Arthur Miller, Looking for a Conscience
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Sun Feb 23 08:54:07 MST 2003
NY Times, Feb. 23, 2003
Looking for a Conscience
By ARTHUR MILLER
Small thoughts about a large problem.
I'm not really sure the question is pertinent anymore, but I can't help
wondering what the theater ought to be doing these days. It may be just an
old man's silliness, but I do find myself wondering about Broadway's
relevance to the life of this world now.
My friend, our local pharmacist, and her husband made the two-hour trip
from Connecticut to the city with their boy to see "The Lion King" and just
loved it, and I guess all the other shows must be amusing lots of folks
from all over the country, but . . . well, might one ask nevertheless
whether the possible end of the familiar world ought to have some
reflection upon all this sheer delight called Broadway?
Musing about this as an admittedly unrealistic commentator on such matters,
it does seem to me that while films and television are trying to grapple
with the great themes that affect us all, the theater or the Broadway
pocket of it has, with extremely few exceptions, just about succumbed to
glorious, glamorous show business.
I don't see much theater, but the last thing I did see that seriously and
beautifully impinged on our public fate was "Copenhagen." That was by an
Englishman, Michael Frayn, however, and had a limited run.
The British theater has long since openly acknowledged that social
criticism is entertainment, but that may be because England sees itself as
basically a failure compared with America, the success. Failures tend to
examine their suppositions about life; the successful are more likely to
celebrate themselves as good examples.
We never did have, at least on Broadway, a whole lot of acerbic social
commentary, but there was sometimes a steady trickle, which seems now to
have dried up. I can't think of when the narrow-minded, the prejudiced, the
stupid, the reactionary could have been outraged by something on the
HAS the essence of America, its very nature, changed from benign democracy
to imperium? Why do such majorities across the water fear and despise this
administration? Too much piety, triumphal arrogance? We are being blasted
by issues raised by an unprecedented American position at the top of the
world. The meanings of words have changed; is it really a cause for
unalloyed boasting that we can fight two wars at the same time, or is this
to be lamented as the failure of America's creation: the United Nations and
the system of collective security? One has to wonder sometimes if the art
of giving things their right names is being surrendered. Ought our most
public of arts reflect these confusions, or is it enough for Broadway to go
on sounding pretty much as it did 60, 70 years ago?
The bad part of being around a long time is the realization that mankind is
endlessly rediscovering the wheel; now the stoical military virtues a
kind of Roman obedience and conformity echo in an attorney general, the
highest legal officer of government, declaring that to oppose his ideas is
to unpatriotically encourage terrorism, even as the American Bar
Association warns that our vaunted legal rights and protections are being
undermined by this kind of thinking.
Almost 50 years ago now, I felt compelled to write in a speech for Judge
Danforth in "The Crucible": "You must understand, sir, a person is either
with this court or he must be counted against it, there be no road between.
This is a sharp time, now, a precise time we live no longer in the dusky
afternoon when evil mixed itself with good and befuddled the world. Now, by
God's grace, the shining sun is up, and them that fear not light will
surely praise it. I hope you will be one of those."
How many times do we have to indulge the same idiocies for which we must
later be ashamed?
Is a lively, contentious, reflective theater beyond our reach, our
imaginations? Are the powers who reign over this theater of the bottom line
aware that there are some really interesting even entertaining things
to talk about on the stage and that they ought to be encouraged? Even if at
times they require more than two or four people in the cast? A new
"Crucible" could not be produced on Broadway today, nor a "Death of a
Salesman," either. Nor, for that matter, a "Streetcar." Too many people. Is
this situation satisfactory for what purports to be the main stage of the
richest country in human history?
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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