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breaking of bread

Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread

Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread is a short play by David Ives, imitating composer Philip Glass's minimalist style; that is to say that comparatively few words and ideas are repeated many times throughout the work. The structure of this piece is closest to a rap or musical number, but it is quite distinct from both. The beat is alternately very fast and very ponderous, and Ives rather clearly captures the essence of the Glass style. "Einstein on the Beach," the 5-hour Glassian opera, is said to provide a good model of such rhythms that are seen in the play.

The play opens and closes completely normally -- Philip Glass enters a bakery, where he encounters in passing an old love of his. A few lines are exchanged, some between Philip and the baker, others between his ex and the friend who is with her.

Between the two ends of this scene, in a long section marked by the ringing of a bell (a recurring device in Ives' plays), come rhythmic reorderings of the words used in the opening and closing. Some of the phrases make no sense ("PHILIP CAN THINK BREAD"), but they are used to create an emotional atmosphere suggesting Philip's subconscious state at seeing this woman again. Other lines are understandable but absurd, such as "PHILIP GLASS IS A LOAF OF BREAD" and "PHILIP NEED A LOAF OF LOVE," while others still make obvious sense, such as "TIME IS A MOMENT."

The play suggests several themes (although none of them too seriously) including the tendency of real life (the Baker) to interrupt what we wish life to be (Philip Glass and his old love). It seems that whenever Philip Glass or the rest of the cast comes close to a philosophical revelation, they revert to strochaic, nonsensical rhythms such as "Go! Go! Go! Go! Time! Time! Time! Time!" The bread can also be seen as a symbol of Philip's life and happiness, which he tries to ask for several times in vain. The Baker also needs "bread" in his life, whatever that may be for him. Once again though, none of the messages are to be taken entirely seriously, as noted in the original "sheet music" of the piece.

"Philip Glass..." may be distinguished from most of Ives' other works in that its ending may be played either comedically or dramatically, depending on the production. Of all of Ives' works, it is certainly the most open to directors' interpretation, and thus stagings of it may vary wildly. While some productions might choose to increase the absurdity of the parody until climactic breaking point, others may choose to twist the rhythm towards the end to allow for the few dramatic revelations allowed in the piece, such as "WHAT'S THE WOMAN MATTER?" and the final line of the musical interlude, "NO, NOTHING, NO WOMAN NEED MATTER. NO CHANGE." Nevertheless, the piece almost invariably ends on a laugh, as Glass asks if the baker can break his bill, and the baker points to a sign stating, "No Change." (In some productions, there is no sign, and this is merely implied, or else spoken outright.)

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