so many parties
too much everything
dancing on broken glass
blue lips of lust
nurse my mind
bathe my need
wake up to an icy dawn
in a park with that man again
in shattered mist i crawl within
grip his poison soul
why do i slide back to you
slouched in your way of always the same
i feed him a cigarette
didn’t i see you mumbling and stumbling
somewhere we both loathe in crave
a dying bird at the edge of a pond
i kneel to hold its rolling gasp
stare blind at screeching eyes
me and my other truth entwined
in crumpled song
of sharing death with slipping more
and i say nothing like always before
now is again the void
a scarlet flower in bubbling mud
i lick the bloodied petals
whisper prayers into a rocky breeze
don’t cry drowning in fight
wet trickery never helped before
for god’s sake
stand up and move away from you
do something new
recite your manufactured silence
of repetition midnight through and through
feel limp courage fade
or slink away as you do and do
and release me until the next time chimes
Stephen House has won many awards and nominations as a poet, playwright and actor. He’s received several international literature residencies from The Australia Council and an Asia-link residency. His chapbook “real and unreal” was published by ICOE Press. He’s published often and performs his acclaimed monologues widely.
The play was first presented in a downtown bodega, closed due to the crisis. Rent was cheap, so this spattering of diaspora Asian artists could afford to establish their theater company in this space. The name of the company was Angina. It was a play on words referring to the nearby famous off off off Broadway company of Hispanic bards, La Mama. Ina was Filipino for mother, ang translating as the article The. No matter that it was, scientifically, a heart condition or that it sounded very close to the Italian/Yiddish NY slang agita, meaning heartburn.
The director, he was pretty much famous back in The Philippines. Notable because he produced Marat/Sade, that play about inmates in an asylum who prosecute some guy Marat. It is a play within a play. The Marquis de Sade directs the play, yeah, the S & M guy. Loosely, it is about class struggle, suffering, and whether the revolution comes from changing society or within the individual. Not your Bye Bye Birdie or Sound of Music.
This director produced this in The Philippines under Martial Law. Marcos kicked him out, and he ends up at Angina Theater. This play he is directing is called “The Man with the Mole in the Shape of a Cross.” The cross is on his left cheek above his lip.
As with many downtown productions, the theater is not just on the stage. The audience is part of the theater. In the end, everyone spills into the street as the cast marches around the corner of Lafayette and causes a traffic jam in The East Village, a significant feat if you know how busy the streets of East Village are at 11 PM.
Director, he is very effeminate, heavy mascara, a Dorthy Hamill bob, wears long shirts that look like dresses over pants that look like palazzos. He is dramatic in that way and passionate to the extreme, the Enfant Terrible of the theater season, partly because he was kicked out of a country under Martial Law with an autocrat who crushed artistic freedom.
The play is brilliant, we are told. Innovative. Revolutionary. In hindsight, it is wannabe Bertolt Brecht, Antonin.
In an interview, the director talks very big with his arms. The idea came to him in a dream.
Many people in a house. They search, room to room. They are looking for what, who knows. But they must explore, pushed forward by some absent leader whose voice eggs them on.
One main character is a glamourous one, model type, thin. The second main falls for him. He is ordinary and big. It is the ruling class versus the working/middle class.
The big one, he has a cross, on his face, on his left cheek, a mole, only it is not. It is simple, black. Yet it shines, bright. Stunning. The two main characters are attracted to each other. They talk opposite views. In the end, the fat boy wins over the glamour boy. In live performance, the skinny guy kisses him passionately, on the mole, the cross that is so beautiful. They get naked and start making love as the lights go down—the audience gasps. The music at the end is distorted white noise from a guitar; it almost sounds like that terrible Lou Reed album. There are accompanying fireworks at the end. Brings to mind a KISS concert. The crowd approves.
Director talks about the use of new lighting technology. Using special paint for the cross/mole, he can enhance it to shine so brightly, illuminating, and enlarging. They do this pyrotechnic effect; the couple lights up, on fire, seemingly. His inspiration is from an obscure short story he read as a child and that newish novel about combustible twins who destroy their father’s career, a senator who suddenly becomes VP.
As the curtain falls, the cast walks offstage, down the aisles into the street. The audience follows and exits. Many say they are caught up and willingly do so.
Rumors circulate. The press talks about how the two main characters are so into their roles they genuinely fire up. They flame on their own, without the benefit of special effects. They have become comic book anti-heroes, like The Torch of The Fantastic Four of The Marvel Comics universe.
Randi from upstate New York is a down-and-out Broadway freak. The theater is everything to her, especially the American musical. She hates all the attention this play is getting. The sermons of her pastor, they fan her hatred. All this celebration of gayness, the homo sex on stage. She hates the mole that is a cross, the symbolism of that. She is whipped into a frenzy with talk that Josh Gadd, Olaf’s voice from Frozen, or James Corden’s baker from Into The Woods will take on the big guy role on the big screen. Although, she is okay with Josh Groban as glamor boy.
When her friends get caught up in the adulation, cheering the play to newer heights, she makes a decision. She takes a shotgun from her hunting dad’s rack. She hides it in her red portable chair case she usually slings over her shoulder when she lines up for hours for Broadway lottery discount tix. She takes the Greyhound to Manhattan and attends the last downtown performance. As the cast turns the corner at Lafayette, she rushes the actors and aims at the cross, the mole on the upper left lip. She laughs in madness as the body twitches, a bloody hole where the face used to be. An easy target, how could she miss?
Ben Umayam moved to NYC to write the Great American Filipino Short Story. He worked for political consultants, then was a chef at a fancy hotel, and then worked cooking for priests. He has since retired and is working on that short story again. He has been published by Maudlin House, 34th Parallel, Digging Through The Fat, Southeast Asian Drabbles Anthology, Anak Sastra, Corvus Review, Lotus-eaters, and Ethelzine.