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  • Notes toward a Manifesto2002
  • Charles L. Mee

If Aristotle was rightthat human beings are social animalsthat we create ourselves in our relationships to others,and if theatre [End Page 88]

is the art form that deals above all others in human relationships,then theatre is the art form, par excellence,in which we discover what it is to be humanand what it is possible for humans to be.

Whatever else it may do,a play embodies a playwright's belief about how it is to be alive today,and what it is to be a human being—so that what a play is about,what people say and how things look onstage, [End Page 89]

and, even more deeply than that,how a play is structured,contain a vision of what it is to have a life on earth.

If things happen suddenly and inexplicably,it's because a playwright believes that's how life is.If things unfold gradually and logically, that's an idea about how the world works.If characters are motivated by psychological impulses that were planted early in acharacter's life in her childhood home, [End Page 90]

it's because a playwright believesthat's what causes people to do the things they do the way they do them.Or,if a character is motivated by other things, in addition,or even primarily motivated by other things—by the cumulative impact of culture and history,by politics and economics,by gender and genetics and rational thought and whim,informed by books and by the National Enquirer,given to responses that are tragic and hilarious, [End Page 91]

conscious and unconscious, ignorant and informed at the same time—it's because the playwright believesthis complex of things is what makes human history happen.Most of the plays I grew up seeing didn't feel like my life.They were such well-made things,so nicely crafted, so perfectly functioning in their plots and actions and endings,so clear and clearly understood,so rational in their structures,in their psychological explanations of the causes of things. [End Page 92]

And my life hadn't been like that.When I had polio as a boy, my life changed in an instant and forever.My life was not shaped by Freudian psychology;it was shaped by a virus.And it was no longer well made.It seemed far more complex a project than any of the plays I was seeing.

And so,in my own work,I've stepped somewhat outside [End Page 93]

the traditions of American theatre in which I grew upto find a kind of dramaturgy that feels like my life.And I've been inspired a lot by the Greeks.I love the Greeksbecause their plays so often begin with matricide and fratricide,with a man murdering his nephews and serving the boys to their father for  dinner. That is to say, the Greeks take no easy problems,no little misunderstanding that is going to be resolvedbefore the final commercial break at the top of the hour, [End Page 94]

no tragedy that will be resolved with good will,acceptance of a childhood hurt,and a little bit of healing.They take deep anguish and hatred and disabilityand rage and homicidal mania and confusion and aspirationand a longing for the purest beautyand they say:here is not an easy problem;take all this and make a civilization of it. [End Page 95]

And the forms in which they cast their theatre were not simple.Unlike Western theatre since Ibsen,which has been essentially a theatre of staged texts,the Greeks employed spectacle,music, and dance or physical movement,into which text was placed as one of the elements of theatre.The complexity and richness of form reflected a complexity and richness of understandingof human character and human history. [End Page 96]

The Greeks and Shakespeare and Brechtunderstood human characterwithin a rich context of history and culture.

This is my model.

In 1906/07,Picasso stumbled upon cubism as a possible form.Immediately, he made three pencil sketchesof a...


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