Friday, August 17, 2007

i flat out did not understand this one, folks

White Biting Dog
by Judith Thompson

Excuse me, could you call the projectionist, please? He's my Dad--I just have to talk to him for a second--I know--but the thing can run on its own, we both know that--besides, this is an emergency! Yeah! Thanks, thanks a lot...(peering) Dad? I can see the dustbeam but I can't see you oh there you are hi! Hi...It's me--no, no I'm not back, I'm not even in the Kirk, actually, I'm just--like this is gonna totally weird you out, but--I had to appear to you like this 'cause--in a couple of hours you're gonna hear that -- don't freak out--that I passed myself on and--like--I didn't want you to get too down about it so I thought I'd come and tell you myself that--it's not at all a bad thing. It's quite nice if you just give in to it. You know the feeling when you're falling asleep and ya jump awake 'cause you dreamt you slipped on a stair? Well it's like if you stayed in the slip--if you dove right down into it and held your breath til you came out the other end. I'm in the holding your breath part right now, so I'm not sure what's on the other end, but I feel like I'm so big I'd barely fit into the Kirk Community Centre-- it's weird, but... Dad? Dad? The main reason I came was to let you know that I didn't...kill myself 'cause I couldn't hack it or because the man I loved couldn't love me back, it was 'cause...I was invaded, Dad, Dad, filled by the worst ever imagined--I guess it happened when I fell in love, on account of I had to open my mouth so wide to let the love in that the evil came in, too...and living with it was just liked being skinned alive; worse pain even than your kidney stones, and we know how bad they were. Now the pain has stopped, and there's still the old Pony to give to my husband: 'cause he needs it, Dad, like a blood transfusion he needs it, and just like Mum would give you anything you needed, I'm gonna give myself to him. No, we didn't get papers, but he's my husband all right. His name is Cape Race, like the place, eh? Oh yeah, I told him about your mice and he was really impressed and uh--tell Wade there's a stereo store down here that's looking for someone and Mum--tell Mum not to go into the ditch about this 'cause I know they're gonna let me come visit--to--straighten her fingers and...give her alcohol rubs...Well...I have to finish my dive now...Oh Dad I'm so big now I'd never fit back on earth. Love...Pony.

Okay, I didn't get this play. Like at all. And now it's sitting on my shelf mocking me, which is totally unfair. I have reread it now way more times than I can justify with the study schedule I'm meant to be following. I just don't get it. And when I read on-line about how uproariously funny it is meant to be, I just feel more angry and confused that I started out feeling. So I kind of quit this play before I even sat down to write this blog post, which is unfair of course. I'm going to offer a plot summary and a clumsy stab at a discussion, and then I'm really going to quit this play (and pray there's no direct question about it on the exam). If you've read and loved or seen and understood White Biting Dog then please, please comment and explain it to me. Because I don't get it at all.

The basic story of the play is that a young man (named Cape Race), who has gone through a breakdown and a divorce, is in the act of attempting suicide when he sees a small white dog. The dog talks to him, and tells him that only through saving the life of his father, Glidden. Unfortunately, his father is convinced that without his wife, Lomia, he feels he has no reason to live -- but Lomia has taken off with a man named Pascal who is about Cape's age. Awkward! In the midst of all of this is a girl, Pony, who really is suicidal, but because she had a small white dog once she finds herself drawn into the plot to try and save Glidden -- in the meantime, she sort-of-but-not-really falls in love with Cape. The play ends with Glidden and Pony both dead because they loved Lomia and Cape either too much or in the wrong way or simply couldn't be loved back. (The quote above is the monologue Pony delivers before her suicide... It's perhaps better known in Canadian drama schools as 'ubiquitous monologue for young female actresses, usually delivered poorly and at an overwrought level of faux-motion.)

So that's the plot. I keep coming back to think about the fact that the protagonist changed his name to Cape Race. His mother named him Sonny at birth, which he bitterly claims shows that she hadn't thought of anything else to name him and so went for the obvious. Cape Race is the south-eastern-most point of Canada, being located at the very edge of the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. It was allegedly so-named because the first visitors, the Portugese fishermen who worked seasonally in Newfoundland, were amazed by how barren it was -- Capa Raso, meaning Cape Bare. Cape choosing this for his name is interesting because he rejects the barrenness of his mother's chosen name for him and instead embraces it in its geographical form.

News telegraphed from the ocean on liners and boats to New York was transmitted with the byline "via Cape Race." (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Likewise, the character Cape Race is the vehicle by which much is transmitted in the play -- his parent rarely speak to one another, but instead communicate through him. Further, he is the conduit for the talking white dog. Cape is the means by which information is disseminated in the play.


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Bronwyn said...

The reason Pony and Glidden commit suicide is so that Cape and Lomia can feel feelings. Both Cape and Lomia are struggling becaues they don't have emotions. Once the people they love (without knowing it) commit suicide, they can feel emotions again.