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King Turd: This absurdist play from 1896 could have been written about President Trump!

Poster design for a re-interpreted version of Alfred Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’ from 2013 in which the tale of Donald Trump’s golf course development in Scotland follows the storyline of the play
French absurdist playwright Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (“Ubu the King” or “King Turd”), a pre-Surrealist work, is considered an influential classic of French theatre. It originally premiered in 1896. There were three Ubu plays written by Jarry, but only one, Ubu Roi, was ever performed during his short lifetime (Jarry died at the age of 34 of tuberculosis. After he beckoned a friend to come closer, his whispered last word on his deathbed was allegedly “toothpick” or whatever it is that the French call them).

The Ubu trilogy was conceived to employ actors and marionettes in a vicious satire of greed, royalty, religion, stupidity and abuse of power by the wealthy. The two other plays were Ubu Cocu (“Ubu Cuckolded”) and Ubu Enchaîné (“Ubu in Chains”).

The protagonist “Père Ubu” (yes, this is obviously where the band’s name came from) was originally based on the teenage lampooning of a stuffy teacher written by two friends of Jarry’s from school, but Jarry expanded the plays and used the character as a vehicle for his howling critique of bourgeois society’s evils.

People absolutely hated the scandalous Ubu Roi—it was considered lewd, crude, vulgar and low—and its controversial author. At the premiere in Paris, it was booed for a good fifteen minutes after the first word, “Merdre!” (his coining for “shit,” deliberately close to the French merde and translated in English as “Pshit” or “Shittr!”), was spoken. Fist fights broke out in the orchestra pit. Jarry’s supporters yelled “You wouldn’t understand Shakespeare, either!” His detractors rejoined with their variations on the theme of “shit.”

William Butler Yeats was apparently in the audience that night in 1896 and is alleged to have said “What more is possible? After us, the Savage God.”

I can think of something… or rather *someone*...

The play was accused of being politically subversive, the work of an anarchist mindfucker or even that it was a “hoax” designed to hoodwink a gullible middle-class audience with metaphorical shit that some of them, at least, would say tasted good.

Again, this seems so freaking familiar, doesn’t it?

Not that an absurdist agitator like Alfred Jarry cared about any of this. Characters had names like “MacNure,” “Pissweet” and “Pissale.” Confrontationally pissing off the audience was practically the entire point for him. Ubu’s scepter, after all, was a shit-smeared toilet brush.

A ship of fools in a sea of shit…

Via Wikipedia:

According to Jane Taylor, “The central character is notorious for his infantile engagement with his world. Ubu inhabits a domain of greedy self-gratification.” Jarry’s metaphor for the modern man, he is an antihero—fat, ugly, vulgar, gluttonous, grandiose, dishonest, stupid, jejune, voracious, cruel, cowardly and evil—who grew out of schoolboy legends about the imaginary life of a hated teacher who had been at one point a slave on a Turkish Galley, at another frozen in ice in Norway and at one more the King of Poland. Ubu Roi follows and explores his political, martial and felonious exploits, offering parodic adaptations of situations and plot-lines from Shakespearean drama, including Macbeth, Hamlet and Richard III: like Macbeth, Ubu—on the urging of his wife—murders the king who helped him and usurps his throne, and is in turn defeated and killed by his son; Jarry also adapts the ghost of the dead king and Fortinbras’s revolt from Hamlet, Buckingham’s refusal of reward for assisting a usurpation from Richard III and The Winter’s Tale‘s bear.

“There is,” wrote Taylor, “a particular kind of pleasure for an audience watching these infantile attacks. Part of the satisfaction arises from the fact that in the burlesque mode which Jarry invents, there is no place for consequence. While Ubu may be relentless in his political aspirations, and brutal in his personal relations, he apparently has no measurable effect upon those who inhabit the farcical world which he creates around himself. He thus acts out our most childish rages and desires, in which we seek to gratify ourselves at all cost.” The derived adjective “ubuesque” is recurrent in French and francophone political debate.

Sound like anyone you watched in a debate last night who made a total ass of himself in front of one of the largest television audiences in history?

All that was missing was the fucking shit-smeared toilet brush if you ask me….
More absurdity after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger
01:49 pm
‘Ubu Sings Ubu’: Pere Ubu meets Alfred Jarry in absurdist pataphysical mash-up
12:52 pm

More than a century after it premiered, the play Ubu Roi by French playwright Alfred Jarry remains one of the most singularly brilliant accomplishments in the history of drama, a dizzyingly absurdist mashup of Macbeth and Hamlet and King Lear. Its influence in drama is too massive to be detailed here, but more interesting is its impact on rock music. Not only did David Thomas and company decide to name their new Cleveland band after the protagonist of Ubu Roi—that’s a gimme. But much more to the point, rock heroes as diverse as the Fall’s Mark E. Smith and Coil and Henry Cow have drawn inspiration from the manic adventures of the King of Poland-assassinating revolutionary.

Finally, a veteran of the NYC stage, Tony Torn, had the brilliant idea of staging a production of Ubu Roi that incorporates the songs of Pere Ubu. The project is called Ubu Sings Ubu. Why did it take more than 30 years for someone to do this?? Not surprisingly, the unsettling genius of David Thomas and that of Alfred Jarry fit together like a fish and a trampoline, to employ a suitably Dada-esque trope.

Today is Saturday, January 10, and if you are in the New York area, you can see Ubu Sings Ubu tomorrow and Monday (January 11 and 12) at the Slipper Room at 167 Orchard Street with the appropriately eerie start time of 11 pm. Tickets cost $22 at the door but you can pre-order tix for a cool eighteen smackers.

The cast includes Julie Atlas Muz, called “the quintessence of fabulousness” by the Gay City News, and the choreography is by Dan Safer, who also co-directed. Ubu Sings Ubu was, hilariously, adapted from a version of the original French text of Jarry’s Ubu Roi that was then zapped into Google Translate.

We discussed the production of Ubu Sings Ubu with its co-director and star, Tony Torn:

Dangerous Minds: Has Ubu Sings Ubu been performed before?

Tony Torn: Ubu Sings Ubu premiered at the Abrons Arts Center on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in April 2014.

I live in Cleveland, and Pere Ubu swings a pretty big dick around here. Have you ever been to Cleveland?

Yes, my good friend the poet and artist Julie Patton lives there! Cleveland rocks.

Aside from the name, what is the connection between Ubu Roi and Pere Ubu, to you?

I was an obsessive fan of Pere Ubu’s music in high school! I wore out my LP of The Modern Dance. I later discovered Alfred Jarry’s proto-surrealist masterpiece Ubu Roi by looking into the band’s influences. The idea to mash them up came 30 years ago, and it finally happened last year. The concept is … the songs of the band, Pere Ubu, done by the character, Pere Ubu. It’s a silly joke, but it’s proved to be very deep in its own way.

Obviously Pere Ubu took their name from Jarry. Is there any thematic content in the songs that relates to Ubu Roi?

It’s more a sharing of sensibilities than any explicit correlation, at least in the genius of David Thomas’ songwriting. Although it’s true that the hook in the song “The Modern Dance” is “Merdre, Merdre.” This of course is the famous first line of Jarry’s Ubu Roi, where the character of Pere Ubu says the french word for “shit” with an extra syllable added…. this caused riots when the play premiered in Paris in 1896! Young William Butler Yeats was in the audience, and famously wrote, “After us, the savage god.”

How hard was it to match up Pere Ubu’s song titles to the plot of Ubu Roi?

It was surprisingly easy! They don’t relate directly on a lyrical level, but emotionally and dramatically they work like gangbusters. Take the two songs we turned into duets between Pere and Mere Ubu. “Non-Alignment Pact” and “Heart Of Darkness” become incredibly powerful when they are performed as playing out a relationship. And “Final Solution” is a super heavy thing to sing as Ubu goes to war against the Russian king. It all seems to fit super well.

If you could add one song by someone other than Pere Ubu, what would that song be?

Nothing but Pere Ubu! I tried to add Minutemen songs in an early concept but it was all wrong. D. Boon’s songwriting is too intellectual for Ubu!

Here’s a music video of the Ubu Sings Ubu Band’s rendition of Pere Ubu’s “Life Stinks”:

More absurdity after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider
12:52 pm
David Hockney talks about his Life and Art

Looking like a delightfully naughty schoolboy, David Hockney explains, in this interview from Andy Warhol’s TV, why he never really wanted to be anything else but an artist, discussing his background, his early work, his heroes, his paintings, his art, his working methods, his interests, and in his involvement in designs for Ubu Roi, The Rake’s Progress and Parade. These clips usually disappear quite quickly, so watch it while you can. With subtitles in Spanish.

More from the fab Mr. H, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
07:16 pm