Warnings from American politics
By Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Years and years ago, when I was the nipper of the critics in Montreal, I saw a production at one of our mid-range theatres. The company, a largely experimental house, mounted a play where the premise was that psychiatrists are crazier than their patients. (It's a homily my Catholic, military father offered in every discussion of psychiatry.) I was both delighted and mortified by the play. It was a good play but its politics struck me as decidedly right-wing.
...there is no forum more suited for such dialogue than the theatre.
I realized, then, that some right wing ideas are actually interesting and have a sound basis in logic and belief (not at all the same thing, needless to say) and that some on the right were as sincere as my side was and - believe it or not - good people!
I became more open to a dialogue, and there is no forum more suited for such dialogue than the theatre. Better, a magnificent play came along soon after I saw the shrink-piece, that proved such a dialogue could be embodied in a single work: Tony Kushner's Angels in America, to my mind the finest work of the last century. Kushner presents profoundly flawed people who are striving - on the right and left - in a bubble of belief which is eventually popped. All we have, Kushner proposes, is each other.
Has such theatrical dialogue ever been more necessary? Look at the political horror story last week in the States! The word "schism" has never been so clearly defined in a society. My God! we were watching a legislation prepared to destroy the entire world to score political points!
(You want to explode a thought-bomb among your friends? Tell them you are a believer or an atheist!)
We are not there yet in Canada, but I am seeing, on Facebook and Twitter and in some op-eds, people taking sides: hard sides. I'd like to point to the war between believers and atheists which is expressing itself in my own group of aquaintances. (You want to explode a thought-bomb among your friends? Tell them you are a believer or an atheist!)
Since the federal cutback to SummerWorks, epithets are being hurled from both extremes. It was during the broohaha that I had the joy of a podcast interview with my old friend Arden Ryshpan (now Actors Equity boss) for the CharPo podcast, This Is The CPC. Arden told me about the balancing act she must perform as a a leftist cultural warrior who must also deal with governments. She has learned that it's a good idea to play nice even as she makes it quite clear where she is coming from.
Arden's is a lesson we could all learn. A balance in ideas, in our theatre, would be far more interesting than the tedious preaching-to-the-choir ad hominems we often see in playhouses. I have been to so many productions where the audience was virtually "Amen"-ing what was being said. I'm not sure theatre is meant to be a series of tent revivals.
How ruined are we when the sometimes-monstrous Woyzeck meets his end?
Think of the plays which have marked you? They are full of humans, not symbols (even when the piece is largely metaphorical). We both love and despise Amanda in Glass Menagerie. We cheer and fear Macbeth. Our hearts break for the toadying Willy Loman. How ruined are we when the sometimes-monstrous Woyzeck meets his end? And say what you like about Brecht, but who is not haunted by the image of the profiteer, Mother Courage, hauling her own cart?
You know what I'd like to see? A play about the suffering of Stephen Harper...
...even if I think he's a robot...
(Hey! I'm only human!)