Audience Response To Lesser Seductions

Monday, November 23, 2009 Leave a Comment

This is an open thread for our community of artists and audience to respond to The Lesser Seductions of History. This is an experiment for Flux, and its success depends on you. When you see the show, please take a moment to share your thoughts with us in the comments field below.

A few rules of the game: this is a safe space, so while criticism is welcome, snark and hostility are not. A good rule of thumb is simply to keep to things you'd feel comfortable saying face to face. While you can choose to post as anonymous, we encourage you to take ownership of your thoughts.

A couple of questions to prompt you:

-What were the moments of heat (aka, the moments you won't forget)?
-Where did you feel the play the cool off?
-To what character arcs did you feel the greatest connection?
-What balance are you striking in your own life between comfort and purpose?
-How would you compare the sense of purpose from the 1960's to now?
-What did you think of the simultaneous action?
-Were you more drawn in by the larger struggle presented by ONE, or to the individual relationships?
-Is there unfinished business from the 1960's our generation needs to carry forward?

Answer all, some, or just write what you want. Our sincere thanks, and see you at the theatre!


  • Randy Burgess said:  

    Hey Gus!

    I consider it a privilege to have seen not only this play, but 'Rue." Being so often blocked myself, I admire someone who not only writes glorious language but has the guts to put it out there, and who has such a wonderful way with actors. It was an enjoyable evening & I look forward to many more such evenings.

    So. For me the play didn’t work as a play - and also there were many wonderful scenes and moments.

    Let me start with just a few of the scenes that gripped & moved me: The scene where Lee tells Marie about his drawings of her as the different planets - funny & stunningly inventive & touching. The bridge scene - not only funny but wrenching as the imaginary objects Lizzie dropped became ever larger & more difficult to pretend she was actually getting rid of. The tender and inventive scene in which George and Marie compare Isaac’s kisses. The weird yet true-feeling temple scene at the end with Isaac and Lee. The dancing at the end, and in general the final scene - all the stories finally came together for me in a way they hadn't before.

    I was also drawn in throughout by the way that even when the action was on a particular story and the other actors on stage had to "freeze" and drop into the background, there was no sense of awkwardness anywhere. Those not in the figurative spotlight found ways to physically convey their continued emotional presence, yet without being distracting.

    So what didn't work for me? A couple of things related to each other.

    First, from the get-go I didn't buy the central conceit of the play: that there is an inevitable and indeed violent tension between pursuing social justice, on the one hand, and pursuing a happy private life, on the other.

    I am not myself a politically active person, but I know many people who are. They don't seem to have miserable private lives, but rather ordinary private lives, of all sorts. At least some of them seem happier at home because of their engagement in their particular cause. And from the other side of the equation, it is all too easy to see that personal misery and screwing up aren't confined to persons who pursue social justice.

    Such beliefs on my part might not have mattered if the play had won me over anyway - i.e. if I had found myself viewing this central conceit as a personal vision, without needing to feel I had to agree with it. However this never happened for me. I think in part this was because the role of the narrator ("One") seemed not at all dramatic, but instead, relentlessly didactic. It seemed like the playwright's voice telling me what to think, instead of letting me make that imaginal leap myself.

    I also found myself stretching to believe that the characters' lives could be quite so interrelated. I know this is common to many ensemble films & plays, but the more the web of coincidences built up, the more I found my skepticism increasing. I felt caught between the lack of credibility of the overall movement of the play, on the one hand, and so many poignant & wonderfully acted individual scenes, on the other.

    As I say I did very much like the ultimate scene - by then I seemed to have spent just enough time with the characters that their briefly told stories knit together for me. Even the narrator in that scene finally seemed to have a deserved and memorable place in the action.

    Hope this helps - and thanks again for writing & staging this.

    Randy Burgess

  • August Schulenburg said:  


    Thank you for this insightful comment. Though eager to respond, I'm going to hold off until others have (hopefully) commented, as I don't want my plainly stated intentions for ONE to skew what that role's actual impact turns out to be. But this is really useful feedback, and I'm grateful for it.
    So...what do to the rest of you opening weekend folks think?

  • Jessica L. Crow said:  

    I love the way this show makes one think about important aspects of their life that they may put on a shelf just for convenience. It brings up devotion to the greater good and completely giving oneself over, dedicating life and all efforts to the nameless (or many named) powers that seem to direct our existence here on earth-all for the sake of karmic redemption and equality of all beings.
    At the same time the characters show you that doing this doesn’t always bring personal happiness- and without an internal sense of satisfaction and self-respect, how can you affect people, communities, nations, and the world positively?
    Is our society as serious about effecting change as people were in the ‘60’s ? Or do we view that decade as a failed attempt- a lesson learned? What are we bringing to the table right now that is bigger than ourselves? I see a lot of people around me incubating ideas about how to give back, how to effect real change in the world.
    But the unspoken word is balance. There is a delicate balance, a teetering pathway between the slopes of the fulfilling sensation of selfish enjoyment and the condition of connecting to this earthly plane sans ego and with the constancy of hope. I think we’re a complicated species- we need some of each.
    Jai Kali Ma!

  • Sean said:  

    I disagree with Whole Sight's really well argued comment here, but I don't think he or she is *wrong*, at all.

    I think there is a mistake we make when we're looking at a piece of art, where we think the argument being made is that this story is inevitable. I don't believe that the play is saying that people who fight for social justice end up with rotten private lives, I think it's saying that *if they do*, it will still have been worth it.

    And yeah, the stretch where One basically says that love is a distraction, there is a small moment at the end where even the God of Progress admits that sometimes the romance is actually fine.

    And, this is just my own garbage, but it felt like what we were talking about in the play was progress, not just the fight for social justice. So, it's equally applicable to, say, Claire Schumann as it is to Margret Sanger. If your private life suffers, it will have been worth it, the art, the science, whatever.

    Also, the coincidence of inter-relation was an important aspect of the writing, and totally believable to me. *Because* each one of us is usually only a person or two removed from every other person with similar interests, it means that the smallest action can have real consequences. I honestly believe that if you drop me out of an airplane anywhere in the United States and I walk to the nearest town, I would only have to talk to about ten people before I met someone who knows someone I know. And I'm a pretty average dude.

    Please know, I'm not being argumentative here, but I think it's a really interesting idea to have this blog discussion about the show. Largely because my particular work means I don't get to have this conversation in a bar after the show...

  • Anonymous said:  

    Overall, I enjoyed the show. It was innovative and thought-provoking. The actors were wonderful and very believable. Actually, my only negative comment is that it was a bit too long. Without scenery to help, it became difficult to imagine so many scenes. But, as I said before, great job. Bravo!!

  • David S. Rintoul said:  

    I really liked the narrator, and the segue from being an announcer to actually being a character in the play. I thought, though, that the narrator did too much exposition: sort of whacking points that I think you made really well in the narrative of the play. The narrator said, but the play showed it. I thought this was particularly an issue with the Chicago '68 scene, where there was the long discussion of "how did we get here." You did such a good job of showing this throughout the play that the going back with the narrator seemed redundant. The narrator is such a strong presence that I think less of the narrator would be more.

    One of the things I really liked about the play was that you did individual characters and not stereotypes. There are such strong stereotypes of the '60s: the druggie/poet, the hippie, the whacked Vietnam vet, and you avoided them.

    Thank you again for a great experience. I was in tears when the reporter tells the scientist about the moon landing.

  • Unknown said:  

    I really enjoyed this show - I think the territory you cover is pretty impressive. I have to say, I enjoyed the narrator but I also found myself resenting her, at times - I think it didn't do justice to the fervor and power of the play when she would talk about intermission, or refer to people standing in line at the bathroom. (Those were just two things that I can remember from the play last week) I think there is still a way to use her but I honestly don't think you need her as much as you think you do, b/c the stories really do tell themselves.

    All in all, job well done and anxious to see more responses!

  • Kristen Palmer said:  

    Great work Gus & Flux!

    For me the most moving parts of the play were the moments of struggle with the tension the historical moment, a group to belong to or personal love. The push pull between the individual and society that remains a central tension in modern life.

    There was a moment when the narrator gave a nod to the negatives of a group - something violent? I forget what exactly. This reminded me of an article I'd recently read pointing to a study of young men involved in terrorism that found it was not ideology or a lifetime of oppression that drove them - but rather the desire to belong, to be a part of the group.

    Again, good work & I'm glad i was in town to see it.

  • rio said:  

    "I have a dream" that great ensembles and ensemble pieces will flourish and breathe new life into American theatre. Lesser Seductions of History and Flux are a giant leap...
    "the heat" was in the ensemble, the close knit embroidery of scenes. The waves of language, concept, and character. MLK replacing the everyday, etc.
    It cooled off with One. I think these characters and storylines stand on their own. I didn't need the narrator, I found this conceit (but not the actress or individual performance) patronizing and unnecessary.
    The show was like a fire dancing.

  • Anonymous said:  

    Having seen the show a few nights ago, I've found that this play has just stuck in my head. So, I was very glad to visit this site and find this discussion. Overall, I think its a great beginning to what could shape up as an important play of this generation but why I keep thinking about it is because of what I felt was missing. I'll try to elaborate.

    First, I was very bothered by the staging which didn't let me relax into the play until almost the third year. I was immediately worried about Martha being hit in the head by the baseball throwing. Having a seat on the side, I was constantly distracted by characters one to two feet in front of me either frozen or, even worse, moving, while I was trying to look across the stage at the scene going on there. I also didn't understand why there was such a large staircase dominating upstage center and, by the time it was actually used in the final scene, all I could think of was what a waste of precious space on what was already too small a stage for such a large cast. I was also very disappointed to miss seeing the face of the actress playing Tegan on her final monologue. All I got was her back the entire time. Being a director and being very familiar with thrust staging I just felt it was a shame that one third of the audience didn't get to see any of that monologue. I just kept sitting there wishing she would turn once to her right. These small missteps kept pulling me out of the action, unfortunately.

    As for the play, I think that some trimming and expanding needs to happen. I didn't need to see every character in every year and, in fact, would have found it more effective to spend a bit more time on the intimate moments. Many times I didn't feel as if the play was breathing but instead running to the next scene. I also stopped caring about people at times because I never saw their struggles. (Except the character of Martha) Example, the housewife and the poet never have a scene where they leave each other. Then the next time we see her she's joining a religious cult but there's no inner struggle of "why". Then when she leaves the cult - she just leaves. No struggle again. And in fact, most of the characters seemed to jump from one thing to another (i.e. - trying to kill themselves) without ever letting us the audience plumb any depths with them as to why. Everything just started to become very topical.

    I agree with some of the other posts about beautiful moments and scenes - very gorgeously written and acted. But, as an example, the kissing scene didn't mean much to me as they never really connected in any way before or after that moment. It wasn't a resolution to anything.

    As for the narrator, I was not drawn in because the banter wasn't banter but written, rehearsed dialogue posing as banter. It would have been more effective if this god or muse was actually talking with us - maybe even about current news events of the day. Would have been more effective to use this narrator in a way that brought parallels of today to the past being presented. Too contrived for me.

    (oh! And Lizzie needs to 'burn the bra' in her hippie costume - not true to the times and that character)

    Overall, it was a good night of theatre and I think there is a beautiful potential to really fly here. But it didn't dig deep enough for me - particularly with the (almost a Pulitzer winner) poet. I kept waiting for him to expound or give us something beautiful to hang on to that wasn't a MLK or JFK quote but, instead, came from the one of the characters living through this history - instead I just got sex and drugs. Go deeper!

    Thank you for a lovely night at the theatre.

  • Sean Harvey said:  

    Sean Harvey here, returned from my world wanderings just in time to see The Lesser Seductions!

    What a pleasure. Such a great piece Gus, and Heather magically made the entire complicated tangle of narratives as smooth-flowing and clear as water. And incredible, fiercely alive acting. Great stuff!

    Also: Gus if I write a review panning your play, will you provide links to my poetry as well?

    And in addition: hysterical Louis Simpson reference. I laughed out loud – you should read him some time (zzzzz).

    Biggest wow moment of the evening was huge, one of those very rare moments in art where you realize with shock: "OH MY GOD, I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS", namely the parceling out of the greatest Dr King speech ever among characters as stand-in for their words to one another at critical emotional moments in their lives. It raised my hair. So exciting to watch it unfold and realize what was happening and see that it made so much sense.

    And while the "socially active, personally an asshole" theme has been treated repeatedly since at least Charles Dickens and brought up often in the context of the 1960s, The Lesser Seductions has a more adult take on it and treats the relationship between these two traits as causal rather than merely incongruous hypocrisy. I think you guys finally got it right, after multiple attempts by many art forms over the decades.

    The structure of the play worked well and I loved the conceit of the “One” character. The only small criticism I have in that respect is the ending, where the skillful but mannered Shakespeare reference inducing the audience to applaud brought us a bit out of the raw emotional experience of the play’s ending. But it was still skillfully done.

    The performances were so great across the board. A day later I’m haunted by Jason’s, and especially cannot get Kelly and Ingrid’s last scenes out of my mind. The hunger to help, not understanding that this hunger is itself a need, the impotence of it driving her away, blithely blind to how hard her lover is working to please her at a time when even the most basic human needs have devolved into brutal, difficult chores. Those performances opened primal wounds, it was a very moving experience. Thanks so much to both of you.

  • Sean Harvey said:  

    Sorry one more thing. A couple of thoughts on whether or not this play denies the possibility of social change, or the validity of social activism, since this seems an active topic on the message board.

    Last night I didn't come away from the performance thinking the play's perspective was that no social change is possible and that the whole thing is a waste of effort that would be better spent on our personal lives. But I might be wrong. From my view it outlines the psychological source of the energy that drives such change, as well as the cost to the individual humans involved. It says the former rings hollow without the latter, and that the former can be used as a distancing mechanism, a safer way to deal with the terror of intimacy.

    That said, use of that greatest and most famous of all social change speeches raised the stakes quite a bit. We are no longer asking whether some random jerk's passion for PETA is really misplaced righteous indignation at his parents, we are also asking the same question of Dr King, the highest emblem of activism, and everyone else in the world. In addition, the defanging of Progress (among other names) at the end of the play does in essence deny the reality of any notion of social progress as an illusory gerbil wheel that we should really all get off of and get on with our own smaller lives. I don’t think, though, that this philosophically denies the possibility of small victories for a given Time; it’s simply more realistic about the dream of ultimate cures. And how empty they are without the loved ones they impact, and for whom we sacrifice. We should recognize that social change is more intimate and less permanent than we think it is, even as we strive for it.

    Outside the context of the play, most social movements that gain traction are born of oppression that simply cannot be endured, especially in the context of personal lives. Loves that cannot be publicly acknowledged, children with no hope of a future, an inability to provide for one’s family. Several of the characters from The Lesser Seductions would have been in this position in the 1960s, and this social backdrop is alluded to more than once, but the play doesn’t address these as root causes probably out of a concern lest the text be consumed by preachiness and didacticism. I think that was a good call; we all know what the social background of 1960s America was and what a gay woman or an African-American man would have had to put up with. There’s really no need to get mawkish over it here. But just as the greater needs of society can be used as a distraction and a shield, the only reason we ever pay any attention to them that matters is because of their impact on our loved ones. It was only a day later that I remembered how profoundly so many of these characters were oppressed, even in the cases where it wasn’t spelled out onstage. Real social change is driven by a collection of masses of people looking out for their own loved ones; where this is absent or becomes unmoored, every victory is hollow. Very interesting meditation, Flux, bravo bravo bravo.

  • Jay Kilbourn said:  

    Came from Portland, Maine to see this play, and it did not disappoint. Big picture, I have for a week reflected back on the overarching themes and questions you have forced us to address... complex, nuanced, numerous and important. Thanks for keeping us alive, seeking love and freedom and living our own truth. Thanks for reminding us to evaluate the sacrifices we make and the reasons we make them in the name of fighting for a better world. Thanks for helping us reflect on the impact that we who lived, loved & struggled through the sixties have had on the generation we have passionately raised. And what a fun dynamic, multi-tasking evening. How did you manage to stay with your characters through all the flashing from one scene to another and back again. And of course I found you all to be quite brave. Bravo!

  • Jay Kilbourn said:  

    One more thing - I just read Jessica Crow's comments, and had almost exactly the same thoughts/feelings immediately after seeing the play last Saturday night. Finding that balance...we are indeed a complicated species.

  • Anonymous said:  

    I have a lot of resentment toward the boomers. I think there's a generational cold war going on, like they're ponderous slow-witted whiners, and that their whole style of discussion is to assume the other person agrees with them about everything, ramble on for a while, then get all shocked and frightened and clam up when they discover disagreement. I feel like they're deeply cowardly. and indulgent: they're always hungry or their feet hurt, and that way they waddle everywhere and cluck at each other like chickens...ick.

    I didn't feel any of these things while watching this play about their favorite decade. Why not? Am I wrong about them? I don't see how I could be. It's like being wrong about what air smells like. They're everywhere. Maybe you understand something about them which I don't, and you've deliberately excised this mystery-thing because you wanted to make the play watchable. If so, good call and great job. If not then I'm really confused.

    There is one exception, though, and it's only in retrospect. These characters are supposedly making crippling personal sacrifices for enduring global progress, yet Barry and Bobby are the only ones actually working, and within the context of the play their work is abnormal: they were driven to it by the psychological fallout of their crimes or overindulgences (rape, pitching hubris). The rest of the characters are on permanent vacation. Their sacrifice of ``comfort'' is to stay on vacation? George tries to stay on musical vacation but ends up accidentally getting rich anyway. Yeah Marie works, at least she does at first, but it's like the type of job you get on a working-holiday visa.

    I think the either/or question with which you frame both the play and this request for comments is a good one but very constraining. The looming global threats and injustices are now economic ones, so there's not an idealogical broad target against which one can congradulate oneself for grandstanding displays of outrage. What you call the drive toward progress has to go somewhere else.

    The 70's children (the ones born then) had cynicism: for example, they've all been told about Gulf of Tonkin in history class, so when the Iraq war started with a`target of opportunity,'' the cynical response is, oh go fuck off with your weasel-worded phrases. Some Rove accolyte put effort into pushing this magical little phrase, but it's wasted. Nobody seriously believed any foggy-night story could smooth the way to war after Tonkin and 90's cynicism.

    The 80's children however completely hate cynicism. They've got very little patience for it. I feel like, to them, it's vaguely associated with lazyness. They may finally escape this cover-your-ass political culture through attitudes like, you're allowed to be wrong, but you're not allowed to spend all your time inventing complicated excuses for doing nothing or tearing down the work of others.

    Another place either/or falls short is with women. some of the younger ones understand what boomers don't, that children know and care what their parents do. Boomer women say things like, ``i want to be a good mother to my children but i want a career, too, and piles of money, and ugh, so little time for all the things I want,'' which is (set aside for a moment its pathological me-focusedness) just as you framed it, an either/or choice of public engagement or private comfort, but younger women will say more sophisticated things like ``my daughter needs to see that her mother has a fully-legitimate public life. There's no other way she can find the courage and confidence to make bold choices in her own life than to see that her mother has done the same because the message just isn't believable and optimistic otherwise, because anything else is just heaping unreasonable expectation onto her, not opening a door.'' It's subtly different, to carefully, sneakily, mischeviously pick one's path through the world rather than viewing everything as a trade-off.

  • GingerBlossom said:  

    I was profoundly moved by this amazing play tonight and want to send you my utmost congratulations and appreciation. It was beautiful.
    It's funny - when I first heard the play, I don't think I had a sense of this overarching whole, and now that I do, I'm just amazed. To the cast - you were wonderful, bold, brave - just glorious up there! To Gus & Heather - dear god - what's in your water?! Ridiculously amazing work. I'm still chewing on it, and will have more articulate things to say later, but CONGRATULATIONS and well done. Gretchen P.

  • Fred Olmstead said:  

    Hi all, First off I want to say that Flux is a great group that deserves every good review it gets.

    My friend Alison and I saw "The Lesser Seductions of History" a couple weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a couple of folks who lived through the 60's, we felt you got it just right. We actually discussed if the writer, August Schulenburg, was of an age to have "been there". We knew that Heather wasn't. I asked Heather, who informed me he was only 33. So, cheers to the Flux Theater Ensemble for capturing that tumultuous decade.

    I recently saw "The Emperor Jones" at the Irish Rep and found the production disappointing. In my opinion, "Lesser Seductions" was much more enjoyable."

  • Unknown said:  

    Coming of age as I did during this decade, the dominant feeling in my gut and memory (one and the same) is one of extreme confusion, fear and turbulence.

    With grace and the benefit of time, I now realize I wouldn't be who I am without all of those large events that reached in, interrupted and rearranged my life trajectory as each birthday year came and went.

    Your play got it -- that there was no way to dissociate one's personality and biographical development from what was imposed by the outside world's events. Outside became inside, and vice-versa.

    We had no option to turn away from the news-of-the-day, because regardless of gender, race or class, we were embroiled. There was no great pleasure in this; rather it felt, as you express at the end, "necessary."

    All the time there was a sickening feeling that the world was turning upside-down into an unrecognizable mess. It was damned scary.

    Each of your characters reminded me of people I knew then and think about today. Like Lillian Hellman's "Pentimento" your play caused me to revisit them and see what was there for me today.

    The reckless, charismatic and attractive couple -- oblivious to how their daily romantic and drug machinations impacted others around them -- alas, I knew many couples like that. Rather than turn them into Lead Characters, your ensemble play gave room to explore their impact on others, which to me was new dramatic territory. Their self-absorbed antics hurt their less flashy siblings (Anisa) took their dearest platonic friends for granted (Lee), discarded their spouses (Marie). Your ensemble play gave each of these characters (overlooked in real time) a dramatic chance to talk back, react, and act on their own behalf as each found a voice by decade's end. I found that revolutionary, Gus, which I mean as a compliment!

    The Vietnam characters also resonated, causing me to remember how, in the early l970's, my veteran friend couldn't endure camping in Vermont because the rain on the tent sent him into post-traumatic shock. Your veteran sitting like a hulk in the diner channeled him exactly.

    Your medic represented so many ethical men I knew in those years who, through routes such as conscientious objection to the draft or by enlisting, thought they could -- as individuals -- balance the weekly deathcount on the evening news.

    The African-American brother and sister, oh that was an amazing relationship to see on a stage. Her core loyalty to family is nearly crushed by the violences against her race and gender, and yet she comes through to care for what remains of his talent and kindness. They were profoundly moving.

    I saw a counterbalance between Tegan and One. Tegan becomes humbled politically in the face of a genuine love affair, against ONE, who only grows in power as the decade proceeds and she realizes her overriding influence on the lives of everyone on stage. To me, the times felt like a tornado and ONE pulled everyone in, because you can't escape history.

    As for finding meaning, I can only offer this with all my heart from the "bloody envelope of history": at the time, you can't know what impact your actions will have. But you do have a gut feeling about which strands in your life are important, even if the storyline hasn't yet been written. The very fact that I write the above blog as if these characters exist is testament to the seamless connection (in my mind, anyway) between script, director, stage and actors (every last one of them). That's testament to the strength of the delivery-on-stage as well as the authorship-on-paper.

    I can only wish you all the best. I believe this is an amazing play and that I had the privilege to see two outstanding performances of it. Thank you -- to all of Fluxtheatre -- for that experience.

    Marta Braiterman, audience member