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The Controversial 1985-86 Theatre Season A Politics of Reception To add to PAJ 's coverage of theatre, we have decided to experiment with a new format-an extended discussion of the current theatre season by regular PAJ contributors. The multiple perspectives of such dialogue can perhaps suggest a comprehensive reading of the subtle and complex issues important theatre productions raise. This discussion was taped in April, 1986, with PAJ editor Bonnie Marranca, and contributors Gerald Rabkin and Johannes Birringer. MARRANCA: The recent theatre season was characterized by a number of productions that, while exploiting taboos, raised issues to which contemporary audiences are responding more and more, in all forms of art. Among these issues I would include: the question of representation, particularly in relation to race and gender; an exploration of liberalism as a political philosophy; and uses of technology in performance. It seems to me we might begin with any one of these topics. RABKIN: I assume by the failure of liberalism you are referring to Wally Shawn's Aunt Dan and Lemon. That is an Interesting question, particularly if you read the appendix to the published version. Here Shawn makes explicit his working by negative example through the quasi-and not so quasi-fascist mentalities of his central characters, and the positive need for liberal values: the recognition of the Individual human being within a liberal framework Is the only guard against the acceptance of the 7 monstrous assumptions Aunt Dan and Lemon "logically" develop. But we see the failure of liberalism by the marginality of Lemon's mother, the one liberal voice. MARRANCA: She clearly has no response in the play, that's obviously deliberate, and in some ways makes the play less interesting. There is no dialectic, it's completely one-sided from the point of view of reactionary politics. It seems to me a little bit dangerous about the play, and it's part of the ethosof the appendix aswell-this danger of notdistinguishing between things in our world. In Aunt Dan and Lemon there is no differentiation between the kinds of killings that are spoken about. There must be a difference between killing criminals, Indians, Jews, or cockroaches. Lemon's point of view is faulty in that all kinds of killing are equated-you simply can't link killing cockroaches and Nazi philosophy. RABKIN: I agree that there are certain moral premises, historical premises, that are problematic in the play. The very choice of Kissinger as Dan's idol is deliberately provocative: he hardly tops the list of radical/liberal demons, even taking into account his involvement with the overthrow of the Allende government. But the moral issue is ultimately larger: unless one accepts a totally pacifist position, you come down to the old question of necessary violence. Shawn deliberately fudges the question here. MARRANCA: Shawn's point of view doesn't necessarily attach itself to a fully developed philosophy, and the person representing the liberal point of view is completely inarticulate. Shawn makes the point that we have a certain freedom because other people in the world don't, that our freedom is dependent on their oppression. Aunt Dan's philosophy suggests to her that Kissinger takes responsibility for his action while journalists and other detractors enjoying the freedom in American society simply criticize him. RABKIN: There is an element of truth in much of this critique, and that is why the play is so disturbing. It's very easy to attack the villain, "the other." Here Shawn recognizes the undeniable logic of Dan and Lemon's reasoning . But he's also saying there are crucial leaps which are irrational, and negate morality-a twisted process by which the ordinary, somewhat "decent individual" is forced inexorably into the position of monster. That is the valuable part of the play. I accept your judgment that the minute you begin to probe the overall intellectual structure of the play It begins to unravel. It does not distinguish between the act of necessary self-defense and the act of wantonness. Is every violent act immoral? Well, the fight against Hitler produced violent reactions that few of us would condemn as immoral. Shawn puts his finger...


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