Shortly after the election the playwright Rajiv Joseph tweeted “hindsight is 2020.”
As I was looking back on my favorite LA theater for 2016, I kept noticing how many of my favorite shows contained hints of the disconnect between our blue bubble and the red heartland. Inside of these shows, if you listened, were warnings. Sometimes they were subtle and so ever-present that you might mistake it for the atmosphere.
“The Day Shall Declare It,” from Annie Saunders and her company, The Wilderness, wove source text from Tennessee Williams’ canon and from Studs Terkel’s remarkable interviews into a depression era fabric of work and longing. It was easy to mistake all that talk about work and loneliness for a period piece, some trinket from a bygone era, but if you listened closely these were stories of how hard it was to “make a buck” and how soul crushing work can be.
If you transpose the speakeasy escape into liquor and waking up, as the characters all said at the top of the show, “in a bathtub full of melting ice-cubes and Miller’s High Life beer. My skin was blue. I was gasping for breath in a bathtub full of ice-cubes” for the opioids that are consuming lives today, everything comes crashing into the present moment.
Ivo Van Hove’s elemental production of “A View from the Bridge” captured not only that essential struggle to make a living but also the threat from an outsider – both financial and sexual. For Eddie Carbone, our dock working protagonist, taking in his wife’s cousins from Italy sowed the seeds of his tragic downfall. These immigrants, even if they were members of your own extended family, were a threat. They could take things away from you. They could take your job, they could take your women, and what’s more they might even be gay. Again, it was easy to sit in the audience, safely watching a period piece, and rest easy that the misogyny was the playwright’s fault and an echo of something from our distant past – the 1950s, the era of McCarthy.
Suzan Lori-Parks tempted us in “”Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3)”” with the false comfort of even more historical distance. Surely a play set in the civil war couldn’t have anything to do with today, right? For goodness sakes, half the characters are named after ancient Greeks! Yet sitting there, plain as day, at the heart of the play was a white man saying “I am grateful every day that God made me white. As a white I stand on the summit and all the other colors reside beneath me, down below. For me, no matter how much money I’ve got or don’t got, if my farm is failing or my horse is dead, if my woman is sour or my child has passed on, I can at least rest in the grace that God made me white.” Terribly alt-right, right?
These hints of what was to come were there, I guess we just didn’t take them seriously (or we didn’t take the theater seriously). Even when John Robbin Baitz tackled Trump directly in “Vicuńa,” a thinly veiled comedy turned tragic warning, all but pronouncing that Trump would win and what could come next, I dismissed it as a comic footnote choosing instead to take false comfort in hollow predictions placed prominently above the digital fold each morning.
In 2017, we all need to listen more closely and make sure we don’t miss any of these hints. After all, “hindsight is 2020″…