Cinderella and the Marquis de Sade. What a delirious idea! Here we have that marvelous feel-good fairy tale with the beautiful deserving girl and her beautiful Prince, off to live happily ever-after. Walt Disney smiles (as best he can), Stephen Spielberg goes home blowing his nose, wiping his eyes, jingling the change in his pocket... we all go home, a little jealous, but feeling good.
And now for the sequel, "Cinderella II." It opens at that heart-pumping moment when the Prince fits the glass slipper on the virginal foot of the sweet, oppressed (and always blonde?!), but plucky, ever-hopeful, ever-radiant woman-child. From there, the wedding and the "just" but slightly vengeance-tinged settling with the arch step-mother and her two ding-brained daughters. Then the honeymoon—alone, safe at last together, bathed in an aura of shimmering sunlight, caressed in the flow of warm, perfumed breezes, they make love. And as a perfect romance would have it, they make love, and... they make love.
But the weather changes! One cloudy, rainy day, half way through the honeymoon, the glorious Prince stirs the logs in the fireplace to warm his beloved wife, locks the bedroom door, and reveals himself to his young, unassuming, breathless lover. He is not whom she thinks he is. (Evidently a common experience in modern marital life.) He is not really the son of the king, he is a chameleon, he is the ageless—Marquis de Sade. (No explanation as to how that's possible because she doesn't know what the hell he's talking about anyway.) He then proceeds to show her, to ravish her beyond the meaning of ravish, to "Therese" her, to "Justine" her ( if you don't know those references, you should read de Sade, one of the great philosopher-writers who found his "home" in the 20th century along with Arthur Rimbaud).
Whom should we cast as Cinderella? Britney Spears? No, too puffy. Madonna? Too jaded. Amanda Plummer? Some day! She deserves to play Cinderella... but not this time. I found the perfect actress, Tatyana Shestopalov. I found her and her picture in an article in the newspaper. She's not an actress! She's a 17 year-old member of the Fyordorovtsy religious sect in Russia. Been there all her life. She believes in no earthly pleasures, whatsoever, no alcohol or drugs, no sex, no marriage, no hip-hop. She's pretty and she has the prerequisite blue eyes ( she may even be blonde, I can't tell). She's perfect. A pure, embryonic, innocent acting instrument. She needs some training of course.
Maybe we shouldn't train her! After all, it's the "naturalism", the "reality" that we're after, that the audience wants to share. And mind you, this is not a film, or a television show. Oh no! This is a live theatre piece without any immediate opportunity for the audience to withdraw, where they intensely feel they can touch, taste, and even join the ravaging of an innocent young girl, in love with love, and expecting to float on its wings into the next life.
One last detail. Whom should we cast as the Prince/de Sade? Oh you leap at the obvious choice, as I did... Anthony Hopkins! But no...as much as I admire him, and even if makeup magic could render him as young as the Prince should be, he carries too much baggage in the minds of audiences from his stunning portrayal of a similar monstre sacrè. No, I'd opt for someone unexpected, unassociated, diverting, say... Arnold Schwarzenegger. The accent is perfect, the "reality" unfettered.
So where does this drama go? Nowhere. It is a feast, a portrayal of a plundering of all the moral energy of a girl and her Phoenix-like resurrection into a cleansed, here-and-now human being. It is the de-mystifying of the Cinderella "monkey" that has sat on the back of human culture since the gatherers wandered out of Africa. How does it end? She and her Prince probably live happily ever after, after all. I don't know for sure, I'll have to consult de Sade's work for guidance.
Too harshly misogynist? More so than what's on Reality Television? All right... suppose we interchange the characters – "Cinderfella". Let's cast Leonardo DiCaprio as the "innocent", and the wonderful Helen Mirren as the "Prince(ss)" She has the remarkable acting ability to still play young women. It'll work! Because, you see, de Sade is not about misogyny. He lived at a time, as we do today, in a male-valued society in which misogyny was and still is a strong currency. He used it as the coin of his attacks. De Sade is about debauchery, crime, murder, the destruction of a morality that confounds logic and degrades the nature of human awareness, male and female. No, I don't think this piece will exploit and stimulate the sexist/misogynist ether that plagues our so-called modern society. I think it's a winner because it will exploit the power of live theatre in way that the new media (including film) still haven't achieved. And it will create new audiences... you can bet on it... the way Lenny Bruce created new audiences (qv Lenny Bruce).
There's more. I said: "...a live theatre piece without any immediate opportunity for the audience to withdraw." But that was conditional, pivoting on "immediate" and "withdraw." Withdraw they will. If they don't hiss and boo and charge on to the stage or in the more cultivated fashion of the French, throw folding chairs at the actors (a la worldwide wrestling), then they will withdraw, leave disgusted, pleased with their self-righteousness, bi-polarized and afraid. Of what? Of the nudity, of the naked sexuality?
Politicized too, of course—that's a large part of it. But what about performances of works in which there are no gender issues, no contemporaneous moral questions, no politics, just sheer naked human behavior?
What is it about the beauty of breasts and vagina and penis and testicles and anuses, these private "parts" exposed, that distorts self-esteem and becomes ugly? Is it pornography? What is pornography? A dictionary says: "The presentation of sexually explicit behavior intended to arouse sexual excitement." Is pornography obscene? What is obscenity? A dictionary says: "Offensive to accepted standards of decency." Is obscene pornography degrading? Tell me, which is more degrading, a woman in a harness or a woman in a Burka?
It all comes down to denial, what Lenny Bruce and his mentor, Pogo, called -- "the poop of pop." Nakedness, with or without cleanliness, is too uncomfortably close to godliness. Though this distortion is pervasive worldwide, nowhere is it more borderline schizophrenic than here in America, where so-called "obscene" pornography is the largest gatherer of surfed hits on the Internet, where the so-called "obscene" pornographic film industry far out-distances Hollywood in production and distribution, where soap-opera and television advertising are soaked with acceptable erotica, where Janet Jackson's star-encrusted nipple elicits moral indignation, where the image of two men kissing, lips to lips, tongue to tongue (not two women!) promotes fainting spells and bowel movements among the decent folks of the heartland. Which is more obscene, a naked couple fucking on the lawn of the White House or a naked Iraqi prisoner tethered like a dog by a little, plump, giggling, American soldier?
I ask you—what is it about the naked human body that scares the hell out of so many human bodies?
Back to our Cinderella drama. Perhaps we can sublimate the issue by requiring audiences to attend performances in the nude. Perhaps we'll pay them to attend our naked performance, naked. That will bring relief. It will be—a religious experience.
One problem though: the title. Got to find that just-so banner to catch the eye, open the nose, make 'em want to see it. John Ford did it with "'Tis Pity She's a Whore." Maybe we'll call this : "Cinderella: 'Tis Pity She's Not!"