Theatre of Outrage.

Playgoers like to feel that they care about the world and their place in it.

They like to feel that they are on the side of the angels.

Some years ago there was an unaccountable fashion for the plays of Athol Fugard. A fine writer whose sudden popularity on Broadway was puzzling till one turned one’s gaze from the stage to look at the audience. There they were. Well-dressed New Yorkers deploring the horrors of apartheid without having to actually do anything about it. They’d bought a ticket which proved they cared so they could ignore with a clear conscience the racism that waited outside the theatre. It got so bad that Mr. Fugard refused to write any more on the subject. He felt that he was becoming part of the problem as his work merely exploited the suffering of others, making him rich at their expense. Which, it seems to me, is precisely what Mr. Daisey has done.

His ‘monologue,’ as he likes to call it, presents itself as the true account of his trip to China. I found his tactics and tone from the beginning to be distressingly self-promotional. LIke a missionary reporting back to Omaha after a sojourn in the Orient we are asked to believe his every word. That’s what the form is. The moral outage we feel assures us that, had we gone in his stead we’d have done as well as he, we just didn’t have the time.

Much the same happened with the AIDS plays of the 80s and 90s: the play proved to the audience how much they cared. If this seems to be sneering at the playgoers in question that’s not my intent. The very experience of going to the theatre isolates a group of people, that night’s audience, holding them for as long as the play lasts in the world of its creation. Under such circumstances it’s natural to feel one of the elect. When the theatre is working that’s what it does. Depending on the play it can make you feel sophisticated and witty (Coward, Shaw); intellectual (Peter Schaffer has a genius for making middle-brow audiences feel smart); or in the case of the Apple play, as if you’re not some wine-swilling elitist obsessed with shiny new gadgets. That you do in fact have a social conscience and you can prove it: you bought a ticket.

This isn’t the first time someone’s made shit up. Every time I read a memoir with detailed conversations that took place when the author was 4, or some confessional about Olympic levels of drug abuse the details of which seem to have been somehow miraculously preserved down to which doorway the author threw up in and what was on the TV when he tried to jump out the window, I think, Hmmmm. Really? You remember all that?

For my part, I was most interested in Ira Glass. I try to listen to This American Life from time to time because I like a nice story and that’s what the program does: it gives you nice stories. It also editorializes heavily with that insistent and often all-pervasive music. It seems to me that This American Life does exactly what it was criticizing Mr. Daisy for doing: Embellishing the truth by giving it a three act structure and a music track. I must say that the idea that the program was somehow ‘reportage’ seems almost the most far-fetched aspect of the affair.

The outrage we feel, those of us who feel outrage which means everyone who’s ever commented on a blog post, is in being duped in that place it hurts most: our image of ourself. On the other hand we don’t have to feel the same anxiety when we re-charge our iPad. We don’t need to worry about hands being crippled, and the people who make the damn things never seeing them in action.

As to theatrical truth versus reality: at the same time we were being shamed into silence by Master Harold and the Boys something magical happened. Sarafina opened and, in a totally fantastical image of the townships of South Africa, gave everyone reason for hope as it demonstrated the inexorable movement of history. Let me tell you that a stage full of pretend school children imagining the day that Nelson Mandela would be released from prison to lead the country remains a profoundly joyful experience. The movie is no good, and the record stinks, but on stage… ! It was pretty fine.


I saw this play at the Kirk Douglas Theater last night. I would have felt all superior and righteous and stuff but I was laughing too hard.

Yep. 317 seater in Culver City, near the Sony studio, about 20 minutes from my house in Santa Monica. It’s part of the Center Theater Groupthat also runs the Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum in downtown LA.

@Dodgerblue: Metered parking until 11 pm? What the fuck, does Culver City think it’s the North Beach of El Ay?

@Dodgerblue: Culver City has a City Hall? The only City Hall that counts in El Ay County is the one right downtown for El Ay the City.

Drug reminiscences can be quite detailed and exact. Just sayin’.

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