Theatre Matters

Contemplations on the dramatic arts from a national perspective


Steven Oxman has contributed to such publications as the Los Angeles Times, American Theatre, Stagebill, and, most frequently, Variety, for which he has written over 300 television and theatre reviews.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

On Election Day

Today is election day, and I just voted. I'm a political junkie, but I've made a conscious (and difficult) decision not to turn this into a political blog. I'm too much of an amateur in that realm.

However, since today is all about politics and the voice of democracy, it's certainly appropriate to note the recent flood of political plays.

Now, I can hear my old criticism instructor, the great Richard Gilman, asking: "Do you mean politics in the theatre or politics of the theatre?" In other words, am I talking about plays that directly relate to partisan politics or deal directly with political issues, or those that take on politics in a less direct way (Brecht's plays for example, which are political in so many ways but are not necessarily issue-driven or partisan).

In this case, I mean politics in the theatre -- straight-on depictions of politicians and politically charged events.

The list is long, and I won't mention (OK, I will) Michael Frayn's "Democracy," which is about the former German chancellor Willy Brandt. It's quite a fine play, a hit in London and on its way to NYC. There's a nice little distance to it though. It's about politics, but isn't all that political.

But if you haven't been following this obvious trend, check out this list:

Tony Kushner has written a play with Laura Bush as the main character. It's called, "Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy." It received starry readings in NY. There's a great description in The Hartford Courant about a scene that depicts Laura Bush arguing with Kushner directly. Kushner really is our modern-day Shaw.

David Hare's play about Bush, Tony Blair, and the lead-up to the Iraqi war, called "Stuff Happens," has been a huge hit in London. Ben Brantley wrote about the recent trend in political plays in this past weekend's NY Times.

Sam Shepard has a new play (an event in itself) that he worked hard to get produced before the election -- it started previews on Halloween. According to the description at, "the play follows the travails of a quiet Midwestern couple whose lives -- and cattle -- are sorely abused after the arrival of a nefarious government official." It's called "The God of Hell."

These are all major playwrights, taking on the big topics of the day, and that's exciting.

And, in case you were waiting for a play about Abu Ghraib, here's the first one I've heard of, a monologue written by Canadian Judith Thompson about Lynndie England, the woman at the center of the scandal.

There's many more, but that will suffice. The current politics have seriously engaged the electorate, and seriously engaged some serious theatre artists.

If theatre still matters, it's got to take on the issues that matter to people.