Love-Lies-Bleeding, Don DeLillo's third play, is a daring, profoundly compassionate story about life, death, art and human connection.
Three people gather to determine the fate of the man who sits in a straight-backed chair saying nothing. He is Alex Macklin, who gave up easel painting to do land art in the southwestern desert, and he is seventy now, helpless in the wake of a second stroke. The people around him are the bearers of a complicated love, his son, his young wife, the older woman -- his wife of years past -- who feels the emotional tenacity of a love long-ended.
It is their question to answer. When does life end, and when should it end? In this remote setting, without seeking medical or legal guidance, they move unsteadily toward last things.
Luminous, spare, unnervingly comic and always deeply moving, Love-Lies-Bleeding explores a number of perilous questions about the value of life and how we measure it.
It can be difficult to appreciate a play without seeing it staged, but not in the case of DeLillo's third dramatic effort (after The Day Room and Valparaiso). Land artist Alex appears to be in a persistent vegetative state after a second massive stroke. Ex-wife Toinette and son Sean have come to Alex's isolated southwestern desert home to persuade present wife Lia to join them in helping Alex die, but Lia refuses, insisting that Alex's mind remains undamaged. In poignant and darkly humorous dialog, Toinette, Sean, and Lia argue their respective positions and attempt to define themselves in relation to and independent of Alex, who, except for three flashback scenes, remains silent, albeit on stage. DeLillo does not, however, concentrate solely on personal themes-some of his best scenes dramatize to brilliant tragicomic effect the quotidian details of assisted suicide. Although known chiefly for his experimental novels (Libra; Mao II), DeLillo has become increasingly confident as a dramatist, and we can only hope that he continues his endeavors in this genre. For all collections.-M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 03, 2006
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Excerpt from Love-Lies-Bleeding by Don DeLillo
Alex and Lia, one year before the main action of the play.
He is haggard, after a stroke, seated in a wheelchair, stage right, isolated from the room set, which is in near darkness. His speech is labored. Lia sits in close proximity, a food bowl within reach.
Across the stage, in scant light, barely visible, there is the sitting figure of a man.
I saw a dead man on the subway once. I was ten or eleven, riding with my father. The man was in a corner seat, across the aisle. Only a few people in the car. A dead man sits there. This is the subway. You don't know about this. Nobody looks at anybody else. He sits there, and I'm the only one that sees him. I see him so clearly now I could almost tell you things about his life. My father was reading the newspaper. He liked to follow the horses. He analyzed the charts. He studied the race results. There weren't too many things he followed, my father. Horse races and prizefights. There was a column he always read. If I thought about it long enough, I could tell you the columnist's name.
And the man. Across the aisle.
Nobody paid him the slightest mind. Another sleeping rider, by their dim lights. I watched him steadily. I examined him. I was fixated. When the train rocked. (Pause.) I'm thinking how he sat. He sat against the bulkhead, partly, at the end of the car. When the train rocked, he got bounced around a little and I thought he might topple to the floor. His mouth was open. His face, I swear, it was gray. There wasn't any question in my mind. Dead. All life drained out of him. But in a way I can't explain, it didn't seem strange or forbidding. It seemed forbidding but not in a way that threatened me personally. I accepted what I saw. A rider on the train, going breakneck through the tunnel. It scared me to think he might topple to the floor. That was forbidding. He could have been riding all day. Gray like an animal. He belonged to a different order of nature. The first dead man I'd ever seen and there's never been anyone since who has looked more finally and absolutely dead.
And your father. What did he do? Did he alert someone when the train reached the next station?
I don't know. I don't know if I told him. The memory ends here. I draw a total blank. This is the subway. He's reading the sports pages. The column he's reading is part boldface, part regular type, and I can see the face of the columnist in the little photo set into the type. He has a slick mustache. A racetrack mustache.
Can you tell me his name?
His name will come to me in a minute.