Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Michael Frayn and August Wilson

A weekend of theatrical excitement and theatrical sorrow!

Michael Frayn is the excitement because he keeps on turning out work of high intellectual and dramatic quality. The Time Line theatre in Chicago reminded me again that Copenhagen was a play that grips your mind and your heart. The question of what actually was said at the fateful 1941 meeting between the German Werner Heisenberg and the Dane Niels Bohr in the city of Copenhagen is simply the vehicle which allows Frayn to present us with musings on the nature of moral choice, scientific progress, the inconstancy of memory, and the impact of human interaction and friendship on all of the above.

As the play shifts from a purgatorial dead zone to various replays of the past you are swept into the complexities of atomic physics as well as the human soul. This is not an easy trip. You can’t expect to leave the theatre humming a Danny Kaye title tune, but it is a worthwhile trip just the same. It's a show I would love to direct.

Though there is plenty of sorrow in Copenhagen, the real sorrow must be reserved to commemorate the passing of one of the latter part of the twentieth century’s greatest playwrights--August Wilson. I’ve read most of his work, seen several, and taught both Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Fences. Wilson was a giant and his great cycle of ten plays telling the story of African Americans in the USA in the twentieth century will stand tall in the sturdiest competition. His scope is as sweeping as O’Neill’s, while his command of the poetry of the theatre surpasses O’Neill’s often labored prose.

Though some found irony in Wilson’s cry for more black actors, and black companies, doing black plays while directing his own work toward the regional rep stalwarts and Broadway, few can doubt the humanity of his overall philosophy. Honor your ancestors and try to do the right thing is a credo that has no racial, religious, or ethnic overtones. It’s just a good thing for any human being to strive for.

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