Generic Magic Realism
Author: Ed Malin
Description: What happens when the magical world of your average South American person is transplanted to a more northern, less magical, more real location?
Year Written/Copyrighted: 2013
Date Added: 2/19/2013
Content Advisory: Some sexual language
Keywords: Characters are Mostly Young Adults · Comedy · Coming of Age · Expressionism · Folklore and Legends · Naturalism/Realism · Satire/Parody · Shakespeare
1 Act, 60 Minutes
0 Females, 1 Male
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From the Author:
The play Generic Magic Realism is a bit of a joke that turned into a serious political and scientific quest.
One day I was thinking about how much I like the novels of Gabriel Garcia Márquez and others who use “magical” circumstances and characters to make a point about either the beauty of life or (more subtly) the oppression that comes from dictatorships. But after 500 pages, the stuff starts to get on my nerves and make me cry bullshit. Why is that? Is it just me envying the largely Latino universe from which these writings have emerged?
I recently asked a Chilean-American writer I know about magic realism and he replied that the levitating grandmothers and other ridiculous characters in Isabel Allende’s novels beg for satirical treatment. I took this response to be a reflection of national pride, arguing that there is definitely something magical about South/Central America that just needs to be better understood. Also, while I am not living under a dictator, I just lived through an election year, watched a lot of Middle Eastern leaders losing their grip, and noticed that Palestine was recognized as a state before Puerto Rico. Good stories about the truth (which is what dictators like to erase) are very much in need.
I began writing about a young man who doesn’t mind leaving his birthplace to find out what his life is for. He happens to be exiting Chile in 1968, not long before that country’s people (by a small margin) voted for a Marxist candidate, whom the U.S. promptly crushed. This man, Octavio, just knows he is the only Latino who can’t sing. He more than makes up for this by having visions about the universe, but how is that supposed to make him feel better? He gets a job on a boat hauling the regional cash crop, bird guano, which brings him to California. How does Psychedelic San Francisco compare with the magical South?
I found that no matter how odd I made the quest, Octavio found it worth pursuing. After all, at that time there were lots of people going to San Francisco to find themselves. Is taking dope magical? Is gay liberation magical? I want the audience to decide, but there I found myself under attack by the animal kingdom.
There are no flightless birds in the Northern Hemisphere. All of them are extinct. Why is there such diversity in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s not just the Galapagos, there are other unique flightless species all around the Southern Hemisphere. There are also more non-extinct indigenous cultures in South America, and they have lots of exciting bird stories.
So Octavio is not an idiot of the Forrest Gump or Prince Myshkin variety. Octavio is simply finding out how to live in the real world, which I think is a much harder proposition. To emphasize this, for the original production I selected this pre-show music: “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (Gaye/Terell), “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (U2), “Real Real Real” (Jesus Jones), “Ordinary World” (Duran Duran). The real world may very well achieve perfect balance—like the religious tolerance found in Serbia for 500 years—and then lose it. Yes, much harder than a magical fairy tale. More complex, requiring the participation of lots of people. Dictators intimidate people but then again the average person seems to have a short attention span for current events. I created a 45-minute show to express what I like reading about in 500-page books, for a festival which last year offered Love in the Time of Chlamydia and this year has Love in the Time of Time Machines. I am confident that even if you wander in expecting magic tricks, you will be blown away by Nat Cassidy’s theatrics and DeLisa White’s directives. They teamed up to win a NY Innovative Theater Award for 2011’s Things At The Doorstep: An Evening of Horror Based on the Works of H.P. Lovecraft.
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Original Production Information
Generic Magic Realism premiered at FRIGID New York on February 21,2013, at The Red Room Theatre, with the following cast and credits:
Octavio: Nat Cassidy
Director: DeLisa White
Stage Manager: Lauren Arneson
Graphics and photography: Kristina Leath-Malin
ITN Review by Martin Denton
It's amazing what can be accomplished on stage with nothing but an extraordinary actor, a guitar, and a generic black box. In Generic Magic Realism, Ed Malin's new play at FRIGID New York, Nat Cassidy holds us spellbound for an hour as he portrays Octavio, a Chilean farmer who runs away from home and has some remarkable (and, yes, magical) adventures on a ship whose cargo is bird guano and then in San Francisco during the summer of 1968. Malin's script is hilarious and insightful and wise, and Cassidy, directed stylishly and intelligently by frequent collaborator DeLisa White, is by turns luminous and illuminating as the cheerful, life-embracing South American wanderer.
Generic Magic Realism is a gentle parody of the magic realist style and an off-kilter exemplar of it as well. Octavio, like a character in a South American novel, encounters the unexpected everywhere in his life, so much so that he starts to expect it; his journey into the Summer of Love in the City by the Bay, filled with hippies, Grateful Dead groupies, druggies, gay libbers, and other representatives of humanity unfamiliar to a young man who has spent his life among goats and "bovines," affects him profoundly yet doesn't alter him in any fundamental way. (It takes love to do that: the last section of the play introduces us to a surprising young woman named Moira who will help Octavio discover that vital truth.)
Cassidy invests Octavio with a childlike sense of wonder that's downright infectious; even though this is a performance that's highly physical and often outsized, he maintains a splendid and delightful intimacy with the audience (obviously facilitated by the diminutive size and potent karma of the venue, The Red Room, which sadly will be leaving the Horse Trade theater roster next month). Cassidy's Octavio punctuates the jokes in Malin's frequently non-sequitur script with a sweetly guileless smile, and often also with a riff on the guitar that he occasionally strums to accompany and amplify his narrative. He also brings the other inhabitants of Octavio's tale to vivid life with strongly realized voices and characterizations.
White and Malin shrewdly let the words and the speaker make the magic promised by the title, unfettered and free, just as Octavio himself longs to be.
reviewed at the 2013 FRIGID New York festival