Churchill’s Far Away, for example (currently playing at the Odyssey Theater), opens with a sleepless child asking her mother a series of progressively more disturbing questions about what she has just witnessed in the yard outside. With poetic economy, Churchill lets a darkness from offstage fill each of the pauses between the child’s questions, and it’s shocking for us to recognize that this darkness has a familiar feel. Watching Far Away, we find ourselves fervently wishing the world it describes were more different from our own. Poetic techniques like Churchill’s are what make theater a nontrivial activity, allowing for expressions of authentic vulnerability onstage.
In the age of the Patriot Act, the rhetorical conveniences of the battle against bias have devolved into serious encumbrances. By adopting a set of superficial artistic values, we cede the rhetorical high ground to the Tom DeLays and Newt Gingriches of our world. Today, while the left struggles for rhetorical traction, the GOP is deftly maneuvering the American middle class toward the edge of a very high cliff. When the middle class finally emerges from its stupor and sees clearly what has taken place, protest may no longer be welcome. If the right is successful, we will already be living in a world in which anyone can be labeled a terrorist, and on the strength of that labeling be stripped of basic rights previously thought inalienable. It will be unpleasant to discover how many of us will play along, despite how often we have wondered what could have possessed those good Germans.
Guy Zimmerman is a playwright and artistic director of Padua Playwrights.