Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why haven't I written more political drama?

I am drawn to politics. I find myself watching the RNC obsessively, much as I watched the DNC. I am drawn to political plays, it's in my theater's mission statement, and I produced a festival of plays by Vaclav Havel.

So why haven't I written more myself?

Partly, it's time. I seem to have so many projects piled up that it's difficult to write everything I want to.

Partly, it's a distrust of overtly political plays. They are too easy, especially when they are based on nothing but venting anger. I recently went to a preview of Beast, at New York Theater Workshop, and I hated it, especially as it related to George Bush. Whom I can't stand. Whom the playwright, Michael Weller, can't stand. But to me, it was stupid politics, wielded with a large bat intent on hitting anything on its path, without anything to say except that the author was very, very angry and wanted George Bush dead.

I couldn't care less whether Bush is alive or dead. I wish him no physical harm, I don't even wish him bad fortune (OK, maybe a little, in my worst moments). I just want him out of the White House.

Which he will be, soon. So I see even less point to knocking down the stick figure.

But it is the sort of self congratulation of many political plays, the smugness of them, that drives me insane. During a panel at the end of the Havel Festival, a number of playwrights talked about political plays in a panel. Some of the playwrights had done work I very much respect. But almost all of them entered into a sort of empty, angry rhetoric that said almost nothing.

An exception was Havel. He said only one thing - I write plays that ask questions, not plays that give answers.

I see the same smugness, the same self congratulation, at the RNC. Of course, conventions are a ritualistic sort of theater, meant not to examine ideas but to provoke emotion. But what I admire are those few moments, those few politicians, who make the ideas the basis of the emotion.

Of everyone, at both conventions, the person who did that most effectively, I thought, was Bill Clinton. I was reminded of one great talent he has--conveying ideas in an emotionally powerful way without simplifying them beyond recognition.

I like Obama. I think he tries to do the same, if not as effectively. I know he is considered a good speaker, and he can be effective sometime. But I hope, God I hope, it is effective enough.

Yet what have I done to help, over the last eight years? I wrote an essay to go along with the Havel Festival, that expressed some of my outrage, in a (I hope) nuanced manner. I wrote a short play in my 24-hour theater festival called Extraordinary Rendition

And I have produced and directed some interesting pieces. Cat's Cradle is very political of course, and I wrote the adaptation and directed. So that was something.

And I vote.

But I want to do more. It is not enough. I want to write something more.

What are the questions that need to be asked? I know one, which no one asks, in either campaign, but is perhaps the one that haunts me most: What are we going to do about all the people, In Guantanamo, across the world, whom we have held in prisons without charges and without evidence. What are we going to do to restore our soul?

It is simple to be angry at George Bush. Or Dick Cheney. Or Albert Gonzales. Or Michael Chertoff.

I grew up with Michael Chertoff. His father was our Rabbi, was my father's closest friend, for a while. I didn't know him well, he was much older than me, but I know Michael is not an evil man. His father was convinced that Michael was destined for greatness. He was convinced that Michael had inherited genius from his grandfather, a well know and respected Rabbi.

If I wrote a political play, maybe it would be about a young man with great promise and great intelligence, who later works for a team of people collectively responsible for one individual to suffer deeply, meaninglessly, and needlessly. Not out of malice, or hatred, just out of indifference.

To put more than one individual who suffers like that into my play might be beyond bearing.

When will I be ready to write this play?

I don't know. Not yet. I haven't figured out all the right questions yet. But somewhere in my brain, I'm working on it.

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