Kicking Off
the Holiday Season

This week brought with it the full array of drama – tragedy, comedy, melodrama, satire, farce – even musical comedy!  All in one week. All under a full moon!  What is amazing to me is not just the breadth of it all, but that somehow, someway, I (and maybe you, too) have developed the capacity to take it all in! Let me be a bit more specific.

Tragedy

Olivia Newton John died, Anne Heche succumbed to her injuries, and Salman Rushdie was attacked and harmed at, of all places, Chautauqua! These were just some of the folks who died or became incapacitated and made the news this week.

Folks in Ukraine continue to suffer, drought and fire are raging in France, and according to Action Against Hunger, 30 million people are experiencing alarming hunger, severe levels of food insecurity and malnutrition in north-eastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. The world continues to make its way through the Seven Circles, approaching William Butler Yeats’ doomed prediction of the center not being able to hold.

Comedy

In spite of the tragedy, I laughed more than I cried this week, mostly at the antics of my pets, but also at what people are posting on Instagram, Facebook, and sending me in emails. The beavers on the curling stones are making the rounds again, agility dogs that are large and lumbering and small dogs that outpace their trainers capture my attention, and Jordan Klepper interviewing MAGA supporters just makes me howl!

Thank God for Hulu and being able to watch re-runs of Golden Girls, Designing Women, VEEP, Frasier and all the other fabulous 30-minute distractions offered by Hollywood. I binge-watched Abbot Elementary because I needed a good laugh and some inspiration. It is on ABC and delivers in a way that most sit-coms used to.

Melodrama

The archetypal battle between good and evil, Boris and Natasha vs. Squirrel and Moose, is played out against the techno-dazzle of 24-hour news (Fox vs. MSNBC). Cliff hangers are a great antidote to the Great-Fatigue that has come about due to the pandemic (COVID or Monkeypox, you pick), and both news platforms offered up plenty of cliffhangers this week.

Depending on which side of the aisle you are on, the Heroes and Villains were worthy of the Boo’s, Hisses, and Cheers that flooded the internet. The metaphoric train tracks that our Helpless Heroine has been strapped to seem to be in poor shape due to years of neglect, but, never fear, the Speaker of the House snatched defeat from the jaws of certain failure, and we now have a law that will provide infrastructure and much needed healthcare reform. Of course, that is supposing that we survive the coming Civil War. (Can you hear the player piano?)

Satire/Farce

Watching VEEP again made me yearn for the serene days of George Bush, when all we had was buildings collapsing due to Saudi zealots flying planes into them while POTUS read to kindergarteners. VEEP, cast exquisitely to represent the worst of stereotypes of political hacks, was more like a documentary than a satire. At least as things seem to have evolved.

Of course, the entire Mar-a-Lago, “What’s in the box and why did you take it in the first place?” storyline is riveting. Archivists Rule! It seems only right that the Velveeta Voldemort (nod to Stephen Colbert for that one) should be brought to his knees by librarians. And kudos to Central Casting for putting the voluble Merritt Garland in his starring role!

Musical Comedy

Not to be overlooked, musical theater is seeing the Broadway hit, “Hamilton” being staged by a Christian congregation in Texas. The story broke on the little-known news venue, “OnStage Blog”. Apparently, the musical theater-minded members of The Door McAllen, a nondenominational Christian church in McAllen, Texas, adapted the show to better meet their understanding of both Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original production (and musical theatre in general), and the Gospel, thereby breaching all kinds of laws and resulting in a cease-and-desist notice from lawyers for Hamilton.

And speaking of venerable musical comedies, there is a new version of “Oklahoma”, that staple of the American musical theatre songbook, and standard of high school drama programs across the country. Turns out the original written by Rogers and Hammerstein, needed some updating and so, while you can still sing along with all your favorites, you are now invited to slide into the non-cisgendered world of character fluidity in the days before Oklahoma became a state. As one critic wrote, “a stunning tapestry of inclusion”, which might satisfy some, but is sure to offend many purists.

The Structure of a Play

There is a specific structure to how a play is written. The curtain opens and you are given enough information to literally locate yourself in terms of time and place, and introduced to the characters. Once eased into this, a complication arises requiring all characters to change how they think, act, respond, or stay stuck. Things build to a crisis, then climax. The final act ties things up neatly, resolving the complication and leaving you feeling nourished, challenged, or adrift.

The playwright is able to select and fine tune these elements to achieve a desired outcome. This works incredibly well when there is an agreement between the playwright and the audience. The structure is one that is so satisfying that many of us find ourselves yearning for it to be imposed on this messy thing called life. The form has trained all of us in what to expect will happen and we consciously or unconsciously rely on that in how we experience our daily lives outside of the theatre.

Life is the Source of All Good Theatre

Shakespeare drew from the events of his day for many of his plays, and created timeless templates of human behavior that we can still see played out in our political lives today. The same can be said for Sophocles and Moliere, and Ionesco, Sorkin, Sondheim, and Miranda. All men of their times whose observations of human behavior continue to resonate across centuries. I am drawn to the drama that surrounds us today. That this structure has held up for these many centuries gives me hope that will we find our way through this current crisis. What form it will take (comedy, tragedy, melodrama, farce) I cannot say. But I trust that the form will remain true. I am going to hang around for the final curtain.

All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts…

William Shakespeare
As you like it, act ii, scene vii

6 responses to “The Play Is the Thing!”

  1.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    I am with you on this.

  2. Berkeley Fuller-Lewis Avatar
    Berkeley Fuller-Lewis

    Humanity’s current “play” is actually a dark farce, written and produced by evil orangutans (see: Oil Company/ Industrial “Ag”/ Big Pharma/ and Insurance company executives, board members and “major shareholders.”) Their script? “Destroying the Earth is peachy, as long as we make even more money this quarter.” On second thought, make that “PSYCHOTIC orangutans.”

  3. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Brilliant.

  4. Mary Brett Avatar
    Mary Brett

    Mary, your wide range of knowledge in depth is always a joy to encounter and I applaud you. It’s a pleasure to challenge myself at the beginning of whatever you write or say and keep track of the number of references I can attach site, date in centuries, and author. And, then there’s always the chuckle at the sly inclusion of disruptive references. Thank you for all of it.

    1. Elke Matzen Avatar
      Elke Matzen

      Mary Brett, thank you for summoning my thoughts exactly!
      Elke Matzen

  5. Elke Matzen Avatar
    Elke Matzen

    Mary, Brilliant!!! Of course the analogy to theatre speaks strongly to me! Thank you for summing up our world at this moment with such cheekiness! 🥰

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