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Laughing Around Town with Larry Litt


NEW YORK, September 19 -- What can theater be after horrendous civil tragedies? In the time of the Greeks tragedy and comedy on stage were a major source of catharsis, of relieving the pain of war, social unrest, and class conflicts. Hubris was blamed for tragedy and the gods exacted punishment from the too proud.

But what about theater today after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks?

Theater with a will of its own can explore the meanings of tragedy as well as the causes of hate and retribution. But nothing theater can do will ever create the headlines of real tragedy. What it can create is live characters, representatives of issues and opinions, with the adding factor of entertainment which hopefully will lead to catharsis and understanding for our society's future.

War plays that question government and military thinking and actions, whether focusing on the innocent, the powerful or the enemy have always been appropriate during stressful times. Since most modern American theater companies have avoided portraying soldiering as a positive experience, they have perhaps denied, and ofter criticized, the reality of many people in the military and their families. There is a sense of pride and duty that accompanies military service. How can we honestly comment on this in the current crisis?

Some concerned critics have said this may be the time to avoid frivolous offerings and seek plays dealing with issues that aren't being presented on mainstream television. There are still many subjects media producers won't touch for fear of offending advertisiers or communities. Theater can be a way of talking about the unspeakable. Theater needn't fear boycotts of its products. Nor should it fear the politically correct grant making process that has held it back from presenting the unpopular controversies for so long.

The attack on the WTC has been blamed on terrorists who lived among us, who hated that towering symbol of global capitalism and perceived moral degeneration. What did the terrorists tell their families? What was in those last letters? How could they live normal American middle class lives for years and not be affected by our often open and democratic culture? Is there a moral code for fanatics and terrorists separate than the one we acknowledge for civil society? If there is, how easy is it to fall under its thrall?

These are a few of the questions I've been asking my self since Terrible Tuesday. I hope I can answer these questions and others as they arise with full realism, honesty, drama, and wit.

We need to be forthcoming in our new contemporary theater. No longer will frivolities about the self-centered, self-absorbed frustrated lives of suburban dilletantes attract my attention. Only theater and performances that deal with real issues in a heterogenous, free thinking, and freely expressive society will matter to me in the future.

I too fear the economic crisis that might mean the end of big budget theater. But I know that costs are not the issue when a city seeks catharsis. Only a desire to have a truly meaningful experience, one that sheds light on our times, is needed. [Litt]

If you have any comments or want to notify me about performances or shows, you can e-mail me at humornet@aol.com.

Copyright © 2001 Larry Litt


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