Curtain Call: Theatrical Filter

Recent Tragic Events runs Nov. 9 through Nov. 18 on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the McDade Center for Literary and Performing Arts under the direction of Sheila Stasack. Tickets are $10 or $7 for students/seniors. Call 941-4318 for reservations or more information.

Theatrical Filter

Taking the trauma of out truth
Art is, at its most successful, a transformative occurrence. Theater has at its roots the same rituals of religion that are designed to spark some change from a place within us we could not have infiltrated on our own. It can be used as a sort of therapy to aid healing from trauma or, to a lesser degree, a tool to expose the crippling way we think about things and direct us toward new processes.
Given these remarkable truths you might wonder why more has not been made on stage of the huge toll 9/11 took on America’s collective consciousness.
The University of Scranton Players will open a production of Craig Wright’s 2002 play Recent Tragic Events on Friday. In reading about the play I couldn’t help but wonder what, if anything, it might mean that until now the only 9/11 play to run in NEPA (in my recollection) is Anne Nelson’s tribute to emergency responders The Guys.
Recent Tragic Events finds two Minnesotans on a blind date the day after the terrorist attacks. Neither Waverly, an advertising executive whose twin sister is missing in Manhattan or Andrew, the manager of a bookstore at an airport, is sure how to act in the wake of the tragedy. A couple of quirky neighbors flavor the play’s philosophical flirtations with a sitcom-like familiarity. In the words of NYT critic Ben Brantley, “It’s as if Pirandello had been hired to do the season finale for Friends.” (Author of plays Orange Flower Water, The Unseen, and The Pavilion, Wright is best known perhaps as a screenwriter for HBO’s Six Feet Under and Dirty Sexy Money.)
In asking why more plays haven’t written about 9/11, we might first ask if plays just aren’t being written. Or perhaps it’s just that we’re not being exposed to them. A handful of works by key contemporaries Neil LaBute (The Mercy Seat), Theresa Rebeck (Omnium Gatherum) and Noah Haidle (Vigils) are presumably not that good and likely written out of obligation.
How can I not write about this? every writer in America asked after 9/11.
Casual research shows smaller monologue and fringe shows scattered across the country, probably because that’s all most artists could afford to produce. Surely the recession has crippled production of plays that, without financial oxygen, were never breathed into life.
Set around the time of the first anniversary of 9/11, the 2005 film, The Great New Wonderful (directed by Danny Leiner and written by playwright Sam Catlin) is the most memorable post 911 work I’ve personally seen. Following multiple storylines, the film is united by a vaguely unsettled sense of broken life. The characters distrust their own ambition, but lacking conviction in any other way to behave, just carry on as they did before.
In the days and weeks following 9/11 America acted with all the conviction and bravado of a bar full of well-meaning drunks. For all the grandiose talk about making big changes, we woke up the next morning with very little motivation to discipline ourselves.
The fact there has not been more effort to make sense of this crucial time in America suggests that we are still in it, without the buffer required to be critical about key defects in our social fiber (careless consumption, self-absorption, lack of discipline, etc.). Not enough has changed for us to have the perspective needed to see ourselves clearly, but processing the past is part of healing. We have to do it to move forward. Taking advantage of works such as Recent Tragic Events is a benevolently casual way to confront the ache of our recent past.

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