The Wooster Groups new demonstrate searches the notorious 1971 dialogue between feminists and the American novelist. Almost 50 years on, the polemics they had still characterize our discourse

Its no small-time provocation in todays leftist circles to give a straight lily-white patriarch a microphone. The Wooster Group generate Norman Mailer four.

The Town Hall Affair, the stage and media groups latest production, centres on Town Bloody Hall, a 1979 movie by Chris Hegedus and DA Pennebaker that documents a notorious 1971 board legislation as A Dialogue on Womens Liberation less moderated than manhandled by Mailer, played here by two performers( Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd) with two mics each. This double-sized man-ego shares the stage with four second-wave feminists: the activist and organizer Jacqueline Ceballos; Germaine Greer( Maura Tierney ); Jill Johnston, a radically free-associative columnist for the Village Voice( Kate Valk ); and the New York intellectual Diana Trilling( playing with deadpan archness by Greg Mehrten ).

The Q& A fraction of the occasion at New Yorks Town hall featured broadsides from the likes of Susan Sontag and Betty Friedan. Womens liberation divulges the poor! hollered a protester, as she was escorted out. When a male literary critic had the dances to ask what it was that liberated girl actually craved, Greer told him, flat out, to loosen: Whatever it is theyre ask questions, sugar, its not for you.

But these antics were also statement: Johnston later wrote that shed wondered showing at all( and indeed various dames, including Gloria Steinem, returned Mailer down ), since the panels very existence seemed to allow that womens liberation was an open question , not a social ultimatum. Greer gratified Mailers defy head on: her opening announcement was a 10 -minute vivisection of the illusion of the genius male creator.

It was soon clear that Mailers idea of exchange was more like a prizefight. To be the centre for human rights of any statu was, he sometimes recollected, the real marrow of his bone, wrote Mailer of himself in The Prisoner of Sex, his egomaniacal rejoinder to his feminist detractors, which took up some 50 sheets in Harpers. In 1969, Kate Milletts Sexual Politics had excoriated Mailer at length, among Arthur Miller, DH Lawrence, and other literary alpha males, for his patriarchal descriptions of fornication. In his essay, publicized the March before the April town hall, Mailer redoubles down. Divorced for the fourth duration, he invests 2 week in Maine doing all the housework, then phones his mistress. For Mailer, the battle of the sexes was dialectic , not absolute but it was a battle he relished.

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No giggling topic Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer in Town Bloody Hall. Photograph: UCLA Film& TV Archive

In Town Bloody Hall, Mailer is cultured, expansive, and condescending throughout. He refers to his peers as lady writers and noblewoman reviewers. When Johnstons genre-bending lesbian prose poem ranges a bit long, Mailer clips her off: Jill, youve written your note. Now mail it. Yet in Woosters version, its Johnston who has the last word. The play-act ramps up with fragments of Johnstons publicized postmortem of the night, Tarzana from the Trees at Cocktails, and ends in an extract from On A Clear Day You Can Envision Your Mother, the pronunciation Mailer wouldnt let her finish.

Indeed, its Jill Johnstons style that comes closest to Woosters own. She was a nest-builder, says Valk pulling together fragments of this and that, pun and poem, braiding present through past with a devilish wit.That often, at least, Mailer shared with his sparring partners. There is an element of womens liberation that panics me, said Mailer from his platform in 1971. It panics me because its humorless. And such joyless absolutism, Mailer reminded, would open society to totalitarian crawling from the left until weve all went scrambled brains.

Compared with the bona fide misogynist in the White House, Valk says, Mailer is a mere chauvinist. Mailer isnt outraging so much as something of a well-read fogy. Yet for some, passing articulation to Mailer still seems contentious. Could it be that together with acculturated sexism and casual homophobia of the Mailer kind the unequivocal defense of free speech is a thought excellent left in the 20 th century? The debate today boasts not what is said, but who has the right to say it or who is allowed to be present at all.

One of the characteristics of downtrodden people, said Greer at Town hall, is because they ever fight among themselves. Its a feeling no less true today for sounding charming. And what does it mean that The Town hall Affair feels so timely, so intense, and yet arrives predominantly verbatim from 1971?

This is partly because the old battle lines have faded. In London, activists succeeded in shuttering an obscure gallery with alt-right empathies. At Berkeley, students burned a light-footed pole to preserve a certain Breitbart writer from taking the stage. And at universities across the Country, faculty who expended the 60 s burning sketch cards and bras now furrow their hilltops as their own students accuse them of insufficient sensibility and necessitate their resignations. Even Germaine Greer, formerly on the right side of biography, seems to have fallen into indefensible conservatism. In 2015, thousands signed a petition to revoke Greers appearance at Cardiff University, after she persisted to claims that trans ladies arent certainly girls. In each of these cases, the issues are complex hitherto too often the conversation takes the form of absolutes. Neither side feels any of this funny. As for the superstition of the genius male artist: the Carl Andre retrospective at Dia Beacon met with dissents over the unsolved 1985 death of Ana Mendieta in the couples accommodation; it already faces a boycott at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art( Moca ).

Which is why the Wooster Groups choice of fabric comes close to ribbing the present zeitgeist with an image of the radical past. When the time comes to an awkward notion, says director Elizabeth LeCompte, the impulse today is to get rid of it. But thats something thats difficult for creators, because we dont like to get rid of things, we like to go into them. We like to explore the bad, the good, the beautiful, the ugly. Which is why, although the last generation of television displays has moved impressive inroads toward equality, Adam Curtis claimed that the most relevant and unflinching report of todays culture is South Park.In the past two seasons the testify is not simply characterized PC culture as the gentrification of conversation, but has savaged a particular liberal inhibition by teasing Caitlyn Jenner.

People who are against domination, Jill Johnston often wrote, should be against all abuse. Switches out its completely possible to be against all oppression, but not working against all injustice enough.

The Town hall Affair plays at REDCAT in Los Angeles until 1 April, and in San Francisco at Z Space from 6 April 16 April

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