Monday, April 26, 2021

Play a Day: Clyt; or, the Bathtub Play

Elizabeth Giffin Speckman
For Monday, I read Clyt; or, the Bathtub Play by Elisabeth Giffin Speckman and posted at New Play Exchange.

“It wasn't until I gave birth that I started to think a lot about dying.” This line struck me particularly, because it is absolutely true. I never thought seriously of death or dying until my wife was first pregnant. Because he died, and she may well have. But then, after having subsequent, living children, it never stopped. To have a child is to put your heart into another living thing and watch it move about on its own. And one day, to move away.

My daughter leaves for college later this year. It’s beautiful. It’s worrying.

Speckman’s script tells the story of the period of the Trojan War from the point of view of Clytemnestra, sister to Helen, wife to Agamemmnon. Things do not go well for any of them. Except, I guess, Helen. She is often depicted as feckless and self-involved, she is a canvas for whatever the male writer thinks of women.

In this case she is the sibling who went away and had fun and attention while Clytemnestra remains at home, to do the things that mothers are expected to do. Care for the children, manage the relationships, and wait. Bath time is “me time” and she does seem to deserve a great deal of that.

The playwright playful anachronrizes the tale, it is then, but also now, with phones and media and humorous, contemporary turns of phrase. But it’s comic relief, which serves to make the tragedy, the drama bearable, not to send it up. The protagonist endures such grief, the absence of her husband, the murder of one child, the dismissive behavior of her other children.

She is left alone, and when the “great” Agamemmnon returns she does exact her revenge, but there is no joy in it. Why would there be?

I would imagine most productions would eschew the use of an actual bath. There’s the nudity thing, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s water. Water is the most villainous of stage elements. A water actor can develop a chill, the water can become contaminated. And then there is the danger of slipping, falling, twisting, breaking.

But in the right hands it is so magical.

Who should I read tomorrow?

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