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Even to our cool, postmodern sensibility, it hovers just one short step this side of bad taste. Black comedy appropriates, as its own special province, subjects that are usually off-limits, subjects that it often dismantles with casual cruelty, flippancy, sometimes even brutality. However, the laughter evoked by black comedy is not the restorative laughter of comedy. Well, y'all certainly see t' be plagued with all sorts of disfiguring misfortunes around here.
Billy plays his trump and presents a letter, purportedly from the local doctor, a letter that indicates that Billy is dying of tuberculosis. So sweet Pea has to give up her own baby for her Mama to raise. However, Belita Moreno, the actress who played Popeye in the original production, claims that the story is true and that she had shared it with Henley: "It is an odd story but my mother and I had actually attended their wedding years before…This is an example of how Beth brings to her plays real events that might seem impossible but are based in truth.
Bobby, who recently lost his wife to TB, falls for the ruse and agrees to take Billy along. In my opinion, it is what makes her plays so strong and yet so fragile.
In their introduction to their study David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder call attention to the "transgressive potential" of the disabled body (8). Things like rotting-away noses and eyeballs dropping off down the sides of people's faces and scabs and sores…
They speak of its "non-compliance with social expectations," (9) its "unruly resistance," [its] "interruptive force" (48). She'd force herself to look at the poster of crippled children stuck up in the window at Dixieland Drugs.
Disabled figures frequently traverse the landscapes of black comedy. As in Popeye's story, the tale seems to tell itself even as the teller emotionally disengages from it. The stories told about and by Meg Mc Grath in are particularly instructive in terms of delineating Henley's responses to both physical and affective disorders.
One possible reason for this affinity of black comedy and disability has to do with their shared agenda of insubordination. Early on in the play, Babe tells Lenny how Meg behaved in the aftermath of her mother's suicide: It was full of the most sickening pictures you'd ever seen.Like every other young person in the community, Billy yearns to escape this Irish outback. For days I had it, but I wouldn't do anything about it. Then one afternoon I ran screaming out of the apartment with all my money and jewelry and valuables and tried to stuff it all into one of those March of Dimes collection boxes. (Henley, I 44_45; II) The gesture of giving so much so wildly is perceived as an incontestable sign of madness by a culture that perceives dime collection boxes as the socially sanctioned way to deal with crippled children.However, because he is unable to do the heavy rowing required to make the crossing, he must secure his passage by some other means. Some of Henley's storytellers tell tales of enfreakment.The only scene in which he appears to be isolated is his screen test scene. Now you go and give 'em the real factualized version. People'll get up and get outta their homes and come… I see how it haunts you how ya can't compare t' me.does bear witness to the fact that in the history of American film, disabled actors were rarely cast: the able-bodied American boy wins the role of disabled Irishman. To Bess Johnson, the woman who survived five years of Indian captivity" (Henley, II 47).It is a genre that discovers humor in pain, suffering, and even terror.An edgy, disquieting mode, it has no truck at all with decorum or sentiment.Now the off-stage audience realizes that the squalid Hollywood hotel room was actually the set for Billy's screen test: "To tell you the truth," he tells the others, "it wasn't an awful big thing at all to turn down Hollywood, with the arse-faced lines they had me reading for them… As things turn out, the deception of Bobby is not the limit of Cripple Billy's fabrications. Josephine Hendin, writing on Flannery O'Connor (a writer to whom Henley has often been compared) observes that O'Connor, in her personal letters, "joked about" lupus, the disease that was slowly killing her (9). Dying of syphilis, tuberculosis, and alcoholism, Mac Sam's interest in his own illness is purely aesthetic.Billy later tells Bobby the truth about his Hollywood misadventure: "…they didn't want me. Sue Walker, however, believes that O'Connor's "bantering" did not "conceal" but rather "heighten[ed] the impact of strategic words" (40). "Look at that clot [of blood] there," he invites Carnelle, "It's a nice pinkish-reddish sorta color" (189).Trading on the fact that he has a slight wheeze, he plays on the sympathies of "Babbybobby," a boatman who has agreed to ferry the others. For example, Carnelle Scott of The Miss Firecracker Contest renders a lurid account of the final days of her Aunt Ronelle: …[S]he had this cancer of the pituitary gland, I believe it was; so what they did was they replaced her gland with the gland of a monkey to see if they could save her life… She, well, she started growing long, black hairs all over her body, just, well, just like an ape…But she was so brave. (Henley, I once knew these two midgets by the name of Sweet Pea and Willas.At first, Bobby refuses, telling Billy that "A cripple fella's bad luck in a boat" (35). I went to their wedding and they was the only midgets there. But they was so happy together and they moved into a midget house…Then Sweet Pea got pregnant and later on she had what they call this Cesarean birth…Well, come to find out, the baby is a regular-size child and soon that baby is just too large for Sweet Pea to carry around and too large for all a' that mite-sized furniture. (Henley, The allusion to the story of "Sweet Pea" as told by "Popeye" again invokes the violent fantasy world of the cartoon.