Three Americans

March 4, 2017

Out of the outrage of a president which one despises being elected, all across the country there is an artistic pang which has been swelling up to be released on the stage. This is quite a feat then, of three writers producing in just a few months meticulously crafted one-acts which act as cathartic vehicles to their outrage. It encapsulates a fascinating, deeply subjective outlook on the horridness of electing a President Trump.
Terrifically, at least, we do not have a crass, blunting jab at the situation, of having to deal with a reality that is out of one’s control. In fact, the first and last acts can be performed independently of the election, and more or less provide a contemporary critique on society. Whether those critiques hold any water, is a separate issue. The middle act, however, provides the most intense sense of desperation of the situation. And what situation is that? Aside from the tepid suggestion of being forced to play a hand one doesn’t want and internalizing this, well, daily fact of life? That all hope is lost now that there is no longer a Black President?
In this act, titled Déjà vu, we are dealing with an elderly black woman recounting how much progress has been made since the days of when she would be beaten for going out to vote. And how some sort of resistance needs to be had in the face of this current president. Yet the cause célèbre is warranted because, why exactly? A President speaking immigration hyperbole is the equivalent of the rise of Adolf Hitler? The separation of powers in the United States makes it a completely different organism than Weimar Germany, let alone the pre-assembled special police of Hitler who was tyrannical to dissenters even prior to his election. So where do the similarities begin? But it is a mistake to analyze a genuine emotional and artistic truth with its merit in rationally corresponding with reality. Indeed, this is the powerfulness of art: its ability to transcend the normal orientation toward the world and provide newfound perspective for being human.
In this vein, the cry from this woman in Déjà vu, as well as the cry of a mother of a fallen son who volunteered into the US army in The Birds Flew In (of which had beautiful metaphoric language play-written), must be taken without an objective veracity of their reasonableness. We cannot, therefore find it an absurd dissonance to celebrate electing a black president by virtue of electing a black president while ending the act with Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech echoing finale wherein he professes, nay dreams, a time when a man will be judged by his character not by his skin.
Clearly, Mr. King’s message goes both ways, in that, how it is colloquially intended to be taken, as lifting up barriers beset by society on minority races, it can also be taken as extending privileges on select minority races too. Yet how the dissonance emerges is striking – it is to suggest to merely disagree with a Black President’s policies is to be racist, even further, to reach toward regressive segregationist policies, hence the titular Déjà vu of the act. Again, it is pointless to critique the work from a rational basis, so it is pointless to judge whether the emotions are warranted or not. But it is striking to annotate how hysterical this presentation is. If one cannot disagree with a man lest he be called prejudice, then how is one able to have any arguments at all? Is this not simply another form of tyranny? Granted, we are given in the play violent instances of the quote “opposition” which colors the black woman’s worldview and terrifies her. Yet, truly, it demonstrates such a flawed and divided political realm where there is no effort at finding the middle ground but only to be obsequious in one’s political opinion. This is stunningly realized when she champions Hilary Clinton despite the madam’s outright and well-publicized chicanery and perfidy in obtaining her party’s presidential candidacy. We do still have a long way to go, Mr. King, before we judge a man by his character and not by his race or gender, indeed.
The Birds Flew In and the finale act which is an excerpt from Draw the Circle both deal, albeit in radically differing manners, of gender identity. The strongest of all three acts, The Birds Flew In, criticizes the prescribed masculine identity which a mother believes instigated her son to join the army. She cannot appreciate a boy feeling a strong sense of gratitude for a country that has given him so much – and the play is great on this point in not portraying the mother as ungrateful to America. But she is scornful of what it means to be a man; she does not understand, in a frustrating manner, why being a sissy is a bad thing. Aside from the splendid acting and terrifically colorful playwriting for this act (and the lighting, sound, and direction for all acts are to be commended for this little theatre), this meditation comes from a perspective of obliviousness, which is a paradox of abundance.
Being so far removed from the necessity of physical struggle breeds the compassionate, maternal aspect of society into being, frankly, selfish with her own creation; she would rather have an effeminate son than one who dies for his country. Ostensibly, what mother wouldn’t? Yet is there not dignity in proclaiming her sacrificial provision to society, as a manifestation of her contribution to its betterment? Why, instead of feeling melancholically proud, she instead is rancorously resentful? Would it have been better off to have suffered in her war-torn country with a living son instead? No, the heart of the play attacks this designation of what being a man is, which is being violent over being delicate, yet it fails to appreciate the even-handedness of violence. It is quixotic or simply Pollyannaish to disregard the necessary evil of violence in human society to promote civility. As such, the failure to apprehend its necessary inculcation in the most physically capable persons of imposing such an institution in society toward the objective of domestic tranquility as the basic explanation for why being a sissy is a bad thing, is the most glaring weakness of play’s treatment. It would be undeserving to paint a broad brushstroke and cast this play as part of the cultural detergency against all forms of traditional inheritance, as in, it is striking down what has been inherited by ancestry for its very sake in effort to progress society, but instead we can simply appreciate the efforts as a pleading cry – why does the world have to be this way?
Successful art, however, enables man to come to terms with the confrontation of the infinitude, which he is forever swallowed up in. A sheer visceral outrage at his necessary condition does not live himself in a better place permanently, and it’s only a temporary reprieve, a play of emotional strings. Until such dramatists appreciate the finer crafts in writing immortal works, they will be encumbered by political aspirations and work that will be nonsensical to other periods of mankind who find it befuddling why there is so much emotion invested into something so sheepish. For if there was a genuine desire to critique gender identities, the aim would not be at America, but at the rest of the world and their comparatively retrograde treatment of males and females in their societies.
And speaking of such diminishing returns, the cacophony of Draw the Circle with gender and sexuality is an embarrassment. No, I do not speak of the production quality, as that was again pleasant. But it was with the treatment of the production; a lesbian angst that her lover has replaced her sexuality with what she better identifies with. And, comically, even in the queer world there is ostracism for such a relationship! It seems the perennial treatment of people’s uncertain identity – in this case a butch woman who never felt comfortable with being herself, and even after the reconstruction surgery feeling angry she can’t feel sexually complete like an out of the womb male – is a masquerade for the uncertainty of living a life. How many more serious and beneficent mountains can be climbed and provided for posterity with an aim more noble than trying, like an angsty teenager, to find oneself in the world?
Isn’t it peculiar how childish this obsession is, in tolerance and acceptance of people who themselves are unsure of themselves? As if changing one’s sexual identity will resolve things! And perhaps this is why nearly half the population of the transgendered commit suicide – much like men who feel constantly insecure with themselves until they achieve some sort of status in society, it is not what is on the surface and its treatment by others that validates one’s existence, but something much more transcendent than what society can ever provide, i.e. spiritual. I speak of a sense of not simply self-confidence nor self-assurance, but above all a sense of gratitude for being alive, which creates that first step toward loving the world, which is physically perceived as a relentless pursuit of making something valuable and permanent. Trying to fix oneself and trying to force society to comply is a tilt at a windmill. It passes the time and provides the illusion of achieving something lasting; yet when all is said and done, what one has become is permanently unsettled. There is no finish line for being human. It is an incessant task to pursue The Good.


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