Why Theatre Can Offer the Best Insight Into Politics, Change and Family Dynamics in the 21st Century

Why Theatre Can Offer the Best Insight Into Politics, Change and Family Dynamics in the 21st Century

My play, Sorry (Play Three of the four-play series called The Apple Family Plays: Scene from Life in the Country) opened at the Public Theater in New York, on 6 November, 2012, which is also the day it is set. That was also the day, we Americans went to the polls to either elect Mitt Romney or re-election Barack Obama as President. The performance began at 7:30pm that night, that is, while people were still voting in New York State; and we finished nearly two hours later, with the NYS polls closed, and the news networks already making their projections. The mood that evening in the theater, filled of course with a liberal Democratic audience, was hopeful (the latest polls had put Obama ahead), but still anxious and a tension was palpable. And so then began my play about a family filled with loss and confusion, doubt and questioning, and with the need to talk and listen to each other – and all happening at the same time, on the same election night. In other words, after months and months of listening to television hosts and their guests take sides and beat each other up; after more than a year of ‘gotcha’ reporting and newsgathering; I was attempting to present, at this very specific time and place, a family talking, not yelling, not screaming, but rather one trying to listen to one another.

At one point in the play, the character Barbara is asked what she would say to President Obama or potentially President Romney, if she had one minute with either of them; she replies, “I suppose I’d tell them both that I sort of stopped paying attention a while back. Sorry. And then I think I’d ask them – you both spent how much on this election? I think I read – two billion dollars. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems to me, it was mostly spent – scaring people about the other guy. And so now – look what you’ve got – a whole lot of people who are very scared.”

In the midst of an election, and even more so as the election gets very close, subtlety and doubt and even reason seem to fall by the wayside. Or as another character describes it, ‘All we care about is who is going to win.‘ In other words, the lines get drawn, the strokes get bolder, and any shading of doubt gets quickly rubbed away. But for those still in doubt, those still at a loss, those scared and confused, perhaps they have come to feel like the son of one of the characters who explains to his Mom how he now sees my country: “It’s like two divorcing parents, Mom. Like you and Dad. And they hate each other. They’re screaming at each other. They’re certainly not talking and listening to each other. And they both turn to their son and the say to him – who’s right, son? They shout at him: Damnit, son, you need to take a side! But the son says, I won’t take a fucking side. Can’t you and Dad understand what I’m trying to tell you? I don’t want to be like either of you…”

In a programme note to the first Apple Family Play called That Hopey Changey Thing (and also set on an election night, the one in 2010), I tried to explain what I was hoping to do:
“We have become used to viewing our politics and our political landscape through the lens of journalists or commentators or, now comedians. Their observations are certainly invaluable to us and the very best of them struggle valiantly to be a check on vanity, arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. However, what has been missing from our public political forum is the individual’s voice. There always seems to be someone or something ready to speak for us – organizations, lobbyists, politicians, talk show hosts and the like; but the voice I hear in my own living room, or on a train, or over dinners at a restaurant, or in my own head, I do not hear anywhere else. This is not to say that I’ve become so deluded as to have crowned myself the public voice for anyone. My ambition remains much simpler: to put the most complex, complicated people I can on stage and to let them talk about their country today.”

The Apple Family Plays are at Brighton Festival from 2-4 May 2015. For more information visit: http://brightonfestival.org/event/6498/the_apple_family_plays_an_introduction

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