A Man Without a Conscience, or How to Stick it to ‘Big Gun’

When I started this playwright’s blog, I wasn’t interested in whining about the reasons why theatres don’t produce more plays by women in general (or me in particular, let’s be frank) or the politics of production or the reasons the whole industry is at once relentlessly P.C. and yet so damn conservative.  I wanted to write my plays and  blog about the impulses that led me to them.  I wanted to understand process and come to a better understanding of my craft. But as the man said, life is what happens when you are making other plans–and in my case, and yours, since you are reading this–life is apparently what happens because you haven’t yet run into the business end of a .223 caliber Bushmaster rifle. And so we get to keep on breathing by virtue of the sheer dumb luck that, for now at least, we are not in some lunatic’s line of fire. And this realization, along with my outrage over what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary last week, has stirred me from my petty self-absorption to, shall we say, a vigilant stance.

 

 

Given the insane gun policy in this nation, the chances of any one of us being blown away in a random act of extreme violence is just too damn high. All it takes is for you or me to be at the wrong place–in front of the FBI Building, for example–at the wrong time–the exact moment when the lunatic du jour pops another 30-round magazine into his Glock—for us to be prematurely dispatched to that great big Arsenal in the sky.

 

Realizing their vulnerability after Columbine, schools undertook efforts to protect their students from armed gunmen. They stepped up security, they instituted “drills” so kids could practice how to run and hide. As a teaching artist, I happened to be on hand one day during just such a drill, and I found it surreal—the teacher locking the schoolroom door, the kids quietly huddling in a corner, and h how matter-of-fact the discussion afterwards.

 

But there is just something seriously sick about this, when school children have to engage in “drills” to train them how to avoid a mass murderer in the hallway–instead of the rest of us actually DOING SOMETHING to prevent there being a mass murderer in the hallway.  Back in my day, all we had to contend with in school were the usual bullies, occasional fire drills and predictable Friday afternoon bomb scares—it was the 70s after all—and  for most of us, the bomb scares just meant an excuse to get out of gym class. Today, we have gunmen who shoot their way into the building and massacre six year olds en masse. And if we can’t come up with some way to stop atrocities like that, then we might as well pack it in and return to the cave, because we do not live in anything approaching a civil society.

 

So what to do? Or more to the point, how to do it?

 

Not surprisingly, the internets have been afire since Friday with all sort of posts decrying the horror of it all, lamenting our lame gun policy, lambasting the National Rifle Association (mea culpa) and using Facebook as a public forum to express a general sense of outrage, disgust, and helplessness. (Interestingly, the NRA has disabled its Facebook page.) Vigils have been organized and protests are threatened. But for a truly compelling rant about how to really kick the shins of big gun, read this guy. Drew Magary argues that the real target of our frustration should not be the NRA and its four million dues paying members, but rather, the money interests behind the NRA itself.

 

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27 Dead in Connecticut: A Call to Action

27 Dead in Connecticut

 

The headline is too familiar, and yet, despite a culture saturated by gun violence in fiction and fact, we feel absolute revulsion at the senselessness of it all.

 

Twenty-seven dead in Connecticut, 20 of them children. They were kindergartners, five or first-grade students, six and seven years old. In the world of innocence, these were absolute innocents–and they are dead because this nation and its political leaders lack the nerve to stand up to a well-funded and wrong-headed gun lobby.

 

Why? Is the cry that goes out, again and again, when we see these headlines. Why, why, why?

 

 

Why? Because a troubled boy of 20 had access to a Glock and Sig Sauer pistols—two magazine-fed semi-automatic weapons capable of firing off more than 100 rounds within minutes, as well as a .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle – a military style assault rifle similar to the one used by the serial killers that stalked the D.C. metro 10 years ago.  This is the weapon, authorities say, that Lanza used to gun down his victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

 

Why? Because, even though gun ownership in this nation is concentrated in the hands of only a third of its population—our political leaders lack the moral courage to fight for a sensible gun policy.

 

The National Rifle Association’s slippery slope argument is that if the U.S. government curtails the use of any firearm—no matter how lethal—that is the beginning of the end for our constitutionally guaranteed right to gun ownership in the United States. And by their logic, an assault rifle is the equivalent of the shotgun my brother-in-law keeps on hand at his farmhouse in the mountains of Pennsylvania, where bears have regularly crossed into his property. A Glock is the equivalent of the rifle my brother once used to hunt deer.

 

According to the NRA, weapons designed for military use belong in the hands of ordinary citizens like Nancy Lanza. She apparently thought so, too. The shooter’s mother is dead by her son’s own hand, murdered with a weapon she had bought herself. According to news reports, Nancy Lanza was the legal owner of the guns her son used to commit mass murder.

 

This a crime so horrific that some of us wonder if it is not, at last, at very long last, the final straw.

 

And as often happens at times like these, we wonder what we, as theatre artists, can possibly say or do about it.

 

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The Christmas Card from Hell

I got a Christmas card today from the child molester’s wife.

 

This is not an unusual event. For the past several years, this woman has persisted in sending me birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter greetings—this despite what should have been a clear directive to her years ago never to contact me again. Yet she persists.

 

For years I evaded her ridiculous missives, but somewhere along the line one of my misguided relatives gave her my current address and so, for the past few years, I have suffered through a series of “greeting cards” from this woman. Usually I throw them away. But tonight, for some reason, I am moved to action.

 

The door that wasn’t opened …

You see, I have the misfortune of being related to her husband and, thus, I was one of his targets. I prefer “target” to “victim” because I decided a long time ago that what he did to me was not going to define me forever. And if I was a victim once, I am no longer. But God knows how many more children have come into his line of fire—how many of his own children? We cannot begin to know; his life is a lie wrapped in denial, embroiled in deception. We can guess, but we don’t have the luxury of the confirmation. Once, long ago, I confronted him in the belief that I owed it to his children to try to stop him. But I could not stop him. The lie was too strong.

 

But his wife is a great curiosity to me. When we undertook to confront him, my sister and I,  in the process, we confronted her as well. Her anger was a sight to behold. She literally shook with rage. Not at him, of course. At us. For daring to tell. For daring to say what had happened and demanding—how dare we demand it!—an apology.

 

We never got it.

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Breaking the Block Part 6: Cooking With Commies

I confess to a panic attack the other day when I realized that not only  am I behind on the promised scene, I cannot tamp down my anxiety to write it. The excuses are piling up—production, yadda, hurricane, yadda, production, yadda, nostalgia tour, yadda, yadda, yadda—and now the latest: a nasty flu, which I soothed with multiple toddies  (yes, there was whisky involved, sue me) and homemade soup (leek and potato, recipe to follow. I do try to please.)

 

Chopping leeks had me thinking about what my characters might be having for supper on a Sunday night, and it occurred to me that I ought to scout out a Russian cookbook somewhere, circa 1930 (but in English please!) to get a sense of what Alexei’s mother might put on the table. Then again—a 1930s cookbook would have to be approved by The Party, I imagine, and would a bowl of Communist borscht taste different from the pre-war Tsarist variety? Alexei’s mother in 1930 would be at least 50 and presumably have learned to cook sometime before the turn of the century and very likely, with no assistance from formal recipes at all, so I imagine what she put on the table would be in no way influenced by Party approval but certainly by any going food shortages at the time.

 

All this ruminating takes me back to my basic problem: To write a scene of any authenticity I have to know a little bit of something about the characters and their physical world, and for this play especially, I feel a deep need to immerse myself in the culture and currents of the era. For book research, I have turned to the brilliant Orlando Figes and his phenomenal account of ordinary life in the Soviet era: The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. (Even as I write these words I realize I need even more than that. A book alone will not do it—I need a tangible experience, but a visit to Red Square in not yet in the cards.)

 

Forty pages in, the takeaway from Figes’ work is the extreme intrusion of the Soviet state into the private lives of its people, the widely accepted understanding that privacy and personal happiness are luxuries that the people can no longer afford; their focus must be to build the ideal (Communist) state, and to do so, they must cast aside any notion of a personal life. It is heartbreaking in its idealism, realizing the number of lives shattered by the grinding machinery of Stalin’s police state. Even those of the truest believers.

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