More comment may be found in Reviews of Peter Dizozza's Pro-Choice on Mental Health
Listen closely. Can you hear the soft, melodious pining for ancient times and self-realization? It’s Narcissus singing melancholy show tunes at the reflecting pool. But it is the Egyptian deities Isis and Osiris that stare back, through archetypal eyes that convey the soul of eternal struggles bearing innumerable names throughout the course of history. And those names are Quasimodo and Cementeria -- a hunchback and a prima donna sex goddess -- in the reflective eyes of one local artist.
It is the Dawn of the Age of Romantic Enlightenment. Our leading star-crossed couple is separated and reunited with the frequency and severity of tectonic plates. At times it is not only the two being split apart from one another but the body parts of each (14 in Dizozza’s epistemology) being periodically severed and scattered across the globe (two in each of the seven seas). From the graveyard to the pearly-gated heavenly kingdom, from a common American household dinner party to the ancestral holy land, the audience is assaulted with images of creation and dehumanization, depravity and redemption -- a search for self externalized.
Sometimes Americans get dirty to get the point across. Mud-slinging and dung-flinging: one is slander tossed between campaigning politicians and the other happens when you put a canvas graced with the Holy Mother between an artist and his message. Some try to achieve the same ends without the use of excrement, but rather the implementation of more refined forms of blasphemy. This piece could be performed at the Globe Theater, with burlesque physicality and verbal obscenity thrown out to appease the plebian masses and literary references tossed about to stimulate the intellectuals.
For the past four years, singer-songwriter and playwright Peter Dizozza has quietly carried out his comedic cabaret of religious and political criticism onstage. With Rudy Giuliani acting as self-appointed parent, priest, and policeman to nearly every local citizen and gathering, it seems that "Prepare to Meet Your Maker" may finally have met its day of ultimate judgment. Will the work be granted admission through the gates of critical attention, or cast into the flames of admonition? Remember: this is the world of socially controversial progeny. Heaven, hell, acceptance, and exile are all incestuous bedfellows. The creators ask that anyone offended by this material look upon it as a "cry for help."
Pope John Paul II called ours a "culture of death"-- a phrase that Newt used to describe the modern issues and affinities responsible for the poisoned minds of the Columbine murderers. Gingrich also blamed the separation of church and state, while Clinton targeted the video games "Doom" and "Mortal Kombat" for the violence of our presumed innocents. Does the entertainment of rich (sometimes gory or sacrilegious) imaginations encourage its enactment in real life? Or is it the stifling of such fantasy play and creative expression that causes explosive behavior? Art has always been concerned with politics, but politicians haven’t been this heated over art since the days of the Holy Roman Empire. Is it any surprise that it’s once again the clerical regime causing all the fuss?
Some local artists still step up to the challenge of exploring the issues at hand despite the recent heat that’s been rising. Peter Dizozza and Tyr Throne have been exploring these boundaries for years, and they don’t plan to change a thing. In a world of slick Silicon Valley executives and wipe-down Formica countertops, the rugged humanism in this production is refreshing.
It is true that many of the characters are gods and goddesses, but in the tradition of Greek and Roman mythology, they are far from perfect. In fact, they embody some of our most severely disturbing human predispositions. From necrophilia to narcissism, humiliation to human bondage (slavery, that is), these are individuals who suffer like Oedipus and triumph like Cinderella.
In fact, the infamous sweet hearted stepsister and Ouanchu (renamed Cementeria when she is unearthed by lonely gravedigger Quasimodo) have a couple things in common. They both start out basically as impoverished match girls and end up reborn (or revamped) in the arms of a charming prince (or sensitive hunchback). Except that Cinderella never does a striptease to achieve higher social status or please the higher powers, the archetype fits.
A conversation with Dizozza, writer of "Prepare...," provides a glimpse into the reasoning behind one man’s unholy imagination, and reveals some quite pious intentions lying behind the veil of sacrilegious self-exploration. "It’s all based on the intensity of the feeling of commitment. My ultimate intent is to fulfill a certain responsibility."
In this respect, Dizozza seeks not only to entertain and to facilitate social commentary, but also to encourage others to produce and to use theater as a powerful tool of personal healing through self-expression and exploration. "I encourage people to find, discover, understand that which they don’t understand about themselves, to put it into an expression, even if its not comprehensible to themselves, to package it so that we can help each other with that."
There is additional encouragement that we be public and accessible to each other. "The issue of privacy may produce the opposite effect of festering within." Peter believes that we ought to cultivate a "sharing of the introspection." He points out that, while we’re well educated in the art of "shutting doors and shutting our eyes, there’s nothing to hide." From Gibraltar to Alexandria, heavenly gates to basements and grave bottoms, Quasimodo and Cementeria search for themselves within a chaotically "ordered world." "You and I, we’re not like them. We report to a different authority, you to a mother goddess, I to an overlord. Yet here, in the United States we’ve become ensnared in a materialistic Judeo-Christian-based culture from which we must escape." (Quasimodo, Act Two)
Cementeria becomes quite comfortable basking in the glory of the power and pedestal she secures (mainly through sexual prowess) in the male-dominated kingdom of the overlord, but Quasimodo wishes to shed all layers of the socio-economic and quasi-spiritual hierarchies they operate within for a return to some sort of "matrimonious" purity. Or is it sanctioned perversity he is seeking? Either way, the escape route cannot be simple when running from cultural and religious institutions that trace their roots through ages of empires and dominions. Remember the short in which Bambi meets Godzilla? The demise of the lash-batting little fawn was far from cute. Try Beauty and the Beast meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The characters of "Prepare to Meet Your Maker" have some serious fetishes and esteem issues to conquer.
"It embodies some of the beauty and also the skepticism that comes with growing up Catholic. It’s not exactly universal, but we can see parallels everywhere. Even in the boys schools of England, we have the Jethro Tull characters rebelling against their Anglican authorities," said playwright Peter Dizozza. It’s all based upon "things that have touched" him -- those core issues of the human condition that threaten to tether us all with psychic bonds of servitude. That is, hold us back from realizing and assuming our true natures by tying us up in fear. Perhaps in "Prepare" those tethers are physicalized, but in truth it’s all deeply symbolic. It’s these "issues of insecurity and inadequacy" that, through creating, I’ve been able to work through."
"Each piece is a rather personal self-exploration in addition to drawing upon many [universal and historical] sources, and hopefully adding to and expanding those traditions along with the myth element that we’ve grown up with," said Dizozza. It’s all an attempt to dramatize "the thing that looks beyond what one can understand." And it’s that spiritual element that, no matter one’s faith, creed, or degree of curiosity, everyone can identify with. "The idea of meeting your maker, and the intensity of being present before your makers and not even being able to look upon them... and we desire to be gods ourselves." And, of course, that was the wish that sealed the fate of the angel Lucifer.
Imagine Salvador Dali realized onstage. With its surrealism, it begins to seem strangely like the film "Brazil." Peter is reminiscent of the scrawny superhero in medieval armor fighting corporate moguls that want to brainwash him in a process resembling Alex’s (A Clockwork Orange) Luduvico Treatment. But instead of Beethoven’s ninth, they’re playing Broadway medleys and battling demons of self-defeat and social rejection. It is a world where dreams are played out to their most dramatic and satisfying extent. A world where heroes bear their vulnerabilities like marks of war, following their most unlikely desires with blind ambitions and wearing their emotions out loud like purple hearts on fluorescent orange sleeves.
Dizozza attributes his first interest in theater to a childhood fascination with fictional escapades. "With movies, books, and so forth, I was able to create a fantasy world that could become a reality," he said, continuing to point out that "today’s fantasy can become tomorrow's reality." Of course, Dizozza is aware that "other things remain in the world of fantasy," becoming experiences "one can live through safely" without the possibly dangerous consequences of material manifestation. "I support this [play of imagination] as part of our culture, and I think we already have it -- with the comic images of Batman, Superman, the new mythology of movies, etc. -- that is, a refined expression of someone’s self exploration." And though the audience is advised to remember the very real metaphorical significance of every detail within this production, they will find themselves thanking the heavens that Dizozza’s visions remain onstage. We all secretly want to be superheroes. Even the maimed and deformed -- none shall be excluded from moments of glory and triumph. And in Dizozza’s world there are no secrets, at least, none guarded well enough to escape the omniscience of the all-knowing.
First performed on Bastille Day in 1996, "Prepare to Meet Your Maker" is saturated with both surface and subversive symbolism. "Its source is an honest expression of human interaction and a personal expression of the experience of that," said Dizozza. He goes on to explain that more specifically, "by implication, in the relationship that I'm in, the person is not even conscious for me to be comfortable with being in her presence. This translates into the necrophilia of the gravedigger, Quasimodo, and later his transformation when he finds somebody who comes alive from his interaction with her, on the most basic level." "You can go forward from that with other issues that touch upon Catholicism, like a baby dying before it goes to the Baptist. The infant goes to limbo, the orphan child having no place in the universe."
Dizozza is quick to point out that he is seriously affected by the issues being confronted within the play. "There’s a grappling element. From that there’s energy, there’s an element of anger, a mixture as well as a searching, an inquisition, a desire, and a wish to believe. We all want to have this security, the comfort of, let’s say a ‘father figure’ looking over us, someone who I can talk to who has a plan for us all."
Peter Dizozza received his primary education at Queens College, where he majored in music and English. In the Humanities program, he studied the philosophy of Western culture, while his musical training soon led him into musical theater. He went on to study the formal elements of the theatrical tradition at the BMI musical theater workshop. He succeeded his liberal arts training by getting a law degree, which, to this day, serves as his primary source of income.
"My life is an open book."
Needless to say, his background was Catholic. "Where I grew up, within Forest Hills, there was a 'Lady Queen of Martyrs' cathedral church and school that I would attend. Coming out of the St. Patrick’s tradition, this was a very conservative, big group of parishioners, not much bonding, not your town and country church like Our Lady of Mercy down the block where Geraldine Ferrara and other community minded people went. I have an Italian background but the Italian connection came up largely because of all the godfather movies in the 70s. That was when I began to realize I was Italian-American and became more identified with that. But I was a product of educated parents, unique in that few from their neighborhoods (East New York and Greenpoint, Brooklyn) had been to college."
He calls his desire to create a big picture "self-propelled," stating that "it continues to be my ambition to the present day." Dizozza created "an entertainment company that administers all different media- [primarily] music, visuals, and movies- under the auspices of my business Cinema 7 (Cinema VII)." He wishes to broaden the eclectic surrealist approach to encompass other artists’ work, thus producing and administering very diverse forms of entertainment, in the endless search for creations that "stimulate," "entertain," and push limits. He looks forward to producing such material, "wherever it comes from."
Dizozza is a playwright, composer, pianist, and performer, appearing regularly at the Sidewalk Cafe (Avenue A & E.6th St.) "My music is grown out of ‘antifolk scene’ which itself came out of the Punk scene and the Bob Dylan legacy (Dylan's folk later having electric guitar and drums behind it). Then the punk scene of the 80s where the Sex Pistols made a tremendous impact, and then from them self-destructing, my interest went more to Elvis Costello, along with others in the antifolk scene that are still around, primarily a fellow named Lach who continues to book the Sidewalk, who has been very supportive of my music and theatrical work. The antifolk scene is a vital source for meeting talented collaborators."
In terms of the Catholicism there is definitely a bit of a rebellion playing here. Onstage it is a world of Dizozza and Throne’s creation, no holds barred. This is a love story, but only in the most modern sense of the phrase. Peter Gabriel is gatekeeper to the pearly ones, while Quasimodo is our tragically handicapped hero. It could be frightening, but so is the world at large. Some of us choose to laugh instead of cry.
Most nursery rhymes originate from some tragic occurrence in the history of humankind, or were created to frighten children into well-mannered submissiveness. There’s a revival in the art of madness, in the practice of fear-inspiring passion, in the utilization of socially shocking images and ideas to stimulate exploration of personal inhibitions. Queen Victoria is turning in her grave. If Giuliani and the art police catch wind of this, there may be some public stake-burning to appease the wrath of the masses. We all secretly want to be superheroes (gods in the words of Dizozza). Even the maimed and deformed- none shall be excluded from moments of glory and triumph. And in Dizozza’s world there are no secrets, at least, none guarded well enough to escape the omniscience of the all-knowing. Come see for yourself what all the fuss is about. You be the judge: is this shockingly honest modicum of self-exploration offensively obscene, or a practice of imagination that we ought to pass on to our children (of course, when they are old enough)? For Tyr and Dizozza’s sake, I hope that the Almighty's got attitude -- playful yet biting, like theirs -- and a sense of humor to match. Otherwise, they’re in trouble.
"I am an attorney at a law firm that focuses primarily on personal injury actions getting compensation for people, somehow translating an injury into a monetary figure. For a lot of our clients, because they’re quite poor, their greatest asset is their injury."
Peripheral support and appreciation of work by family hinders on Peter proving that he is able to survive, can succeed at doing this for livelihood, "There's always been the attitude that I’m on my own. I’ve accepted the challenge; I grow from the work; the whole thing's been great. They [parents] are mellowing with age; all thought they would divorce, but they’re somehow enjoying each other’s company. My grandmother is 94, and I have a sister, Monica, (sings with Peter and works at a bank) -- 37, Peter -- 41 "We’re all pretty close."
Regarding his creative material --"Theoretically I want to refine it, I don’t want it to be a shot in the dark"
"I feel a responsibility that if I'm going to say something, that I have to make it available."
"I can’t stop here, I must go forward with it, let it ride a bit."
Regarding Prepare to Meet Your Maker: "The overwhelming metaphor, I hope, is that of the makers being our parents. That's as far as we can go," thereby freeing our thinking, lightening and freeing through such an attempt.
Prepare to Meet Your Maker returned to the stage for the Apocalypse 1999 Series at the Williamsburg Art and Historic Center.
from October, 1999 Antimatters.
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Visit Prepare to Meet Your Maker Project Page
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