Double Dicking: My Day with Philip K.

  • Nov. 12th, 2007 at 11:06 AM
my_daroga: Mucha's "Dance" (rogue)
I married into the PKD cult. It was more or less a requirement for our involvement, a love for We Can Build You. Combined with an instinctual hatred for Blade Runner. So it was interesting, on Saturday, to go see a new play about him and a screening of the aforementioned film in its new, “Final Cut” incarnation. The play is called 800 Words: The Transmigration of Philip K. Dick, written by Victoria Stewart and premiered here at the Live Girls theater (a dangerous name, seeing as it's a group committed to staging new works by women rather than to taking their tops off).

PKD died three months before Blade Runner came out, having only seen a few minutes of it. He didn't live to see the plethora of adaptations of his works, most of them atrocious, or to feel his influence. Or to see plays written about his final days and talking cat. If you think that last one would have been impossible, you don't know Dick.

The play is entertaining; it weaves one of Dick's ex-wives, an FBI agent, Stanislaw Lem, Sacha the cat, and a muse/seductress/other half who is by turns his dead twin Jane, an East Berlin communist, and a teenage drug dealer. The playwright knows a lot about him, and the stuff she gets wrong seems to be intentional. “History is not kind to Linda Ronstadt fans,” the playwright-as-actress tells Dick late in the play, after proving he's in a play by pointing out that the first act was accompanied by the Beatles, whom he hated. This being a play about Dick, reality is mutable and authorship in question.

Unfortunately, Stewart isn't as smart as Dick. I think the same would be true for nearly anyone—no one was better at adulterating our senses through mere words than Dick, and he is the only person I believe was qualified to write this play. Maybe Tom Stoppard. There are some touches of genius, however: the talking cat, played by a puppet and an actress dressed in black from head to toe, is a perfect commentator and companion for both the reclusive Dick and the audience, and knows more than she lets on. There is some nice play with theatrical conventions. But what should have been a gradual breakdown of reality until neither we nor Dick knows what's going on is more like a stab at revelation; the point seems to be that the character Dick knows he's in a play. It reads like one of the spate of new films which plays with meta-cinema but only coyly--I Heart Huckabees comes to mind.

The acting was variable, with the cat and Jane/Commie/Muse/Girl With Dark Hair as the standouts. Phil was excellent in some scenes, and generically manic in others. Then again, he's on stage the entire play and the part isn't simple. I thoroughly enjoyed it, since it was far better than I expected; but it could have been so much more.

After a run through Subway, we found ourselves in front of the enormous Cinerama screen downtown. Both Mr. Daroga and I had seen the film before, separately, and both hated it. It seemed, however, that if we were ever going to give it another chance, this was the time. And that turned out to be a good decision.

I enjoyed “The Final Cut” much, much more than the original film I saw. I don't remember enough of either the book or the other versions to honestly review its differences. In short, Blade Runner captures the atmosphere it should and in Rutger Hauer as Roy finds a heart. But it is a shallow reflection of a much larger work; my emotional involvement came wholly at the hands of the enemy android, whose performance lends him more sympathy than I suspect he was supposed to get. I'm not saying the film is unambiguous, but I'm not convinced Hauer was supposed to be quite that good. The new version seems seems to do a better job at drawing the subtle inference that anyone (hint hint) might be a replicant, and mercifully cuts out the pointless voiceovers. The music by Vangelis and Sean Young's shoulder pads are the only dated things about the film, so it holds up well.

It's just not PKD. The play is more true to his spirit, but there is no replacing him. Imitators beware.

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