C. Dylan Bassett
The Invention of Monsters / Plays for the Theatre
C. Dylan Bassett, a teaching fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and published poet, produces striking phantasmagoria in his work, The Invention of Monsters/Plays for the Theatre. The compilation openly invites the audience—performers, directors, and theatergoers alike—to interpret its performative texts. His bold wit structures his prose into four separate acts: The Invention of the Monster, Fantasies About Cowboys, Scenes of Heroism, and A Tent for the Night. The work conquers themes of gender and (at times, graphic) sexuality, written in first-person narrative.
The first act, named after the book’s title, explores the story of growth through masculinity and socially constructed hierarchies. We often mistake hierarchies as natural; it is certainly easy to forego thorough interrogation of their social origins. Inspired by Dali’s 1937 painting, the first act—The Invention of Monsters—uses space and color to depict gender and the relationships between those of different gender identities.
The previous scene ostensibly depicts the traditional family household: the mother and her newborn in the bedroom. However, the language intentionally fails to mention the relationship between the woman, the baby, and the room. Because of social roles and conventional household layouts, the audience assumes the relationships between the two characters and their environment.
Fantasies About Cowboys collects memories of sex and innocence, or the lack there of, through the lens of a Western noir. In this act, men “remove their hats as if at church” and finally dive indulgently into their innate desires.
“We finally have sex but forget to remove our Halloween masks. A stranger watches through the black slats of a chair. A nightmare, a small community or groups of houses. It’s quiet in the world, the whole of you inside of me. One would like to know the context of the story. Someone’s Jesus reaches for a gun.”
Masks hide who we pretend to be, in bed and in our lives. Others can intrude in the most intimate of settings, despite the silence and stillness. Bassett offers a series of brief descriptions to structure a scene. He challenges the audience with these snapshots and situations, all in a single paragraph. Each scene, in each act, has less than a dozen sentences.
Scenes of Heroism follows a pattern like the previous act, in which Bassett metaphorically discusses those involved with war: priests, policemen, anyone that experiences conflict. Bassett merges traditional components of a battlefield—blood and rifles, among other representative objects—with the bizarre imagery of a clown laughing at the moon and a crow dissolving into a cat.
Lastly, A Tent for the Night resolves the battles of cowboys and soldiers described previously with images of a giant staircase, sensual garden, and prayer. The act closes with the story “as someone painted it”—perhaps, of course, Dali. In the passage below, we see the order transcended and returned to the way of life, especially though disintegrated magic, lovers, and the faithful.
“Order is resorted to the earth once more, the giant quid propels itself slowly and majestically through the deep. I vomit on Sunday. I feel like part of something bigger. Religion is framed as a reversal of fortune. A magic in which very little disappears. In haste and love, the lovers swallow. The faithful proceed. The cruel hand descends once more into its glove.”
Quirky and creative, The Invention of Monsters/Plays for the Theatre celebrates ambiguity. It applies prose to a theatrical and socio-sexual context. I applaud Bassett’s ambition to cross the boundary from prose to theater. However, I often felt flustered by overwhelming metaphors with little description. This goes along with the performative gaps, most likely intended, by the writer himself. However, I found comfort in the lack of dialogue and stage direction, because it grants the audience a rare independence. I enjoyed the lack of direction, despite how clueless it at times made me feel. Regardless, the four acts offer an interestingly explicit approach to theatrical text, and the possibility of, production. Plays Inverse published this title, amongst other plays and play-like literature, out of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.
Corcione identifies as a writer, traveler, and activist. Read her work here.