Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: A Satyr

“Satyr” is Redcliff’s most ham-handed and metafictional play, a satire of satirists. It follows four popular playwrights and authors in their stormy friendship, and exposes the unimpressive inspirations and petty observations that begat their great works. The more moral two of the writers, Tmir and Ymir, begin in the arts with great optimism, but see all their attempts at originality and hope dashed by the capitalist and soulless arts industry.

They meet their grade school friends, Satyr and Samid, for drinks one night. Satyr and Samid have also entered the arts and are experience great success in satire and polemics. The two are completely jaded against society and mock Tmir’s idealism.

“You can barely pay the rent with your ideas, while I could buy your entire building tearing them down,” laughs Satyr. Ymir stands up for him, but Tmir becomes despondent. That night, drunk and disillusioned, Tmir writes a furious play about the unfairness of society and mails it before he sobers up. He is stunned to find it is accepted for production.

The rest of the play follows Tmir, Satyr and Samid’s rise in popularity. Act 3 opens with Tmir and Samid receiving literary prizes, and we overhear the end of the host’s introduction, lauding them as the luminaries of their generation. Tmir is so wealthy that he supports Ymir, who has still yet to publish anything or compromise his ideals. Satyr frequently browbeats the idealist poet, and does it again at the celebration, saying, “Because the world is hard and a few good writers have already gone to the trouble of telling a few good stories, we can riff off of for the rest of our lives. The groundwork for complaining has already been done. We’ve only to drop some bricks.”

Unfortunately this is said within earshot of the press, and combined with some of Satyr’s other public indiscretions, damages his reputation. He is forced to move in with Tmir, with whom he has several arguments over over the purpose of social criticism: Tmir reveals that underneath everything, he still wants to reform the world (hence why he took Satyr in), but Satyr exposes that it doesn’t matter what lies beneath the critique because nothing has changed as a result of their work, other than “the clothes we can afford and the phrases some angry sheep use to disparage a thing – they never change the thing itself.” The argument goes from political to sociological to psychological, with the two increasingly suggesting (and later simply stating) that the other is bitter because of his own worthlessness, not the defects of the world. Tmir nearly jumps off the balcony, and minutes after Satyr talks him down, tries to throw Satyr off (since, “Saving me was the first selfless thing you’ve ever done, and if you’ll never do another, you may as well go now!”).

Ymir watches the entire exchange, drunk at his writing desk in the corner.

Tmir spends the rest of the night writing a scathing play that will roast all of Satyr’s values. He is going to mail it the next morning when he encounters Samid, who says Satyr spent the entire past evening writing the same thing about Tmir and has already mailed it. Tmir breaks into the post office at the lunch hour to find and destroy the manuscript, but is stopped by Satyr, who came to do the same thing to him. The two spar verbally one last time, quoting from their own one-night plays as they wrestle, until both realize their plays were quite bad. Each man takes his own manuscript back home, deflated and disheveled.

Tmir and Satyr return home to the surprise that Ymir has finally sold something – not a poem, but a play. The final act sees Satyr, Samid and Tmir attend the opening night, with Tmir and Satyr sitting on opposite sides of the room. The writers quietly watch the play, which sounds very familiar. It quickly turns out that Ymir adapted Tmir and Satyr’s argument on the balcony verbatim. Tmir and Satyr slowly realize this, perking up in their chairs, then sinking down to hide in them before the curtain comes down.

Critics were kind to the play largely out of respect for Redcliff’s reputation, but Bartholme Gorsky has asked, “If the point of the play is as straight-forward as we think, then why did Satyr have all the good lines?”

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