Der Zuschauer

A Journal of Essays and Reportage on Drama, History, and Literature

Posts Tagged ‘Stanley Richardson

Poems by Stanley Richardson from the German of Georg Heym

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Berlin I

Forcefully, barrels roll up from the belly
Of the dark warehouse onto the high barge,
The tug-boat draws close. The Lion’s mane of smoke
Hangs sooty below on the oily water.

Two steamers come by with brass bands;
Their funnels cut sharp into the arches of the bridge.
Smoke, soot, stench lies on the filthy surge
Near the tannery with the shit-brown skin.

At each bridge, where underneath,
We make our destination, the signals
Sound like drums growing in the night.

We gratify ourselves slowly by the canal
In the garden. In the idyl afterwards
We see the gigantic smokestack’s torch of night.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Berlin II

The raised roadside, on which we lay
Was white from dust. We saw in the road
Countless torrents of people, great crowds,
And we saw the cosmopolitan city towering above.

Packed motor coaches forced themselves through the crowd,
Little paper flags were pushed out on the sides.
There were buses covered and open,
Automobiles, smoke, and the Armageddon of horns.

All headed to a great sea of stone.

Still, towards the west we saw down long roads
Tree after tree after tree,
And in them the filigree of the leafless crowns.

The round sun hung huge at the edge of heaven,
And red beams shot through the evening’s course.
In every head lay the dream of light.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Berlin III

Chimneys stand in great open space
On a winter’s day, and hold up their burden,
The black skies’ darkening palace,
As a golden step burns its lower edge.

In the distance, between leafless trees, many a house,
Fences and sheds, where the cosmopolitan city lessens,
And on frozen tracks, a long freight train
Laboriously drags its heavy self along.

A poor graveyard juts out, black, stone on stone,
The dead appear from the red destruction,
Out of their hole. They smell like strong wine.

They sit roped along a wall, their caps
From Rusland down along the fleshless temples;
They sing the Marseillaise, that old song of tumult.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Evening

Sunken, deep, the day, in purple-crimson,
The river is awash, white, immensely smooth.
A sail comes; it raises itself out of the boat
And greatly spreads the ship’s silhouette.

On each island the autumn forest rises
With red tree-tops becoming clear in the air.
And from the ravine’s darkening depths
The forests’ sounds ring out like the rustling strings of the zither.

Darkness in the the east is pouring out
Like blue wine rushes out of the fallen urn
And in the distance, in the high night,
A black greatcoat flowing round, shadows an Attic tragic boot.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Robespierre: Where Is Reason Now?

He moans a short time. The eyes stare down
At the wagon’s straw. The mouth masticates white foam,
He draws it back in swallowing through the cheeks.
His feet hang naked through two struts of wood.

At each jolt of the wagon he flies upwards.
His chained arms then whistle like bells.
One hears children’s happy laughter ring out.
Their mother lifts them up out of the crowd.

Someone tickles his leg; he notices nothing.
The wagon stops. He looks about himself, sees
At the street’s end, the black blade of justice.

The ashen-grey forehead is daubed with sweat,
The mouth distorts itself awfully in the face.
One waits for the screams. Still one hears no sound.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Hunger

Hunger commands a dog, the more he closes
His red mouth. The blue tongue casts
Itself in and out. He rolls in dust, he slobbers
On withered grass, which he has rectified from sand.

His empty throat is like a great door;
Inside fire trickles slowly, drop, drop,
Which in the belly burns. Then an icy hand
Grows around the scorching gullet.

He staggers through steam. The sun is a spot,
A red oven door. A greenish half moon leads
A dance before his eyes. The dog is gone.

A black hole yawns; cold stares from it.
He falls down yet still feels as the terror
With frozen fists constricts his throat.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Last Watch

How vague is your sleep,
And your hands so heavy.
You are already far from here,
And you listen no more to me.

Under the flickering light,
You are so sad and old,
And your lips are ashen,
Caught in everlasting rigidity.

Already in the morning quiet,
And perhaps in the air
There is still the rustling of garlands
And a scent of decomposition.

However, the nights are deserted
Now, year upon year upon year,
Here, where your head lies now,
And lightly, forever, where your breath was.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Just Now the Days Go Lightly

Just now the days go lightly
In the gentle red of evening
And the hedges are thinning out,
Towers stay put in the cities,
And the houses are carefully painted.

And the moon has gone to sleep,
With its enormous white head
Behind a huge cloud,
And the streets go pale
Through the houses and the gardens.

The hanged men, however, swing
Fondly up in the hills
In their black silhouette,
And the executioner lies sleeping
With his arm around the clammy axes.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

The Suicides

Mad among trees where the branches snap,
They are frightened at every clammy step,
Sneering and rotten, and in shock as
A white fire flickers in their foreheads.

Already, their life is flat like out of a pan,
Steaming in the grey air and made blank.
They see themselves squinting, cross-wise,
Their eyes in blue water run completely together.

Their ears now hear many muffled whispers;
They stand as shadows in the darkening passage,
And weak voices come towards them,
Growing louder in each pond and every tree.

Hands brush against the weight of their necks,
Lashing forwards on their stiff backs.
They go wavering as on a narrow bridge.
And no more risk trying to grasp the void.

In the expanse of evening a dark snow falls,
And as tears will cover your beard,
Thorns and barbs want to grab,
And laugh lightly with the cracking head.

As fish hang themselves in a net,
The compassionate moon bursts out with great light.
The suicides stamp with long, boney legs-
In darkness, they are the scraps of dead things.

Stanley Richardson,
Adapted from the German of Georg Heym.

Copyright 2012. Der Zuschauer.

Written by herrdramaturg

March 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Georg Trakl: Die Ratten

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In Hof scheint weiss der herbstliche Mond. [an s-set]
Vom Dachrand fallen phantastische Schatten.
Ein Schweigen in leeren Fenstern wohnt;
Da tauchen leise herauf die Ratten

Und huschen pfeifend hier und dort
Und ein graulicher Dunsthauch wittert [umlaut]
Ihnen nach aus dem Abort,
Den geisterhaft der Mondschein durch zitteert

Und sie keifen vor Gier wie toll
Und erfullen Haus und Scheunen, [umlaut]
Die von Korn und Fruchten voll, [umlaut]
Eisige Winde im Dunkel greinen.

Written by herrdramaturg

January 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Polemicists, Contrarians, Men who live in history

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Dear Readers,
I think we all live in history, whether we know it or not. We here on Guam Island have never tried to be viciously up to date. For the best obituaries for Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens we recommend our sister publication, Arts and Letter Daily, and its blog lists. You may well know just whom of the above is Havel and Hitchens; we will let you guess on the third man. You remember the third man, don’t you? And who played the zither? Did he do this in Vienna or Hollywood? Anyway, Ekaterina Degot is said to be at work on a piece about what Leon Trotsky, from beyond the grave, would have had to say about both Hitchens and Havel. We would have loved to have had Hitchens on Havel but time and space did not allow that to happen. Maxim Gorky, the 3rd, is writing a piece about Havel’s Letters to Olga, and how prison is somewhat, very like, being homeless in Central Square, Cambridge. Then, there is Stanley Richardson’s memory piece, Drama in the Fall of 1989, which will touch on Hitchens, Havel, Gorbachev, Socialism With a Human Face, Clement Ottwald and his missing hat. Dear Reader, are you old enough to know what a Tribant is? Also, can any of you help us with the derivation of this phrase, “We live in History”?

Max Klinger,
Editor in Chief
Der Zuschauer
Copyright 2011.

Stanley Richardson on Cicero’s Selected Letters

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It’s not that I’ve given up on writing for Der Zuschauer, or that this Gorkyland rubbish has prevented myself or Ekaterina Degot or Christian Grabbe, or even Max Klinger, from writing other stuff. What has happened over and above oceans and time and western man? What has happened about socialism and promiscuity? What has happened to the overall philosophy of history? I’ve recently read Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve, and before that Lucretius, and now I’ve obtained Cicero’s Selected Letters, as published by Oxford World’s Classics. I’m trying to get more done on my play about Ovid in exile; I’m trying to get more done on my translations of George Heym’s Poems. Hell, I’d like to get home for the holidays myself, but everybody’s dead except my daughters, and they belong to their mothers. So where is home and what are the holidays? Was Thomas Jefferson a Deist or an Atheist? I’ve also been reading Vol.2 of Samuel Beckett’s Letters, the French and the English. It seems to really be true that all women are size-queens, even after they’ve begun to worry about being told that their tits are sagging, and they don’t even realize that men pay attention to “dropped asses” as well. Or is all this covered in Cosmo? Still, enough with Higher Powers, my Thanksgiving was absolutely awful, and Christmas promises to be dryadust shite as well. I have, inexplicably, lofted myself upon Facebook (whywhywhy?), and I have no desire to make contact with anyone from my past, except the dead, and what would I say to them? I think failed marriages are an appalling thing to hang around one’s neck. How do you explain failure to people who don’t admit they’ve ever failed? If I could look at all the women I’ve seen naked during the course of the last 58 years, would I have any idea who half of them were? Would it matter? Do I care?

Then there is this question of failed marriages. This hoo-ha about to have and to hold until death do us part, because I think women are the big liars; I think it’s the broads who lie from the beginning and who continue to lie until they’ve found a fool big enough to buy all the bull-pizzle hogwash until death do us part, and they get the money to cover all the failed tits and the collapsed asses. “He can have his library, if he can afford a place to put it.”

Does it not strike anyone just how crude the expression Facebook is? Why not Twatbook? or Dickbook? or Assbook? I could continue, but perhaps I shouldn’t. I may well have to lean my head out of a chariot and have it lopped off by one of Mark Antony’s gladiator-minions like Marcus Tullius Cicero did, and there’s an end of me.

My best to thee and thine in the Holiday Season. Respectfully, Dr. Stanley Richardson.

Then there is this dark-star, black-hole depression, which I can’t seem to get out of. Do anyone of you know what a catchword is? Which makes one wonder about headword, and reading in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a A Young Man, made me notice the run-together words of current computerese are prefigured in that novel.

Then there is this question about whether we can ever use enough commas for comprehension in today’s haywire, incompetent prose, and in despite of Samuel Beckett’s detestation of semi-colons, aren’t they fucking spiffy? I like hyphenation too, don’t you? Except for women’s last names. Then they are tedious. Yes?

Stanley Richardson
Copyright 2011 Der Zuschauer

Written by herrdramaturg

December 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Max Klinger on Reading

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Here on Guam Island I keep a female sea turtle as a walking companion; I call her Betty Page. She is polylingual and a great reader; she has just begun a romp through the Collected Novels of Thomas Love Peacock. Betty is generally good company, if a bit slow. She never nags me about drinking; nor does she ever make an issue out of the “tone in my voice.” No stunner in a bikini, she can pop the cork on a Phalz Riesling with aclarity. I have, as you will expect, been reading myself. Last week I finished George Saintsbury’s History of Criticism (3 vols., 1,675 pages), and believe me, it was a quick and pleasant read. At present I am flying through Peter Whitebrook’s William Archer, a biography of the eminent dramatic critic and early Ibsen champion and translator. Other volumes cover my desk. Beside various editions of the TLS and the NYRB, I have been looking at Granta, Aliens #114. You might look at Philip Oltermann’s “The B.O.G. Standard.”  The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism (Fall 2010) has a very lively conversation with Gordon Rogoff by Bert Cardullo, called “The Elusive Object and the Fading Craft of Theatre Criticism.” Less interesting is Dean Wilcox’ “Criticism as Creative Act” which relies on the usual tedious suspects, among them: Barthes, Derrida, Merleau-Ponty, Rorty, and Eco. Its all about “the commonality of process between theory and practice, between performance and analysis.” Samuel Beckett is quoted as well, but unfortunately it is not the one about his one great ambition: “sitting around drunk on my ass all day reading Dante.”

The special double issue of Comparative Drama (Winter 2010/Spring 2011) devoted to “translation, performance, and reception of Greek Drama, 1900-1960” is notable and we can recomend two pieces: Simon Perris’ article on Gilbert Murray’s Trojan Women and World Peace, and, Niall W. Slater’s article on Harley Granville Barker’s staging of Murray’s The Trojan Women and Iphigenia in Tauris in the Yale Bowl in 1915, and at other Ivy League colleges. Other essays promise: Robert Davis’ “Is Mr. Euripides a Communist? The Federal Theatre Project’s 1938 Trojan Incident,” and Michael Simpson’s” Oedipus, Suez, and Hungary: T. S. Eliot’s Tradition and The Elder Statesman.” One can’t help remarking, happily, about the absence of jargoneering in the journal, and wondering at the paucity of material in most all academic articles, 8-10 pages, and out. I’m meant to be reviewing Who Is This Schiller Now? Essays on His Reception and Significance, eds. High, Martin, and Oellers; a reissue of Stefan Zweig’s Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: the struggle with the daemon; and New Essays on Diderot, ed. Fowler, from the Cambridge Press. Dr. Stanley Richardson has sent me a strange collection: Ein Molotow-Cocktail auf Fremder Bettkante: Lyrik der siebziger/achtziger Jahre von Dichtern aus der DDR. But then he may well be mad as a hatter by now. We enjoyed his recent piece on Wallace Shawn but noted in it signs of alienation, disaffection, and an aridity of soul that makes us think the man needs a glass now and then, and a companion like my Betty Page. We’ve invited him to come out and ponder the great oceans of the world, but he always remarks on his daughters, and says he cannot leave the Northeast Corrider. Herr Doktor tells us he is reading through the New Oxford Anthology of 18th Century Verse. Others books on my desk include Writing the New Berlin: The German Capital in Post-Wall Literature, and Arthur Schnitzler: Three Last Plays, trans. G. J. Weinberger.

Dear Readers, All Our Best to You.

A Seat on the Aisle: Aunt Dan and Lemon, 2011

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Finicky, Critical…Even Angry

by Stanley Richardson

I recently went to a revival of Wally Shawn’s Aunt Dan and Lemon, presented by the Whistler in the Dark Theatre Company, at the Piano Factory. This small, young, gifted company has a very impressive, ambitious production history, including multiple presentations of Howard Barker plays, single plays by Eric Overmyer, Deborah Levy, Dario Fo, the immortal Snoo Wilson, and the highly acclaimed Tales From Ovid, based on the Ted Hughes’ translations. In fact if one were to judge artistic directors and their programming on intellectual substance, artistic audacity, and the adroit realization of “highly theatrical and physically inventive plays,” then one could argue Meg Taintor is the most successful such in Boston. Of course the Piano Factory theatre is tiny (maybe 40 seats), the casts are almost always too young, the lighting makes one fear the onset of glacoma, and the toilet situation is atrocious. Still, one cannot reach towards “greatness” in the theatre without the aspiring to such–and with the brio and gravitas that perhaps only the young can manage without trepidation.

I am a dramaturg who rarely goes to the theatre, as much from a sort of theatrical misanthropy as for any other concrete reason, like money; and there are so many concrete reasons for not going to the theatre in the 21st century. However, I have long thought Shawn a major American dramatist, have written an encyclopedia article on him (Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama), and helped, somewhat, to arrange for a BBC production of his play, The Fever. I also, long ago in the late 1980s, saw an early production of Aunt Dan and Lemon, directed by David Wheeler, at Adrian Hall’s Trinity Repertory Theatre. I had been startled, a little bit dazzled, and also outraged at that play and that production. People in London, at the world premiere at the Royal Court Theatre, had shouted out in anger and outrage. Down in Providence I could understand why–but I had not shouted out from the audience. We theatre-goers in America are a well-behaved bunch. The lights go down and we shut up, we behave, we don’t say a word. That’s why when my colleague Matt Mayerchak, suggested going to Whistler’s revival, I thought, “Yes, lets go, lets see about the outrage and the shouting, let’s see if Shawn had wanted the yelling.” I thought, let’s go and see about what might, as Shawn himself has written, “explain the nasty atmosphere that hovered in those rooms when my plays were being performed.”

Then, after all, here was a play that engaged with history. Aunt Dan and Lemon posits one character that admires the Nazis for their successful efficiencey in the extermination of Jews and another who admires Henry Kissenger and his courage in overseeing the bombing of North Vietman. I have long encouraged history plays, plays that grapple with historical characters, eschew costume melodrama, and manage to circumvent around the dreaded “topical,” and so too avoid becoming dated. So, I thought will dated topicality preclude a sucessful revival of a historical drama? Aunt Dan and Lemon first appeared in 1985, well after the notorious last days of Saigon and the end of the Viet Nam War itself. The aforesaid Henry Kissinger went on to counsel George Bush, Jr., on his Iraq War as he had his father’s first Iraq War. In fact Christopher Hitchens and othe intellectuals have been calling for Kissinger to be tried as a war criminal for years. There was even a mysterious vist by Bush, Jr., to Mongolia. Who knew what time itself would do to history?

This question of history and the resultant questions of morality did not escape the Whistler production team. Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary writes somewhat confusedly in her program notes: “Then, two weeks before our first rehearsal, while I was working on the play in my living room, the United States invaded Libya.” Of course, neither the US or NATO invaded Libya. There were airstrikes; airstrikes continue, but no soldiers “invaded” Libya. But still, it was real history happening. “That night it was all anyone wanted to talk about. Everyone had these polarizing views of being in yet another war–and how disapointed they were in the goverment.” So one sees that hazy “history” leads to moral fog, and not only can moral fog lead to bad art, as Shawn would acknowledge, it can also be dangerous as he would undoubtedly point out as well.

O’Leary continues: “As I began to contribute to the conversation, suddenly there was Aunt Dan’s voice coming through my mouth. I was making the case that we couldn’t possibly know what the war was about or what decisions went into declaring a war.” No war was or has been declared. “We didn’t know what might happen if the United States didn’t get involved and how many different countries and conflicts our government was juggling at any given moment.” The real fact is that astute, alert citizens largely know or knew. O’Leary goes further: “Moreover, we didn’t want to know.” She continues histrionically: “Oh my God, was I becoming a Republican? Was I losing my moral, liberal superiority? Who was I now? As I collected my thoughts…I felt oddly balanced. My world view felt a little more open and I realized I was ready to start tackling this production.” Indeed, ready world-historically, so it would seem.

Dear Reader, I didn’t get to the Director’s Notes before watching and listening to Aunt Dan and Lemon. What if I had? O’Leary suggest we think about “the yard, the neighbor, the family and the world. Why is is it okay for us to push poorer people out of neighborhoods so we can build high-rise condos and Starbucks but not okay for us to invade countries because we want their resources? Why can we create laws that determine right and wrong and ask our government to enforce them on us, but it’s not okay for our military to offer the same services to smaller countries? Why are we allowed to kill criminals who have gone thru [sic] the justice system, but not people who have betrayed our own moral codes?”

These remarks, Dear Reader, are intellectually specious and morally confused. If one argues, as I will, that there is a deliberate pedagogic transfer of specious logic and dogma from the character, Aunt Dan, (the Kissenger questions) to the character, Lemon, and her own logic and dogma regarding the death camps and the Shoah, then what must one think of the result of the play’s invective in a period such as this one, rife with nondeclared wars, terrorism, the death of Bin Laden? If one doesn’t begin to look at the poisonous pedagogic transfers that come out of Shawn’s play? We go from Shawn to Aunt Dan to Lemon to director and audience. Specious moral argument begats confusion and intellectual fog. And so as Bridget O’Leary suggests “sit forward and enjoy.” Let’s look closely at Shawn’t play, its pity and fear, or the lack thereof.

Critics have suggested that with Aunt Dan and Lemon Shawn began to give up on traditional dramatic structure altogether, largely dispensing with dialogue and plot and depending instead on direct address and this is a dramaturgical method crucial to the arguments in this essay. Such a method can be found in most of Shawn’s work: A Thought in Three Parts (1976) and Marie and Bruce (1978) were written before Aunt Dan and Lemon. The Fever (1991), which followed, certainly bolsters this contention. Originally conceived as a piece to be presented in apartments to small groups, the two-hour monologue was performed initially by Shawn himself in both private and public venues. The Designated Mourner (1995), using three vivid characters, continues mostly in direct address. Finally, his later play, Grasses of a Thousands Colors (2009), begins characteristically: “Well. Hello, everybody. Hello! Hello there! I’m just so flattered that you’ve come to see me here this evening and that you’re actually going to allow me to read you some sections from my memoirs–I hardly know what to say except, ‘Thank you. I’m grateful.'” And in the premiere of this play Shawn delivers these lines. In the premiere of Aunt Dan and Lemon Shawn performed the parts of the father, Freddie, and Jaspar.

Some critics have suggested that the plays are not theatrical at all. This perhaps ignores the reason for Shawn’s reduction of dramaturgy to single, speaking voices: the result is a focus on content. This is a formal accomplishement that allows for sustained and relentless examination of central moral and ethical issues. They provoke thought. Dear Reader or Dear Audience Member, you are button-holed; Wallace Shawn is pulling on your coat about something. The direct address allows us to dispense with the concept or dodge that the appalling ideas expressed in Aunt Dan and Lemon are contained within the characterizations. The possible escape from “But the mere fact of killing human beings in order to creat a certain way of life is not something that exactly distinguishes the Nazis from anybody else. That’s just absurd. When any people feels that its hopes for a desirable future are threatened by some other group, they always do the very same thing,” One wants to stand up and ask the actor playing Lemon, “Were the Nazis threatened by the Jews in Germany?”

I have seen three plays that led me to feel, to believe, I was in the presence of genuine evil. The first time was in London in 1982, when I was on a honeymoon and went to see the great English actor, Alec McCowen, play Adolf Hitler in Christopher Hampton’s stage adaptation of the George Steiner’s novella, The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. The play, the bulk of which is less than stellar, tells the story of a group of Jewish Nazi hunters, who pursue a rumor that Hitler, A.H., is alive in an Amazon jungle. They come upon the now very-aged Hitler in a clearing, a defiant, disturbingly articulate madman/genuis. “You must not let him speak…his tongue is like no other.” But let him speak they do; aware that others, the Israelis among them, are on their heels and apt to spirit A.H. away, the group decides to try him in the jungle before this can happen. In his defense A.H. makes four points.

Firstly, Hitler states he took his doctrines regarding the Jews from them: he derived his own ideas of a master Aryan race from the Jews and their desire to separate themselves from the other “unclean” races. “My racism is a parody of yours, a hungry imitation.” Secondly, he justifies the final solution stating that “the virus of utopia had to be stopped.” Thirdly, A.H. reminds his captors he was not the originator of totalitarianism and its crimes. “Stalin had perfected genocide when I was still a nameless scribbler in Munich.” Further, he points out that the number of lives lost in his actions are dwarfed by the various atrocities committed elsewhere in the world: Africa, China, Russia. Fourthly, and finally, Hitler maintains that the Third Reich resulted in the state of Israel, that he is the Messiah, whose actions were allowed by God, in order to bring his chosen people home. “Should you not honor me who has made…Zion a reality?” At this point the indian witness acting as jury shouts out “proven” and the helicoptor sounds of the outside world close the play. As mentioned earlier the frame story is less than satisfactory and I remember saying to my bride that the dramatist had waited too long to bring Hitler on. However, then came Alec McCowan to deliver A.H.’s tirade, and the profound sense of evil that came into that small theatre was when I realised I was following the logic of the argument, and thinking yes, yes, yes, and I was nodding in approval of a profoundly perverted and specious logic. George Steiner, who is Jewish, has made there arguments about Israel and Zion elswhere. The play was highly controversial, although there were no shouted objections the night I saw the play. At the end there was no applause, only the stunned silence of a genuinely shocked audience. My wife and I returned to the Savoy Hotel, and I remember sitting there drinking red burgundy and saying: “A.H was a dramatic character inside a dramatic context: A mock trial in the jungles of South America. It was no different than listening to Macbeth after the murder of Lady McDuff and the children. Alec McCowan is a great actor; one must be shocked into pity and fear: that is what catharsis means.” Still I have never forgotten how far I fell into the logic of pure evil.

I have seen King Lears that did not break my heart; Richard the Thirds that did not appall me; I have seen a Bacchae that made me laugh out loud, Lord Pentheus’ head being carried about on a stick by his mother. These failed projects did not stun nor shock because tragedy was not accomplished, either because of incapacity on the part of the actors, or blighted mise en scene. Many elements can spoil a tragedy. However, the Medea of Fiona Shaw, directed by Deborah Warner in the touring production of the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, did shock me: the murder of children by a mother offstage. We saw no violence, nor dead children; we saw only, children being brought to slaughter; we saw only bloody knives, and bloody hands, bloody clothing, much as one does in watching the scene just after Macbeth has slaughtered Duncan in his sleep. Here there was great acting and great mise en scene, and great dramaturgy. I sat appalled, shocked to the very marrow; while, next to me sat weeping, shuddering pity, a wife and mother of a small child, my own wee daughter. And, of course again, Medea and her sons, her husband, are all characters in a drama.

Twice I have watched Aunt Dan and Lemon and been stunned and shocked, not so much with emotion as with intellectual fury and outrage. These are the reasons why. In the Whistler production Jen O’Connor, as Lemon, opens the play. Her performance is assured and remarkable. Her voice is soothing and confident, in the moments most disturbing, genuinely brillant. Lemon is in an armchair; in this same armchair she will close out the play. All of the dramatic fragments, soliloquies, asides, tirades, and monologues are contained within this one direct address to the audience. “Hello, dear audience, dear good people who have taken yourselves out for a special treat, a night at the theater. Hello, little children. How sweet you are, how innocent. If everyone were just like you, perhaps the world would be nice again, perhaps we all would be happy again.” Note the coy, patronizing tone of this. It is a soft beginning as theatrical beginnings go. It is somewhat awkward but after all complimentary, soothing, like all bedtime stories are. Still, isn’t there something odd about the cosiness; isn’t there something odd, and well, smarmy? It is a dear audience, people who are good and dear. The audience is addressed as sweet, innocent children, perhaps. And if everyone in the world were like you, Dear Audience. perhaps the world would be nice again. But of course the audience isn’t and never could be just sweet like children, and perhaps you, Dear Audience, are part of the problem. Maybe, in fact you are the problem. So the play might just be an attack on our smug, uncomprehending self-regard, our assumed innocence and sweetness. “Dear people, come inside into my little flat, and I’ll tell you everything about my life.”

Lemon is 25 and she is telling us a story in order teach us a lesson, just as she has been taught by Aunt Dan and her lessons about Henry Kissinger and the bombing of North Viet Nam. Lemon’s story, her aside to the audience, is a version of what Aunt Dan did for her. “I used to read mysteries–detective novels–to put myself to sleep.” One might remember that mysteries, detective novels, are murder mysteries, they are, in their own way, soothing stories about murder and mayhem, which help put people asleep all over the world. “Lately I’ve been reading about the Nazi killing of the Jews instead.” And so, Dear Reader, we learn what is at the bottom of our little bedtime story. “There are a lot of books about the Nazi death camps. I was reading one last night about the camp called Treblinka.”

“In Treblinka, according to the book, they had these special sheds where the children and women undressed and had their hair taken off, and then they had a sort of narrow outdoor passageway, lined by fences, that led from these sheds all the way out to the gas chambers, and they called that passageway the Road to Heaven. And when the children and women were undressing in the sheds, the guards addressed them quite politely, and what the guards said was that they were going to be taken outside for a shower and disinfection–which happens to be a phrase you read so often in these books, again and again, ‘a shower and disinfection.’ ‘A shower and disinfection.’ The guards told them that they didn’t need to be worried about their clothes at all, because very soon they would be coming back to this very same room, and no one would touch their clothes in the meanwhile. But then once the women and children stepped out of the sheds onto the Road to Heaven, there were other guards waiting for them, and those guards used whips, and the women and children were made to run rapidly down the road and all the way into the chambers, which were tiled with orange and white tiles and looked like showers, but which were really killing chambers. And then the doors would be slammed shut and the poison would be pumped in until everyone was dead, twenty minutes later, or half an hour later.”

Now if there is one story that most people have heard about the Nazis, it is this one about the death camps and the gas. Note for this particular murder story it is about women and children, not men, except as guards, and perhaps this makes the story appalling but also cozy, more comfortable. The Road to Heaven might as well be the Yellow Brick Road. There is nothing wrong with being naked amongst women and children; their hair is “taken off” as opposed to brutal shearing. There are the good guards and the bad guards. And then Lemon explains about the humanity of the good guards and the Nazis in general, even while involved directly in mass murder. The sweet and innocent will only remain good for so long. The bedtime story tone disapears altogether.

“So apparently the Nazis had learned that it was possible to keep everyone calm and orderly when they were inside the sheds, but that as soon as they found themselves outside, naked, in that narrow passageway, they instinctively knew what was happening to them, and so guards were stationed there with whips to reduce the confusion to a sort of minimum. The strategy was to deal with them politely for as long as possible, and then to use whips when politeness no longer sufficed. Today, of course, the Nazis are considered dunces, because they lost the war, but it has to be said that they managed to to accomplish a great deal of what they wanted to do. They were certainly successfual against the Jews.”

So, having dumped the poison in as part of the special treat, Lemon goes on with her story telling, and who is she? She looks to be in her early 20s and drinks lots of celery and lime juice. She lives modestly on her parent’s savings; they have both died early in their 50s; her father was American and her mother English. Lemon doesn’t work, spends lots of time “just doing nothing, looking at the wall.” She doesn’t like television or radio, no crossword puzzles, no visitors, doesn’t follow sports, and she definitely doesn’t follow the news. “I hate reading the daily papers, and actually people who do read them in a way seem like idiots to me, because they get widly excited about every new person or thing that comes along, and they think that the world is about to enormously improve, and then a year later they’re shocked to learn that that new thing or that new person that was going to make everything wonderful all of a sudden was in fact just nothing or he was just a crook like everyone else, which is exactly what I would probably have guessed already.” This is also exactly how Lemon responds to Aunt Dan and all the people she introduces to Lemon. She gets wildly excited and thinks the world is about to enormously improve.

“Of course I haven’t lived much of a life, and I would never say I had. Most of my ‘sex,’ if you can call it that, has been with myself. And so many of my experiences have had to do with being sick, like visiting different doctors, falling down on my face in public buildings, throwing up in hallways in strange places, and things like that. So in a way I’m sitting here living in the past, and I don’t really have much of a past to live in. And also, of course, I should say that I’m not a brilliant person, and I’ve never claimed to be one. And actually most of the people I’ve known as an adult haven’t been that brillant either, which happens to suit me fine, because I don’t have the energy to deal with anybody brillant today.”

But what about those poeple in the past, were they brillant? Mother and Father? Aunt Dan and Henry Kissinger? Aren’t all the people in one’s past somehow brillant? Older, adult like one wants to grow up and be like, not old and past it like one never wants to be. You remember Mindy and Raimondo and the Brasilia Chantelle. “They had a vibraphone, a banjo, a sax, and a harp.” You remember Andy, Freddie, Flora and June? Not your ordinary combo–eh? Do you remember what we did last summer?

“…Because my most intense memories really go back to my childhood, but not so much to things that I did: instead I remember things I was told. And one of the times that was most intense for me–and that I’ve been thinking about especially in the last few days–is a certain summer I want to tell you about. And to describe that summer I have to tell you a little about my background and go a bit farther back into things. And you know, people talk about life as if the only things that matter are your own experiences, the things you saw or the things you did or the things that happened to you. But you see, to me that’s not true. It’s not true at all. To me what matters really is the people you knew, the things you learned from them, the things that influenced you deeply and made you what you are. So I may not have done very much in my life. And yet I really feel I’ve had a great life, because of what I’ve learned from the people I knew.”

The schwarmerei, the melange, the fragmented dramatic sketches of Aunt Dan and Lemon, the afore mentioned stage business of soliloquies, monologues, tirades, and asides, are, well, sketchy, insubstantial, distracting. But distracting they are meant to be. We have Mother and Father and Lemon’s eating disorder at an early age. We have “using your brain,” orgy parties, gambling miracles, Americans in England, prostitution as LuLu life-force. “They’re all academics, they’re scholars, they’re writers…” We have Oxford at dawn, reading English poetry aloud. “The sound of her voice was so beautiful. It was so soothing. It made everyone feel calm and at peace.”

Then, of course, there is Raimondo’s murder onstage. Mindy drugs his drink, blows him onstage. Then she ties him up and strangles him with her stockings. We’re meant to be appalled at this, but of course Raimondo is a chauvinist pig and a liar, if not an outright moral scumbag, so we are meant, I guess, to enjoy this demise of a police informer. This latter piece of sleazy catharsis pops out of one of Aunt Dan’s stories; but the stories are not all gloom and schadenfruede.

There are film houses at Oxford showing all night vampire movies on Saturday nights, “and of course all the students would bring these huge bottles of wine into the theatre with them…We’d sort of crawl out–dripping with blood…and then…we’d put on some record like Arnold Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night…I mean, Lemon, you know, that Transfigured Night could just make you squeal, it’s just as if Arnold Schoenberg was inside your dress and running his hands over your entire body.” Clearly, Lemon, as a child, was missing out on a lot of thing’s sensually.

The Whistler presentations of this material are sketchy as well. The drinks business alone (celery and lime juice, and extended booze bottles), is enough to make one despair of any sense of mise-en-scene. Slosh this, spill that, clink this. The necessity of doubling parts is made even less plausible in a tiny theatre like the Piano Factory, and the wing-it direction of the drinks business is duplicated in the indefinite orgy-lounging on the bed. Raimondo’s removal of Mindy’s stockings, the crotch-kissing, and the strangulation, all gain from awful proximity and the scene is a throat-scratching, cough-catching, gruesome bit of Grand-Guignol. The ensemble players in the production were Melissa Baroni, Scott Sweatt, Mac Young, Melissa Barker, and Alejandro Simoes

The most developed dramatic scenes of the play, the arguments over Henry Kissinger, between Lemon’s mother and Aunt Dan, also provide us with the one truly likeable person in the play, the mother, and she provides us, I think, with the one sensible direction to take after the close of play. The mother is played well by Baroni. Meg Taintor takes on the daunting role of Aunt Dan, and if less than incandescent through out, her performance has its stronger moments. It is clear in Aunt Dan’s earlier speeches to Lemon that she is suffering from mania bordering on dementia. “Now Lemon, I have to tell you something very important about myself…It is that I never–no matter how annoyed or angry I may be–I never, ever shout at a waiter. And as a matter of fact, I never shout at a porter or a clerk in a bank or any body else who is in a weaker position in society than me.” Who is Aunt Dan? Lemon tells us she is one of the youngest Americans to ever teach at Oxford, although none of her speeches would actually indicate she is an academic or scholar, except that mention of a porter. Her rants do indicate somekind of intelligence in desperate straits. “So now almost everyone who isn’t at least a minister of foreign affairs feels that there’s something wrong with what they do.” Perhaps, even, the academic teaching at Oxford feels this is so. “Each one feels I shouldn’t be a laborer, I shouldn’t be a clerk, I shouldn’t be a minor official! I’m better than that!” And the result of all this dissatisfaction with our mediocre places in life?

“So what’s going to happen? We’re going to start seeing these embittered typists typing up their documents incorrectly–and then passing them on to these embittered contractors, who will misintepret them to these huge armies of embittered carpenters and embittered mechanics, and a year later or two years later, we’re going to start seeing these ten-story buildings in every city collapsing to the ground, because each one of them is missing some crucial screw in some crucial girder. Buildings will collapse. Planes will come crashing out of the sky. Babies will be poisoned by bad baby food. How can it happen any other way?” Lemon, who hears this when she’s only eleven years old, remarks, “I would watch the wind gently playing with her hair.” Later after vampire films and transfigured nights we will hear about someone who was “at least a minister of foreign affairs.”

Henry Kissinger, who has recently turned 88, and published a sixteenth book, On China, turns out to be Aunt Dan’s hero and obsession. “Usually Aunt Dan didn’t care about politics. In fact I remember her saying, ‘When it comes to politics, I’m an ignoramous.’ But there were certain people who Aunt Dan really loved, and one of them was the diplomat Henry Kissinger, who was working for the American government at the time I was eleven. And it reached a kind of point that she was obssessed with Kissinger. When people would criticize him, she would really become upset.”

One wonders, how much did Aunt Dan know about this “cheerful bachelor in Washington and Hollywood…going out with lots of different girls.” Had she known his family had fled Germany in 1938 and ended up in the United States? Had she known he ended up in the US Army, and as a 22 year-old sergeant, fluent in German, went back to defeated Germany in 1945? Perhaps. “I don’t care if he goes out with beautiful girls or likes to ride around on a yacht with millionaires and sheikhs…Look at his face! Look at his fact! He can stay up night after night after night, having a wonderful time with beautiful girls, but he will always have that look on his face, my Lemon, that look of melancholy–that look that can’t be erased, because he has seen the power of evil in the world.”

The play, such as it is, does not make clear whether she knew about the 27 year-old Kissinger as an undergraduate at Harvard writing a 357 page senior honors thesis on “The Meaning of History.” We do learn she saw him once in person. “It was last winter, and I had a date to have lunch one day at this club in Washington. Well, as I entered the rather formal room where one waited for one’s luncheon partner in this rather disgusting, rather unbearable club–and I was waiting to meet a rather disgusting, rather unbearable friend, a member of the club–I saw, sitting in an armchair, reading a large manuscript, Henry Kissinger.” Now this crush Aunt Dan had was not unique, or particularly odd. John G. Stoessinger has noted in his The Anguish of Power, “There was a time when Henry Kissinger could do no wrong. While men around him crumbled, he went on to greater heights. Not only did he wield great power; he was also fervently admired, as a negotiator, he was compared to a magician. Next to him, great stars paled into insignicance in the political firmament. He was like a comet blazing brightly in a darkened sky.” Still, Aunt Dan has a crush.

“The boastful exuberance of the public Kissinger was nowhere to be seen in this private moment. Kissinger’s thoughts were not on himself, they were on what was written in that large manuscript–and from that same downward look you could tell that the manuscript was not some theoretical essay, not some analysis of something that happened a hundred years ago.” Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation was a study of the diplomacy of the early 19th century, about Metternich and Lord Castlereagh, and the 1815 Congress of Vienna, and its durable peace treaty, which left continental Europe in peace for 100 years. No, Aunt Dan insists this manuscript in Kissinger’s lap must be a “document describing some crucial problem which had to be dealt with by Kissinger soon…” In A World Restored Kissinger writes: “All the elements of Metternich’s later policy are already apparent in the period: the careful preparation, the emphasis on obtaining the widest possible moral concensus, the utilization of the advesary’s psychology to destroy him utterly.” Whether Aunt Dan knew this material or not one can’t help notice how powerfully and astutely it describes Wallace Shawn’s own dramaturgy.

Whatever the basis of Aunt Dan’s obsession with Henry Kissinger, what matters in the play is that it provides for a radical critique of American foreign policy in the 1970s, the 1980s, coming on up to the Arab Spring and events in the Middle-East: Libya, Iraq, and further east, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. “I mean, all right now, Lemon, you know, let’s face it–we all know there are countries in this world that are not ideal. They’re poor. They’re imperfect. Their governments are corrupt. Their water is polluted. But the people in some of these countries are very happy–they have their own farms, they have their own shops, their own political parties, their own newspapers, their own lives that they’re leading quietly day by day. And in a lot of these countries the leaders have always been friendly to us, and we’ve been friendly to them and helped them and supported them.” Is this Iran in 1979? Is this Viet Nam in 1973? Or Libya in 2011?

“But then what often happens is that there are always some young intellectuals in all of these countries, and they’ve studied economics at the Sorbonne or Berkeley, and they come home, and they decide to become rebels, and they take up arms, and they eventually throw out the leaders who were friendly to us, and they takeover the whole country. Well, pretty soon they start closing the newspapers, and they confiscate the farms, and they set up big camps way out in the contry. And people start disappearing. People start getting shot. Well now, this is exactly the kind of situation that Kissinger faces every day. What should he do?” This is exactly the kind of situation Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, faces today in Yemen and Bahrain and in Libya.

“What should he do? Should he give some support to our old friends who are trying to fight these young rebels? Or should he just accept the situation and let the young rebels do what they like?” Similar grave questions faced Present Bill Clinton in Ruwanda and the Balkan nations. “Well Lemon, do you know–it’s as if these journalists don’t care what he does, so long as they can think of a way to put it in some horrible light! I mean, does he decide to let the rebels do what they like? Well then, everyone will say, ‘This is very unpleasant! All our old friends are being rounded up and slaughtered! Why didn’t Kissinger do something to protect these people?’ But does he decide instead to help our old friends and fight the young rebels? Well then, he is a bully! He’s a thug! He’s a warped, raging, vengeful pig who’s trying to show off his masculinity by staging a battle with these pitiful, weak, tiny rebels!” All these are sound remarks about appalling situations. However Aunt Dan is an hysterical person, an emotionally and intellectually unstable person, speaking to an eleven year-old. “You know, it’s the hypocrisy of it all that makes me want to just crawl to the toilet and vomit, Lemon. I can’t belive people can sink so low!”

The eleven-year old decides to become a love slave for Henry Kissinger. “As for myself, the truth was that I was quite prepared to serve Kissinger as his peronal slave–I imagined he liked young girls as slaves.” But Lemon begins to realize that a lot of people didn’t see Kissinger in the same light as she and Aunt Dan did, her own mother for instance. “In fact, mother didn’t like him even at all–just not one bit–and throughout that summer, when Mother and Aunt Dan would chat in the garden in the afternoons, whenever the conversation turned to the subject of Kissinger…things would suddenly become extremely tense. And, naturally, at the time I wasn’t in a position to see these conversations as steps toward a final split between Mother and Aunt Dan but that, of course, was exactly what they were.”

Lemon’s mother is sound, consistent, and powerful on Henry Kissinger; her arguments could aptly apply to the Clintons or Barack Obama. In response to Aunt Dan’s question asking if she, the mother, thinks Kissinger likes “bombing a village full of poor peasants,” she replies, “Dan, if you’re asking whether I think he personally enjoys it–I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know him.”

“Well Dan, after all, there are people who for one reason or another…just can’t control their lust for blood, or they just give in literallly to that side of their nature…No, Dan, I don’t know him, really. I have no idea. I’m sure he believes that what he is doing is right–that he can’t avoid it…But you know, he could believe that he had to do it–he could feel that he was only striking out against a danger, an immediate, terrible danger, a threat to America or the world–but you know still it could be…a delusion, actually, Dan, or what if it isn’t really so utterly crucial?…Does he have a heart which is capable of weighing them correctly?…Well, I suppose I want him to assess the threat he is facing…with scrupulous honesty…and then I want him to think about those people. Yes, I suppose I do want him to weep and sob at this desk. Yes. Then let him make his decisions.”

That a single play can bring such gravitas, lyricism, intellectual power, and moral ambition is remarkable, and one of the primary reasons to recognize Shawn as a major American playwright. Who else in the United States brings so much to the stage? Kissinger himself has remarked that “Genuis cannot be quantified; nor can catastrophe or tragedy.” We know evil men can evidence genius. Dramatists of genius can produce great drama, genuine tragedy, that is also deliberately perverse. At the end of Euripides’ Medea, she is allowed to get away Scot-free through sorcery; deus ex machina, flying dragons, allow her to escape from her crimes, fraticide, infanticide, and all the rest, her truly appalling crimes.

There is a question of perversion in Shawn’s play as well. And it has nothing to do with the arguments over Kissinger and realpolitik; it has nothing to do with the onstage murder of Raimondo or Aunt Dan’s callous desription of its aftermath. “She had to put the guy in this plastic sack, kick him down her back stairs, haul him outside, and stick him into the trunk of a car that was parked in an alley.” The perversion comes in the direct address of Lemon to the audience, whoever happens to be there one night in Providence or at the Piano Factory. This direct address opens and closes the play. An interval or intermission is not in the cards. “The action of this play is continuous. There should be no pauses at all, except where indicated, despite the fact that the setting changes.”

Despite Lemon’s development as a character she is in essence the voice of Wallace Shawn and he is accusing all of us, Dear Audience, we educated children, pretendling to be sweet and innocent, he is accusing us of living a life of comfort based on activities just like those of the Nazis in the Shoah, or Holocaust. There are equivalences made: Jews, American Indians, Communists. And finally there are cockroaches, because Lemon and Shawn will not have human compassion; that will not do. There is underneath this roach business the nasty joke: Why do we enjoy tragedy? Raimondo didn’t arouse compassion, but as we shall see, a squashed, crippled cockroach is all we get for compassion, jo jo catharsis.

“The thing is that the Nazis were trying to create a certain way of life for themselves. That’s obvious if you read these books I’m reading. They believed that the primitive society of the Germanic tribes had created a life of wholeness and meaning for each person. They blamed the sickness and degeneracy of society as they knew it–before they came to power, of course–on the mixture of races that had taken place since that tribal period. In their opinion, all the destructive values of greed, materialism, competitiveness, dishonesty, and so on, had been brought into their society by non-Germanic races. They may have been wrong about it, but that was their belief. So they were trying to create, or re-create, some sort of society of brothers, bound together by a certain code of loyalty and honor. So to make that attempt, they had to remove the non-Germans, they had to eliminate interbreeding. They were trying to create a certain way of life. Now today, of course, everybody says, ‘How awful! How awful!’ And they were certainly ruthless and thorough in what they did. But the mere fact of killing human beings in order to create a certain way of life is not something that exactly distinguishes the Nazis from eerybody else.”

Here one notes the rant and dementia of Aunt Dan or the Wally Shawn of My Dinner With Andre who has such great guilt over eating quail and drinking a very good bottle of wine. That the Nazis are unique? “That’s absurd. When any people feels that its hopes for a desirable future are threatened by some other group, they always do the same thing. The only question is the degree of the threat.” Lemon/Shawn examples Communists, then moves onto the American Indians. “…When the Europeans first came to America, well, the Indians were there. The Indians fought them for every scrap of land. There was no chance to build the kind of society the Europeans wanted with the Indians there….And so they decided to kill the Indians. So it becomes absurd to talk about the Nazis as if the Nazis were unique.”

What happens, however, when one ignores the uniqueness of each historical event, is that relativisim comes into explanations and defenses, and a 90 year-old Hitler can defend his actions by mentioning Stalin and the Gulag Archipalago. Mao’s Great Leap Forward becomes various different kinds of first encounters in North and South America. And then let’s go ahead and get wooly about fur coats and become Vegan, and see pest extermination as the same thing as eating chicken or slaughtering Jews.

“Each one of us has his own fear of pain and his own fear of death. It’s true for people and for every type of creature that lives. I remember once squashing a huge brown roach–I slammed it with my shoe, but it wasn’t dead and I sat and watched it, and it’s an awful period just before any creature dies–any insect or animal–when you’re watching the stupid, ignorant things that that creature is trying to do to fight off its death–whether it’s moving its arms or its legs, or it’s kicking, or it’s trying to crawl to another part of the floor, or it’s trying to lift itself off the ground–those things can’t prevent death?–but the creature is trying out every gesture it’s capable of, hoping, hoping that something will help it. And I remember how I felt as I watched that big brown roach squirming and crawling, and yet it was totally squashed, and I could see its insides slowly come oozing out. And I’m sure that the bigger a thing is, the more you hate to see it.”

The above is surely Shawn not Lemon. Shawn has zeroed in on three specific scenes of death: the fairy-tale demise of the women and children on the Road to Heaven; then the amoral, repugnant murder of Raimondo; but why is the brutal attack, and slow, agonizing death of the big brown roach the most disturbing and awful? Why are pity and fear so perversely located within the death of a bug? What would Herr G.E. Lessing think of this? Goethe? Thomas Mann?

Shawn has dealt with the Jews on other occassions. In his 2008 introduction to A Good Night Out and A Thought Part in Three Parts he wrote:  “…I feel I’ve been frequently reminded, for example, that the Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich played Mozart on the violin during the same period in which he planned the extermination of the Jews of Europe. But my speculation on this, if I may offer one, is that perhaps, because of his history and who he was, Commander Heydrich did not fully absorb the human possibilities that others have grasped through listening to the music of Mozart. Similarly, the young English major Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people in a famous massacre at a college in Virginia, even though a kindly professor of English had given him private tutorials in creative writing and had even tried to ask him about his own problems. She did her best, but Cho was too deeply trapped in the quicksand of his own mind, and the lessons in creative writing didn’t save him. He didn’t hear enough, or understand enough, of what his teacher was trying to tell him. Mozart, being a composor of music rather than a supernatural creature from outerspace, was not up to the task of convincing Reinhard Heydrich to get off the path he was on and move to another one. But just as the failure of Cho’s teacher can hardly lead us to say that no kindly teacher has ever helped or saved a student, so it seems preposterous to leap from Mozart’s inability to reconstruct Reinhard Heydrich to the claim that composors, painters, and writers have not influenced the world by offering humanity their wisdom and their vision of what life could be.”

The Nazi playing Mozart on the violin while working out the structural details of the Final Solution is even more of a worrisome cliche than “shower and disinfection, shower and disinfection.” The thinking and the very language itself is sloppy on Mozart, and the discussion of Seung-Hui Cho is just plain wrong-headed. Note the stress on his being an “English major,” note the “kindly professor of English.” Note the sarcastic tone of “private tutorials in creative writing,” which, of course did not save Cho. Asking Cho about his personal problems did not save the 32 people who were “killed” in the “famous massacre,” which Shawn fails to consider. The “failure” Shawn mentions is that of the unfortunate English teacher, who, seemingly, just didn’t get the job done. What is missing from Shawn’s “wisdom and…vision of what life could be” is compassion. His assault on the audience’s self-esteem has continued with The Fever, The Designated Mourner, etc.

“We have to admit that we don’t really care. And I think that last admission is what really makes people go mad about the Nazis, because in our own society we have this kind of cult built up around what people call the feeling of ‘compassion.’ I remember my mother screaming all the time, ‘Compassion! Compassion! You have to have compasssion for other people! You have to have compassion for other human beings!…So you have to say finally, well, fine, if there are all these people like my mother who want to go around talking about compassion all day, well, fine that’s their right…Here is somthing you’ve heard about to the point of nausea all your life, but do you personally, actually remember feeling it…?”

Dear Audience, have you? What was it like? Dear Audience, direct address to you?

“Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Aunt Dan…It’s easy to say we should all be loving and sweet, but meanwhile we’re enjoying a certain way of life–and we’re actually living–due to the existense of certain other people who are willing to take the job of killing on their own backs, and it’s not a bad thing every once in a while to admit that that’s the way we’re living, and even to give those certain people a tiny, fractional crumb of thanks.”

Dear Reader, Dear Audience Member, we’ve been had; I’ve been had, you’ve been had; and remember, never yell out “Fire!” in a crowded theatre unless its absolutely necessary.

Stanley Richardson is a writer and dramaturg, and Der Zuschauer correspondent for the Northeast Corridor. Copyright 2011 by Der Zuschauer, all rights reserved.

The Young Hegelian

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He was a tall, ageing Young Hegelian who held that 1968 wasn’t all that hot or exciting. His revolutionary socialism had devolved into a misty-eyed wish that all food and wine in public resturants should be free to the educated on Saturdays and Sundays. He believed in free love, cleavage, fellatio and cunnilingus, no tax on books or periodicals, and short plaid-pleated skirts. He disliked Nabokov because of the insufferable Lolita, thought Che Guevara was greasy and hairy. Adored Robert Burton’s Melancholy. He could recite the entire Urn Burial aloud. Loathed Chinatowns, loved Latvian women, despised the whole of South America, found himself uncomfortable in Berlin, delirious in Paris, raw and pub-crawling in London, rueful in London. Absolutely hated New York, adored Cambridge/Boston. He was a man after all. He had a palette of distinction for wine high and low. His knowledge of cheese was such that only Monty Python could make fun of it. He wore good conservative clothers in an eccentric manner. Please do not call me a Soixante-huitard. He painted his nails dark plumy red, wore women’s underpants, and walked with a cane. He did not read the Bible but had read the Blake. He thought women were stupid and men were worse. Of new spring mornings he liked a lobster roll for breakfast with cold, dry fino sherry. There was never a book of his poems remaindered; no play of his had ever been taken off for lack of ticket sales. Once he gave a lecture at Humboldt University. He could never remember her name, nor the name of the village, but the wine was plonk and he hadn’t paid for it. He flew Lufthansa but preferred trains. Born in the American South he lived his life in the Northeast Corrider. His editors and publishers worked out of Guam Island in the South Pacific. He had Zeus-Red beard from the age 19. He came to foreign languages late, read them, but barely spoke them. It seems he was Scots, but definitely born, adopted, hence abandoned, in Oklahoma City in 1953. He was a tall, ageing Young Hegelian, you could try and stick a fork in him but he wasn’t having any of that. He once read all of Euripides plays, aloud in single sittings over a 19 day period. He remarked afterwards, “You can all go fuck yourselves.” He was a man for all of that, and if this is a man, he was a man, an ageing Young Hegelian with an embonpoint. His freckles, once a spray across his nose and cheeks were less notable in later years.

Christian Grabbe