Friday, November 12, 2004

Death of a Newspaperman

Theatregoers and gossip-seeking journalists will have a chance to catch a first glimpse of former Globe and Mail columnist David Macfarlane's new play this weekend. Fishwrap, a barely-veiled autobiographical tale about a washed-up newspaper columnist unable to find a job, is being workshopped publicly at Tarragon Theatre on Saturday at 8 pm as part of the admirable WorkSpace program put into place there by newish artistic director Richard Rose.

Back when Macfarlane wrote his Review column for the Globe, I used to regularly curse and spit Cheerios of anger at him while reading him in the morning. I would snort in disgust everytime he mentioned: a) the opera he was listening to while writing; b) the wine he was drinking; or c) his wife. He represented everything that I found annoying and pretentious about the Globe and its steadfast Boomerism. Once, I was so peeved by a condescending comment he made about readers under 30 that I wrote a long diatribe to his editor demanding that he be flogged. (This was, obviously, before I became a calm, level-headed professional journalist myself and realised that it is publishers who wield the cat o' nine tails.)

Anyway, there have been three press releases about Fishwrap so far, and in each one Macfarlane's play has seemed sadder and sadder, so I don't have the heart to make fun of him anymore. From a theatrical point of view, it's really interesting to read them to see how his conception of the play has changed as he's figured out different ways to dramatize a personal story. The first press release in March described Fishwrap thusly:
One minute you're at the top of your game. The next you can't get 500 words on bathroom fixtures in the Real Estate section.
There is no lonelier soul than a freelance writer who discovers, belatedly, that he is no longer wanted by the magazines and the newspapers by which he has eked out his living. Angry, funny and cruelly accurate, the play asks the question: how can a man make sense of a life that has never been anything more than yesterday's paper?
Okay, so at these point it seemed kind of funny, self-deprecating... Then, in September, a new release was put out and you can tell that the play has evolved to something a little more substantial and tragic in a Willy Loman sort of way:
In Fishwrap we meet Kingsley Fitzhenry – a man who always had pretension beyond newspaper and magazine writing, but who, nonetheless, earned his living on Grub Street. He has come to the offices of a newspaper for which he used to write with some regularity in order to pitch an idea for a column, but because nobody really wants to see him, he has been shunted down to a junior editor. He is humiliated by this treatment, but too desperate for work to let it deter him. What unfolds is less a pitch than an avalache of caustic autobiography. Angry, funny, bitter – and cruelly accurate in its portrayal of the lower rungs of print journalism – Fishwrap asks the question: how can a man make sense of a life that has never been anything more than yesterday's paper?
Now, for the latest press release (not online), check out the shift in focus as Macfarlane begins working with a dramaturge who seems to be wanting him to make the show more absurdist, more depressing, and, thus, apparently more relevant to the post-9/11 world:
Nothing is forever. Not life. Not love. And certainly not work. In an age of insecurity, few have a more tenuous hold on employment than the freelance newspaper writer. Fewer still have bigger egos. But when the axe falls, even the proudest old hack and the most deluded columnist are obliged to confront what all of us must someday face: no matter how important we believe ourselves to be, there will come a time when there is no space for us anymore.
In Fishwrap, comedy and anger, defiance and lonely bewilderment are woven together in a monologue that continually bursts beyond the confines of a single character. Stuck together in a single room, a blocked writer and his crusty, verbose persona mourn the loss of the only thing that gave their job meaning: an audience. Now, they have nobody to rant to anymore. Except themselves.
At this point, Fishwrap seems to have completed its evolution into a horror play for journalists, some sort of Endgame for scribes. "I can't go on; I'll go on..."

What a great business the media is, eh?

If anyone goes to the workshop this weekend, I'd love to hear back from you.

No comments: