My two main activities this weekend are reading plays and reading about Jane Byrne for a play I’m writing. Among the plays I checked out was “Red Angel” by Eric Bogosian. I first started reading it while sitting on the fountain outside of Michigan State’s main library, but then walked to run some errands in Downtown East Lansing. I then sat down in a coffee shop and finished the play while sipping on some tea.
My immediate reaction to the script was that it was well-written and less angry than the Bogosian plays I’ve previously read, although the tone of later Bogosian is much different from “Drinking in America.” I was also impressed because thanks to reading too many plays I expected the premise of a writer and professor sleeping with a student at the college to end up being very cliche or maybe ending with the woman going to great lengths to ruin the life of the professor who is her lover.
After finishing the play, I then looked at the back of the script and noticed Dramatists Play Service included the following sentence with the synopsis:
“Bogosian’s riff on Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.”
This caused me to pause and suddenly try to reevaluate my opinion of the play because I’m very familiar with “The Blue Angel.” That evening, after having dinner, I reread the play and tried to see if my opinion changed at all.
“The Blue Angel” is a 1930 film that catapulted the career of Marlene Dietrich*, who stared as cabaret performer Lola-Lola. The film focuses on teacher Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), who goes to the cabaret Lola-Lola performs at hoping to catch students who have been circulating photographs of Lola-Lola. He becomes immediately smitten with her. He eventually becomes consumed with his infatuation with Lola, eventually marrying her. Due to resigning from his job as a teacher, he becomes a clown performing with Lola and his life continues to slip away.
The plot of “Red Angel” is that one evening a writer and professor, David Blau, has three graduate students over after a reception. Two of his students leave and the third student, Leena, stays with him and they talk at great length before deciding to have sex. She spends the night, they have more sex and he discovers she is very familiar with his work. He becomes instantly smitten with her and grows jealous as he finds out there is another man in her life.
There are some similarities and even some possible allusions. One is that the both David and Immanuel are educators, another is that David’s last name is Blau, which is the German word for “blue.” There is also the similarity of the male character in both works becoming jealous regarding his lover.
However the stakes are much different in the two works. Rath is a very respected educator and loses everything because of his infatuation with Lola. Blau is a moderately successful writer who doesn’t really lose anything. There is an emotional change during the course of both works as Rath eventually goes crazy from his jealousy and Blau is significantly weakened by his feelings for Leena.
As for Leena compared to Lola, the strong difference I see is that we see Lola is a woman men go gaga for while I can’t tell how men other than David feel about Leena. Both are strong confident women in creative careers.
The main difference between the two to me is the tone. For me, “The Blue Angel” is very much like a tragedy as we see the fall from grace Rath experiences and his eventual realization that he screwed up before his life comes to a sad end. “Red Angel” feels more like a common drama, although with conflict seems less contrived than in other plays I’ve seen involving romantic relationships. The play, at least on paper, doesn’t seem to be emotionally devastating**, but it ends on a rather lugubrious note.
So after analyzing the similarities, “Red Angel” does feel like a riff that is distant enough from the other material to make you really think about the two different works. Even without comparing “The Blue Angel” to “Red Angel,” the play is very good because it doesn’t devolve into “Women are bitches,” which is what I was afraid of when reading the play because of other plays I’ve read throughout my life.
(I think I just wrote a blog post to discuss my feelings on a play. Sorry, everyone.)
*Marlene Dietrich is a German treasure.
**Emotionally devastating Bogosian would be his novel “Wasted Beauty,” which I enjoyed.