Monday, April 08, 2013

Stanley Eveling and a young playwright in the closet

Today I went to a reading of Stanley Eveling’s play “The Dead Of Night”.

At the time, I was still struggling to find myself as a writer. I admired Eveling’s work, I remember, I felt a kind of affinity with it, and this play made a deep impression on me.

It was first performed in 1975; and seeing the reading has triggered so many memories.

It was set in Berlin, above Hitler’s bunker, while the Russians were in the final stages of taking Berlin. I remember the incredible sounds: the earth shattering bomb explosions. The rubble falling down from the ceiling.

At that time I had not quite shaken off the war comics and Churchillian speeches of my upbringing and I remember too taking real pleasure in the play’s irreverence towards what was still somehow sacredly patriotic territory.

There was only time to read the first act, partly because the actors had found the script pretty puzzling and wanted to pick our brains about it.

And in the discussion afterwards I found myself gripped by another memory: the memory of the paralyzing shyness that gripped me at that time.

I simply could never speak in public; and tonight I found myself again imprisoned in silence.
I made myself say something, just to remind myself I still have a voice.

In act one, a young german woman dresses as a male Russian soldier, mainly to avoid rape.

In act two, as I remember, a Nazi general dresses as a woman to avoid capture. He wears women’s underwear, which he describes as the ultimate degradation, and eventually, fully dressed and made up as a woman, kills the sympathetic young characters and makes his escape.

He is presented as an appalling, ruthless, and wicked person, and somehow, as I remember, the fact that he wears women’s clothes is presented as part of his rottenness as a human being.

I was completely in the closet at the time, which was one reason as a young man I was so shy. I was terrified and ashamed of my secret identity as a woman, and watching the play traumatised me.

At the same time I was grateful to it for bringing this part of me up into the open and allowing me to see a representation of myself.

However cruel and distorted and inaccurate that representation was, it was still somehow better than silence.

Because silence, silence of a terrible and oppressing kind, was the norm then. Both in the world around me and in my life.

But tonight the old shyness still gripped me enough to make it impossible for me to speak about this.

Which is why it matters to speak about it now.

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