by Colin Thomas
Many of the teenagers at the forefront of the Never Again movement are theatre kids. It makes sense.
On Valentine’s Day, Cameron Kasky left his drama class and was on his way to pick up his disabled brother to take him home when the shooting started in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That shooting would result in 17 deaths.
The next night, after a candlelight vigil, Kasky invited some friends to his house. He wanted to start a movement. He told The New Yorker that he had thought of the name #NeverAgain “while sitting on the toilet in my Ghostbuster pajamas.”
Since then, Kasky and other student leaders have organized rallies and spoken at them. They have challenged NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Senator Marco Rubio at a CNN town hall that was seen by three million people. They have done numerous interviews including one on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. They have called for a boycott of the Florida tourism industry during the upcoming spring break. And they are organizing the March for Our Lives, which is expected to draw half a million people to Washington DC on March 24.
As this article in American Theatre points out, it should surprise no one that Kasky and other key figures, including the articulate, lawyer-like David Hogg, are members of their school’s drama club. “A theatre class … can serve as a lightning rod of empowerment for young people,” writes Stephen Sachs. “For many teens, the experience of standing in a spotlight on a stage in a play or musical, galvanizing the attention of adults in the audience, is the first time a young person discovers that what they say matters. They learn that words have power, that their voice can move and inspire others.”
Pro-gun forces have jumped on the students’ theatrical experience to discredit them as hired “crisis actors” who move from city to city to offer their services. Donald Trump Jr. has liked two posts on Twitter that suggest that Hogg was a shill for his father, who once worked for the FBI.
Seventeen-year-old Kasky, who has also been accused of being a paid fake, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “if you had seen me in our school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, you would know that nobody would pay me to act for anything.”
When a surprised Blitzer asked, “Who did you play, by the way?”, Kasky answered that he had played Motel the Tailor, and added, “I have to tell you, what we’ve seen so far is a ‘Miracle of Miracles.’”
This news has been greeted on my liberal-minded Facebook feed by the rattling of rolling eyeballs. More than 80 women have accused movie producer Weinstein of sexual crimes, including rape and assault. And many people regard Mamet as sexist, often citing his play Oleanna, in which a college professor savagely beats a female student who has accused him of sexual impropriety.
This article in HowlRound takes to an extreme the disapprobation of Mamet, who has written many critically acclaimed works including Speed-the-Plow, American Buffalo, and Glengarry Glenn Ross (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1984 and which I have seen twice with all-female casts). “David Mamet’s plays,” says Matthew Clinton Sekellick in HowlRound, “provide an excellent example of the work that we must cast out.”
Mamet, who has written extensively about his conversion to conservatism, told The Chicago Tribune that his Broadway producer suggested that he write a play about the Hollywood producer. There is no word yet about what happens in Bitter Wheat, who the other characters are, or whether the central figure is named Weinstein, but Mamet told The Tribune that he is thinking a lot about sexual exploitation these days: “I have a bunch of daughters, a young son … Every society has to confront the ungovernable genie of sexuality and tries various ways to deal with it and none of them work very well. There is great difficulty when you are switching modes, which we seem to be doing now. People go crazy. They start tearing each other to bits.”
At the end of Oleanna, Carol the student tells John the professor not to call his wife “baby.” John snaps, beats Carol, and then stands above her brandishing a chair. Carol has the final line in the play: “Yes…that’s right.”
An exhibit called Tennessee Williams: No Refuge but Writing is showing at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City until May 13.
As this piece in The New York Times makes clear, the coolest thing about this show is that it concretizes the truth that playwriting is a process of accumulation, “reminding us that what is now archival was once trembling potential.”
The exhibit shows, side by side, four alternative endings to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for instance, “each of which slants the play toward slightly different degrees of optimism, cynicism and resignation.”
Touchingly, No Refuge but Writing also includes a collection of Williams’ hotel keys. His life was never still or easy, especially after he experienced what he called “the catastrophe of success.”
With the Academy Awards coming up on March 4, Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian decided to pick the best Oscar-winning lead-actress performance of all time.
His contenders are Joan Fontaine (Suspicion), Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight), Elizabeth Taylor (Butterfield 8), Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice), and Frances McDormand (Fargo).
And the uber-Oscar goes too…(Based on the performances I’ve seen, Bradshaw gets it right.)
“Endings are tough, particularly these days,” he says. “You don’t want to tie every knot because it looks old-fashioned and artificial if you do. So how do you find a sense of an ending but still the ambiguity that gives a play a kind of weight?”
Here are this week’s listings of shows I’ve covered that are currently running. I’ll list them in the order in which my reviews came out.
Fun Home: Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home tells the story of a lesbian cartoonist and her closeted gay father, who committed suicide. Lisa Kron’s book for the musical suffers from a passive protagonist, but her scenes are well observed, the dissonance in Jeanine Tesori’s score yearns for resolution, and knockout performances in this Arts Club production include those from Jaime MacLean (Small Alison), Kelli Ogmundson (Medium Alison), and Eric Craig (Bruce, the dad).
Pss Pss: This clown show from Switzerland’s Compagnia Baccalà is gentle and old-fashioned. The two mute characters play boulevard music and perform physical comedy that eventually lands them on a trapeze. There’s skill here, but not of the same level we’ve seen from other companies, and the humour isn’t as edgy or original as that of clowns like Mump and Smoot or Butt Kapinski.
An Almost Holy Picture: There’s poetry in playwright Heather McDonald’s monologue, which is written in the voice of a troubled former minister whose daughter was born with an unusual and potentially isolating physical condition. And actor David Snider delivers and honest, understated performance in this production. But the self-absorption of his character Samuel makes him such a bad parent that I wanted to stab him.