Why should politics be left to politicians? If they had their way we’d all be waving flags and buying crap on credit, while the corporate-government revolving door does enough RPMs to power a generator that could light up Manhattan. On the other hand, if the unwashed masses had their way we’d all be burning flags and sharing watery vegan gruel in the mess halls of our workers’ collective. I propose that politics should be handled exclusively by playwrights. If you check out Created Equal at The Theater at the 14th Street Y anytime from now until February 12th, you’ll know why. This collection of six short plays will entertain you, outrage you, inspire you, and give you debating points for weeks to come.
Created Equal is the second production this season for The Red Fern Theatre Company, whose mission is “to provoke social awareness and change through its theatrical productions and outreach.” The six plays that comprise the show are by exciting, young New York playwrights J. Holtham, Kristen and Luanne Rosenfeld, Anna Moench, Rob Askins, Jen Silverman, and Joshua Conkel, who took the assignment to write on inequality in America seriously.
Media saturation may sound like fun, but after a while you just get sick of it all. Newt Gingrich’s latest campaign ads show that the language of film and theater is intervolved with the manipulations of the powerful and the iron digestion of the credulous. Will people say anything to get power? Will people believe anything if it satisfies their sense of outrage, or schadenfreude, or simple malice? Has politics always been this dirty, this nasty? The answer is, yes. It has. From Pericles to Ron Paul (the comparison is between historical epochs, not the world-historical significance of the politicians) public life has been one part theater, one part back room deals, and one part character assassination.
In Lex Before Marriage, by Jen Silverman, Clyde is cowering in his room to protest his favorite cousin Lex’s gay marriage. Clyde has a recurring fantasy that lesbians like Lex are all good girls gone bad, turned to lesbianism by loose sexual behavior and permissive liberal culture. Lex comes in to try and talk him into attending her wedding. Though they don’t break any new ground on the debate (as they themselves admit), Clyde agrees to honor his cousin by toasting her at her nuptials.
Equal Time by Kristen and Luanne Rosenfeld tries to rise above the fray. Two politicians are being coached by two professional campaign managers, who are closer to each other than they are to the two candidates. The managers are spin-meisters, poll watchers, strategists, and rhetoricians. They think the electorate are a bunch of sheep blindly following the bellwether. One of them tells his candidate to save her ideas about good government until she’s elected. But the irrepressible candidate, played by Cicily Daniels, pulls a Bulworth and starts to shoot from the hip. The scene ends with all the participants singing a song in praise of liberty.
Bromides and sloganeering aside, Occupied by J. Holtham gives us a perfect example of theater’s power to cut through the bullshit. The scene opens on a guerrilla theater group doing their last rehearsal for a protest that is scheduled to happen in a couple of hours. One of the members — a white woman — complains that the only two women in the group have to perform with tape over their mouths, and she wants her voice to be heard! Half the brilliance of this short piece is the casting: one white man, one black man, one hipanic man, a white woman and a woman of color (Asian) make up the cast. J. Holtham (a black man) deftly wields an IED of theatrical irony to explore and explode the hypocrisies of radical anarchism (left and right) and the identity politics that constitute them.
The difference between political theatre and the Theater of Politics have everything to do with the former’s deft use of irony versus the latter’s desperate need to kill irony in the service of sentimentality and schmaltz. I firmly believe that our country was saved from self-destruction four years ago by Will Farrell and Tina Fey. It warms the cockles of my cold, cynical heart to see the great tradition of American political theatre nurtured and perpetuated with so much panache at the 14th street Y.
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