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Richard McBeef is a play written by the late literary genius Cho Seung Hui and released posthumously after his untimely death. Predominantly viewed as a work of post-modernism, this single act tragicomedy follows Richard McBeef, a seemingly average middle-aged male, and his struggles with his family, in particular his stepson John. An ambitious project, engaging in topical issues such as the Catholic Church sex scandals and exploring the problems of obesity, decadence and apathy in modern American society, it received negative reception upon release; critics savaged it for its concise nature, its colourful and inventive language and its use of unresolved sub-plots. It has experienced some reassessment in recent years, with some even calling it 'a masterpiece'.
The play opens up with Richard McBeef, a slightly overweight middle aged man, sat in the kitchen reading a newspaper when his stepson, John, walks in and grabs a cereal bar. It becomes clear that the relationship between the two is strained, as shown by John's refusal to refer to Richard as 'Dad' and by the way he aggressively addresses him as 'Dick' (the term meant both as a shorthand for 'Richard' and as an insult). Richard tries to engage in a 'man to man' talk with John, but John rebuffs him and storms into the living room to watch TV.
Richard follows him and asks for John to give him a chance and to try to accept him as his new father, placing his hand on John's thigh in a friendly manner. John immediately slaps his hand and begins to accuse him of being a paedophile, referring to him as 'a Catholic priest' and 'Michael Jackson'. Richard asks his stepson why he hates him so much, and John answers this by accusing him of murdering his biological father in order to get inside '[his] mom's pant', which implies that Richard may not be the normal everyday individual that we previously assumed him to be. Richard tries to explain that the death of John's father was the result of a boating accident, but John accuses him of murdering him and covering up the crime 'like what the government has done to John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe' (an old tabloid titled 'The Cover-up of John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe' is then revealed). We learn through John that Richard worked for the government as a janitor and it is implied that Richard was jealous of the relationship that John's parents had. Richard unsuccessfully tries to stop the wrath of his stepson, which prompts John to threaten to insert the TV's remote control into Richard's backside. Out of frustration, Richard shouts and raises his fist to hit John.
At this point, John's mother, Sue, appears and demands to know what is going on. Upon seeing his fist raised, she scolds Richard for being about to strike her son. He tries to defend himself, but Sue cuts him off and tells John to go to his room; John goes up the stairs, but decides to watch the spectacle from the top of the stairs rather than go to his room. When Richard states that he was called 'a son of a bitch', Sue is horrified and accuses Richard of lying, as she insists that her 'poor little pooey pooey boy' would never use such foul language; she also reveals that the death of her previous husband was only a month before the events of the play take place. John then (dishonestly?) accuses Richard of molesting him from his place at the top of the stairs, prompting Sue to swear, apologise to John for swearing and to strike Richard. She pauses to take of her shoe, and then continues with hitting Richard.
When Richard brushes Sue with his large arm and build whilst imploring her to calm down, she interprets this as assault and flees into the kitchen, throwing a plate at him; this hits him in the forehead but he is unmoved. This prompts Sue to flee into the basement, but not before telling John to go to his room and calling Richard a 'fat piece of pork'. Richard follows her into the basement, causing her to ask if he is 'a bisexual psycho rapist murderer' and to plead for her life. She also throws assorted wrenches and pipes at Richard, all of which fail to stop him. He begs her to stop and drops down to his knees; Sue throws a few more heavy objects at him. Richard explains that John's erratic behaviour is due to him being a mischievous young boy who's trying to get over his father's death; he tries to placate Sue further by calling her 'honey-poo' and by offering her sex doggy style, which is revealed to be Sue's favourite position.
The scene then cuts to John in his bedroom; he lies on the bed whilst throwing darts at a picture of Richard's face whilst reiterating his murderous hatred for his step-dad. Upon getting two darts to hit each eye, John runs down into the basement where Richard and Sue and still standing. In front of his mother, John accuses Richard of murdering his father (the actual line being 'that fat man murder dad') and of molesting him. Sue immediately takes John's (false?) accusations to be true, which makes her scream in anger and brandish a chainsaw at Richard. Richard then runs out of the house and gets in his car. He sits there for half an hour before John joins him, with the cereal bar from earlier in his hand.
John then vents his full anger and resentment at Richard, stating that the main reasons for his dislike of his step-father are that he can't provide for Sue, barely making the minimum wage as a 'chef' in a fast-food establishment, and that he is a failure at life. Richard's list of past jobs is revealed to the audience, with him working as a janitor, a truck driver and a preschool teacher, all of which lasted for a month of two. It is also revealed that Richard used to be a professional American Football player, but his career only lasted three weeks. John mocks Richard for his figure and his sexual problems, calling him such names as 'McPork' and 'prematurely ejaculating piece of dickshit', as well as implying that Richard once ate three Big Macs in three minutes. Richard scolds him for hurling such abusive language at him; in response, John shoves the cereal bar down Richard's throat whilst calling him a 'giant tree trunk piece of ass'. After Richard spends a short while choking on the bar, John finally refers to him as 'dad' with the delightful phrase 'FUCK YOU DAD!' Out of sheer desecration and hurt, Richard responds by swinging a deadly blow at the thirteen year old boy.
edit Richard McBeef
The title character is initially portrayed as an ordinary, albeit slightly overweight, middle aged American male, with a steady job and a family. However, as the story progresses, we learn more details about his sordid past. Richard can be seen as an example of an anti-hero; he is not shown to have any heroic qualities or virtues, in that he is presented as an ugly individual with 'a tree trunk piece of ass', and it is strongly implied that he is both a paedophile and a murderer. It is never made clear whether the crimes he is accused of are true or if John is just acting like a little shit. The character of Richard can be viewed as the physical embodiment of the societal issues that Seung Hui rails against in 'Richard McBeef'.
The thirteen year old stepson of Richard. John is a prime example of a Byronic hero; he is arrogant, cynical, cunning in manipulating his mother to turn against her husband, rebellious against the patriarchy of Richard and he is also both intelligent and perceptive in that he has inexplicable knowledge of Richard's mysterious past. It can also be suggested that he is suffering from a troubled past, in the form of the death of his biological father due to a boating accident (or was it murder?). John is easily identifiable by his clever and creative language, such as 'you motherfucking McBeef' and, possibly his most famous line, 'you giant tree trunk piece of ass'. It could be suggested that John is suffering from the early pangs of puberty, thus accounting for his unruly behaviour and his attempts at seeking attention by falsely accusing his step-dad of murder and paedophilia; according to this view, the character of John closely mirrors the play's troubled author. His final fate is never explicitly revealed, and the audience has to decide for themselves whether he died at the hands of Richard or not.
John's mother and Richard's wife. Her character is not that deeply explored (a minor flaw Seung Hui had in his writing was that he really didn't understand women, unless he was writing about prostitutes or sluts...and even that's a bit patchy to say the least); however, we can infer that she is four wheels short of a car. Her previous husband died a mere month before the events of 'Richard McBeef', so it didn't take her too long to get over his accident/murder (could she have had a hand in his untimely demise?). More evidence of her mental instability is her rejection of Richard's attempts to make everything better via sex (who in their right mind would refuse to have sex with him?). The beauty of Sue is that, because her characterisation is so weak and patchy, we have to create our own ideas and fantasies about her character.
Like any great work of art, 'Richard McBeef' is bursting with many themes and ideas for the audience to digest.
Paedophilia has a large part in 'Richard McBeef'. In today's society, almost anyone that you see could be a paedophile, and Seung Hui plays on this widespread fear by suggesting that Richard may possibly be a paedo. Now he may well be completely innocent, but does it really matter? As soon as he is branded a kiddy fiddler, just like in real life, everyone is made to see him as a monster, and it is all downhill for there on out (I'm surprised that the play didn't include an armed mob throwing bricks through his window and holding an effigy of Richard in his front garden). Seung Hui further plays on the fears of ordinary people by explicitly referencing topical events, such as the sex scandals within the Catholic Church and the crimes of Michael Jackson, and by linking Richard to these atrocities. Seen as vile and disgusting language at the time, modern revisionism has begun to praise Seung Hui by boldly making audiences face their worst fears.
Seung Hui was disgusted by the obesity epidemic and the gluttony that was plaguing American society, and this is reflected in 'Richard McBeef'. Richard is the only obese character in the play, and the events of the play force the audience to feel nothing but contempt and sheer hatred for him. Seung Hui was also angry at what he interpreted as sheer apathy amongst the American population. Much of John's venomous language directed against Richard pokes fun at his portly figure and his general apathy in society, such as '[you're] all fat and lazy' and 'while the guys were packing on muscles, you were packing on McDonald's fat'. Seung Hui attacks the gluttony that he perceived as virulent amongst his peers and the society in which he lived with John angrily stating how Richard was 'chowing down on three Big Macs in three minutes'.
edit Societal Breakdown
As many on the right wing continually complain, Seung Hui believed that society's moral fabric was falling apart; in his eyes, America (and presumably the rest of the Western world) was turning into a sleazy, decadent lice-pit. This is a recurring theme in all of his works, and 'Richard McBeef' is no exception. The traditional father-son relationship is warped in this play in many different ways. Firstly, John's real father died before the start of the play in tragic circumstances, and the relationship between Richard and John is shown to be incredibly rocky, with John referring to his step-dad simply as 'Dick'.
Seung Hui appears to place the blame of American society's ills in the hands of the older generation (i.e. Richard's). The angry monologue John directs against Richard can be seen as Seung Hui acting as a spokesman of his generation, lashing out at a generation characterised by obesity, apathy, unsuccessful lives and careers, premature ejaculation and eating three Big Macs in three minutes. In fact, one could suggest that the scene of John trying to make his stepfather choke on the cereal bar as Seung Hui unsuccessfully trying to bring the two generations closer together after first punishing the older generation for the mistakes they made.
(If finding random themes in literary works was this easy, I might have actually took English Literature at A-level)
edit Class and privilege
Seung Hui also railed against the privileges and favours that the rich kids at his university enjoyed and he did not (which is quite ironic really, seeing as he was actually very middle class...much like many founding communists really). This is shown by the implication that John is something of a mummy's boy, in that she is very protective, indulgent and refuses to think ill of her son, which partly encourages the spoilt brat to make Richard's life a living hell (this is assuming that Richard is actually innocent of all the charges of murder and paedophilia; the beauty of Seung Hui's work is that there are no definite conclusions anywhere in his writings. It is up to us to draw our own conclusions).
Taking cues from the classic Robert Harris novel 'Fatherland', Seung Hui was convinced that the US government was guilty of killing people and then covering up the murders. He uses the murders of two revered celebrities, John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe, to install this fear into the audience and, in a completely original way, to present a higher authority who would stop at nothing to kill whoever they wanted, using the death of John's real father as proof that not even the general public are safe. The revelation that Richard used to work for the government as a janitor clearly takes inspiration from Big Brother in George Orwell's classic '1984', in that the government are omnipresent. One thing that is left to our imagination is how Richard could have possibly killed John's father at sea in his capacity as a janitor. Could he have sabotaged the boat and got it to sink whilst he swam to shore (given his rather large frame, that's not terribly likely)? Could he have made the guy drink bleach (taking cues from J B Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls') and then dumped his body at sea? Or could he have beaten him to death with a mop? Only our imaginations can suffice.
When it was first released on unsuspecting audiences, it did not receive the positive reception that Seung Hui had hoped for. Much like his other major work 'Virginia Tech Massacre', it was mercilessly slammed by critics and other writers. Legendary author Steven King referred to it as 'utter fucking garbage', whilst director Tom Six was quoted as saying 'this shit is soooo messed up, it makes my stuff look normal...and that's saying something', after which he fired an AK-47 wildly into the air.
The major publications were just as scathing. A reviewer for the New York Times said that 'I felt unclean while watching this pile of dog-shit', whilst a reviewer from the Daily Mail said 'this is quite possibly the worst piece of torture I have ever had to endure...and I have read Breaking Dawn'.
There has been some revisionism in recent years. Mike Rotch from the Daily Sport commented about how 'this is the last truly daring piece of theatre, especially the part where Richard sits in his car and we watch him do fuck all for half an hour. Genius!'
edit Film Adaptation
There have been rumours circulating the interweb with regards to a Hollywood adaptation of 'Richard McBeef', with Seung Hui's favourite actor, Nicolas Cage, playing the title character. This has not been confirmed however; when asked about this, Cage simply blanked out the interviewer and started accosting people whilst carrying a sharpened plank of wood, saying he was a vampire and asking them to kill him.
Award-winning director Uwe Boll was rumoured to be signed on as director; he did express interest at one point, but when someone told him that it would be ridiculous and out of context to add slimy dog monsters, gratuitous sex scenes and massive car chases, he took this fair comment as an affront to every single film he's ever made and, consequentially, started punching him repeatedly in the face.