56 pp / $12
It must first be said that reading a Mac Wellman play is a much different experience than watching one. Wellman delights in creating problems and challenges for his fellow artists to surmount and—as with most theater—any competent production of one of his plays has already done some of the hard work for its audience; the actors, designers and director have already collaborated in order to realize Wellman’s dizzying, idiosyncratic form. Producing one of Wellman’s plays is a true act of theater, a band of artists coming together to make sense and order from a dense and complex text. But when reading one of Wellman’s plays, the reader is on one’s own. Where there ought to be collaboration, there is instead a hall of mirrors and echoes. At points it can even become unclear whether one is reading a stage direction or a line of dialogue (forget for a moment the possibility that it could even be a stage direction meant to be read as a line of dialogue.)
Reading Left Glove, Wellman’s newest play, is nonetheless far from an unpleasant experience. It’s challenging and maddening, absolutely, but it is also a deeply funny and clever work. The plot of Left Glove is rather simple: a woman named Yamaha Nazimova loses a glove. Later, another woman, Jewel Beckett, picks it up. But plot summary does a disservice here. For between these two events Wellman invites a pantheon of fingers, moths, spiders and ghouls to sing 27 mercurial choruses (each beginning “Resolved, that:”) exploring Wellman’s particular cosmology of loss, duality and purpose. As it turns out, the true protagonist of Left Glove is neither Yamaha Nazimova, nor Jewel Beckett nor this fever-dream of a chorus—it is the language itself. While Wellman may eschew many of the traditions of the well-made play, he is certainly aware of the unique delights of live performance and the poetry of the spoken word. What may seem obtuse or nonsensical on the page springs to life when read out loud, the cadence of the lines and exclamations in Left Glove having what Yeats (himself a straddler of the line between drama and poetry) called “a click like a closing box.”
Though the metaphors nested within Wellman’s playful poetry tend to slip and shift under the readers’ feet, there is a clear sense of focus throughout Left Glove. Wellman’s wit relies largely on the coincidences of language and sound: the chorus repeatedly speaks of being “gloved” as synonymous with being loved, finding another to complete your pair. Time and time again, Wellman returns to the same question: what is a left glove without a right? What Wellman eventually teases out is a weighty meditation on separation—be it divorce, death or simply loneliness—and the possibilities of personal fullness despite having lost one’s “other half.” In Left Glove, the world is divided between what is Right and what is Left, Wellman taking the side of the underdog Left glove and by association, the broken, the empty and the broken-hearted.
Wellman’s message is not one of bitterness or anger however. He is too deft here to seek pity or sympathy for the Left. Instead, Left Glove celebrates the temporality and fragility of relationships and hearts, saying:
The glove that is named, named Left Glove,
be not forgotten, an imagine floating, as if
a mere blip or bleb in clear-air disturbance;
that the name of Left Glove be honored
in all the halls and malls the world over;
that the name of Left Glove circle the world
three times over, so rapid the telling of her
fame, her excellence, her cheerful countenance;
that the name of Left Glove be as a solemn
music to the deaf ears of the Right Glove clique;
that all good men shall hum that melody
without knowing what it is they hum nor why
not will they care to know, being in harmony
with all that goes covered in a sheath–
whether it be of cloth or felt, or finest satin
with intricatest stitching or smoothest leather
of a buttery softness
Despite my earlier disclaimer, there is something perfect and (g)lovely (to borrow one of Wellman’s own puns) about approaching Left Glove as solitary reader. It is, after all, a play about the individual findings his or her own way. And left alone to learn the tricks and rhythms of Wellman’s language, the reader eventually discovers a text that fits one like a glove.
–Stephen Aubrey is a writer and dramaturg. He can be found here.