Washington Square News

The Power of Political Theater

By Matt Markowski, Contributing Writer

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The lights dim. The house goes quiet. The curtain opens. The audience is transported to another world. It all begins.

Many live by the statement that theater transports the audience to an alternate world; at times, it certainly does. But at other times, theater presents worlds that are only a sidestep from reality. The duty of the writer or performer is to make these alternate realities appear true. They must remind the audience that these worlds are definite possibilities. They are not mere imaginations of the playwright — rather, they are reflections of truth and potential that already exists.

Take “1984” for example. George Orwell published his novel in 1949. Today in 2017, a new adaption of the novel, written by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, comes to Broadway more terrifyingly than ever before. “1984” serves as an example of what the future may look like. Orwell, Icke and Macmillan created this dystopian society sprinkled with bloody torture to terrify the audience. Theatergoers should not leave the performance wanting a slice of one dollar pizza; instead, they should feel their stomachs churning and begin questioning the future. Playwrights must create emotions in their audiences that allow them to speak up. They are the catalysts of change; they put down the wood and spark it allowing it to flame.

Some voices are never ignited. Their voices are muted by others and never heard beyond a small audience. Everyone’s story matters — no matter their race, heritage or sexual orientation. Off-Broadway at the Signature Theater, two plays written by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks are enjoying their first fruitful revivals: “The Red Letter Plays: Fucking A” and “In the Blood,” which are modern renditions of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” Both plays give voice to the voiceless. In “Fucking A,” Parks creates a world surrounded by the outcast abortionist Hester. In “In the Blood,” Parks’ play circles around destitute adulteress Hester. These plays tell the stories of two versions of one woman that society has cast aside. They give voice to characters that are abused day in and day out, forgotten by their government and everyone else around them. Parks sheds light on poverty and on the crushing idea that after enough pressure and tribulation from fate, life explodes.

“Hamilton” took the world by storm overnight, and now Lin-Manuel Miranda cannot walk down the street without being recognized. “Immigrants, we got the job done” has been turned into too many memes and gifs to count. Who would have thought that a musical based on the first Secretary of the Treasury would change the world? We need more stories that take risks and pose questions. Young kids and teenagers are seeing characters in “Hamilton” they can relate to for the first time. “Hamilton” is a completely diverse cast with Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian-Americans all portraying the Founding Fathers. Who ever said they could not? “Hamilton” did not simply succeed because of its brilliant writing. It succeeded because it took down barriers and walls that had been present on the Broadway stage for too long. It is political in its subject matter and in its execution. It presents a world that is alternate to today, but one we hope to see in the future.

Theater is a weapon of mass destruction that will never end. Theater does not need to reload with ammunition. Theater does not need to be recharged. Theater does not spill blood. Writers and performers have a duty to use their voice on stage to change the world. It may not be today; it may not be tomorrow. But if enough people speak, then the world will listen.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 7 print edition. Email Matt Markowski at [email protected] 

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