By Charles Lam
By LP HASTINGS
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By LP HASTINGS
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
"I clamored to get this little three-scene role, to spend 10 weeks of my life playing it when I could make much more money doing TV," said Harelik, who last year played the titular character in SCR's Tartuffe. "Basically this is an actor's dream. The character is just magnificent. He's Orson Welles-like—hubris personified, the embodiment of westward expansion. And I have the opportunity to chew every piece of furniture and scenery to sawdust."
hIn the cities, men build traps of stone and think they can lock God inside. What would He be doing there? In those little caves . . . God made the deserts. Dryness is in his heart. He cherishes the empty places.
Korder is one of the last playwrights one would tap to write a play with such grand historical scope. He has written screenplays about such historical personalities as Ayn Rand and Fidel Castro for cable, but until now, his plays have all concerned themselves with decidedly contemporary characters, realms and situations.
Patch, who is friends with Korder, believes this change in scope was greatly affected by Korder's move from New York to Santa Fe a few years ago. Patch figures that Korder, an avid hiker, developed a close relationship with the land that generated his interest in writing a play dealing with the American frontier.
Korder says the play springs from another source—a gift he gave his girlfriend, who is English: Frances Milton Trollope's 1832 book, Domestic Manners of the Americans. Trollope was a proto-feminist, a socialist who believed that America would be the place where the revolutionary dreams of the French Revolution would take corporeal form.
"Much to her personal dismay, she wound up despising the people," Korder said.
He was taken by Trollope's unintentionally comic tone and the image of an America that already had its projectors (early capitalists), fervent evangelism, thin-skinned pride and haughty arrogance. "It was a country that is very much stranger than ours but also so familiar in terms of its thoughts and ambition," Korder said.
But what really hooked him was Trollope's painstaking recounting of American speech. There were words and phrases he didn't know. "That really intrigued me," Korder said. "I realized I didn't know this way of speech at all."
Many of those words and phrases are woven into The Hollow Lands in highly ironic fashion. Consider the word "scheme." In the first half of the 1800s, "scheme" was used in America—and still is in England—to denote any plan or project, much different from its negative connotation today. Or the phrase "made him come," a euphemism for killing.
His linguistic curiosity piqued, Korder began researching the era. During the process, he realized that the story of America wasn't the well-planned, executed march across a continent to fulfill a manifest destiny but a chaotic mass struggle to give ourselves an identity and a name.
A play was born.
hYou—you—I recognize your kind. Oh, yes. The flotsam of history. Drifting about the blank spaces of the continent, cultivating your tiny resentments. Cursing your betters. Dreaming like an onanist of violence and profit. As if you mattered.
While The Hollow Lands marks a dramatic departure in Korder's tone and scope, his concerns remain the same.
"There is a very strong sense in all of Howard's work of asking what do we lose as we go forward, what do we leave behind that maybe we shouldn't," Chambers said. "There is also a very profound question of how you truly build an identity, a sense of place and home and purpose in a society where rootlessness and mobility are so championed."
Similarly, the characters in The Hollow Lands don't deviate substantially from the rest of the playwright's oeuvre.
"He's always written about essentially similar things in his plays, the promise that's out there in American culture—that you can grab this brass ring, and to what extent he believes the brass ring is a lie," Patch said. "Certainly there are people who get it, but most of us don't, and he's writing about most of us. His characters are not kings. James Newman is an immigrant off the docks, and Martin Markheim [from Search and Destroy] is a schmuck, but he's an innocent schmuck.
"So his characters all have that kind of experiential innocence coupled with an ambition and drive, and each time they fail. They may end up wealthy sometimes, but they've lost themselves and their humanity."
Amid this talk of failure and lost humanity, it must be said there is a chord of redemption in The Hollow Lands not usually sounded in a Korder play.
"With so many of Howard's characters, he comes down like a pile driver and mashes them into the floor, and you walk away in terrified wonder at the spectacle because he's so articulate," Harelik said. "But here I think at least two of the main characters begin to discover what wisdom is. They're battered but unbowed."
hAnd I have played my life out. In pursuit of dust.
Let us speak in purely capitalist terms for a moment. For several years, Korder has invested much time and energy in The Hollow Lands. And it's doubtful the play will be a Big Hit. In the theater, "big" is relative, but a "Big Hit" is basically a play that gets a lot of productions. The Hollow Lands is just too damn big and too expensive for most theaters.