Rochelle Owens first achieved success in the theater in the 1960’s. Because she is both a poet and a playwright, her plays contain poetic imagery. In her Who’s Who in America entry, Owens states that “Creativity, idealism and mental concentration have enabled me to pursue the world of ideas, transforming itself always into art.”
Futz was Owens’s first play to attract significant critical attention. It is about a gentle farmer, Cy Futz, in love with his sow, Amanda. He lives alone and raises vegetables for himself and his sow, but the people of the community will not leave him alone. Majorie Satz, the town whore, fancies him and finally inveigles him into a three-way sexual encounter with her and his pig, but Cy prefers Amanda.
Cy’s amorous devotion to his pig has unfortunate consequences for Oscar Loop, who hears the grunts and groans coming from Cy’s barn. The sounds and sight of Cy’s lovemaking antagonize Oscar to the point that he murders randy Ann Fox, whom he has brought with him and with whom he is engaging in some amorous activity of his own: He is driven insane by the idea of evil and his need to wipe it out. Oscar is arrested for the murder, and subsequently Sheriff Tom Sluck and Bill Marjoram come to arrest Cy, too. Meanwhile, Majorie has become worse than ever, upsetting the Satz family so much that her brother Ned resolves to take matters into his own hands and vindicate the family’s loss of honor.
In jail immediately before his execution, Oscar is visited by his mother, who gives an account of her son’s conception and birth. Oscar is obviously mad, thinking that the “spice-seed insects” he gives his mother have miraculous powers. The suggestions of incestuous feelings between them are quite broad, but Mrs. Loop seems interested mostly in her position of respectability and as an object of sorrow in the community.
Neither Oscar’s execution nor Cy’s murder by Brother Ned has any effect on the sexual mores of the community. Two characters, Buford and Sugford, take Majorie (in a “whorey mood”) with them to a field. Majorie suggests that she and her friends kill Cy’s pig, offering to do it herself when they demur. They go as Brother Ned prepares to kill Cy because, he says, “You make my brains red!”
Futz thus dramatizes and satirizes some of the worst aspects of humankind’s vicious animal nature and counterpoints them to its gentler manifestations. Cy intends no harm to anyone and asks only to be left alone. The members of his community find his bestiality intolerable but are oblivious to the far more damaging consequences of their own animality toward one another, as in Oscar Loop’s treatment of Ann Fox, or in her treatment of him (she leads him on shamelessly, unwittingly preparing the scene for her own murder). The scenes in the field between Majorie and Buford and Sugford are devoid of any of the feelings that Cy has for Amanda; likewise, Mrs. Loop’s feelings for her son are a perversion of genuine motherly love. Nothing softens the conclusion of the play: Owens intends that the full force of human brutality should be felt, and it is.
Clive Barnes, in a review that appeared in The New York Times in October, 1968, called Futz a conventional play about an unconventional subject. The rapid alternation of scenes is hardly novel, and neither is the use of a narrator, who gives stage directions that are dispensable and makes choral comments that are not. The music and dance of the production in New York by O’Horgan doubtless filled out the play, which by itself can hardly take up an evening.
The String Game
The String Game, Owens’s next play, is similarly conventional in structure and in theme as well; only its setting is novel: Greenland. A group of Eskimo are sitting around in a hut playing the string game, guessing at the patterns or pictures that the string makes, usually erotic ones. Father Bontempo, a Maltese priest who is with them, tries to get their minds off sex. He objects to their customs of wife exchange, adult breast-feeding, and other heathenish practices. For their part, the Eskimo cannot understand Bontempo’s objections to what they regard as natural behavior.
Cecil, a half-breed (he is half German), also tries to get the Eskimo interested in something else—business. He suggests various schemes, such as a herring factory, the manufacture of clay pipes, and so on, to help them get ahead. Personally very ambitious, he is baffled by the lack of ambition among the others and enlists Father Bontempo’s aid in a plan to involve everyone in a shoe-selling business about which he learns from a matchbook cover. At first, the Eskimo resist, seeing nothing creative about this venture as compared with the string game; in any case, they are comfortable enough with their government checks. Under Bontempo’s persuasion, however, they acquiesce, though still with misgivings. They recognize only too well how “it’s the outer world that wants to change the inner one. The foreign influences.” When Bontempo dies, choking on the pasta and sauce with which Cecil had bribed him, the shoe-selling scheme dies with him. The Eskimo throw Cecil out and resume the string game.
The evils of foreign influences are dramatized in Istanboul and Homo as well. In Istanboul, set in fifteenth century Constantinople, the crusaders Godfrigh and Baldwin try to make a commercial deal with Saint Mary of Egypt, while Godfrigh’s wife, Alice, and her friend Gertrude compete for the favor of the Byzantine dancer, Leo, also desired by two native women, Mary and Zoe. A robed man watches most of the action of the play in silence. In a religious/sexual frenzy, Saint Mary cuts off Godfrigh’s leg, which results in Godfrigh’s death and Alice’s widowhood. The play ends as Alice lies in bed with Leo, an hour before the Saracens arrive to overthrow Byzantine rule.
If effetism, decadence, religious ecstasy and corruption, and the mutual attraction and repulsion of East and West are major themes in Istanboul, white European racism and greed are the themes of Homo. Bernice is the blonde bitch-goddess worshiped by the horse-man and the Asiatics in the play, while Elizabeth, a fiftyish, fleshy European female, is abused by Asiatic workmen but is also adored by them, especially when she gives them her sugarcoated fingers to suck. Thus, competition is set up between Bernice (the goddess) and Elizabeth (the mother archetype), objects of primal masculine...
(The entire section is 2730 words.)