Judging from the first two items in this title series, is this post a lament regarding the title’s third item? Just the opposite.
This weekend I was in the audience of a play put on at a high school, a public high school. Actually I attended two nights in a row. Disclaimer: my niece was the lead female role. But that blood connection to the talent has nothing to do with the thoughts that follow. Well, maybe a little. After all, I was a very proud aunt. Back to the play, however. The play was “A Visitor,” a tragedy written in 1956 by Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt.
Here’s the basic story line, which I’m putting in quotes because I stole it from the school’s press release (Disclaimer: written by my niece): “After forty-six long years, Claire Zachanassian returns to her hometown of Guellen with more than just her prosthetic limbs; she is wealthy, embittered and thirsty for justice. The impoverished Guelleners who remember young Clara, desperately hope for Claire to recognize the financial plight of Guellen and are in shock when Claire announces she has returned to give the town one million dollars- if they kill the object of her hatred and vengeance- her former lover, Alfred Ill. She has returned to “buy herself justice.” Appalled, the townspeople refuse her offer, claiming that they would rather live in poverty than “have blood on their hands.” Claire announces with assurance that she’ll wait, and at once Guellen is swept up into a moral dilemma as they weigh both morality and prosperity and seek to define “justice” for themselves.“
A story of money and murder unrolled on the stage, beautifully executed by the play’s cast and crew. Kudos to the next generation for this accomplishment alone. My ardor for the next generation, however, goes beyond this artistic admiration. This play was loaded with deep meaning, tough questions. My husband and I talked as we drove home of all the questions that this play triggered: How vulnerable to temptation are each of us, really? How do we rationalize what we do? What is justice and who gets to decide its dispensation? Is money the root of all evil? Is poverty the root of all evil? What is guilt and who among us is or is not guilty? What role does the church have in steering moral order? What role do the humane professions have in steering moral order? When and how should injustice be fought? At what point is surrender the only response to injustice? Is injustice really injust and is justice really just? To what degree are our lives shaped by personal choice and to what degree are they forced into a specific shape through the action of others? In what way is it essential to transcend from the physical concrete to an abstract ideal; in what way is it dangerous?
My sister (niece’s mom, proud mom) told me that these actors didn’t just perform the play, but that they understood the issues this play was exploring. They had wrestled with its questions, as well as rehearsed its acts. I believed her. How could they have performed so convincingly if they hadn’t had a clue? Maybe the answers many of them came up with would be different than the ones I would come up with. Maybe I could learn something from listening to their insights after six weeks of living with the play.
Here is one reason for my ardor for the next generation: a capacity and a willingness to engage in difficult questions such as this play raised. And it’s not just this play, but something I’ve observed at multiple times with other members of this demographic group. Additional disclaimer: I have two sons in this next generation.
When I was a junior in high school, a long time ago, we put on the play, ”Carousel.“ I had just a teeny tiny part, a random townsperson/choir member. We had fun but I don’t remember having to think very hard.