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Driven to Anger

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Last week I saw a play that got me so riled up and angry.

In fact, when I criticized the play on the way home, my friend said “I’m sorry you hated it.” I didn’t hate it. Hating something doesn’t bring out intense emotions and critique, at least not for me. When I tried to relay my same critique to J, who had not seen the play and didn’t know anything about it. In fact, he’d been at work when I was out galavanting around town, seeing free theatre. He was tired. I was tired. And he said, “I’m sorry it was a waste of your time.”

It wasn’t a waste of my time. It wasn’t.

I’m not going to tell you the name of the play.

I’m not a critic. And I don’t want to burn any bridges on the playwriting side of things. This is why being an arts journalist and a thoughtful theatre artist feels like such a balancing act. Because I want to have a conversation about this play. But all I know are my words. And I have no intention of alienating.

That’s why you’re looking at a grassy field right now. I took that picture on a trip to central California earlier this summer. It has nothing to do with the play. I just think it’s beautiful — dry and rushing and complete with a smudge that might be a cloud, or might be a thumbprint on the window of our rental car. You get this moment of time, this piece of art. I get the play I saw last week.

It was, at its heart, a play about gun violence.

It was a play about gun violence that didn’t let us know where we were until three-quarters of the way through the play, when Sussex was mentioned, when it felt important to realize “Oh, we’re in England.” We’re in England, where guns are illegal and your hate has to be so strong in order to get ahold of one. We’re in England, not in America as the accents suggested.

And not that gun violence is a spectrum. It’s all horrible. But this is theatre and the stakes are high and we’re a smart audience. We know that it’s not so easy to get a gun outside our country. We know that there’s no need for a “No firearms, please.” sign at the local shop. We know it’s called a shop.

It was, at its heart, a play about someone who hates immigrants.

It was a play about someone who hates immigrants and yet, despite flagging exactly which immigrants this man most hates, everyone on that stage was white. Or nearly everyone. Enough to be disturbing — and not in a “Think on this, audience.” way. Enough to be careless.

In the dropping of accents, there was an attempt to tie in what is happening at our southern border, the hate in the white house, everyday racism in our own city. But none of that translates when nearly every body on stage looks like mine.

The protagonist, the one without hate — or without as much — repeatedly used the words “tribe,” suggesting that she too was a person of color. But she wasn’t. She spoke about the importance of multiculturalism in her world as we, the audience, looked on at a mostly white stage of performers. Where is the multiculturalism? Because I don’t see it.

It was, at its heart, a play about a community, haunting us after a tragic event.

It was a play about a community and yet the community was rushed in at the last minute. One hour of choir rehearsal, and then sit and watch. Sit and watch this play, almost right along with the audience. Sing, sometimes. Perform, sometimes. Watch, sometimes. Be on the stage, always.

It was, at its heart, a play about humanity and compassion and yet every chance was taken to remind us that we were still in a play. A stage manager brings out a gun, a gun that is never used. Another stagehand rolls out a nature documentary, to give us a break. An actor speaks directly to an audience member, and the audience member is thrown. The energy is thrown. We’re at a play. We know we are. But here’s a reminder. And another.

It was, at its heart, an opportunity squandered.

And I’m still dissecting it. But a great production interrogates every moment before an actor even steps into rehearsal. And an okay production is just there.