After watching the Inauguration on a struggling computer with the marketing department of A.C.T., I returned to my office to hang the 11″x17″ poster I bought in Chicago this past weekend: a poorly printed image of Obama-as-superhero on top of a bright yellow background. It’s blurry and silly, but who cares.
Truthfully, what I like about Obama is that he isn’t a superhero, and does not pretend to be. He is the opposite of Superman. Superman is so spectacular that Lois Lane can put herself in compromising positions because she knows her blue-eyed beau will swoop down from the heavens and pluck her out of harm’s way. Lex Luther argues that Superman is poison to humanity because with him around humanity will never meet its fullest potential because it doesn’t need to. Survival of the fittest does not apply when the fittest is protecting everyone else. Conversely, Obama is an enabler. He flatly says that he’ll do what he can do, but we are going to have to the rest.
The rest. There is so much to do in this world it is difficult to know where to begin. Rachel did some project with a class last semester where everyone changed their life in some significant way and documented their progress on a blog. Rachel gave up corn products (all of them) to highlight the strangle hold the corn industry has on the country. Her colleague started eating bugs because they are a legitimate source protein. Another friend examined all the chemicals we use in our daily lives, and, although our household has gone back to eating popcorn and tortilla chips, I am no longer supposed to patronize the Dove Soap or Head and Shoulders industries. I think these are interesting projects, but I don’t know if I could create my own without it feeling like an elongated Lent. Lent is fine as a spiritual cleansing, but as a lifestyle?
Rather than looking for things to deny myself, I am more interested in examining what I am already doing and seeing how I can serve the nation and the world better with it. Interestingly, my mind turns to a major tenant of Marxism: from each according to his abilities, for each according to his needs. Your American gag-reflex is probably heaving phlegm into your throat, but without promoting Marxism as a serviceable national infrastructure I wonder if it would work as a personal code. What are my abilities, and what are my needs? Or maybe this can be simplified even further:
What are my abilities?
This past weekend was marvelous. I traveled to Chicago to see my dear friend’s production of Toni Press-Coffman’s Touch and met Toni (who traveled from Arizona to see her play!) and spent time with the lovely New Leaf Theatre family. The production was unsurprisingly stellar, but my memory of it has been overshadowed by the conversations that were had about the future of the American theater and what our generation’s role needs to be now to help create a future that looks different from the system that is in place. This did not amount to “How are we going to save theater?” Our intentions were more along the lines of “How are we going to kidnap theater and set it free?”
While in Chicago, I also saw the Goodman’s production of Desire Under the Elms, and the two productions (it and Touch) could not have diverged more (save for the fact both sets incorporated rocks). Desire filled the Goodman’s enormous stage with a valley of stones and a life-size house that hung from oversized ropes perilously above the sexually-charged action happening below. The actors, led by Brian Dennehy, were all actors you have seen on television or on film. For approximately a hundreth of the cost, New Leaf employed local actors–of which, lest the major theaters forget, there is quite a pool–and created the world of Touch with 50 or so stones snatched from a stream outside St. Louis, a fog machine, and a brilliant soundscape and lighting design. At the Sunday matinee, the Goodman had more people in attendance than Touch will have in its entire run.
And yet, the production of Desire Under the Elms is meaningless. Distracted by the opportunities that accompany a big budget, it forgot to fulfill its foremost obligation of telling a story. With little to push against, choices were made because they could be paid for. Touch, on the other hand (like all New Leaf shows) hit me in the heart with unseen left hook and then caught me before I hit the ground so I wouldn’t bruise my head. Because of its limitations, creative solutions were sought, and when hard choices had to be made, they always came back to the same question: what is in service of the play?
It should not be like this: theaters with resources should not be continually outdone by smaller theaters with little more than their vision and talent. More to the point, audiences should not be patronizing theaters that continuously squander their budgets on projects that do not make anyone feel anything. I think, at its heart, that is what our revolution would be about: restoring theater to something powerful, meaningful, and truthful by acknowledging that that sometimes (if not most times) means making the decision to make a production smaller and simpler.