Apr 5, 2007
Saw Essential Self-Defense and felt a lot closer to Linda Winer's take than Charles Isherwood's. In short, Winer pegged the work's "junky and silly smartness," while Isherwood deplored it as a "self-conscious exercise in stagy attitudinizing." (David Cote mostly dismissed it as a "quirky-glum" aberration from Rapp's best work; Eric Grode seemed to want to admire its "anarchic, undisciplined" qualities more than he could.)
Self-indulgent it is, but no moreso, in my opinion, than the works of, say, David Lynch or Tom Waits or R. Crumb, to cite a few acquired-taste auteurs from various media without whom our world would be much, much duller. I don't think Essential Self-Defense belongs in the ranks of anyone's best works, let alone Rapp's, and I utterly understand gut-level revulsion to self-styled "bad-boy" attitudinizing, as I've felt that particular twinge myself. It's all too true that so-called "alternative" voices are very often overpraised just for existing. On the other hand, I think the persistence of certain independent-minded oddballs against our culture's steep odds is all too easy to take for granted and become cynical about, as if the middle finger is just another marketing gesture. Sometimes it is, I guess, but I don't get that from Rapp's work. He may flaunt his punk-rock aesthetics a little too proudly, and I'm not sure he's earned the right to be considered indispensable, exactly; but I'm glad we have him. (My brief thoughts on Red Light Winter are here, and my LA Times review of Finer Noble Gases is here.)
And, though it somehow kept reminding me how much richer Tracy Letts' work is, in a similar paranoid vein, I'm glad I saw Essential Self-Defense, not least for the definitive lead performances of Paul Sparks and Heather Goldenhersh, and for the inventive set by David Korins. Some non-essential works are still defensible.
(Meanwhile, Isaac at Parabasis traces the finer points of edginess and hype, takes issue with cynicism about same, and heaps the ritual abuse on Isherwood. And the passionate Rocco goes crazy for the play.)
PS: On the topic of the Times' much-loved critic, a gentleman in the men's room at intermission blared to all within earshot: "What was wrong with Christopher Isherwood?" I wanted to reply, "I don't know, I kind of admire his Vedanta phase," but I held off.
Posted by Rob Weinert-Kendt at 12:40 PM