Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘readings

Last night we had the 6th of 8 performances of Taste of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.  (I’m in a Renaissance quintet that we formed to sing before and during the play.)

Merchant of Venice has sometimes been tough to swallow.  It’s a great play, but it’s deeply anti-Semitic.  While it’s probable that Shakespeare didn’t have anything personal against Jews — they were expelled from England in 1290 and weren’t officially allowed back in until 1655 — anti-Semitism remained widespread in Britain.  As well read as Shakespeare was, he would have been exposed to it in literature and come to regard it as accepted wisdom.  The play reflects that fact.

Nonetheless, we’ve gotten through 6 performances of Merchant of Venice so far without any picketing.  It is Shakespeare, after all, so people make allowances.

Jump forward 400 years to the readings of my play, Postville, (The Plays, They’re Hijacking My Play) this past week.Postville Reading

When I started talking about writing a play about the events in Postville, my family and friends pleaded with me not to.

“There’s no way you’re going to be able to write this play without it being anti-Semitic,” they told me.

“Sure there is,” I responded, although I have to admit that at the time I wasn’t quite convinced.  Unless the play was going to be too sticky-sweet to say anything, it was going to have to tread through a host of “ism” minefields — anti-Semitism, anti-immigrantism, anti-Midwest farmerism, …

I’m convinced that I’ve achieved the objective of writing a play that deals sensitively and appropriately with a number of difficult issues.  But each time there’s a public reading — this past week were the second and third — I’m concerned that I’m going to get the crap kicked out of me by people who hear individual sentences but miss the point.

“You said that Jews are cheap!”  Kaboom!

“You showed a Hispanic immigrant who couldn’t speak English well!”  Crash!

Some of that happened in Des Moines in March, but I knew it would.  (See Write Your Own Damn Play.)

There was only one instance of it this week.  And that was a woman who beat me up for not following up in the play on the otherwise un-referred-to occupants of a bus that gets clobbered by a train.  Anti-innocent-bystanderism?  (Come on, Lady, even Tolstoy when he was writing War and Peace had to make choices about what to include and what to leave out!)

I’m hugely relieved, but I’ll continue to worry about people who are so burned by their hot buttons that they can’t or won’t see things in context.

So here’s my plea. Just treat me with the same consideration you’d give Shakespeare.  That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

hippiesI’ve written before in my blog about how Boulder is one of the world centers of new-age sensitivity and touchy-feelihood and the fact that I frequently get into hot water here.  Well, I think I may have really put my foot in it this time.

Last Wednesday I had a reading of the first draft of my “Postville” play at a little playwrights’ self-help group that I’ve been helping to start up in Boulder.  Boy, was that a bad idea.  I guess I should have realized that I wasn’t going to fit into this new group when, at the organizational meeting, a large part of the discussion by the other attendees was about how sensitive and caring they all were.

“I’m just so concerned about the injustice in the world I could cry.”

“I’m twice as concerned as you are, and I’m in touch with my inner-self and the cosmos as well.”

“How could you even think that you are as concerned and active as I am?  I keep my thermostat at 46 degrees all winter and eat only things which have fallen off of trees, and my carbon-use footprint is lower than that of a Kalahari bushman.”

OK, that’s not an exact transcript of the discussion, but believe me, it gives you the general idea.

At the reading of my play there were 10 people, 3 of whom had been to at least one of the meetings before, 6 acquaintances of mine that I had invited to listen to the play, and me.

There had been some talk at the organizational session about doing a short writing exercise at the beginnings of the meetings, but I had asked the regular members to skip it this time because there were so many outsiders and because reading my play was going to take over 2 hours.  No, they were going to do it anyway.

So the facilitator had us spend 5 minutes (it seemed like hours) with our eyes closed, breathing meaningfully into various parts of our bodies.

“Breathe into your toes.  Breathe into your feet.  Breathe into your thyamus glands.”

Then we were allowed to open our eyes and were instructed to write whatever came into our minds, without letting our “inner editors” interfere.  I’ve heard from several of my friends who were there that they were absolutely appalled at being invited in under false pretenses and forced to participate in a sensitivity ritual like that.  I agreed with them and could only apologize.

What is it with so many touchy-feelyers that they are so oblivious to the fact that others may not be interested in being subjected interminably to rituals like that?  It’s like being accosted by a religious fanatic who harangues you interminably and won’t take no for an answer.

And even worse with the “sensitive and concerned” of the world is that so many of them are bullies!  If you don’t believe as they believe, and do exactly as they do, you are clearly an inferior human being and you deserve to be tied to a stake in blazing sun on an anthill.  Or at least ostracized until you publicly admit the error of your ways and demonstrate that you have reformed.

I’ve let the other members of the playwriting club know just what I thought of what went on.  I don’t think they’re going to invite me back any time soon.  That’s just as well, because they’ve managed to get my entry visa into the People’s Republic of Boulder rescinded.