Abstract

abstract:

Many older characters in recent plays become, or think they will become, “demented.” Being old – the oldest person in the dramatis personae – is suddenly glued to cognitive weakness. The cultural message now spreading throughout our frightened world is this: if a person this old has this future as a fate, considering suicide is almost obligatory. This destiny is one of the not-so-subtle messages emanating from a group of such plays, and from the one that this essay focuses on, Tony Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures. How is it possible that a visionary who rallied so courageously on behalf of people with HIV/ AIDS in the early 1990s fails to find a way of defending a character (and by extension, people) with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)? Kushner’s dramatic choices – especially his protagonist Gus’s noble political despair – might have made superfluous the choice of Alzheimer’s to drive his mourning-play. The real illness of this character is neither Alzheimer’s nor a death drive but the impotence of radical activism, individual and collective.

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