Divertissement ~ theatre notes

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Ms TN has been having one of those curiously pointless fortnights that are the special purgatory of writers. Today, as I was attempting to gather my wits from the dark corners where they have skittered like so many cockroaches, a fortuitous parcel in today's mail prompted me to post this contribution from Daniel Keene. It amused me, and I thought it may amuse some of you.

The parcel contained a slim book, a collection of "literary games" that were written as a gift for Jean-Pierre Engelbach, the founder of Daniel's French publisher, Editions Théâtrales, when he retired last month. A number of Théâtrales playwrights were asked to respond to a line from Peter Hacks's play Conversation chez les Stein sur Monsieur de Goethe, absent, one of Théâtrales' first books. The line was: Oh mon Dieu, pourquoi tout nous est-il à tous tellement trop difficile? which means, Oh my God, why is everything so difficult for all of us?

Théâtrales, the second biggest theatrical publisher in France, boasts an impressive list of contemporary playwrights, including Frank McGuinness, Tadeusz Rozewicz, Howard Barker, Athol Fugard, Sergei Belbel, Roland Fichet and countless others. Théâtrales has published 10 books of Daniel's plays over the past decade, all translated by Séverine Magois, adding up to 34 plays in all.

The tributes were performed at Engelbach's retirement celebration last month, at the Théâtre de l'Aquarium at La Cartoucherie (which is the home also of Ariane Mnouchkine's Le Théâtre du Soleil), and were published in a privately printed book for the occasion. This is Daniel's contribution.


Report To The Academy

(with apologies to Mister F. Kafka)

Honoured members of the Academy!

You have done me the honour of inviting me to give your Academy an account of the life I formerly led as a playwright.

Since my release from the Asylum I have given little thought to those wild and sometimes pleasant days. In fact the various medications I have been prescribed make it almost impossible to remember them with any certainty. I have been assured by my doctors that this chemically induced amnesia is for my own good. But fragments of my past remain embedded in my mind, like shards of glass. And there are of course my various physical ailments, all of which can be directly attributed to my work as a playwright. These I can do nothing about and must live with them until death releases me.

The first among my ailments is my partial deafness. This, according to my doctors, is what is called a Voluntary Affliction. It seems that from years of not listening to the advice and / or protestations of the theatre directors with whom I had the good fortune to collaborate, my inattention became automatic whenever I encountered one. This automatic inattention, often confused with indifference or simple bad manners (of which I hope I could never be accused), while at first a simple matter of attitude, slowly took on a physical manifestation. My ears, as it were, became as narrow as my opinions. I am still able to hear actors quite clearly, especially when they cannot accurately remember the lines I have written for them to speak, and the applause of an audience, however meagre, literally thunders in my eardrums. But, to my shame, directors I cannot hear. I know that there are some very fine human beings among them, whose words I may find a comfort or the source of inspiration, but I am condemned to watch them drift around me, as silent as fish.

The second among the physical trials which I must endure is my Visual Schizophrenia. This was caused by years and years of trying to look at two things at once: what I had written and what was happening on the stage, which were often, to my mind at least, two very, very different things. This affliction has caused me no end of trouble, as I cannot look at anything without wondering what it might have been. To me a goat, for example, might well have been a bicycle, or a tree a tri-cornered hat. I am not blind, but I might as well be; I see everything quite clearly, but I see nothing as it really is.

My hunched back can be easily understood as the result of years spent bent over a desk; my lack of any sense of direction as the result of endlessly worrying about whether or not to write stage directions from the point of view of the audience or the characters on stage; my habit of constantly walking into walls is due to the fact that for me the fourth wall in any room is invisible.

As you can imagine, the combination of all of these ailments makes my life very difficult. In public I am a nuisance, having no idea whatsoever of where I’m going, a lurching, misshapen creature, hard of hearing, half blind and crashing into walls.

My only consolation is that no one knows who I am.

I remember once standing in the foyer of a theatre where one of my plays was being performed in Sydney, Australia. It was interval and there was quite a crowd. Standing next to me, two audience members were reading through the program. They came to a photograph of the playwright.

‘So that’s what he looks like. I thought he was much older,' said the first.

‘Yes, that’s him,' said the second.

I leaned a little closer, thinking that they might notice my presence. After all, why shouldn’t I talk to them? I would have liked to ask them what they thought of the play. Why shouldn’t a playwright speak to his audience?

‘He lives in France now. He’s lived there for years,' said the first.

‘I heard that he had died there,' said the second.

‘Really? What a shame,' said the first. ‘He looks like such a nice man. Playwrights are usually such awful people.’

Honoured members, there is little more for me to say. I live a quiet life now, far from the bright lights, the bustle and excitement of the stage, as content as I can be. I still attend the theatre occasionally, an anonymous member of the audience, sitting in the back row of the auditorium, still able to marvel at the invention, the grace and the energy of the art that was once my love and my home and that has left me the deformed wreck that I am today.

I must leave you now as it’s time for my medication.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Daniel Keene
February, 2011


Anonymous said...

Mr Keene,

I can’t believe its really you! I am a huge fan of your writing, but I too thought you were dead. I can’t believe it. I must re-read the work. Is it published in English? Did you really used to dictate the works in Greek to a Leather clad she-wizard called The Doctor? (P.S. Love the goat joke!) Where to begin? Wow. Years ago I was told that during a soiree in a hovel in Paris you started screaming incomprehensibly at the mention of the average height of playwrights , suffered a fatal prolapse and bled out on the Corsican cheese and breadcrumbs in the middle of the table. Come to think of it, you really did look dead at the ‘Time To Talk’ event at the MTC recently. And I spoke to many, many actors over recent years who know you well, and assured me it was true. Wow. Sorry. So much makes sense know. Alive!


And good luck.

M. P.de Terre.

P.S. you don’t look all that young in the photos I’ve seen.

Alison Croggon said...

M P de Terre - I regret to say that M. Keene actually died some time ago. Need this be a barrier to quiet enjoyment in this city? I think not.

Anonymous said...

Touche Ms Croggon.



Matt Scholten said...

M. TN, please pass on my kind, long distance regards to M. Keene from the following missive...

Sir, as one of the few who get to collaborate with your good self and on behalf of those whose voice is silent to you let me just say that I am very glad to have you alive and well and complaining about not being able to smoke inside the theatres in the land down under like those froggy types whilst you are watching the dress rehearsal of one of your plays. Always good fun... You also make a damn fine lamb roast.
Keep up the lamb basting...and certainly the occasional play as well to keep life interesting

Regards and Salutations mon frere

M. Scholten