Written by Marcella Kearns
Okay, time to face it. Time to face the elephant (and the donkey) in the room.
In the first play in 44PF44P, we hear an injunction to guard men against partisanship. George Washington, upon his retirement, gave a final address (written by Madison and Hamilton, by the way) to Congress and the nation. Part of that address:
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
Could this have been written yesterday? Writing style aside, sure. Partisanship: source of some of the worst bad blood we’ve seen among our countrymen for… well, let’s see. Over 200 years. From Federalists and Democratic-Republicans to Democrats and Republicans, the story hasn’t changed.
So it’s been amazing to me the last few days in rehearsal to really gnaw at the meat and bones of the final two plays, how one moves into the next. How the story of each unfolds. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have both held their tenures during a seethingly difficult era of partisanship among the American electorate. We’ve seen dirty campaigning. We’ve heard cemented viewpoints and far-reaching demands from members of the major political parties and the spectrum of liberal and conservative viewpoints that span both. We’ve seen centrists have trouble navigating through a fiercely polarized body of citizens and representatives on every level of government.
There seems to be no getting around it. (Just typing these words is getting my heart rate up.) Maybe you feel the same way. Instead of feeling empowered, so many of us are exhausted, frozen out, or infuriated at constantly running full tilt at our political opponents. That’s the story of now. That’s the story of today, where we, all of us—We the People—are. How do we as artists effectively tell the story of these two last plays, then—especially the last one, which is going to be performed even before our current president’s first term/term is over?
Our goal is not, as Georg (McKee, fellow cast member) put it this morning in rehearsal, to get to the final play and tell the audience to go out there and vote for President Obama. Nor is it the reverse! If anything, our goal is simply to encourage the audience to go out there and vote. Essentially, then, we’re exploring with incredible care how to craft nonpartisan living political theatre. So to speak.
And it’s work, folks. Check out just a few of the points we have to keep in mind:
1. The Neo-Futurist aesthetic demands that we are ourselves onstage. Even when we’re playing character, we’re still trying to be as much ourselves as we can. Naturally, we’re going to bring our own viewpoints and reactions into the rehearsal hall, with all the loaded choices and feelings that may come with it. This morning Patrick and Jonathan both spoke about the knee-jerk reaction we may bring to the table with either of these plays. How to separate that from the story given to us to tell? How much of it do we bring to the story?
2. We have to be responsible to the text of the plays as we understand them—what’s the story the playwrights are trying to tell?
3. Jen reminded us that the Obama play was written much earlier in his term. Is there an opportunity in the way we stage the play (how we craft it visually—no revisions to the text) to reflect the continuing history of his time in office as we know it? Honestly, to me the discussions, respectful disagreements, attempts, explorations, and collaboration in the rehearsal hall right now reflect the complex, messy, beautiful work of democratic governance—with Jen, our chief exec, molding what all of us are bringing to the table.
Okay, okay, there’s the idealist and literature major in me enjoying the metaphor.
But seriously! Everybody’s working hard to create a living, breathing thing, and I can’t help but make the comparison. (The lovely difference between the rehearsal hall and the outside world is that disagreements are respectful and compromise is happening. Whew, I’d love to see more of that out there.)
Here’s the main thing: collaboration. Everybody in the room is participating and trying to figure it out. That’s the wonderful part of it—it’s a team effort. I feel a part of something larger than myself, and I feel a responsibility to bring my best to it because every voice and body is necessary to create the whole.
One of the strongest references in the Washington play is to the Garden of Eden.
No surprise there—Washington’s play is all about the genesis of the office of President. What I’m reminded of is reading the source texts about Eden when I was a kid: the story goes that God gave the Garden to man to “cultivate and care for it.” That’s the source of the idea of stewardship among people of faith. The Neo-Futurists, using that culturally pervasive metaphor as a parallel for the United States and its citizens—“this vulnerable little country,” as Washington calls it with tenderness and mindfulness—sets us up in no uncertain terms to be reminded of our responsibility as citizens: Participation. Care.
Here’s to the mess, and here’s to the work.