By Charles Lam
By LP HASTINGS
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By LP HASTINGS
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
The America in The Hollow Lands is in many respects the flip side of Turner's. The constant movement and struggle against the frontier sparked America's terrible ambition, our preoccupation with conquering and subjugating (seizing territory that wasn't ours; disdain for nature), our collective arrogance (manifest destiny), and our freaky religious fanaticism. All of it inextricably bound up with this sacrosanct notion of human rights and the supremacy of the individual.
"I think every character is a different facet of the search for freedom," said Korder. "They're all looking for this ever-elusive notion of liberty, for a place to call home, while at the same time their actions are all about obliterating place."
hI am no mangy trapper come to barter his pelts for the shiny baubles on your shelves. . . . I am the hand . . . that will redraw the map. I will make the white spaces my own. And call myself free.
Korder says his play is less concerned with history than with the search within. That's why he calls it a "history play without the history. These people aren't directly connected to the great historical movements. They're foot soldiers, unaware of the significance of their time.
"What they're all looking for is to be the freest being imaginable, to reach this image they have in their mind. That's a fantasy we all have, and I wanted it to take place in a purely physical realm. America is in the foreground of the play but not the substance. So, no, I don't view this as a criticism of America."
But it's hard to walk away from a reading of Korder's play with "God Bless America" echoing in one's head. This Korder knows.
"The image of America [in my play] isn't the picture of national progress that every politician by obligation is required to espouse," said Korder, who describes himself politically as your typical Left-leaning New York writer. "This glorious past in which we continually triumphed and the mistakes that were made did not mar our march toward even more glory. On one level, that story is kind of true. Millions have come to America and found their place. But there's a lot of talk about America as this Great Experiment—as if someone sat down and came up with all the moral, economic and social concerns and put it all together. But I just don't think that level of intellectual foresight was there."
Instead, the country's progress, Korder believes, mirrors that of every individual's journey: a chaotic and stumbling, sometimes glorious and sometimes horrifying series of mistakes, victories and constant changes. That personal journey interested Korder more than a play about America's collective heart of darkness: how a pattern to one's life, or personal history, takes shape even though the individual may be the last person to realize what is happening.
hLook upon us, Sir. We are the Penetrators. We shall pierce the membrane. We shall go Beyond. For on this continent—one quarter of the globe—nothing has yet to happen. History itself yearns to feel the stab of our entrance. We shall bring Time . . . where Time is not. Mark me, Sir. Mankind can never have this chance again.
The ideas in The Hollow Lands are absorbing and provocative. But what makes Korder a unique playwright is his use of language. That also makes The Hollow Lands a compelling read. Early in his career, Korder's use of short, staccato bursts of dialogue earned comparisons with David Mamet, while his ability to imbue each moment with tension brought Harold Pinter to mind. With The Hollow Lands, he brings that style to a far broader canvas.
But Korder's intrinsic belief that language, not behavior, is character remains the same, according to Chambers. That might sound like theater-school pedantry, but it's crucial to understanding Korder's brilliance. He writes visually and graphically, and an actor has to live in the words as much as he or she lives in the body of the character.
That confounds the lessons most American actors are taught: that the body comes first (think Marlon Brando and the Method). Not Korder. He believes "language is the first priority. If an actor can't find and feel his rhythm, the sharpness of attacks he uses, the very specificity of a lot of his words, then no amount of talking with the playwright or director will make it easy for you," Chambers said.
To illustrate his point, Chambers opened the script at random and picked a seemingly obvious exchange to illustrate Korder's peculiar talent:Mercy: There were Pigs. James:Pigs. Mercy:In the front room.
"There's a very sharp rhythm to that and very strong sounds: pigs, room. It's taut and tension-filled, and if there's any sort of behavioral distraction between the characters—instead of a real concentration on those words—you won't get the underlying tension," Chambers said.
Offsetting the short staccato dialogue are the more ornate passages, usually contained within the memorable speeches of Hayes, played by Harelik.
"His passages are like arias: long and sustained, embroidered and filigreed," Chambers said. "Hayes is a magician with language, a legerdemain who defines himself through language. His words are more important than his costume. He uses language to overpower, and Mark has an extraordinary ability to capture that."