Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A City of Angels By Ben Mazer

A City of Angels
By Ben Mazer
Cy Gist Press, 2011

Review by Deborah Finkelstein

Readers love orphans: Tom Sawyer. Luke Skywalker. Dorothy Gale. Annie. Oliver. Cinderella. Harry Potter. Ben Mazer adds his name to the list of authors whose leads are orphans with his first published play, A City of Angels: A Verse Play in Three Acts.

Mazer also knows that readers like when the lead goes on a quest. His orphan lead, John Crick, journeys to his hometown, simply described as a city in Europe in 1938 to seek work. He is hired by an old family friend, initially to create a new type of theater.

At first, he is not able to describe the type of theater, which he defines as:
A group of young people with the power to feel
the viscerality of common truth.
And with the sensitivity to express
lucid emotions with immediacy.
Some readers may be turned off by the vagueness of this definition, and other similar dialogue. Perhaps Mazer is intentionally vague for the purpose of encouraging readers to imagine the type of theater as they like, rather than knowing exactly what he had in his head. This came to me after reading Crick’s line:
I think imagination is a thing
which barely has been tapped, and yet which lives
within each person, yearning for release.

Another popular literary item that Mazer uses is the family feud, a topic loved by Shakespeare, Ibsen, and other playwrights. Crick learns that his family has been feuding with the Crosses, and the feud is rekindled. Other details about his past and his family’s past are also revealed. By residing in the town, he unlocks many secrets.

Crick also has a love interest, Mary Wells. When they meet, it is obvious that they will be together. Their union, while predictable, gives the play a nice sense of closure.

Mazer also has fun with readers. While Crick and most characters in the play are portrayed as intellectuals, Tom and Sam Cross, the villains, are portrayed as uneducated. This particular section, which was first published in Eyewear Magazine, shows the Crosses making fun of literary magazines. This allows readers to associate themselves with the hero and to be disgusted by the villains.

Another way that Mazer has fun with readers is that the villains’ dialogue is written with intentional misspellings, such as Tom’s line I’ll shoe you which should be I’ll show you. This type of visual humor makes readers feel like they are part of an inside joke.

The play is designed more for readers than for the stage. Inside jokes, such as the one above, connect the reader to the work, but are lost on stage. The play contains many long monologues, such as Crick’s opening 3-page monologue, which could be done on stage, but would be challenging. Much of the play is spent with Crick discovering his past, and this type of expository dialogue is also a challenge on stage. Additionally, much of the verse is vague and seems to invite the reader’s imagination, which works better on a page than with actors.

The poetry occasionally sounds singsong or cliché such as Crick’s line to his love:
You are a flower and a shining light
which breaks the dark, encompassing the night.
But there are also moments where his vagueness invites us to explore our imagination. Additionally, there are also times where the poetry is lovely, such as Mary’s line to her love on her town and education:
Sun opens with day, you open the dream,
the world opens, time opens and memory,
you open the light, you open the window,
the world is opened to the little room.
Outside the rocks are open to the shadow.
The cellar’s open to the cellar door.
The room is opened to the library.
The library is opened to a book.
The book is opened to the seasoned page
where the world lives without reason rage.
Those leaves, that wind, that branch, that shower
under which day locks like an encyclopedia
roaming the flowers and their shadows of whispers and lips
like pieces of paper at night too
almost as if watching from the bushes
no but out the window in the air
high up above everything where n one is watching
it watches that thing you are thinking of apart
that understands one loving the familiarity
of what are only symbols and shadows
of what was a town and what stills is.

---Deborah Finkelstein

*** Deborah Finkelstein is an accomplished playwright and poet. She is on the English Faculty of Endicott College, Mt. Ida College, Bunker Hill Community College, North Shore Community College, and others.... For more about Debbie go to:

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