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“Instant ardentes Tyrii: pars ducere muros / molirique arcem et manibus subsolvere saxa…” Aeneid I, 423-24
The toiling Tyrians on each other call
To ply their labor: some extend the wall;
Some build the citadel; the brawny throng
Or dig, or push unwieldly stones along. (Dryden)
In pre-modern times cities of any respectable size had walls. If you have ever been to York, Barcelona, Carcassonne, Istanbul, Rome, or Jerusalem, you have seen their skeletal remains, like the spines of long-dead dinosaurs bleaching in millennial sunlight. These days there isn’t much point in putting a wall around your city, what with transcontinental missiles, stealth bombers, drones and such. That doesn’t mean walls have gone out of style though. Bin Laden thought walls would protect him. Ditto for KimDotcom. Rich people from Johannesburg, South Africa to Briar Ridge, Indiana build neighborhoods with walls and walled estates within those neighborhoods. One is tempted to say with Frost, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out.” Is the disparity between rich and poor so great that it has to be protected and reinforced by a wall?
This certainly seems to be the case in Erin Browne’s new play Menders. The play is set sometime in the future when the United States is no more, but a few communities have survived to build protective walls. These walls serve the same purpose as pre-modern walls: they keep out the barbarians. Inside the walls two young people, Aimes and Corey, just graduated from the academy, are field training with Drew, a veteran who is about to retire. The Menders are the professional fence tending force that monitors and maintains the stone border between us and them. In the hierarchy of Browne’s futuristic American police state, they rank second only to Investigators and well above civilians. Corey is an idealistic, patriotic young woman who sees the Menders as a social ladder she will take pride in climbing. Aimes is her cousin. He is nervous and excitable. For him the Menders are a uniform he must put on because he fears what people might think if he doesn’t.