Fag/Stag – Nihilism and the cult of youth. (Theatre Review)
Griffin Theatre Company and The Last Great Hunt.
Stables Theatre, 10 – 27 January. You can grab your tickets here.
Socrates, the father of all philosophers, was condemned to death on the charge of ‘corrupting youth.’ In may ways this has laid the foundation for the corruption of youth as a pre-requisite for change or strong action that transforms society. According to Plato, the philosophers task is to ask what is the true life and to search for the answer to that question. It might be suggested then, that the corruption of youth starts with questions; to ensue young people don’t go down the paths already mapped out, that they are not just condemned to obey social customs, that they can create something new or propose a different direction as regards the true life. It is searching for this corruption that we first meet Corgyn and Jimi, two modern males in a world coming to terms with feminism as a genuine power rather than a radical ideology. Primarily their ennui exists out of a passion for the immediate life, for amusement, pleasure, the moment, grindr, tinder, drink or a video game; in this case Donkey Kong. When all this desire for immediate fulfilment builds up, when passion produces a life lived from one day to the next, a life dependent of the immediacy of time, a life in which the future is invisible or at any rate obscured, you get a kind of nihilism both Corgyn and Jimi seek to avoid to no avail. For them “life” is a period of time divided into sometimes pretty good, and sometimes pretty bad moments. Life becomes an attempt to have as many good moments as possible. This is all summed up in Corgyn’s climactic, heartwarming lament “I didn’t tame the dragon; I didn’t climb the mountain.” He wishes for nothing more than tomorrow to be better than today.
Part of the brilliance of Jeffrey Jay Fowler and Chris Isaacs play Fag/Stag is the portrayal of this very nihilism. This vision of life the pair depict shatters to idea of life itself and this is why this vision of life is also a vision of death. Jimi, in the absence of his long-time lover Tim, senses death in a long lonely life. For Corgyn, a straight white male, it is in the promise of a violent encounter. Plato expounded upon this idea: When life is subject in this way to temporal immediacy, it falls apart by itself, misspends, is no longer recognizable to itself and no longer tied to a stable meaning. Here death takes hold (as in Freuds death drive) and secretly inhabits life, undermining it and detaching it from its potential meaning. The aim of the thinker should not be to deny this force but to overcome it.
However, anything is better than the alternative, which is the passion for success; the idea of becoming someone rich and powerful, obtaining a good position in the existing social order. This reduces life to tactics to becoming well established. Rather than a reach for immediate pleasure, this is the life of the well-executed, highly effective plan. The right education starts in pre-school and continues through to safe establishment of a profession in high finance, Mass media, Government ministries, trade boards, start ups or second-generation money professions like the law. Yong people are offered the choice of a passion for burning up your life or a passion for building it. One side offers a cult of insurrection that is short lived and ineffective and the other fulfilment, success and money invoking obedience toward the cult of the existing power structure. Corgyn and Jimi are adrift in an ocean on ennui precisely because they refuse to equate money making and career advancement with self-worth and love.
Fowler and Isaacs explore the idea of love and connection as a potential avenue to relief and access to a creative, intense true life. Each of their alter ego’s returns to a friendship that shapes and reveals their own capacity. A true thinking that is sister to the dream finds them both and liberates them – even if it is temporary – from the burden of treadmill, context-less drifting. These boys are tradition-less. They are condemned to an eternal youth, no longer marked by the progress of rites of passage, such as war or marriage. We get a strong sense that Corgyn and Jimi will be just like this even in their forties. Still trying to get off that level on their game. Eternal youth’s in a world that won’t let them grow up.
Fag/Stag is an impressive show. Funny, poignant, accessible and yet ambitious in scope and reach, each writer performer plays his role to a warm perfection that never grates nor seems distant. This is a wonderful pair of character studies that makes a strong commentary about what it is to be a young white male in today’s culture, dominated by the cult of youth. Written by Chris Isaacs and Jeffrey Jay Fowler who also perform their roles, Fag/Stag is a powerful insight into what it is to be a young man trying to find your place in the world today.