Wednesday 20 May 2009

food and sex

Early on, in Wallace Shawn's extraordinary new play, Grasses of A Thousand Colours, the memoirist Ben (played by Shawn) remembers his biology teacher saying, 'Man has two basic needs - the need for food and the need for sex.'

Shawn's play is set in the near future, when there have been revolutions in processed food production and sexual explicitness. These developments allow Shawn to depict the two needs in a garish new light and to dramatise the basic way in which our appetites are indistinguishable from animal ones.

Grasses of A Thousand Colours takes as its source 'The White Cat', a 17th century fairytale by Madame d'Aulnoy, and it moves startingly, and sometimes hilariously, between a prosperous bourgeois world and a savage dream-like one in which distinctly taboo things happen between humans and cats.

Like John Gray's Straw Dogs, subtitled Thoughts on Humans and other Animals, Shawn keeps undermining the distinctions between the two. In doing so, his play challenges the overwhelmingly anthropocentric concerns of most theatre.

Nearly every play shows human relationships with other humans; plenty of children's plays show us animals with human characteristics; but very few plays show us humans with animal ones.

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