The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


I’ve been on both sides of the stage.  Honestly, it’s easier sitting in the audience.

An actress or actor spends weeks rehearsing a playwright’s work – hoping that they understand the author’s meaning and can convey it to those who have come to attend.   Sometimes we win and sometimes it seems not.

Anyone who sits down and attempts to express his emotions to an unknown group of people – whether in a novel, a poem or a play exposes himself to the possibility of misunderstanding or, at the worst, irrelevancy.  Passion and honesty are fast fading from our world and the artist must wonder whether there is anyone left to hear his message.

There are plays whose truthfulness is as great as when they were originally penned.  My three nominees are Shakespeare’s, “King Lear”; Ibsen’s, “Hedda Gabler” and Tennessee Williams’, “The Glass Menagerie”.  Perhaps the last of these is my most favorite.

I first read “The Glass Menagerie” in high school as an assignment for an English class.  It was many years later that I actually saw it performed.  But from the opening moments, I was struck with Williams’ portrayal of the sadly fragile character he had crafted in Laura.  I saw some of her in myself.

Here was a woman who lacked self-esteem because of her minor physical impediment.  That handicap shaped her view of how the world regarded her, whether she would ever find anyone to look beyond it and to be able to love her.   Laura decided not to expose herself to the risk of being rejected, binding herself instead to her non-judgmental collection of glass animals.

The fact that Williams centered Laura’s collection around a unicorn endeared him to me for his sensitivity and his prescience.  As we know, the unicorn is a creature of myth – but it is a delicate and inspiring one.

Despite our modern technology and social networks and our ability to connect with so many people, I often wonder if these venues are not mere disguises for our innate longing to find a common ground with our fellow humans on a much deeper and more meaningful level.   Or have we devolved to the point that occupying ourselves with “just doing stuff”  with people whom I would characterize as acquaintances is sufficient to meet our emotional needs?

Do we still have the capacity  to feel and to offer our love to another – or has this emotion passed from our vocabulary and our hearts?

If the Bard was right and, “All the world’s a stage,” then we are inextricably caught up in the production as cast members.  The question is, can we bring the sincerity of emotion to our performance to make our portrayal one that is meaningful to our fellow players?


Comments on: "ON THEATER" (18)

  1. Theater is an exciting way to communicate. The young Pope John Paul II used it as a way to fight Nazism. I use it as a way to evangelize. Your piece captures its relevance even today.

  2. Reblogged this on Nae's Nest and commented:
    This is something I have been pondering and writing about lately. There is a saying, “Great minds think alike”…whoohooo girlfriend!

    Mosey on over and check this site out, I do all the time because I am afraid I am going to miss something!

  3. I’m no expert, Juwanna, but I’ll side with your musings of these venues (or any), perhaps especially these, indicating an innate longing to find a common ground with our fellow humans on a much deeper and more meaningful level.

    While we may see small photos of one another, we are clearly attracted to the friendships we develop here because we place great emphasis on high quality and content of character–the most important attributes of our fellow humans that one can only discern from conversing with our potential and new friends.

    • Thank you Alan for sharing your thoughts. When I spoke of social networks I thought not of blogging (and I agree that I have met some people on WordPress whom I would like to get to know better) but of the stream of “invitations” that so and so who is a friend of so and so who knew your hair stylist in Chicago twenty years ago would like you to be friends on Facebook. Why? It suggests (perhaps incorrectly) a mind-set that is self-aggrandizing in that it seeks out popularity rather than quality. (But we have discussed this before).

      • Hmmm, that’s interesting…

        You know, Juwanna, prompted to reread your article I discovered that, while this important part of your overall point is clearly made and was originally “received”, if you will, I automatically placed less emphasis on this. Perhaps, even to the point of unwittingly and instinctively altogether shunning this from my mind.

        I recognize that I did so because I have unwittingly, yet significantly developed and automatically applied prejudice about people I perceive as emphasizing collecting numbers of “friends” over the importance of developing friendships.

        Perhaps also true is that, in doing so, I am as skewed in some among my perceptions as those whose motivations I instinctively presume.

        I am certain that there is an interesting, fuller epiphany and resulting enlightenment awaiting me somewhere on the other side of introspection on the matter, and I gratefully credit you for initiating it.

      • It’s interesting that we spent years promoting the concept of “diversity” – now only to find that the apparently preferred thing is “conformity”.
        I prefer to think of all life as resembling snoflakes – similar but different – and in that difference lies true beauty and individuality.

  4. Yes, the Bard was correct. We are all actors on the stage of life and keenly observed.

  5. The best actor is one who plays his true self on the world’s stage…

  6. I am wondering what significance, if any, attaches to the fact that you only named male authors. In other words, just taking Shakespeare alone, in academics his earlier writings are now generally found to permeate with latent sexism. For ex, and I will only give you a couple out of many examples, “thereby hangs the tale,” “by many a wind instrument that I know,” Hamlet, Act III, Scene II; “Her boat hath a leak,” King Lear, Act III, Scene VI; “There be her very C’s, her U’s, and her T’s, and thus makes she her great P’s,” Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V. In the late 2000s, as I cannot recall the exact date, Robert Williams (the British academic) concluded that he is one of the most offensive writers of all time, and further said that his vulgarity makes Howard Stern seem like Mr. Rogers…..

  7. Thank you for your thoughtful and elucidatingly extensive comment.

    Please feel free to infer anything you like in my selection of authors and the specific works I cited. Although the post only referred to Shakespeare in passing, I appreciated your commentary and citation of Robert Williams (the British academic’s) opinion. I was not familiar with this gentlemen and did a search for him. Alas, Google returned a little over 23,000,000 hits. Such is the fate of having a fairly common name. (I think I got to page ten or eleven and was unable to find anyone who might be the author you cited). I then went to to try to find some books that he had written. Still nothing. But I wanted to let you know that I made the effort to try to inform myself of this gentleman’s work.

    I thought that I would make mention of the fact that these three plays (although written by men) were really about women. I am sure that Betty Friedan, were she still alive, would be one step closer to the grave at the horror of this. Perhaps realizing that men could understand the opposite sex and write about them is what caused her ultimate demise.

    There is one further issue that you didn’t raise and at which I am quite surprised. That is the fact that all the parts cast in Shakespeare’s plays were held by men. Just think – where might that lead?

    In closing, there is a play, written by Jane Wagner, which I would have included in my list but for the fact that it is not so much a play as it is a piece of art designed for a unique performer – her partner of many years, Lily Tomlin. It is, “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in The Universe.” I had the privilige of seeing Ms. Tomlin perform this live in Chicago – and I have a copy on VHS which sadly comes nowhere near the stage version. It is certainly one of the greatest tours de force of all time.

    Based on the message that it conveys, I believe that both Ms. Wagner and Ms. Tomlin would agree with the sentiments I tried to inject into this post.

  8. “All the world’s a stage..” Will Shakespeare
    “There’s a stage leaving in five minutes. Be on it ” — John Wayne
    “There’s a stage leaving in five minutes — be under it ” — Leslie Nielsen

    “Excelsior!” — Jim Zee

  9. “Despite our modern technology and social networks and our ability to connect with so many people, I often wonder if these venues are not mere disguises for our innate longing to find a common ground with our fellow humans on a much deeper and more meaningful level.”

    Yes. Absolutely. As you said earlier in this post, passion and honesty are moving out just as quantity is displacing quality. The truths in this post make me sad…

  10. The good news, SB is that you are a thinker and therefore will never be irrelevant. Keep thinking passionately.

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