An invitation arrives in my email to consider writing a new play about a topic so current that taking it on at all seems to be almost irreverent, given the anguish that many of the players still feel. But I am not about to pass up an opportunity to work with the theatre in question, so I sit down to think about the challenge.
How do you write about recent tragedies that have shaken a community to its core? The pain is too new for black comedy and seems almost too raw for drama.
Consider the events that unfolded in State College, Pa., over the last year. The trial and subsequent conviction of former Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky on child sex abuse charges–and the vindication of his victims in a scathing report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh–are the stuff of TV police procedurals and movie melodramas.
What can theatre bring to the cultural conversation about this almost Olympian tragedy that a TV show or a film could not?
Why a play at all?
A torn-from-the headlines treatment might reduce the story to a straight-line mystery in which the open question is not whether the coach will be caught and convicted, but exactly how he gets his comeuppance. It would wrap up in 90 minutes, and we could be satisfied that the wheels of justice turn quickly and neatly—with conveniently timed commercial breaks so we can tear away from the drama for another trip to the fridge.