The theatre season has come to an end this Spring. So many shows, so little time to write about them. Thus, with three un-reviewed play programs stationed at my writing spot, I contemplated what they had in common. Intelligence, A Raisin in the Sun, and Smart People rounded out Arena Stage’s 2016-17 season. Each brought an experience, which I often have when attending a play, or reading literature: the personal introspection of the theme of the play to my own life experience. While stories may have the effect of transporting us to places and situations which we do not experience regularly, they may also have the effect of illuminating our memories. Now, does the phenomenon fulfill the Greek drama concept of catharsis?
Intelligence, by Jacqueline E. Lawton, is a new play centered around the historical events in which Valerie Plame was exposed as a CIA operative. For those who follow politics, these events are generally remembered. What Ms. Lawton does is to fill in the hidden aspects of CIA work and the consequences of this work. Ms. Plame was involved in investigating President Bush’s claims that Iraq had chemical weapons, the non-smoking gun that Bush’s administration used to convince Congress to send our military into Iraq in 2003. Her investigation included tracking down former scientists for the Iraq chemical weapons programs and convincing them to go back to Iraq to inquire among their associates whether these chemicals still existed. The play shows the fate of USA politics on Ms. Plame’s family, as well as the fate of those scientists who were caught in Iraq as our Shock-and-Awe bombing campaign began.
My person reflection is on how that war has affected citizens of Iraq and other Middle-East countries. Coincidentally, our region of the country, with a Christian charity heritage, has a strong refugee re-settlement program. A number of those who have come our region are from Iraq and Syria. Many of them has experienced the wars, al Qaeda, and ISIS. They come with injuries of those war, physical, psychological, and social. While I respectfully can give no details, as a therapist, I get to know them on a personal level while providing long-overdue therapy, which is in short supply in refugee camps. Intelligence is less about geo-politics or Inside-the-Beltway in-fighting. It is about how world events affect people.
A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, is set in the 1950’s. The USA is booming in the post-war economy with hope growing in a new civility in the suburbs. African-American communities look at homes, jobs, and education that will allow them to move out of the close quarters of urban living. The Younger family, living three generations together in one of those apartments, comes into some money from a life insurance policy. The matriarch takes a portion of that money to put a down payment on a home in a new suburban development. While many events happen in the play, a key point is when Karl Lindner calls on the family, as a representative of the Neighborhood Improvement Association. He gives a glowing speech about how people get along when they talk and get to know each other. He then turns this into a lecture about how people get along best with their own kind. He presents an offer to the family that the Neighborhood Improvement Association will buy them out.
I am reminded of our own small democracy in our subdivision. Over the past few years, some members have made various proposals for committees with glowing agendas to involve more members, be more transparent, and provide better organized governance. However, none of these objectives have been met. Once approved by the members, these committees have declared themselves “above the board”, have held unannounced meetings, refused to keep or release minutes of their meetings, and attacked former board members with general and unsubstantiated accusations. Now, neighbors do not visit each other, do not roll down their windows to chat when passing each other on the road, and are forming into factions.
Smart People, by Lydia R. Diamond, is set in the world of advanced education. Each of the four characters have master’s or doctoral degrees, in neuro-science, psychology, health care, and theatre. Each faces opposition because of personal traits which confront the establishment. Valerie Johnston is an African-American woman who wants to play classic theatre rolls; Brian White is a white-male researcher who investigates the neurological responses of subjects to prejudice, specifically white-American prejudice to other races; Ginny Yang is a Japanese-Chinese American psychologist, who counsels and researches women of Asian heritage about the conflicts they experiences because of expectations that other have toward them; Jackson Moore is an African-American doctor who is banished to entry-level medical rotations because he is consider too confrontational and non-conformist by the hospital physicians’ committee. Each lives in his or her head, full of knowledge, but devoid of companionship, acceptance, and love. By circumstance, they meet and try to date each other. So many years of learning knowledge, but so little experience with living with people. This one fits into my mother’s genre of “psycho-drama”.
My objection to this style of theatre is “people do not really talk like that”. What occurs on stage is more the stream-of-consciousness that is probably going on in the character’s heads spewed out for dramatic effect. Well, Elizabethan characters probably never spoke as eloquently as Shakespeare’s dialogue, either. But, then I pull up a news clip of Kellie Ann Conway being interviewed on CNN. Yes, they are yelling at each other in an unscripted rant of verbal vomit. I catch a glimpse of afternoon judge shows while getting my oil changed and see the accused, the accuser, and judge yelling pseudo-jurisprudence at each other. I attend our subdivision annual meeting and see one member shouted down simply for presenting an opinion differing from that of the “neighborhood improvement association”. Which is mirroring whom, the theatre or the audience?
I will have to get back to you about that catharsis thing…