5 October 2012

Standard of the Breed by Steppling, 1988

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 2:10 pm

JACK:  I haven’t been feeling well, I can’t sleep.

REESE stands, says nothing.

You want to see the dogs?

JACK stands…

They’re exceptional, a beautiful litter, just beautiful.

They stare at each other.

They’re very big, noble — these are the best pups I’ve produced, the best, these pups stand up against anyone, anywhere. I love this litter, I love them.

JACK stops, a little short of breath — not feeling well.

When I was in Long Beach I was living in this apartment and Margaret was supporting the both of us. Do you know what happened to Margaret? [pause] Margaret left one day for New Orleans, she went to her sister’s house in fucking New Orleans. She took the car, which was my car, and she drove. And I called her sister, I called every day — but she never talked to me, so I don’t know… [long pause] I don’t recall much of L.A., I don’t recall a whole lot about that period of my life, I don’t care about it — I’m not interested at all, I’m not concerned, it doesn’t matter to me, it’s part of the past, someone else, somewhere else. I never think about it, about the person I was — I never give it a moment’s thought.

JACK is wheezing a little and sits down.

REESE:  Who is this girl inside, Jack?

JACK stares at the ground. Silence.

Cassie? Who is this girl, this Cassie?

JACK:  She just left her husband, left him asleep at the Sands. I don’t know him, never met him. She left him though, asleep in bed — left him there — dreaming — Huh? Dreaming in room 418, the Sands, Las Vegas.

Lights fade out.

*  *  *

John Steppling has a blog here.



  1. I like the repetitive doth-protest-too-much denial and the link of Jack’s experience with the absent Vegas dreamer. There are four plays in this book I borrowed from the library, and all of them deal with down-and-outers on their way farther down. I can see why plays like this might not attract a big audience, and also why they offer a cultural critique of the Land of Opportunity. Certainly Steppling isn’t putting forward an obvious political or economic agenda for solving these characters’ problems. Even the sleazebags are possessed of some dignity, but they’re immersed in a no-exit downward spiral that’s largely of their own doing, and even friends seem more prone to exploiting than to helping one another. Is the reader/viewer to infer that they’re stuck in a lower-class death spiral because of their forced structural exclusion from economic and social and psychological stability, or is it their own damned fault? There’s enough sleaze and double-crossing and odd romantic twists to keep their troubles interesting.

    These are the only Steppling plays I’ve read. They’re good, like slice-of-life short stories. I don’t know whether his subsequent work follows the same formula. Only rarely do I go to the theater. Would I go see one of these plays performed? Sure: mostly I’m curious about how the dialogue would sound when actually spoken. There’s not much that “happens” on-stage, the story being carried by the characters’ reactions to situations that have transpired either before the play started or between acts. I have no idea whether this sort of dramatization of minor human tragedy is to be regarded as revolutionary or traditional. For me it feels like something from the fifties but without the Hollywood romanticizing of a Marty or a Lost Weekend or an On the Waterfront. That’s not a criticism of content or style; more a sense that these sorts of stories may once have had more play as “gritty realism” than they do now. There’s probably more room for this approach in contemporary British cinema. Again though, I know nothing about the theater; maybe this is all the rage Off-Broadway and other stages not dominated by musical revivals.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 October 2012 @ 6:09 am

  2. I think it’s been a tradition for a long time off-Broadway and off-off. I used to be more attracted to this sort of thing than I am now, but that’s because I’ve consumed so much of it in novels and plays and movies. You can find downward-spiral in so many forms, including documentaries on trannies who used to live a mile or so downriver from me in the 80s in truck parking lots and with tons of filth. Development ran them out. I can’t remember the name of the one I’m thinking of, but this kind of thing was still sometimes popular in Village Voice circles (when the paper always sustained a strong leftist tone, which really only disappeared by about 2004, now it’s mainly just Michael Musto and is about 20% as thick) What I saw in 2008 in the LA Skid Row was more shocking than any semi-communes of trannies and latter-day hippies, as those in the musical ‘Rent’, the horrible thing (awful on stage, awful on film.) There was no substance in the ‘relationships’ I saw among the inhabitants as they made little polite-ish (at least what I saw) trades of morsels of this kind of pill or penny or whatever. I like the excerpt well-enough, but by now it seems that it’s another piece of Steppling’s worldview–one he probably feels sure is true, or just that the world makes more sense to see it that way. There was some play I read about this year that goes back to the 50s, was performed just a block up from here in one of the buildings. Real junkies would wander in to the theater space for a paying audience and do their thing on stage. Maybe it’ll come back to me who did that. It may have been a playright who died this year, and I was reading the obit. There was a novel written just as the East Village began to be settled by artists from about 1982, called ‘The Terminal Bar’ that had some of this, but it’s not memorable as ‘latter-day hippiedom’ as is Pynchon’s ‘Inherent Vice’. I also saw a lot of very aggressive underworldish performance art in the late 70s and early 80s here. This was where you’d see the dismantling in too obvious a way of the line between audience and players. The guy running one of the events complained about me, saying he got ‘bad vibes from this cat’ here–and I hadn’t uttered a word and sat very still. This had shocked me, what he picked up was that I was naturally sort of ‘proper’ in new situations, and they were lettin’ it all hang out. Later, Diane and I saw a most wonderful Dutch performance artist whom I mention in IDNYC, she was hilarious, and I lamented that we’d never get to see her again. I don’t know where it is in the book, but Diane finally heard it enough and said ‘Patrick! I think Monik Toebosch is GONE!” She was much funnier shaving her pubes in a movie and the real Monik spraying shave creme over it, as if modest.


    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 6 October 2012 @ 10:38 am

  3. I’ve followed Steppling’s exploits only intermittently, and have never interacted with him on any blog. I guess he was teaching playwrights in Poland, then he went back to the US but couldn’t get a teaching gig so now he’s somewhere else. It’s not clear whether he still writes new plays. Of course it’s certainly true that life doesn’t go well for many, and there’s no reason why proles’ persistent troubles should be intrinsically less interesting theatrically than the dissipated bourgeois or aristo characters whose luck has run out. But as I think about it, the fall from heights does offer more room to maneuver dramatically, as does its complement the rise from the depths. Maybe this is just my bourgeois sensibilities talking.


    Comment by ktismatics — 6 October 2012 @ 1:09 pm

  4. Stepplin’ was commenting a lot in that launch phase of the CPC, in 2007 I believe. He’s basically a Communist humanist and ”rebel” with strong sympathies for Wilhelm Reich, which most of these disshevelled anarchist indie theater types have.


    Comment by nikolicdejan — 7 October 2012 @ 3:08 am

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