Falling, falling, so much is falling...
In an article headlined "For star director of 'Spider-Man,' a precipitous fall," about the firing of director Julie Taymor from the Broadway production, The New York Times overstates the case -- vastly -- when it characterizes Ms. Taymor's fall from artistic genius to "girl falling from the sky" as "the stuff of Greek drama."
Everyone connected with this over-hyped, accident-riddled mega-production -- at $65 million, Broadway's most expensive ever -- needs to take a long, deep breath and, at long last, get a reality check (and the Times, our lead cultural gatekeeper, needs to regain its objectivity): All this hullaballoo is about... a comic-book character. This is not Greek drama -- that is to say, tragedy -- but farce.
What is truly tragic, and "the stuff of Greek drama," is that this farce has built up, over its nine years of frantic development, at a time when America itself is in a fall: Fully two-thirds of the American public tell pollsters they believe America is in decline. In ancient Greece, audiences gathered in the amphitheater to ponder dramas that reflected the truth and import of their times. At this hinge moment in our history, a decade after 9/11, a trauma out of which it was hoped our best would come forth, we are instead on the ropes. And, frankly, so is much of our theatre, with the special-effects extravaganza of Spider-Man being symptomatic. Truth and import are not its point.
Incredible, the decline-making events in these nine years that Team Spider-Man was blind to: a war that started out well but has gone bad and has lasted too long (Afghanistan); a war that was altogether unnecessary (Iraq); America descending to torture; the Wall Street-driven global financial crash and the threat of another crash; etc. The only Greek drama this blindness invokes is that of Narcissus.
It's instructive to remember that the root word for Narcissus is narke -- stupor -- and that the stupor was the gift of... Nemesis.
Ms. Taymor's early theatre training is in the art of masks. Perhaps her rehabilitation lies in that direction: to trace how a once-great civilization fell into narcissistic decline and how -- if it can dust itself off, remove the mask, get serious and get real, and start all over again -- it might reverse course and restore itself.
[Update: In a long follow-up article, the Times charts Ms. Taymor's rocky piloting of the "Spider-Man" production, describing how she "pushed the musical into Greek myth" and quoting Taymor to say she wanted to "go into this absolutely dreamlike mythic place, out of time, between reality and dream world. That's where I live. You can see that in everything I've done." Going to a "mythic place" is the highest of artistic goals, but one of Taymor's means to get there in this production was to create a "spider villainess named Arachne," who "dispatched her posse of spider-women from their astral plane home to rob shoe stores in Manhattan." At this point I'd say the production had long gone off the rails. At least in this article the Times no longer equates "Spider-Man" to Greek drama, but to "theatre of the absurd." My point about Narcissus and Nemesis now goes double.]
A playwright, Carla Seaquist is author of the play "Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks" and is at work on a new play titled "Prodigal." Her book of commentary, "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character," is now out (www.carlaseaquist.com).
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