There have got to be more critics from the right who can give established dramatists, like Lyle Kessler (Orphans), the resistance needed to move beyond acceptable liberal fantasy and produce art. Here is a writer who understands the mechanics of coercion, peer pressure, and social control. Yet, in Collision, now playing at the Rattlestick through February 17, he only delivers a simplistic position paper on gun control. Kessler is literary and is interested in formal construction, as well as the elements of language theatre (listen to the skill with which he writes his monologues). You might see him as an existentialist and compare his writing to that of Beckett’s and Pinter’s. But for all this playwright’s knowledge of the stage, psychology, and behavior, he has written obvious downtown theatre, a utopian cautionary tale, not a serious indictment of gun culture at all.
Collision is a retro story and its sound is stilted, its plot implausible (tell me again how those guns got past security into the dorm room?). You won’t be able to confuse it with streaming news, ‘60s reality, or any other. The bonding of a group of students–and their teacher–who produce a violent act is not the stern lecture we need on Newtown, Connecticut; it’s not backup to chip away at the Second Amendment. Taken without its final minutes, it might add up to a perceptive investigation of power, but it’s PR Theatre, opportunism, right for a meeting with suits on box office. These characters aren’t up to mass bloodshed in public spaces—they’re not especially desperate, they’re not especially motivated. They don’t especially fit the profile: They’re not crazy. They’re eggheads with a weapon.
The Amoralists are one troupe we could expect to take us into pretty deranged areas and maybe tell a Manson or Lord of the Flies story. But they don’t; they’re earnest, and well-meaning, and fastidiously interpreting the script—for once, they seem interchangeable with other actors on the scene. Of course, their roles aren’t written to be case studies in the mentally ill; the characters don’t seem to be especially disruptive in their classes, they aren’t taking dangerous pharmaceuticals. It is sometimes pointed out that Ibsen can ask for a radical jump of logic at the end of his plays—but Kessler wants a leap of unjustifiable faith.
Some might think work like this dilutes the very issue of early detection and getting psychopaths hospitalization. It implies that the general population is like the mentally ill who commit such crimes. In the wake of a tragedy of the likes of Newtown, that is an unhelpful metaphor. It's trouble when playwrights want to control people in society as if they were their characters.
Directed by David Fofi
with Michael Cullen, Craig ‘muMs’ Grant, James Kautz, Nick Lawson, and Anna Stromberg
© 2013 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.
Visit Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place): http://www.rattlestick.org/2012/12/10/collision-on-sale-now/