My whole life I've been an artist. Specifically, an actor. And, most of us actors take that line of Hamlet's quite seriously -- "to hold a mirror up to nature."
Yes, it's always been the role of artists to tell stories, illuminate through pictures, art, music.... For Native Americans, of which I am on my mother's side, it's actually a sacred role. The shaman weaves stories to heal, to bring the spirit people into our present moment and reconnect ourselves with our most ancient truths.
However, I never thought I'd necessarily make art in order to be political. But, when you think about it -- Angels in America, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Raisin in the Sun, A Doll's House and the rest of Ibsen for that matter, Shaw, the work of Chaplin, Chayefsky's Network, Dickens, Orwell -- in all these, telling the truth strikes a chord so resonant that art transcends its boundaries, and challenges the political vacuum within which it was born.
In 2009, I'd been creating solo shows in New York for about a decade and then my solo show Swimming with the Polar Bears premiered off-Broadway. It was my deeply personal, 20-plus-year survival story from AIDS and cancer. I'd been diagnosed when I was only 19 back in the days when they told you you only had months to live. It was my very real and determined survival story. In the play, I dreamed of meeting an Eskimo holy man at the North Pole, who told me I had to find the polar bears, who were also dying -- from the melting Arctic ice caps. My mission: to save the polar bears. We performed the play as a benefit for former Vice President Al Gore's Climate Project, and then at the United Nations Climate Change Conference and the next year for the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Now, I'd never meant for the play to be overtly "political" -- but as the climate change debate "heated" up, it seemed it could only be perceived that way. It was my own story of survival. Watching this political dialogue unfold around my story made the pivotal role of this story abundantly clear to me. As Hamlet put it, "The play's the thing."
A few months later, I got a call from an old friend, off-Broadway actress Janice Markham. She said, "I have this idea for a movie, about this conservative Tea Party couple who get caught up in this whole health care controversy."
Ron and Laura Take Back America was born. A sort of modern day All in the Family, Ron and Laura are surrounded by all the things they are trying to take America back from -- African-Americans, undocumented immigrants, Muslim-Americans and gays... oh my!! But we knew how important it was that it not be a one-way street. We also wanted to show the hypocrisy of the left, the raging liberals, foul-mouthed seniors, pyramid scheme yoga teachers...! We're equal opportunity.
Ultimately, Ron and Laura is more than a comedy or mockumentary for us. It's a reflection of an American family torn against itself by rhetoric, politics and identity. The culture wars have created a schism in our country and through the heart of Ron and Laura's family. Their son is gay and while they try to get him to go to an ex-gay group, he announces he wants to marry a black man.
Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, religious Intolerance, immigrant-phobia and the hysteria of both the right and left -- these have all become potent political tools in our times. We all know our country is so deeply divided that at times it seems we live in two countries -- red and blue.
This is the illusion we explore. In reality, of course, it doesn't exist, unless we believe it to be so. We look at it all head on, with comedy. Political? Sure. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live, The Onion, -- political parody is certainly alive and well.
But perhaps it transcends even that somehow?
A native holy man told me years ago, "The Ancient ones have been waiting for you to tell the story."
Hopefully, laughter is the best medicine.
RON AND LAURA TAKE BACK AMERICA premieres in Los Angeles in late October. www.ronandlauratakebackamerica.com
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