Tim Sanford on The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters
“Whoever loves the earth and its glory, and forgets the ‘dark realm’ or confuses the two… has spirit for his enemy; and whoever flees from the earth and falls into the ‘eternal arms’ has life for an enemy.”
–C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation
“We are all of us in the gutter.
But some of us are looking at the stars.”
–The Pretenders' "Message of Love," from Oscar Wilde
“The subconscious has no sense of humor.”
–Marlane Meyer, The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters
My cousin Russ turned me onto Jung when I was a sophomore in college just in time to blow my Epic Literature course experience wide open. Truth be told, traces of Jung kept popping up here and there in most of my subsequent undergraduate term papers from then on. This was the early 70s after all, when the counter-cultural rebellion against rationalism still prevailed. In Jung, the unconscious still held the keys to the sacred, and libido transformed from Freudian sexuality to the fire of spiritual potency. Art could be a repository of numinosity.
Few contemporary playwrights lend themselves to a Jungian interpretation as readily as Marlane Meyer. It's hard not to notice the archetypal dichotomies that run rampant through her work: male/female, light/shadow, sex/love, chaos/order, mother/child, et cetera. As Adam elaborates more fully in his contribution on page 5, Marlane Meyer characters always seem locked in struggles that seem bigger than themselves, bigger than simply class or environment, but almost seem cosmological. This pattern runs especially true in her romantic pairings. The hero of Patron Saint, Cal, is an inveterate gutter-dweller, a handsome cad with haunting secrets. The one-of-a-kind heroine, Aubrey, seems more content to dwell among the stars than to stare at them. In point of fact, she can’t seem to turn her eyes from the gutter where Cal dwells. And he can’t seem to shake her siren call. They are two kindred spirits on opposite ends of a libidinous coil. And as they are drawn into each other, they begin to turn into each other, a process as likely to yield tragedy as romance.
I hope Marlane isn’t mad at me for making her play sound heavy. For the fact is, when you work on a play with Marlane, when you talk about casting and design and dramaturgy, she’s probably most concerned with taking care of the comedy. Yes, characters are largely dominated by their subconscious impulses, but most of them rarely and imperfectly identify how those impulses control them. And as comedy theorists will tell you, automatic, unconscious behavior is the stuff of comedy. And the delicious mélange of sixteen Runyonesque ne’er-do-wells, ruffians, unhinged matriarchs, dime-store seers and animal puppets that populate Marlane’s play—all economically represented by our game ensemble of six—certainly will earn their fair share of yucks.
But for my part, I most hope that you will appreciate the uniqueness of Marlane’s vision. I think of Marlane as a California writer. You see it in her metaphysics, in the western epic landscape that hosts its action. In the rootless characters. You might see traces of Shepard in form. But Marlane is also a pioneer among women playwrights: fearless of form and content, wise, and comfortably resistant to categorizations. I’ve always felt that time would recognize her as one of the most important writers of the last thirty years. I am proud to produce her for the third time. She belongs in my personal pantheon.