13 September 2006

Why I Wrote Two Plays About Phaidra

Your faces, I don't understand them. At night I stand at the back of the theater. I watch you suck in sex, death, devastation, hour after hour in a weird kind of unresisting infant heat, then for no reason you cool, flicker out. I guess for no reason is an arrogant thing to say. For no reason I can name is what I mean. It was a few years ago now I gave you a woman, a real mouthful of salt and you like salt. Her story, Phaidra's story, that old story, came in as a free wave and crashed on your beach. I don't understand, I could never have pre- dicted, your hatred of this woman. It's true she fell in love with someone wrong for her but half the heroines of your literature do that, Helen, Echo, Io, Agave, all of them.

So, Phaidra – a work in motion, surpassing her, surpassing itself - disappears again and again into Phaidra after Phaidra, but in this so-called second version. I wrote it to show how that feels. Phaidraless world. Her great soul withdrawn, the story goes through its tricks in a weak voltage of vicious reactions and bad piety, which I hope will amuse you but this fact remains, there is no shock in it anywhere except Aphrodite. Aphrodite is pure shock. When she comes onstage in the prologue and tells you about a few simple stitches she is going to take in the lives of Phaidra, Hippolytos and Theseus, you feel the salt of absolute cruelty sting your face. That needle flashes in and out of living skulls. I guess by the time I came to write the prologue (I usually write the prologue last) I had pretty much given up on saving Phaidra, the real one. But there is a residue of her gone down into Aphrodite's anger. It is sexual anger. Or is all anger sexual? Remember (if you saw the first play) the advice Phaidra gives to her pale groaning husband when he confronts her about the boy:

Phaidra: Instead of fire – another fire, not just a drop of cunt sweat! is what we women are – you cannot fight it.

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