Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Uh-oh: Coming in Hot too hot to touch?

photo by Krista Niles

The writers and director of the controversial new play by Kore Press recognized they had a hot-potato in their hands early on in the creative process. They wanted very much to avoid propagandist rhetoric and held in mind the notion that what art can do is to simply reveal, to allow a view through another's veil. The idea was that the power of revealing would open authentic dialogue among diverse and often polarized communities, as well as among individuals.

Although the general response so far has been a thumbs up, the attempt at a sincere exploration of highly sensitive material has invariably alienated us from some of the very groups we as a Press wished to engage: decision-makers in the Peace Movement criticized the lack of a clear stance against the military-industrial complex, a point that many second-wave feminists agree with. Then there is a question about whether or not a single actor should play 14 different characters from various backgrounds and ethnicities (but what of Anna Deveare Smith?). And, perhaps if the play were a little more detailed in its rendering of military life, service members might not see it as too radically liberal to attend?

"I came to this play expecting propaganda, but instead found truth," says one veteran in attendance, Jamie Jansen. "As a veteran who has been to both theatres of operation, it was not an easy transition back into normalcy. In part, this is because we will never be "normal" again. It changes you in very profound ways. I don't speak much about my experiences. They are tucked away in a box, and every attempt is made to keep them there. This play gave a voice to all of the experiences and feelings in that box. It is a true gift."

Controversy is a good thing--it gets people all riled up and talking--so perhaps we should not apologize after all for refusing to offer pat answers and just continue to raise the existential questions: Why is it that the country cannot stomach seeing women in power, at war, and find it so hard to bear witness to all of what happens there?

--Staff writers