Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wicked: A Discourse

I saw Wicked when I was in San Francisco.

It was amazing - high up on the balcony, a map of Oz serving as a curtain. Giant clockwork gears serving as a stage, more gears constructing the towers of the town, the castle, the Emerald City.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Surprisingly, Madam Morrible's Tick-Tock assassin did not make an appearance in the stage - nor was the Dragon Clock much a part of it. It leaves me wondering why the entire stage was composed of mechanical gears, grinding and grinding. Perhaps it's a metaphor of fate - which is odd because Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West, dodges her assumed "fate" with a lovely deus ex machina. After all, the opening number takes great pains to tell the audience that the wicked die alone (and they deserve it too, no doubt), thereby establishing a theory that features the world as black and white instead of shades of grey. Of course, the entire point of Wicked is complicating these assumed truths about wickedness and goodness and evil so I still don't see how the tick-tocky mechanicalness fits into everything. A clock is predictable - if the world was predictable it wouldn't be shades of grey - unless the very shades of greyness of everything is predictable.

Alright, now that I've given myself a headache overanalyzing one symbol I'll conclude with this: I really dug the set. It felt very steampunk. Even though it wasn't, of course.

Wicked The Play is vastly different from Wicked the Novel. Even though I believe that Maguire was too anxious to show off his SAT vocabulary (in ways detrimental to the story), I still love his revisioning of the tale. I also love elements of Wicked the Play's revisioning of the novel.

In the novel, the origin stories of the Tin Man and Scarecrow (though we do get a glimpse of the Cowardly Lion) are not addressed like they were in the Play. I prefer the Play's treatment of these characters. I liked that they were present in the musical, in comparison to their absence in the novel.

I particularly felt that the Tin Man was especially dark. Sure he's silver and a little adorable in the film with the saccharine powdered Judy Garland and, even though he has no literal heart, he has plenty of emotional heart.

Not so in the play. When Elphaba is painted as a wicked witch in need of a good old fashioned witch hunt (complete with pitchforks), he proclaims from the balcony --

And I will heartlessly murder her!

And the line thrilled me from my head to my toes and everything in between because it's so obvious and yet I've never really thought about it before. I mean - really!

As for the Scarecrow, in the novel Elphaba suspected (wrongly) that the Scarecrow could be her lost love, Fiyero. In the play, the scarecrow really is her lover -- and I really, really adored this because it just complicated things so much. There are threefold reasons why I adore this element to the play:

When he's on his knees in a cornfield with a red sky - surrounded by guards, confronted by G(a)linda, he is then carried away out of the foreground. Out of the spotlight, he and his captors become silhouettes. His hands are bound above his head to the shaft of spear, hands clawed over the piece of wood. The imagery, of course, foreshadows his fate to be the Scarecrow -- but for the brief moments he's silhouetted and bound, he's so fragile. I just found the image to be extremely powerful.

Elphaba turns Fiyero into a scarecrow because she was trying to save him, yet, at the same time -- a scarecrow is a thing. In the movie, the scarecrow wants a brain. In the play (and to a lesser extent the novel), Fiyero is, at first, quite frivolous and petty. Ultimately, Elphaba literally objectifies him when, before, her objectification was simply metaphorical when they both sang, "As long as you're mine" -- because, really, only objects can belong to someone. People shouldn't belong to people, even if it's in the name of love. And of course, whatever brains he once had is now replaced by straw...interesting how abstract heartlessness became concrete in the case of the Tinman but abstract brainlessness doesn't. Hum. Still, if someone took my brain away I would feel as if I had been obscenely violated -- of course, this isn't really addressed in the play. Too dark for show tunes, I suppose.

Despite the problematic conception of turning Fiyero into a scarecrow, I still understand why she did it -- I empathize with her:

Let him feel no pain
Let his bones never break
And however they try
To destroy him

This musical number was absolutely amazing. I need to see it again!

In the book, Fiyero actually died very abruptly. I prefer the play's vision (even though i disagree with their happily ever after bow). It's easy to feel guilty about being the cause of a lover's death, as Elphaba was in the novel -- it's more difficult understanding and experiencing the consequences of turning someone you love into a scarecrow. Death is the easy way out: it's final, it's inevitable. Everybody dies -- but not everybody ends up as a scarecrow.

Despite my fondness for the play, I really, really could not stand G(a)linda. She was a stereotypical blonde on steroids. It made me nauseous. I feel that her character -- even as it grew up a little towards the end -- could have been more complex. I'd also have liked a better reason for her betraying Elphaba (telling the wizard and the Madam that her weak spot was Nessarose) than the fact she was peeved that Elphaba had somehow taken Fiyero away from her. That is a very tired reason. I also think that Elphaba's, G(a)linda's, and Fiyero's relationships could have been developed more. It felt a little contrived: well, it would be cool if this happened so this could happen next!

Which is why I believe that a conglomeration of the novel and the play would make a most excellent tv show. Not a movie because a movie has to be too short -- but a tv show.

And I hated the ending of the play. Elphaba should have stayed dead, like she stayed dead in the book. The novel's ending was tragic. It was so tragic, I was a little shocked and numbed when I read it. I was all exclamation points and question marks and saucer eyes in a dumbfounded shake of the head. In the novel, Dorothy is attempting to go to the castle to apologize to Elphaba for killing her sister. But when Elphaba accidentally sets her broom on fire, Dorothy cries out, I'll save you as she dashes a bucket of water on Elphaba's head.

That's tragic and poignant and deeply heartbreaking.

But the play ended it with a cake that had too much sugar in its frosting and a bow too perfect to be real. My, what a convenient trap door (or should I call you deus ex machina instead?) that was.

Though I have to say, the way they had the "death" scene take place behind a curtain -- and Dorothy as a menacing shadow girl with pigtails -- was pretty brilliant.

But I still don't approve. The perfect little ending for the witch who had lost so much strips away the gravitas of the play, the seriousness of the question it posits at the beginning. A totally contrived ending about as real as a man made of straw.

Other than that, I loved it!

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