Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Review of "King of Bangor" [Lee Gambin]

Australian playwright Lee Gambin -- who appears to be less a playwright than an aspiring playwright -- has published, via Overlook Press, a slender print version of his recent one-act play King of Bangor, which was staged down under earlier this summer.

I bought the book.

I'm here to tell you about it.

Sigh...  I feel ashamed of myself in advance.  My mother is going to find me, yet again, to be in violation of the "if you don't have anything nice to say" treaty.

Here's the thing.  I didn't finish reading the play.


Because it's awful.

Does it feel as if I'm hitting the enter key frequently, possibly in an attempt to make this review seem longer -- and therefore more substantial -- than it actually is?


It does feel that way a bit.

I'll stop now.

The truth is, I have very little to say about King of Bangor in its book form, except to heartily recommend that you avoid buying a copy.  As I indicated multiple "paragraphs" ago, it's awful.  I'm going to finish reading the damned thing at some point, just so I can say I finished it, but there's no real need for me to do so, and there's definitely no need for YOU to do so.

The setup is this: Stephen King is sitting at his typewriter, supposedly writing something.  He's got booze and pills and cocaine all around him, and he's got some sort of assistant hanging out with him.  She may or may not be a figment of his imagination.  Then some other people show up; they ARE figments of his imagination, and one of them begins speaking as if he's Dennis Guilder from Christine and another begins speaking as if she's one of Carrie White's tormentors -- not one of the important ones, either.

They begin spouting out stuff that's supposed to sound profound -- "He's a master mechanic," Princeton (the character who has assumed the guise of Dennis Guilder) says.  "And Christine was the perfect project.  It was love at first sight." -- but is actually gussied-up plot summary ... of novels I'm already familiar with.

"Whoa, there," I imagine somebody who cares about this objecting; "it's not fair to assume an audience would be familiar with Christine and Carrie, so maybe other people will be more interested than you are."  

My answer to that hypothetical objection would be that in the pages I finished reading, Gambin does nothing -- and I do mean absolutely nothing -- interesting with any of this.  I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the intent is that the characters other than King (and possibly his assistant, Queenie) are supposed to represent King's inner monologue, serving as a glimpse at his interior creative process while it is at work.  Except ... as far as I can tell, King the character is not creating anything; nor is he looking to past achievements for inspiration, as it seems to be the case that he hasn't finished writing Dennis's story yet.  Am I supposed to think this is taking place while King is writing Christine?  If so, I don't know that it changes things to any great degree.

Maybe this all gets clarified in some way during the remainder of the play, but I bailed out before finding out.  You might right now be thinking that that makes it unfair for me to write a review of it.  And you're correct, which is why I'm stressing that I have yet to finish it.  

And yet, I'm writing a review anyways, just because the play annoyed me.  A big part of that is down to the "quality" of Gambin's writing. Here are some examples of the quality of writing on display from Gambin in the play:

"KING:  Arnie has the power too Dennis and her name is Christine."  (20)

"KING:  (typing, reading) This story is a love triangle.  It is about Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabbott and Christine a 1958 red Plymouth Fury."  (21)

"KING:  How do you know what's good or not for him Guilder?  You've had it easy you're whole life; you've had yourself an easy fucking run pal."  (21)

I want to stress right here and now that I am no expert on Australia.  I have seen Mad Max, I used to own a Men At Work cassette, I've enjoyed many fine meals at Outback Steakhouse, and I would happily commit adultery with Nicole Kidman; that's no recipe for expert knowledge on an entire continent, and I'm aware of it.  So it's entirely possible that the people there have elected to use the comma less frequently as a matter of national policy.  Let's assume that to be the case.  Because otherwise, in those three isolated bits from a mere two pages of the play, I spot a need for at least six additional commas, as well as one semicolon.  

I hate to be a punctuation freak, but I think it's reasonable to expect a minimum standard when it comes to published literature, and above that line of demarcation is correct -- or, at the very least, stylishly incorrect -- use of the language.  Gambin is way below the line, and it irks me; it's like trying to watch a movie with the auditorium lights on.

Even worse: that egregious misuse of "you're" in the place of "your" in the third quotation. No writer should ever make that mistake; its just not acceptable.  (See what I did there?  I purposefully used "its" in the place of "it's."  I looked fucking well stupid when I did it, and somebody making the mistake accidentally looks even stupider.)

But even worse than THAT is this: Leigh Cabot's name is misspelled.  How should I feel about someone who has taken the time and energy it must require to write and produce a one-act play about the work of Stephen King who can't then be bothered to correctly spell the name of one of King's characters?  I can understand misremembering it; but any King fan worth his or her salt would have a copy of the novel on-hand to check.  Seriously, mine is right the fuck over there; I can see it (and yes, in fact I did have to go consult it in order to be sure I was correct about the spelling of "Leigh Cabot," but hey -- I put in the legwork, pal, and I'm just a doofus blogger).  Failing that, Google is a viable option.  Anything else is sheer laziness and/or incompetence, as well as an indication that I as a reader need not worry much about what you've got to say as an author.

Eventually, I'll go back and read the entire play, and perhaps I'll find myself to have been overly harsh in these criticisms; maybe, even, entirely incorrect.  When and if that happens, I'll write a more fair and balanced review.  But for now, my judgment of King of Bangor -- at least in its printed form -- is that it is nothing more than fanfiction, scarcely more dignified or better-written than any number of stories I could find in which one can read of Kirk and Spock turking each other's brains out.  

Or, perhaps, Harry and Draco, or Edward and Jacob.  Me, I'd prefer to read some juicy stories about Don Draper getting up to hijinks with Joan Holloway, or maybe the naughty after-hours exploits Mal and River might have had aboard the good ship Serenity.  Or -- oo! -- some quality Ninth Doctor/Rose action.

I don't really want to read any of that, of course ... but I know it's bound to be out there, and some of it is probably at least as good as this crap King of Bangor.


  1. The play might not have been very entertaining, but your review of it was very enjoyable!

  2. Listening to a podcast with Gambin (, who is terrifically entertaining. So much so that I looked up this old review to see if it is as vitriolic as I remember it being. Nope -- even worse! I kind of feel awful.

    But I'm going to let the review stand as a monument to my assholery.

    Gambin recently put out "Nope, Nothing Wrong Here: The Making of Cujo," which looks awesome. I will almost certainly review it here, and when I do, I think I'll give "King of Bangor" another chance.

    And try to be less of a judgmental prick this time!