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Steven Weber

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Thanks, Art!

Posted: 07/17/11 08:51 PM ET

There are many Arts for which we should be grateful.

There's Linkletter, Clokey, Metrano, Carney, Ashe, Buchwald and C. Clarke to name a few, not to mention the less famous Arts who contribute just as much pleasure and meaning to the lives of those who know, love or even occasionally fear them.

But the greatest and most important of them all is the thing itself. Art.

And in the case of this long-winded rant, I'm talking about Theatre.

I am currently appearing in a play with the absolutely lovely Maura Tierney called Three Hotels, written by Jon Robin Baitz and directed by Robert Falls. It is being produced at the absolutely lovely Williamstown Theatre Festival, located in the absolutely lovely town of Williamstown, Massachusetts, a haven for the creative spirit, a healing balm for those who spend the lion's share of their time trying to matter in the garish narcissopolis of Los Angeles or the humectant crush of New York; a place where burgeoning young artists can, you know, burgeon. For a few weeks, young and (ahem) old alike can perform in classic or brand new plays, hang with their peers, forge new creative alliances, and drink copious amounts of boxed wine.

The festival's renown as a smart. fearless celebration of classic and contemporary theatre was cemented decades ago by an international roster of outstanding actors, directors, writers, designers and sponsors who believe in the importance of theatre in American culture. The Williamstown Theatre Festival is as legendary and essential to American theatre as The Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-Upon-Avon is to the English.

Three Hotels is, very generally, a play about corporate responsibility and the effect it has upon the individual. It is based on actual events, many of which are happening right now in parts of the world. Audiences meet a high-level marketing director for a baby formula company who has designed a program which takes advantage of the poverty and lack of education in many of the countries in which the formula is sold.

The man's knowing complicity becomes his undoing and his (and his loyal but conscience-stricken wife's) world is impacted in ways that, even for one who believes that conscience is a Damoclesian sword hanging over the heads of the those who propagate the type of moral corruption epitomized by the character of "Kenneth Hoyle," rarely if ever hears about nowadays. We still assume that common sense or spiritual regulation will prevail, that those who have sinned will eventually admit to it, that karma -- instant or unhurried -- will catch up.

For the characters in Three Hotels, the lesson is brought home in a tragically personal way; callous cause yields fearful effect.

And it is the dramatized impact upon these individuals that's been so stunning to the WIlliamstown audiences. Because the play reminds them that unregulated, unscrupulous actions in the name of profit actually effect real people, a truth that gets no press in this corporate-driven culture.

At one point, "Kenneth Hoyle" realizes his own sociopathic tendencies, that he doesn't think that "people are actually real," allowing him to do awful things and follow any orders, regardless of the impact, as long as the results are profitable.

Any of this sounding familiar? Have there been any corporate entities acting with similar irresponsibility? Any ideologies which sound good on paper but which fail to deliver positive results to any of their intimidated and delusional followers except to the top-most tier?

The most egregious example would be the tactic wielded brilliantly by the Right Wing Media Machine, delivering fear-laced bromides and reconstituted factoids built from whole cloth. With almost textbook sociopathic expertise, the Right has gotten their followers to miss the essential reality of its various messages: they themselves will be negatively impacted by the very policies they support.

And for those not watching Fox News, the latest activities ascribed to Rupert Murdoch's company, News Corp, will come as no surprise. What is surprising is, to a degree, the crimes committed, both literal and existential, are possibly yielding to a justice rarely seen in the current American landscape. Culpability is being exposed, the effects of ruthless corporate greed are yielding to the finally aroused outrage of those who have had enough. That it took the hacking of a poor, dead teen's phone -the effect of corporate sociopathy on an innocent -- says all.

Soulless, predatory ideologies -- predicated on profit -- and their corporate outgrowths invariably fail because they never truly take the individual into consideration when the fantasy is first crafted. As a human views ants to be stepped upon without thought, so current Right Wing ideology (though, of course, there are plenty of equally culpable "Dems" who practice the same shit while proclaiming their lefty leanings) seemingly views the individual. How else to explain the mindless rejection of science, of environmental regulations, of public education initiatives, of affordable health care for all, of a rational dialogue and rational political representation?

Ultimately, Three Hotels isolates this unfortunate state of affairs, reminding us that an individual's life is fleeting and fragile, that it is important to remember that there is good and bad, right and wrong and that even if a person makes only one gesture in their life -- one that heals, that helps, that enlightens, that ineluctably links one person to the next -- it is the most important event in this world. Too often our eyes and hearts are forcibly pulled away from that realization by greed.

It is lucky for us that Jon Robin Baitz has written such a play; that The Williamstown Theatre festival has produced it; and that the character of "Kenneth Hoyle" is seen to suffer because, nowadays, the violent awakening of his humanity, even at such a high cost, is the only way, it seems, for people to remember that there are predators out there who prey upon the very truth about our lives, our own fleeting lives. And theirs, too.

And we have Art to thank for that.

 

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