Sontag's, and it is the title the essay that makes that argument. (Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, New York, Dell, 1969, pp. 13-23.)
[3] Sontag, p. 19 
[4] Sontag, 17 et passim
[5] Calvin Tompkins. The New Yorker, Jan, 13, 1975, pp, 38-62.
[6] Sontag, p, 17.  

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