Pilot Program: Theatre Review

Melissa Leilani Larson’s Pilot Program, which closed this last weekend at Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake, is a lovely play, especially in this beautifully acted, directed, and designed production. I say works like ‘beautifully’ and ‘lovely’ despite the fact that the play made me terrifically uncomfortable, and that at dinner afterwards, with my wife, my nephew and his husband and my son, the only two things we could talk about were what a beautiful play it was, and also how uncomfortable it made us.

I love that. I love how a piece of theatre can affect us like that. Ibsen’s A Doll House does that for me, leads to uncomfortable conversations about awkward subjects. A good play should burrow under our skin. It should itch and burn. It should raise more issues than it solves, it should force us to rethink previously held convictions. It should not let go of us afterwards. It’s been four days since I saw Pilot Program. I should have reviewed it earlier, but illness intervened. But I still can’t stop thinking about it.

Three characters, then. We start with Abby and Jake; a nice Mormon married couple. She’s an academic, he works in public relations. They have a good life together, a good marriage. Jake’s a good guy, kind and gentle, nonjudgmental, a supportive and loving spouse. (They were played by April and Mark Fossen, who are, as their last names suggest, likewise married). In addition to teaching and publishing, Abby blogs, and is our window into the world of the play. She addresses the audience directly–she blogs the play for us–and her insights are crucial.

And Abby and Jake have also found themselves unable to have children. And infertility haunts their marriage. Abby tells us that they’ve tried everything–in vitro, adoption–without success.

So: the set, a nice living room in a comfortable and nice-looking home. Abby addresses us; introduces the couple, as wives always do when a couple is asked to speak in Church. A light shift: time passing. And then Jake enters; in his suit; they’ve been somewhere, an event, an appointment. And they can’t even speak. The silence stretched forever: Abby holds herself like she’s been punched, bent over. He appears incapable of speech. Finally, the conversation begins. They’ve been to a meeting, with not just their Stake President, but with an Area Authority. They’ve been asked–called–to participate in a pilot program. They’ve been asked to add another wife to their marriage.

And so, I thought, he’ll be the one to decide, he’ll talk her into it, reluctantly, but in his capacity as patriarch, he’ll make the call. Accept the calling for both of them. And you think, all right, polygamy is certainly about patriarchy, male privilege; that’s where this play is going. And then it doesn’t go there. She’s had a feeling, a warmth, a whispering of the spirit. His inclination is to say ‘no.’ She says ‘yes.’ That was the first time tears came to my eyes, sitting quietly in the darkness.

But she wants to have a say in who the new wife will be, and as it happens, she knows who she wants. Her all-time favorite student, Heather (Susanna Florence Risser), now graduated and a close friend. She loves Heather; thinks of her as a sister, almost. And Heather is still active in the Church, younger than Abby, in her early thirties, a successful professional woman in her own right. One small problem: Heather lives in California, and they live in Salt Lake City. They’re going to have to ask her to move, to uproot her entire life. She’s going to have to ‘move to Utah,’ with everything that implies.

And they invite Heather to visit, and they have this amazingly awkward conversation with her, and Melissa Larson’s gift for comic dialogue gives the scene some lightness. And when finally they get around to it, Heather thinks they’re asking her to be a surrogate mother. And she’s totally fine with it. But that’s not what they’re asking. And of course, when they ask–when they propose–Heather’s reactions are initially what we might expect. She’s appalled, offended, angry. And then a change, and she shocks us, alone in the dark. ‘What if I were to say ‘yes,’ she says. She’s felt something too; she’s felt the Spirit, she thinks. That was the second time I cried.

I cried, because I could see how the rest of the play would unfold. Heather and Jake fall in love. Well, of course they do; they’re married. They work out a ‘marital schedule,’ as I suspect would be needed. He moves out of the bedroom he’s shared with Abby, into his own room, so that each wife can have her own space, her own privacy. And Heather becomes pregnant, and has a baby boy.

And Abby gets to be a child-caring sister-wife (a label she loathes). She gets to be Aunt Abby. And she . . . loses. Loses herself, her identity, Jake’s wife and life-partner, loses that essential intimate exclusivity. And Jake still loves her, still treats her with his usual kindness and attentiveness; of course he does. He’s a good man, a kind man, a good husband. To both his wives.

But we can see it, can’t we. See Abby fold inside herself. See Abby’s distanced misery take her over. We can, not just see her pain, but feel it, ache with her. We’re not remotely distanced, because she’s already allowed us inside her mind and soul; her blog. And there are no good answers for her, not because of the cruelty of the two people who love her most–they love her, both of them do, of course they do, and wouldn’t dream of being cruel. But little Thomas is Heather’s baby. And that changes things.

I don’t think the play has any kind of agenda. Like Larson’s best work, it’s a play about people, about human beings and their lives and choices and deeply rooted private pain. It’s a play that defies easy answers. It’s also, I think, the most stunningly powerful anti-polygamy play I’ve certainly ever seen. It’s a play that says polygamy equals Abby’s pain. And Abby will continue to retreat inside herself, inside her misery. Eventually, she will stop blogging. Because her blog equals life.

So what about the spirit? Both women, in this play, believe themselves to have received a spiritual confirmation of the rightness of this, after all. What did they feel? I don’t know. Part of me thinks that they haven’t actually felt the Spirit, but the stirrings of a essential biological imperative. But I can make just as good a case for the Spirit. I don’t know. I’m just as happy not knowing. That’s the place where the play bothers me the most, and that’s entirely a good thing.

One last thing: I consider Mark Fossen a good friend, and thought his performance was tremendous. What a challenge, playing a decent, ordinary, spiritual man. He was masterful in the role. I also consider Susanna Florence Risser a good friend; one of my favorite actresses, and a student I was proud to teach. Her performance was likewise terrific. But April Fossen was remarkable. Again, a friend, but being friends with her is a bit like being friends with Meryl Streep.

My goodness. What a play, what a production, what a searing examination of a part of Mormon history that most of us would really rather never think about. If you haven’t seen it, buy it; an ebook has been published. It’s just extraordinary.

 

 

 

Emperor and Galilean

Last Friday, I was invited to Hillcrest High School, in Draper, to see the North American premiere of Ben Power’s translation/version of Henrik Ibsen’s play Emperor and Galilean. I had a terrific time, and thought the production was imaginatively staged and beautifully realized.

Emperor and Galilean is surely the most obscure and seldom staged of Ibsen’s plays, even more infrequently performed even than his early Viking melodramas, like The Warrior’s Barrow or The Vikings at Helgeland, which are fun enough that Norwegian theatres still produce them from time to time. As it happens, though, I have seen a previous production of E and G, at Det Norske Teatret in Oslo, in 1989. That production was nine and a half hours long (not seven and a half, as I may have told people mistakenly), which points to the main reason that the play isn’t done very often–it’s very very long–ten acts altogether. Actually, it’s two five-act plays; Julian the Apostate, and The Emperor Julian, but I can’t imagine anyone doing either play alone. They tell one continuous story, and neither play would be thematically or narratively satisfying separately.

E and G tells the story of Flavius Claudius Julianus, Emperor of Rome for just two years, otherwise known as Julian the Apostate, because of his attempt to reject Christianity as the state religion, and return Roman worship to neo-Platonist paganism. In a battle against the Persian empire at Samara, Julian was killed; according to one source, by a Christian soldier in his own army. Ibsen has him killed by Agathon, Julian’s best friend from his early years as a Christian.

I had to read the play in grad school, and ended up falling in love with it. The usual reading of the play is that Ibsen, following Nietzsche, was arguing for a synthesis between the sensuousness of paganism and the spirituality of Christianity. If that’s indeed the point of the play, I have to say that that synthesis certainly doesn’t work very well–Julian’s attempt to create it lead to civil war, and to his own destruction. Plus, there’s no evidence that Ibsen even read, let alone cared about Nietzsche. Plus, I couldn’t possibly care less about a synthesis between pagan sensuousness and Christian spirituality. If those are indeed the main philosophical concerns of the play, then I wouldn’t be alone in considering it a play that has well deserved its obscurity.

I don’t think that’s what it’s about, though, and I don’t think those themes were given much expression in production. As the play continuously reminds us, it’s a play about the choice between Emperor and Galilean, about balancing the needs of the state and the demands of leading a Christ-like life. And it’s a play that shows, unmistakably, how state power corrupts and corrodes religion. As one parent said at the talk-back session following the play, ‘it’s a play about the First Amendment. It’s showing how badly we need it.’ Amen, brother.

When we see the play today, in 2015, we see a fanatical megomaniac who causes untold destruction by his vicious insistence on his own personal ideology. We’ve had our fill of those characters in my lifetime, have we not? I see the imposition of a state religion, any state religion, Christian or pagan, leading to war and violence and death. I see a huge, unnecessary, religious war fought in southern Iraq, by an army also intent of destroying the religious center of Persia/Iran. We see a play about issues that still resonate. We see, in Julian, a figure that we know all too well, and we see how damaging his charismatic fanaticism can become.

Ibsen builds the play around Julian and his three best friends–Agathon, Peter and Gregory, plus his pagan mystic guru Maximus. As the play begins, Agathon is proud of the fact that he has managed to lead a pogrom against local pagans, killing a whole lot of them. His fanaticism remains unabated, and eventually, he kills his apostate friend. Peter’s Christianity finds expression in fellowship and loyalty–he’s the one friend to stick with Julian no matter what, even after he grows appalled by Julian’s excesses. Gregory leaves Constantinople and founds his own religious community, which is eventually destroyed by Julian’s men. Gregory is really the one genuine Christian we meet in the play, and he is martyred for his devotion. Maximus, meanwhile, is about four/fifths a flattering fraud, but he does seem to have real visions, and those visions have consequences. Julian is told that he will complete the work of two great World Spirits; men who changed the world, advancing civilization. The first two are Cain and Judas Iscariot. I’m not sure that’s a parade I want to head up, but Julian eats it up. And that vision devours everyone else, in time.

Ibsen loved guys like Maximus; he loved creating fatuous blustering pompous jerks–Torvald, in A Doll House, Manders in Ghosts. We often take Ibsen too seriously–there’s a savage satirical wit in Ibsen that it can be easy to miss, especially in British English translations of his works. I wonder if anyone has ever thought to play Maximus as comic relief. It would certainly fit nicely with the rest of the Ibsen oeuvre.

Anyway, Hillcrest’s production was imaginative, energetic, lively and theatrically spectacular, with lots of smoke effects and projections and timely-falling set pieces. David Chamberlain was terrific in the huge role of Julian, and I also loved Carter Walker, Steven Hooley and Russell Carpenter as Gregory, Agathon and Peter, respectively. Of all the other supporting characters, I was particularly taken with Skyler Harmon, who played the conniving Ursulus, the Emperor Constantius’ fixer and right hand woman.

Above all, kudos of Joshua Long, the director of the production. Long has clearly created a tremendous high school drama program there at Hillcrest, with massive parental support. Watching the show, I estimated a cast size of around 90, but counting the names in the program, there were closer to 120. That’s a lot of costumes to build; how many moms were enlisted in that effort? Refreshments were sold during the show’s two intermissions, and again I saw supportive parents working for the success of the show. Long told me afterwards that he had tremendous support as well from his principal and administration; good for everyone involved. Those kids, in that cast, will never forget this experience as long as they live. They were involved in a fantastic undertaking, a very much neglected masterpiece given new life on stage. I can’t imagine anything cooler.

 

Mary, Mary: Theatre Review

Jean Kerr’s Mary, Mary opened on Broadway in 1961, and ran for over 1500 performances. For awhile, it held the record for longest-running non-musical play in Broadway history. I really think it’s one of the classic American comedies-of-manners, in the vein of Philadelphia Story or Holiday, only of course twenty five years after those plays. It’s about the lives of upper-middle-class New York intellectuals in the early 1960s, and many of the jokes are about the lives and personalities and favorite haunts of that time and class. It’s the kind of play that Don Draper would have seen, or rather, the kind of play that his second wife Megan would have dragged him to. I’m making it sound dated, and it is, a bit, but the opening night audience at the Covey Center enjoyed it a great deal, as did my wife and I. The cultural references in the play may well seem old-fashioned. But the main characters are real and human and we do care about them. And the jokes still land.

The production, under the able direction of Barta Heiner, is first-rate, or at least has the potential to become first-rate. Opening night was marred by a few line fluffs, which threw off the actors’ comic timing on occasion. They’re fine actors, and they will adjust. See it next week, or the week following; you’ll have a delightful night in the theatre. Or better than delightful, because there’s a central performance here that really needs to be seen.

The play is set in Bob’s Manhattan apartment. Bob (Adam Argyle) is a publisher, fancies himself someone who publishes excellent books of high literary quality, which means his business is just this side of profitable. The IRS is auditing him, and his attorney and friend, Oscar (Reese Purser) is sorting through his records, and has invited his ex-wife, Mary (Becca Ingram) to peruse cancelled checks and generally help out. Bob’s current, much-younger fiancee, the enchantingly wierd Tiffany (Taylor Fonbuena) is particularly interested in meeting Mary, a meeting Bob is anxious to prevent. Meanwhile, Bob’s movie-star friend, Dirk (Eric Raemakers) is hoping Bob will publish his Hollywood auto-biography, a book nowhere near high-brow enough for Bob. Bob, of course, still has feelings for Mary, and despite the pain of the divorce, Mary may still harbor similar feelings for Mary. But Dirk isn’t just a movie star, he’s a charming, insightful, likeable guy, and genuinely smitten with Mary. So the play is built around a double love triangle, between Bob, Mary and Tiffany, and Bob, Mary and Dirk. And the major dramatic question is this: will Mary and Bob get back together? Or will she go off with Dirk (a choice that becomes increasingly plausible as the play goes on).

I thought the cast was all very good, except for Becca Ingram as Mary, who I thought was spectacular. And that’s needed. Mary, as written by Kerr, is a tremendous character; exceptionally bright and insightful and funny. It’s a play about Mary; it succeeds or fails depending on the performance by the actress who plays her. She’s the kind of woman who pretty much always sees the absurdity of any situation she finds herself in, and has a gift for the perfect bon mot to describe social absurdity. She’s also terribly, achingly insecure. She has never believed herself to be beautiful, or even attractive, though she’s in fact quite stunning. So her wisecracks are a defense mechanism, too. For the play to work, it requires an actress who can capture both her wit and her vulnerability, as she is equal parts both a funny, funny girl and achingly lonely and hurt and unsure.

Becca Ingram does all that, superbly, but then adds another quality. Her Mary isn’t just that humorist/wounded kitten duality. She adds another layer, a shaky but hard-earned confidence. Mary has been alone for 9 months, and she’s had to work through a tremendous amount of pain and self-doubt. But she has worked through it. She’s professionally secure (though she wouldn’t be Mary if she wasn’t also aware that her job, letters-to-the-editor editor, is at least somewhat ridiculous). She’s had a make-over; learned how to dress to her best advantage. She’s gained a lot, some self-knowledge, some professional assurance, some self-possession. She has, in fact, become a feminist, to the extent that that was a possibility in 1961. And yes, it’s very nice to have a movie star like Dirk interested in her. And gratifying to see her ex-husband realize what a mistake he made when he left her. But she wants something more, something rare in the play’s world of 1961. She wants equality. She wants to align herself with a grown-up.

How big a stretch is it to consider Jean Kerr a feminist? I don’t think it’s a stretch at all. I love her essay collections–The Snake has all the Lines, and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. She was a bit like Erma Bombeck, a very funny chronicler of American suburban women. She had six kids, and was happily married, to drama critic Walter Kerr. She was a best-selling author and a humorist. She wore pants, and said so; hated housework, and said so; drank and smoked too much, slept in the same bed as her husband, and said so. She’d lock herself in her Chevy to write. She and her husband were partners, and equals, and both of them said so.

And she created Mary. And Mary, in this play, is one of the richest, most complex and fascinating fictional American women in that period. The movie version of the play flopped, because Hollywood couldn’t handle a female character as independent as Mary. And Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, warm and wise and human and funny, was reduced to a Doris Day vehicle by Hollywood. But Barta Heiner and Becca Ingram (and costume designer Lisa Kuhne) have reinvented Mary for us, at the Covey Center. It’s really something special. Go see it.

Mama: Theatre Review

I had the recent privilege of attending a dress rehearsal of Mama, Plan B Theatre Company’s World Premiere of a new play by Carleton Bluford. There are many reasons to see this show, apart from the obvious; you should always see everything Plan B does, all the time, always. That almost goes without saying.

But there are other reasons to see the play. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s poignant, and it’s superbly directed and acted. The play is about, well, mothers. Mamas. The terrific four-person cast move back and forth from serving a choral function, reciting famous ‘motherhood’ quotations, to monologues about various mothers that seem to have come from a Facebook plea for such stories, then acting out the vignettes about motherhood that are the spine of the play.

I am, as it happens, very fond of my own mother. I’m less fond of Bartlett’s-style quotations about motherhood. But there’s a grit and power to the vignettes that offset the occasional sentimentality of the quotations. That’s where the play really comes together, as we realize that the vignettes are not meant as real-life illustrations of the quotations, but as tough-minded counter-narratives. That’s the dramatic tension of the piece, between ideals of motherhood and reality. And the reality is, Moms aren’t perfect. But also, that Moms do remarkably well nonetheless.

One of the vignettes, for example, started with Dee-dee Darby-Duffin on the phone with her lover. Their conversation is frank and explicit; the man is coming over, and his intentions with her, and her intentions with her, are lasciviously clear. Her son (Cooper Howell) shows up, and reminds her that a representative from Brown University is coming over, to assess his candidacy for a full-ride scholarship to the school. Mom informs him that she has plans for that evening, and that those plans do not include cooking a nice dinner for some white woman. Not quite the perfect Mom, we might think. Except that, in the next scene, the woman from Brown (Liz Summerhays) does show up, and tells Mama that she can’t stay long–the decision has been made, the son will not receive the scholarship. The response approximates that of a she-grizzly bear with a cub in danger. It’s a terrific scene, about a Mom who comes through in the end.

The fourth actor in the cast is the equally terrific Latoya Rhodes, who shines in the one historical vignette of the piece, a pre-Civil War Harriet Tubman piece about the lengths African-American parents went to to protect their children amidst the horrors of slavery. But another vignette was marvelously comic, with Summerhays as a white woman joining a black family, and countering a prospective sister-in-law’s dismissal with sass and courage, while Mama plays cheerleader.

Some plays tell one sustained story; others, like Mama, are episodic. Preferences vary. I’m generally a ‘sustained story’ kinda guy, but I liked Mama very much indeed. It really is a ‘you’ll laugh, you’ll cry’ kind of piece. Go see it. Tickets are on sale here.

Bare: Theatre Review

In a narrative performing art like theatre, there are any number of ways to respond to any particular piece. One aesthetic puts first such considerations as dedication, idealism, earnestness and passion, energy and commitment. That was my initial response to Bare, the 2001 musical by Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo given its Utah premiere by the Utah Repertory Theater Company at the Sugar Space Warehouse Theater.

When my wife and I are driving around town, we’ll see a building and I’ll ask “school, or prison?” Obviously, the buildings we pass are inevitably schools; what makes this funny is how forbiddingly prison-like they appear. I thought of that when I saw the metallic set for Bare, essentially two staircases, a catwalk upstairs, and a few school lockers and beds.  The play is set in a Catholic boarding high school, and honestly, ‘school or prison’ became, for me, a functional metaphor for the world of the play. It’s about people who feel trapped, confined. It’s about trying to find something authentic and real and good while in a restricted, constricted social world. It’s about living in a closet–though not really a closet, but more like a school locker, metal and bare, with a lock on the door.

Plotwise, Bare is built on a that sturdiest of structures, the love triangle. Peter (John Patrick McKenna) is in love with Jason (Brock Dalgliesh), and has every reason to think his feelings are reciprocated. Neither of them is quite ready to come out to their fellow students, though Peter is close to ready, but Jason, outgoing, popular, athletic, filled with youthful sexual energy and power, is perfectly fine keeping the relationship quiet. It’s high school: of course there are rumors about them, and some homophobic harassment of the sensitive and introverted Peter, but Jason, he’s cool, he’s popular, and likes it when the girls flock around. And the school’s Miss Popular, Ivy (Emilie Starr), tends to get what she wants and what she wants–in addition to the lead in the school play, Romeo and Juliet–is Jason.

Further complicating the triangle is school nice guy Matt (Thomas Kulkas), who is pretty into Emilie himself, and has had reason in the past to think she likes him back. In addition, Jason has a less popular sister at the school, Nadia (Katie Evans), a self-loathing young woman with body image issues, and a ‘lash-out-at-everyone’ disposition. Rounding out the main schoolkids, is Lucas (Aaron Gordon), a party animal/entrepreneur, who, only too appropriately, has been cast as the apothecary in their R&J production. The play is being directed by a feisty nun, Sister Chantel (Yoah Guerrero), who hides a kindly soul behind a drill sergeant’s mien. And the school seems to be run by a Priest (Jonathan Scott McBride), who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of answers to the main questions the kids in the play pose to him, but who never seems uncaring.

So it’s a play, essentially, about gay kids in a gay-unfriendly religious environment. Albeit one that nonetheless tries its best to provide a nurturing and safe space for teenaged kids. I can see why Utah actors and Utah audiences would embrace the play as they have. And that was a lot of its appeal, for me, as a middle-aged straight Mormon. I loved the genuine and obvious commitment of the cast and production staff. This may be a weird response, but I felt like I was watching all of them bearing witness. Bearing testimony. To what? Well, to the idea of inclusiveness and acceptance. To the reality that, even now, too many gay kids are bullied and tormented and mistreated, and that too many of them, in hopeless despair, choose to end their own lives. Or run away, to degrading conditions on the streets. To the idea that traditional, organized religion, however compassionate, may not provide meaningful answers to kids in such terrible pain.

I could quibble about some aspects of the script and production. Peter, was, for me, an underdeveloped dramatic character, though I appreciated McKenna’s strong voice and stage presence. Some of the songs, I found rather pedestrian. The opening number set up a series of expectations–specifically, that the play would implicate religion as the main culprit of the play’s central conflict–that it (blessedly) did not fulfill. (So maybe cut the number entirely?)  The Sugar Space Theater remains a chilly space in which to see a play–wear a jacket. And for me, the play felt a bit dated. It premiered in 2000, and I’d like to think that now, fifteen years later, it’s perhaps at least a little easier for young people to come out, and that when they do, they’ll be at least somewhat better treated than this.

But Dalgliesh was a stand-out, embodying Jason’s youthful energy so completely that it never occurred to me to doubt that he would pursue Ivy sexually. Starr was tremendous as well, especially in “All Grown Up,” the best song for her character. The two of them lit up the stage. I also loved Evans’ “Plain Jane” song, in which she complained about how hurt she was by society’s expectations for female attractiveness. (Sad, that a young woman as lovely as Evans would be given a song like that, an excoriating diatribe on the difficulties of being un-lovely, and therefore, in our culture, tagged un-lovable).

Still, I was very moved by the production, by the commitment and energy of the cast, by the central performers, and by the over-all message of the play. Really, please, go see it. You won’t regret the decision.

Play Review: Company

The Sugar Space Arts Warehouse in Salt Lake City is, well, a converted warehouse. The floor’s concrete, the ceilings are high, acoustics are echo-y, and watching a play up there you can constantly hear an air compressor. Presumably, it was trying to warm the place up; it didn’t work. It was cold outside, and maybe a bit warmer indoors. The actors had to wear mics, and early on, the sound mixing was a bit off. And none of that mattered at all, not even a little bit. When a live theatre performance is as alive, and compassionate and wise and smart and funny and sad and warm-hearted and, my gosh, as human as Silver Summit Theatre‘s production of Company was last night, nothing else matters.

In fact, I rather liked the space and its limitations. Silver Summit is a company in search of a home; they find different venues for each of their productions, but they do great work, fully professional in every way that matters, and their Company was a pure joy. They’re worth following around. I spoke briefly with Michelle Rideout, their artistic director, during the interval, and told her that I felt like I was watching an early-days show at the Donmar. (Best off-West End company in London, and yes, they perform in a warehouse. And were the first London company to revive Company). We don’t go to the theatre for comfy chairs and gorgeous sets. We go to connect with our fellow human beings on this planet. We go to feel something, learn something, grow a little, weep and laugh and rejoice.

I wondered how Company would hold up, after all these years. This Sondheim/Furth musical was the hottest show on Broadway 45 years ago, and yes, there are moments where it shows its age. It’s hard to imagine a single, successful, Manhattan-apartment-well-off kinda guy today admitting he doesn’t know anyone black, Hispanic, gay. But I suspect that there are still ladies who lunch around today, and those great great songs are still knock-outs; “Another hundred people,” “Being Alive,” “Side by Side by Side.”

For those of you who don’t know it, Company is about Robert, Bobby to his many friends, a single man just turning 35, who is starting to think that maybe it’s time to not be single anymore. His friends both agree and disagree. He’s wonderful company, after all, charming and fun and widely beloved; he’s integral to all their social lives, it seems. But perhaps he’s not quite . . . ready? And the glimpses we see of his friends’ marriages are vivid reminders of, well, human frailty, the petty hypocrisies and foibles and annoying eccentricities that marriage both helps us overcome and accentuates. It’s a musical with no heroes and no villains and hardly any story, and Bobby never does meet the girl of his dreams. But maybe, at the end, he might. Might be ready for it, at any rate. And all fourteen of its characters are vivid, brilliantly drawn and acted and sung.

A few standouts last night, not that there was a single weak link in the cast. Rick Rea was tremendous as Robert, smiling, fun, smart, empathetic Robert, Bobby to his friends. And then, gradually, we see other shadings, his loneliness, his occasional selfishness (especially in “Barcelona,” with Heather Shelley wonderful as slightly dim flight attendant April), his increasing sense of quiet desperation. And his performance of “Being Alive” was wonderful. What a song.

I can’t say enough about Eve Speer and Brandon Rufener, as the karate fighting couple, Sarah and Harry. I loved Natalia Noble as the lively and eccentric Marta; her “Another Hundred People” had just the right mix of fear and comedy and pathos. But Marcie Jacobsen was a sensation. “The Ladies Who Lunch” is such an excoriating, biting satire of New York society, and Jacobsen found the right blend of self-destructive self-loathing, viciousness and tragedy in her Joanne. Look at the great Joanne’s of the past: Patti Lupone, Barbara Walsh, Elaine Stritch. Jacobsen fits well in their company. Or Company.

Anyway, wow. Go see it, y’all. The house was half full last night, on a Friday night. Go, and take a date, and ask your date to ask a friend, and date, to join you. Then maybe, like, both couples could ask out two other couples, make it an eight-some. And afterwards, there’s a really nice restaurant close to the, uh, well, a few blocks at least from the, uh. . . . actually, the theater’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere. But there is a Leatherbys kinda close. Bring a sweater, (a good, thick one) and see a fine production of a great musical. With a bunch of your friends. You won’t regret it.

 

My political manifesto

Confirmation bias: the tendency to search for, interpret, or prioritize information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses.

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors opined in class one day that actors were the most moral people in the world. His argument: the basis for morality is compassion, and compassion comes from empathy. And because they are in the business of creating characters, becoming other people, actors were pretty much always, you know, walking in the moccasins, so to speak, of other people. Hence greater empathy, hence greater compassion, hence morality. When he said this, I was in a show, acting across from a brilliantly talented actor who was also pretty much the most awful person I had ever met. Empathy was one of many human emotions he was wonderfully able to fake. Total narcissist, a womanizer and a creepy creepy person. We were doing a murder mystery; he was the killer, and I was the detective tasked with catching him. Watching him hit on every woman on the production staff gave my characterization added oomph, and I must say I found it supremely satisfying to hear the click of my handcuffs on his wrists, night after night.

Having said that, I would add that I acted for years, though not anymore, and that I generally love actors and consider many actors to be among my closest and dearest friends.

I thought about the misguided naivete of that professor yesterday, when I engaged in an entirely futile on-line debate about politics. A conservative friend found amusing a YouTube video caricaturing liberals; it was funny, he insisted, because it was true. I angrily asserted that it wasn’t either true, and that I could as easily stereotype conservatives. I argued poorly in that forum; let me redeem myself here by stating, firmly and unequivocally, what I believe to be true, absolutely true, in my heart of hearts true.

Principle One: American Liberals and American Conservatives are, for the most part, patriotic and decent human beings who differ somewhat in regards to matters of policy.

Principle Two: The Democratic and Republican parties are both comprised of people who love the United States, and want nothing more than for the nation to prosper and bless its citizens. Both parties are equal parts corrupt and idealistic. Most Democrats are decent, good citizens; some have the morals of pit vipers. Most Republicans are decent, good citizens; some have the morals of cockroaches. And both parties have individuals in their ranks who are narcissistic attention seekers, that being the besetting sin of politicians.

I am a liberal Democrat, deeply committed and passionate in my beliefs. I am a liberal  as a matter of principle and conscience. That does not mean that conservative Republicans are without principle or conscience-less. I study policy issues very carefully, and believe that my positions on matters of policy are factually based, supported by research and reason. That does not mean that conservative policy proposals are unsupported by evidence. Confirmation bias afflicts both sides; both sides tend to favor evidence supporting our previous prejudices and opinions.

As a liberal Democrat, I consider myself pro-choice. That means that it’s easy for conservatives to label me a baby-killer. I’m not a baby-killer. That’s preposterous. It’s a complicated issue, and in general, I come down on the side of a woman’s right to choose. My conservative Republican friends tend to disparage programs intended to alleviate poverty. That does not allow me to label them uncharitable or call them vicious meanies. It just means that they don’t believe federal anti-poverty programs are effective.

My father is much more conservative than I am, and there are a number of political questions on which we disagree. But he was and is a wonderful father, and I love and respect him immensely. My brother–one of the finest men I have ever known–is a Republican, but he called the other day, and we talked politics for an hour, and found very few questions on which we disagreed. Not all policy questions are partisan. Roads need to be repaired, schools need to be built, power grids need to be maintained.  Those may be ‘political’ questions, but surely they are questions about which reasonable people can find common ground.

None of this means that we can’t passionately advocate for our positions. Of course we can, and we must. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine differences between parties and ideologies and platforms. Of course, those exist. It does mean that we can’t demonize the opposition. I do forget that sometimes, and apologize for it.

Let’s all commit ourselves to civil dialogue, and civil disagreement, when disagree we must. But what unifies us is much more important than what divides us. We’re American citizens. Let’s always continue to respect what that means.

A theology of fear

Sunday was our stake conference. For those of you who are not Mormons, we worship every Sunday in a ‘ward,’ a group of 400-600 people. Wards are part of larger units, called ‘stakes’, a group of 8-10 wards; the guy who runs the stake is the Stake President. (The metaphor is that of a people gathered in tent, with stakes holding it together). Once a year, all the people in the stake get together for a big meeting, held in the stake center. And sometimes, occasionally, General Authorities of the Church come down and speak at stake conference.

This Sunday, we had the exceedingly rare experience of having, not just a General Authority, but an Apostle, Elder David Bednar speak to us.  This is very rare, and the stake center was crammed full.

Elder Bednar’s talk was outstanding. He talked about fear. As he pointed out, fear is generally described as something to be overcome. It’s a negative emotion, something that gets in the way of faith. Elder Bednar used as an example the story in Matthew 14, when Jesus walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples are on a boat (presumably Peter’s fishing boat), and a storm starts up. Jesus approaches the boat, walking on the water, and says to them, “Be of good cheer, it is I, be not afraid.” And Peter, ever impulsive, asks if he can join him. But when he starts walking towards Jesus, he’s overcome by fear, and begins sinking, and says “Lord, save me!” and Jesus catches him by the hand and says “oh, ye of little faith, why didst thou fear?”

Elder Bednar made several cogent points about this story. First, it appears that fear is, in this instance, the opposite of faith. Peter is able to walk, miraculously, on the water, because he has faith. But, understandably, his faith falters. He essentially says to Jesus ‘the surface tension of water is insufficient to bear the concentrated weight of a two hundred pound human. I’m going to sink.’ But he has just experienced another miracle, the feeding of the five thousand with a few loaves and fishes. He should know that Jesus had the power to supercede natural law somehow. If he had had faith, he could have performed miracles. Like walk on water.

So looking to Jesus is the essence of faith; looking to Jesus is what gives us courage, enabling us to overcome fear. Courage and faith are therefore linked. Although Elder Bednar didn’t say this explicitly, I would add that love seems similarly linked to faith and to courage.

Today is veteran’s day. I have not served in the military, and have never experienced combat. I know people who have. I can only imagine what they went through, my imagination aided, in my case, by movies. Think, for example, of Saving Private Ryan, and its depiction of the Normandy beach invasion by Allied forces. We see soldiers on boats ready to storm that beach, and we see and hear guns firing, bullets whistling past them, the impact sounds as men are hit. After watching that movie, I thought to myself, “I do not believe that I would be able to get out of that boat. I believe that I am too cowardly to do so.” But those men did get out of the boats, and did race up that beach firing their weapons, and did win that battle. That’s an extraordinary thing. And I feel chastened by their courage. I’m in awe of it. No doubt, for some, that courage came from their own religious convictions; they ‘looked to Jesus,’ as Elder Bednar suggested. For more of them, though, I think they thought of their families. I think they were driven by love. Which I also believe to be a gift from God.

But let’s talk about fear. There is another usage of the word ‘fear’ in scripture. It’s sometimes used as a positive thing: ‘the fear of God.’ It’s rather an archaic usage; we mostly use it nowadays as a colloquial expression meaning ‘a boss is going to crack down on underlings.’  As in “look at our sales figures for August. We’re having a meeting and I’m going to put the fear of God into our sales staff.”  But as Elder Bednar pointed out, that’s not really how the scriptures use the phrase. In Acts, for example, Cornelius the centurion is described as a man who “feared God with all his house, and gave alms to the people, and prayed always.” ‘Fearing God’ seems to refer, in this case, to a general piety and charitableness. Fearing God means to hold God in awe and reverence.  Not really be afraid of him.

A parent who wants his/her children to fear him/her, and beats them, is, let’s face it, a horrible parent. There’s certainly an Old Testament sense of ‘fearing God’ that strikes me as atavistic. We should obey God because if we don’t, He might zap us, send horrible floods or earthquakes or diseases. If we assume that terrible weather events are the sorts of things that God is personally responsible for, then it makes sense to fear Him, just as it makes sense, when hiking in the woods, to fear bears or wolves or poisonous snakes. But I’d rather not liken God to a wolf. That sense of ‘fear’ suggests an interesting theological question, does it not? Is God in charge of, say, weather? When a hurricane devastates a coastal region, or when a tsunami wipes out a beachfront community, is that something God sent? Does God do that, send terrible tribulations? If so, does He send them as a response to unrighteousness? Do we believe that a town destroyed by an earthquake had it coming?

There does seem to me to be a lot of scriptural support for the notion that ‘natural disasters’ are actually supernatural; that severe destructive weather events are in fact sent by God as a punishment for wickedness–Sodom and Gomorrah, Zerahemla.  And it’s the kind of thing you do hear from time to time in Sunday School: “those people had it coming.” At the same time, when a Pat Robertson or other prominent right wing evangelical goes on the air to say “this hurricane was God’s punishment for allowing gay marriage” or something like that, most people respond with disgust and laughter. That kind of sentiment is no longer  acceptable in contemporary society, and rightfully so. We believe in, and worship, a God of love. And one of the ways the LDS church has distinguished itself in our day is in the area of disaster relief. Whenever there’s a natural disaster, the Church is on the scene with supplies–food, blankets, potable water, shelter. So, what, when God punishes people for their wickedness, we jump right in and try to make things better for the people being thus punished? Really?

I don’t think we believe that anymore. I don’t think we believe that God uses bad weather to punish wicked people. I certainly don’t believe in it; some Mormons may disagree with me. But I dislike the theological implications of that. A second possibility is even more appalling to me; the idea that God is in fact in charge of weather, but just lashes out randomly, out of, perhaps, a kind of divine Pique. That’s the God of predestination, is it not? A God that just picks some people to save, leaving the rest to roast forever? That was the mainstream theology of early nineteenth century America, which means it was the theology specifically condemned in the First Vision, was it not?

No, what I believe theologically is that our life here on earth is a testing ground, and that part of the test of mortality is dealing with random, arbitrary disasters. Weather happens. God set it up to happen, but I’m not convinced He directs it, particularly. I don’t think health setbacks are meant to teach us anything, for example. I think we just get sick sometimes. Certainly, we’re meant to deal with illness with courage and resolve; that is part of our test.  And maybe we learn something along the way. But I don’t think we’re supposed to go through life afraid that if we say the wrong thing God’s going to zap us with lightning. I think lightning just . . . strikes.

And yes, I believe that fear, and the courageous overcoming of fear are absolutely crucial to the testing of mortality. I think that we look to God for faith, and we pray in faith, not because we’re afraid of horrible things happening to us if we don’t, but just because. Out of love. Out of devotion. Out of gratitude. Not because we hope for a reward afterwards, because good things and bad things happen to us, here, randomly, without being deserved or earned either way. But we can always choose. And the right choice, the best choice, is always the most courageous choice.

There is another way in which ‘fear of God’ can function theologically, although this wasn’t one mentioned by or in any sense referred to by Elder Bednar in his excellent address. We can be afraid of each other. We can be afraid, not of God, but of ‘god.’ Not the God who loves us, who created a beautiful, terrible earth for our mortal final exam, but the ‘god’ made up of popular opinion, the ‘god’ of mainstream prosperous white American culture, the ‘god’ that whispers and gossips and points ‘his’ crabbed and arthritic finger at our everyday foibles and missteps. And who forbids, not sin, but life. Who mutters under ‘his’ breath imprecations against (this is crucial) courageous, principled acts of rebellion born of conscience. Not the God of the Tree of Life, but the ‘gods’ staring down at us from the various spacious and specious buildings of our oh-so-active imaginations.

Samuel Beckett, in the greatest play of the twentieth century, had a word for that ‘god.’ He called it ‘godot,’ a french diminutive. And his ‘godot’ is a ‘god’ that we fear, and wait for, and he never, ever, shows up.  ‘He’ doesn’t have to. As long as we never leave, as long as we stay put, as long as we spend our days testing the branches of our trees to ensure they’ll hold the weight of a hanging rope, ‘his’ purposes are amply fulfilled.

Because, you see, Peter and the disciples did have one more thing to be afraid of. Not just the storm and the sea and the fear of drowning. Read Matthew 14 carefully. All the miracles described there, the feeding of the multitude and the walking on the water came immediately on the heels of an act of state-sponsored violence. John the Baptist had run afoul of the tetrarch, Herod, and his step-daughter Herodias. And Herod had John murdered. It was right after that horrid event that everyone freaked out and ran to the wilderness, five thousand strong, desperate for answers, for comfort, for reassurance. For courage. It was then that Jesus fed them. It was then that Jesus defied a storm.

Because what Jesus understood was that godot is a coward, and like many cowards, a bully, violent and weak. And there’s really only one way to sidestep godot. It involves a storm on a lake, and a boat, tossed and turned. It involves a blessing, and bread and fishes, and a terrified people fed.

Short term, godot won. John was beheaded; Jesus scourged and crucified. And Gandhi and Dr. King; likewise murdered. But courage overcomes fear, faith is stronger than death itself. Ordinary young men, huddled in a boat outside Normandy, drove themselves, through love, towards heroism. No one remembers cowards, except as cowards. We ‘fear’ (honor, worship, sustain) God by loving our brothers and sisters. And love leads to faith and faith to courage.  And even amidst danger, we can be of good cheer. We must, in fact, overcome fear. That’s the real test, and one so many of us (Mormons, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Atheists) pass every day of our lives. By being, not just human, but the best humans we can manage to be, the most courageous, the most daring, the most audacious. Artists and artisans, merchants and beggars. Be courageous. Be strong. Be of good cheer.

 

Top Ten (or so) Reasons to see Much Ado about Zombies

The Covey Center production of Much Ado About Zombies, written by Becky Baker and William Shakespeare, and directed by yours truly, opens Friday, Oct. 24. Tickets available here. There’s also a super awesome promotional video, featuring Barrett Ogden, Ashley Lammi and Archie Crisanto, doing lines from the play that their characters never actually speak, but why quibble?  If you live in Provo, you should see this show. If you live in Orem, or anywhere in Utah north of St. George or south of Idaho, you should see it.  Here’s a top Ten (or so) list of reasons why:

Top Ten (or maybe thirteen) List of Reasons to See the Covey Center Much Ado About Zombies.

10) It’s Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Only with zombies. One of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, only with 50% more zombies than ever before!

9) There’s a strange rumor, as yet unconfirmed, of a unexplained crack in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire England. Another rumor, also unconfirmed, describes a shambling bald bearded figure, dressed in decayed Jacobean clothing, stowing away aboard a fishing trawler operating out of Cornwall. Also, hobos have reported a similar figure climbing onto a train in Halifax, heading westward. One hobo said he overheard this same personage muttering about those ‘who doth disturb these unquiet denizens of underfiend realms’ under his breath. Another hobo, on the same train, had his brains eaten. Who knows what all this portends?

8) We’re talkin’ pure steampunk eye candy. Sets, costumes, lighting, makeup: all of it wicked awesome.

7) You can see Sierra Docken, a snarling, biting, zombie violinist. Also a string zombie trio performing Pachelbel as never before.

6) Also Archie Crisanto, as Friar Frank, a grave robbing, cigarette smoking, gun wielding pastor straight from Hell’s Kitchen.

5) You know the part of Hero? Sweet, innocent, bland Hero, Claudio’s fiancee, Beatrice’s cousin, Leonato’s daughter, and one of the dullest female characters in Shakespeare? Yeah, not in our version. Emily Siwachok creates an edgy, punk rock, feminist Hero. She’s an anti-Hero! (rimshot).

4) Janiel Miller rocks out as Balthazar, Leonato’s court musician and disease vector. With all original music by Keaton Anderson. (Who is himself not, as far as I know, an undead disease vector).

3) So many little touches. The blood in Zombie Kevin’s beard. The visor eye makeup for Conrade (Kristen Perkins). Plus Conrade herself, murderous, but at least conflicted about it. The bayonet at the end of Andrea Mullins’ rifle. Mark Buchanan’s monkish garb. The spinning gears. The fact that the zombie virus glows. Blacklight zombie makeup. The huge honkin’ syringe.

2) Megan Graves, a lovely young woman, relishing a letter from her lover, happily strolls along. And is pursued and eaten by zombies. You know, like happens sometimes.

1) Shakespeare’s fun! Zombies are fun! Dub step dancing: fun!

0) Barrett Ogden and Ashley Lammi make a terrific Benedick and Beatrice. Carter Peterson, an amazing physical actor, is a superb Claudio. Jason Hagey and Chris Curlett make a wonderful Leonato/Don Pedro. Can’t say enough about Sophie Determan and Nick Black as that charming sociopathic couple, Margaret and Borachio. And Jennifer Mustoe, Caden Mustoe and Andrea Mullen, as the bumbling law enforcement team of Dogberry, Verges and Ani. Hannah Witkin’s zombie walk, and dancing.  Really, the cast is phenomonal. And I’m entirely, completely objective.

-1) And Kat Webb’s Don John is as nasty a villain as any in Shakespeare. And she wears a black cape to prove it.

-2) Plus Leah Hodson. Who plays the lovesick Messenger, mad about Claudio, but also pursued by Zombie Kevin. And is also a fine zombie cellist. Who told me at our audition that she was kinda afraid of zombies, but now is one.

So there you go! Top Ten (or so) reasons to see it!  Tickets selling fast! And can sell faster if you call now!  And if you are able to come, I know you’ll have a good time.  Promise.

 

Two kinds of crazy

Anita Sarkeesian is a well known and well respected feminist scholar and critic.  Here’s her Wikipedia page. She specializes in studying how women are portrayed in various kinds of popular media, and especially in video games. She’s perhaps best known for a video series on Youtube, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Check it out. It’s great stuff, matter-of-fact, sensible, well researched.

She was invited to speak at Utah State University on Wednesday this past week. On Monday, though, a death threat was sent via email to university officials. The threat was specific and terrifying. I’m not going to quote it here, but it called Sarkeesian “everything wrong with the feminist woman,” and threatened not only her, but anyone who attended her lecture. Its author claimed to have pipe bombs, pistols and semi-automatic weapons. The email also referred to Marc Lepine, a gunman who murdered fourteen women in Canada in 1989.

I can’t begin to describe how incredibly troubling all this is. Sarkeesian’s videos are sensible, intelligent, informed, sort of fun, not terribly ideological. They do make the entirely reasonable point that women are objectified in video games. This is so obviously true, I can’t imagine it being a point of contention. Apparently there are men who feel terribly threatened–emasculated even–by feminism. Apparently lots of those men are also gamers. Who knew?

But as I researched this stuff, the misogyny embedded in so many video game texts, the ferocity of the rhetoric in so much of the so-called ‘men’s movement,’ I became completely disheartened. I wanted to post this yesterday, and couldn’t bring myself to finish it. I don’t want to research gamergate. I don’t even know what MRM stands for, aside from Men’s Right’s Movement. I read the MRM Wikipedia page, and found the MRM arguments incomprehensible.  I don’t want to follow the Red Pill subreddit. (I’m not even going to link to it. It’s on reddit, it’s not hard to find. I refuse to drive traffic there). I spent twenty minutes on Red Pill yesterday, and felt like I needed a shower.  I am a man, proud of being a man, proud to be male, fulfilled in my marriage and edified by the friendships and professional relationships with women I have always enjoyed. I’m a feminist, and proud of it. I don’t get this anti-women nonsense.

And death threats? Seriously, death threats?

And then came a (to be fair) entirely inadvertent interaction with a second group of crazy people.

And this gets tricky, because I have family members who are gun owners and gun defenders and I don’t want to call people I love ‘crazy.’

But here’s what went down. Sarkeesian was still willing to give her lecture on Wednesday. She just wanted to be safe while doing it. Perfectly reasonable. She wanted back packs checked at the door; Utah State made plans to do that. She also wanted personal firearms banned, except, of course, for cops providing security.  And Utah State couldn’t do it. State law allows concealed weapon permit owners to carry their firearms anywhere, to school, on a college campus. To search backpacks and confiscate (or ban) firearms is a violation of Utah law. And apparently a number of Utah State students do have concealed weapon permits, and could therefore have attended Sarkeesian’s lecture armed. Read about it here.

Argument A: This is a prominent speaker, speaking at the university’s invitation. The threat made against her was very specific and detailed. Surely the university had an obligation to take reasonable precautions to protect her safety. And the presence of concealed weapons by students licensed to carry certainly made her feel less safe, and probably actually made her less safe. If, heaven forbid, the guy who issued the threat had in fact shown up and started shooting, a bunch of untrained people waving their guns around and firing wildly would escalate the situation exponentially. The training received by concealed weapons’ holders is risibly ineffectual. Utah is the only state in the country with guns laws that idiotic. As Sarkeesian put it: “It’s sort of mindboggling to me that they couldn’t take efforts to make sure there were no guns in an auditorium that was threatened with guns and a mass shooting.  I don’t understand how they could be so cut and dried about it.”  She’s right. I don’t get it either. And I would certainly have cancelled my appearance, just as she did.

Argument B: Nobody at the university took the threat lightly. Everybody agreed that her safety needed to be protected, as well as the safety of other lecture attendees. But the University had no choice but to follow state law.  And concealed weapon permit holders are not the problem. Indeed, they’re potentially part of the solution to the overall problem of on-campus violence. It’s completely unfair to stigmatize law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights. Nobody wants to be called a ‘nut’, and adding the word ‘gun’ to the front of it makes things worse. Concealed weapon permit holders have a track record of responsible gun ownership and use. “Right to bear arms”, y’all.  It’s entirely possible that women, attending the lecture, may well consider themselves feminists, and may find gun ownership completely compatible with their feminism.It’s possible that if the guy had shown up, and started firing, an armed woman may have been the one to put him down. Another kick-ass, armed feminist. They do exist, and if we’re feminists, we should embrace them too. Feminism needn’t be wimpy. Guns protect women too.

I’m an Argument A guy. I do understand Argument B. They both exist, and they both have many followers. Let’s acknowledge that, at least.

Sarkeesian cancelled her lecture because she was afraid of getting caught in a cross-fire. I would be too. I think that’s an entirely reasonable fear. She was, it seems, more afraid of the cross-fire than of the guy who threatened her. I totally get that. I don’t get the gun thing. I have never understood it. I don’t want to own one, and I never have. We didn’t let our kids play in their friends’ homes if they owned guns. I think that was a reasonable stance for us to take. And I feel completely safe unarmed.

But I’m also directing a play right now, and we have lots of guns on-stage. We have a props table with maybe twenty guns on it. The cast spends most of the show waving their guns around, and at one point, they use the guns to shoot a whole bunch of zombies. Now, the guns we’re using don’t actually work. Our ‘shooting’ is a sound effect. The guns are mostly plastic. They’re completely harmless. But oh my gosh are they cool. And our actors enjoy using them.

I haven’t talked to the cast about their personal gun politics. None of my business. But I do get this about guns: they’re cool. On TV, in movies, guns are awesome.

Now, this makes me think that concealed weapon permit holders are living out movie-driven fantasies. I’m still resolutely anti-gun. But I went to rehearsal last night, and saw that our props people had created this massive machine gun, and it was the coolest prop ever, and my reaction, when I saw the thing, was a heartfelt ‘awesome!’  And then I asked the actress who uses it to stop pointing it at my head. (Not that it actually worked. It’s a toy, basically). And our show is about zombies, a popular video-game trope.  So where does fantasy end, where does reality begin, where does sexism or violence in video games lead to sexist or violent behavior in the real world, where do internet, chat room fantasies play themselves out in real life?

I don’t know. I like Anita Sarkeesian, enjoy her video series, and wish I could have heard her lecture. She seems like my kind of people. And I’m unapologetically feminist, and don’t get MRM at all.  And I desperately hope they catch the guy, Sarkeesian’s threatener, before he acts out his fantasies. And . . . I think that machine gun is wicked awesome.  So it’s all maybe at least a little bit complicated.