Landscape of the Body
By John Guare
Directed by Jean Sidden
1977 seems like the”olden days” now. As far as New York City is concerned it was the time of a summer blackout that lasted more than 24 hours, break dancing in the streets, sidewalks filled with the homeless, all accompanied by a soundtrack of disco and punk. The city had nearly gone bankrupt in 1975 and services were cut to save money. Crime rose as the NYPD picked and chose which cases to investigate and which to cross off. Garbage rose like small mountains on the curb. The clean-of of Times Square and 42nd Street and the gentrification of the boroughs were years in the future. But still people came, from all over the country, to “be apart of it; New York, New York.”
At some point in the last half of the twentieth century we became afraid of our children. It was pushed along by a combined notion rock and roll, the generation gap and the counter culture being threats to the American way of life. The fear was sustained as parenting became the job of a single person, more often than not, a mother, who left home each day to work – believing that if she hung on long enough and did what she had to do or what she could, she might someday “make it.” The fear was nurtured by a sensationalist media, often plugged in as nanny, for children home alone.
John Guare wrote Landscape of the Body after overhearing a group of adolescents in a Now York diner bragging about their racket stealing watches. He couldn’t hear them very well and so returned home and started writing, imagining their conversation; imagining their backgrounds, their parents and their parents’ backgrounds. Where had the flawed single mother of the leader-of-the-pack come from? How had she lost the connection to her son? Who was her family? Alone in the teeming humanity of New York how did she survive? Is survival everything it’s cracked up to be? Does a girl need supernatural intervention to tell what’s real or not?
Guare examines our vulnerability to an American mythology that bombards us from the endless cacophony of pop culture. In the Chaos of our most mythic city of broken dream – New York – he pits an impressionable country mouse against an environment where the masters of disguise talk fast and fancy. Eventually she also learns the art of disguise and in that transformation is forced to take a sharp detour on the road to the American Dream.