(Photo by Danny Sanchez)
The following was written in mid-October by our Artistic Director, John Dias, and is included as a program note inside our playbill for The Lion in Winter. We decided to also publish it as a blog today.
A NOTE FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR JOHN DIAS
My fellow Americans,
You’re sitting in the theater about to jump into the 12th Century and a quintessential drama of family strife and political maneuverings. But, it’s late October as I write this, and I’m still mired in the 21st Century’s nastiest drama yet of family strife and political maneuverings: the 2016 presidential election.
You’re in a much better place.
We Americans are often credited with a contribution to the canon of world culture with the establishment of “The American Family Drama.” Before that became an ironic way of describing the goings-on at our Thanksgiving dinner tables, it was a real genre within Western literature, exemplified by the work of our own pantheon of great dramatists, folks like Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Lorraine Hansberry. True, family drama has existed for eons—as long as there have been families, I reckon—in living rooms and onstage (think Greeks), but we Americans raised the bar. We credit its development through the 20th Century to, among many things, an influence of the concurrent developments in the world of psychological analysis and understanding led by Dr. Freud. In the imaginations of American playwrights, the old dramatic tropes of gods and kings and war become psychological battles among husband and wife, siblings, parents and children.
Even though, with The Lion in Winter, James Goldman conjured up the English royal family in their castle in (what we now call) France—see the helpful essay later in the program for an explanation of how that makes sense—he’s actually written a great “American Family Drama.”
Listen for Goldman’s prescience and insight. He’s reaching far into our human past and plunking it down in what was, for him, a very immediate present. And yet that present moment for him in 1966 feels as alive and relevant, fifty years later, in 2016. In 1966, Americans were just starting to recover from an era of internecine distrust and paranoia that was the communist “red scare” and the McCarthy trials. The Vietnam War was escalating. A civil rights movement and a new conversation about social justice were gathering steam, fueled by hopes and dreams as well as frustration and resentment. Change the names and faces and it could be today.
The drama of politics and empire and world domination comes down to what we all recognize as a high-tension, holiday-time, family squabble.
Putting a stop to a potential “knife-fight” among her sons, Queen Eleanor gets to the heart of the problem. Her youngest son John has just said about his brother, Richard: “A knife—he’s got a knife!”
Of course he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It is 1183 and we’re barbarians. How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we’re the origins of war. Not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers; we breed war. We carry it, like syphilis, inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little? That’s how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children; we could change the world.So often, women really do know best. I’m sitting here feeling just like Eleanor. Stuck in the swamp that is this election, while all around us war rages and the rhetoric gets angrier and more debased. None of us seems capable of listening to the other—to our brother, our sister. And I think, “for the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little?” Right now, for me, just one week before the presidential election, that seems like a lot to ask. We’re only human, after all. But maybe that’s the point James Goldman is trying to make. We still want to believe that our leaders are like gods. But they’re not, literarily, and yet we need them to be a little superhuman.
I hope I’m not being naïve when I say I’m optimistic for our country and that I hope for the best for us. No matter who it is who’s finally elected to lead, I will support and respect and expect something superhuman. I’d be a liar to say I don’t have a wished-for outcome… but I really wish that in casting my vote I can also be voting for that which Eleanor craves: A little mutual understanding, some human respect and yes, a little peace.