Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Big Issues of an Age

Today is the birthday of Tony Kushner.  I remember long ago, in 1994, my friend who dreamed of writing plays told me about Angels in America, which she had just read.  It happened to be available from the Quality Paperback Book Club, so I ordered it.

I consumed it in one sitting.  It has haunted me ever since.

I watched both Angels in America and Perestroika when they came to the Kennedy Center during the mid-90's.  Wow.  Sometimes I forget the power of live theatre.  The HBO version came out in the early years of this century, and it, too was powerful, but when I'm watching something on a screen, I assume that part of the power comes from high-tech sorcery.  With live theatre, I give all the credit to the humans on the stage.

I have spent the years since wondering about the idea of writing that tackles the big issues of an age.  I've thought of August Wilson writing a play that represents the life of African-Americans during the twentieth century, one play for each decade.  And he pulled it off!

Some days, I think I dream too small.

Yesterday was one of those strange days when I had apocalypse-tinged conversations with several groups of people.  I didn't start them--the conversations just went that way.  Many of my colleagues at work have the debt ceiling on the brain.  Many of them are no longer convinced that it will all be worked out.  We work in higher education, and student loans keep us all (for-profit, private and state-sponsored colleges and universities alike).  Where is the nation's economy taking us all?

Yesterday, the common consensus was that we're hanging on the edge of a scary cliff, and we might go tumbling over.

It's oddly comforting to think about Angels in America, a play written about another dark time in American history.  I remember the early days of the AIDS crisis, when we weren't quite sure of the cause and how to prevent it and even as we discovered more about it, the thought that haunted us was that maybe there were additional transmission routes that we hadn't found yet.  The disease seemed more ravaging in those days, as people went from healthy to corpse in six months or less.  And then, as now, the government seemed helpless--or worse--in the face of the devastation.

And yet, here we are, into a generation or two saved by protease inhibitors.  There's recent talk of a pill that prevents transmission.  Darkness can be split apart by light.

I have hopes that ten or twenty years from now, we'll look back and say, "We were at a turning point, but we didn't see it then.  The world was about to emerge into a better place, but boy did it look bleak then."

And what writers/works will we see as the documenters of that dark time?  As a writer, is it better to document the dark time or to dream of the brighter future?

3 comments:

Sandy Longhorn said...

"Darkness can be split apart by light."

Wonderful phrase and wonderful idea that we must remember.

Kathleen said...

I'm inspired by that sentence, too!

On this brink, some unsustainable things might fall, too. So good changes may come.

And, as history has shown at various times, if there is a shared fall into a terrible place, those of us at the bottom can be kind and help one another get out of it.

Kristin said...

Thank you both for your kind words, for reading and for commenting!