Creating the Self in the Contemporary American Theatre

By Robert J. Andreach | Go to book overview
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8
On the Eve of the Millennium

The playwright today must dig at the roots of the sickness of today as he feels it--the death of the Old God and the failure of science and materialism to give any satisfying new One for the surviving primitive religious instinct to find a meaning for life in, and to comfort its fears of death with. It seems to me that anyone trying to do big work nowadays must have this big subject behind all the little subjects of his plays or novels, or he is simply scribbling around on the surface of things and has no more real status than a parlor entertainer. 1

In the decades that playwrights have been digging since Eugene O'Neill wrote the quoted passage, they have not realized a new order to replace the old one, the breakup of which fractured mankind's existence, but they have uncovered a faculty capable of reconnecting people with themselves and the worlds they inhabit following the breakup. A play we have yet to look at, one that recreates an ancient drama in contemporary images, calls this faculty "God's gift."

John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation opens with a husband and wife running onstage "in nightdress, very agitated." 2 Within moments they remove their robes to stand before the audience "smartly dressed for dinner" (6). Rather than narrate what happened to cause their agitation, they will reenact the previous evening's events leading up to the loss of self-control. The transition is smooth. With composure regained, Flan (for Flanders) and Ouisa (for Louisa) Kittredge entertain a friend in their Fifth Avenue, New York, apartment until a doorman enters, supporting a young black man who, explaining that he was mugged in nearby Central Park, has come to them for help because he goes to Harvard with their son and daughter, who had told him about their parents. His wound bandaged, given a clean shirt, he proceeds to entertain the couple and their guest, preparing a meal and serving it to them with anecdotes

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