This weekend, Twin Cities residents had the opportunity to experience two daringly stylized, profoundly insightful meditations on American culture. The Walker Art Center staged the world premiere of the opera The Making of Americans, adapted by Jay Scheib and Anthony Gatto from the novel by Gertrude Stein; and at the Riverview Theater, Take-Up Productions presented a rare screening of Dolemite, the epic 1975 Rudy Ray Moore film about a kung fu street war between two L.A. pimps. I saw Dolemite on Friday night and The Making of Americans on Saturday night, so I was able to enjoy two very different but pleasantly complementary views on life in our great nation. A comparison is instructive.
The Making of Americans: All our feelings and actions are cyclical. It is only through repetition that we discover who we truly are.
Dolemite: Don’t ask that girl to repeat herself—you heard her the first time. She said she’s waiting for Dolemite, motherfucker!
On the Music of Life
The Making of Americans: A string quartet and a contemporary music ensemble, with a little bandoneón and hurdy-gurdy thrown in for instrumental color.
Dolemite: Funk, with a little bongo thrown in for instrumental color.
The Making of Americans: Tortured tabletop copulation, with singing, relayed to a big screen by live video feed.
Dolemite: Ecstatic copulation in the love den of a woman who used to turn tricks in Dolemite’s brothel but, though now living independently, bailed his ass out of jail because she just wanted him that bad. With slapping. Relayed to the big screen by Comedian International Enterprise Productions.
The Making of Americans: Emotional, symbolized by a hail of nutshells and the bare-handed uprooting of plants.
Dolemite: Physical, symbolized by a hail of Hush Puppies in your motherfuckin’ ass and the bare-handed uprooting of Willie Green’s entrails.
The Making of Americans: One can of Grain Belt Premium, consumed slowly and deliberately.
Dolemite: At the age of one he was drinking whisky and gin. At the age of two he was eating the bottles they came in.
On Those Who Have Gone Before Us
The Making of Americans: We are haunted by the sins of our fathers, and yet doomed to repeat their mistakes.
Dolemite: If you see a ghost, you cut that motherfucker.
I could be wrong, but I think this new opera may just elevate Gertrude Stein to her proper place beside Rudy Ray Moore in the American cultural pantheon.