Political Theater at its least effective on the BART ride home from PRIDE

BY Beatrice Murch on Flickr

BART AT SUNSET by Beatrice Murch on Flickr

I’m not quite sure how the conflict started but it was probably inevitable. Two scantily clad lesbians–their breasts “covered” only with pasties–and the flamboyantly gay man carried the celebration on the BART with them on their return trip from the PRIDE activities in San Francisco. In other words, they were being loud, which, arguably, is more of a taboo on BART than their PRIDE-appropriate attire. I’m not sure what the aging black man, an Oakland resident, said, but I know he did say it first. “Pump your breaks, man. Pump your breaks,” calmed the gay man. But, in soft tones, the black man persisted and the two women decided enough was enough. Here was their chance to take the fight to the streets . . . or the rail. Their voices escalated. Their behavior became increasingly histrionic with vivid demonstrations of their homosexuality in closer and closer proximity to the uncomfortable Puritan. The man reacted how he had been taught (by friends, family, and the Church) to react over the course of his life. “You’re sick. You’re sick. You need to be on some sort of medication,” he cried. Other trite threats of eternal damnation were met with embarrassingly incoherent rebuttals from the girls.

The gay man slipped into silence. At the next stop, the upset old man either got off the train or moved to another car. A moment passed before the remaining three started crafting the interaction into the mythology of their lives. “Well, I don’t know what his problem is with breasts. I bet he loved it!” “I was about to give him a lap dance. I should have! I should have!” “Well you know where all that anger comes from. He’s gay! Only closeted gays can hate gays that much.” And so it went until they got off a stop later. All I could think about was that here was one vote for gay marriage we will now never get back. Possibly the man was a lost cause, but I tend to think all the soft-spoken people of the world are quietly considering all truths. When they are forced to raise their voices, they are forced to make up their minds before they are ready.

Most playwrights can write a timely play; few can write a timeless one. We read many scripts that rip from the headlines with the same gusto as Law and Order: SVU (Rachel and I just watched the one about the corrupt judge who gets a kickback for sending undeserving juvies to a specific facility . . . wah wah wahhnnnn), but the artistry of playwriting doesn’t come into play until the writer can take these events from the BART and write a piece that connects them (silently or more transparently) to the oppression of American slavery, the bigotry of old Europe, the tragedy of the ancient Greeks, as well as any number of currently inconceivable troubles the world will face in the years to come. I do not believe in the universal: I think it is a ridiculously and narcissitically human-centric concept to think that the sentient beings on Planet HD189733b comprehend, much less care about, Katherina’s love for Petruchio or Willy Lowman’s fall or Oedipus’s pain. But I do believe in the less glamorous concept of connectivity. History repeats itself. Styles and concepts are on a spinning record, circling in and out of favor. String theory claims little threads vibrate at certain levels  just like the Ancients spoke of the song of the celestial spheres.

The man’s discomfort on the BART was nothing new. Nor was the three’s ineffective reaction to it. Nobody progressed. Each party has its story. Each story bolsters what they already accept about people. The old man has firsthand experience of homosexuals being lewd and obnoxious. The three younger riders can tell their friends of the anger the man–who either really liked tits on the one hand or is in the closet on the other (whichever element makes the story pop more)–assaulted them with, on PRIDE of all days! The passion each party brings to their cause will cancel out the other.

One of the roles of art has to be that of the moderator. Shut people up in a theater with a play that makes them hear one another. Otherwise they end up screaming at each other in a confining metal tube, hurtling along at 90 miles an hour, to the displeasure of everyone else on board who just want to get home in peace.

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