Fear, bad teeth and comedy

22 May

Just had a lovely evening with a playwright friend, talking about the drive towards “uplifiting’ comedies in the theatre at the moment. The conventional wisdom seems to be that in grim times, people want to laugh. But when people tell you that a play is “too dark”–what are they saying? Too dark for whom? (And what would Toni Morrison make of the “dark/ light” poetics of cheer vs. gloom here?) There’s always a ring of fear behind this assertion of the need for comedy. Now, I like to laugh too, but I don’t like ONLY to laugh in the theatre. I want to feel connection, and truth, and for the world to look different afterwards because my perception has been re-aligned by the force of another vision of the world.

Anyway (leaving aside for a moment the likelihood that this drive to jolly, small-cast, comedies is the last rictus grin of a dying dinosaur, the paying theatre) we were puzzling over why London audiences seem, well, comfortable with discomfort–with the notion that sharing the dark makes it easier to breathe in it.

And (from my Alien perspective) I wonder if this relentless drive towards the Uplifting in the U.S. theatre is based on the very American fear that there is no net. That the individual is supposed to be the measure of all things, and if you are sad or broke or bereaved or laid off, then you personally are a failure and will fall into the abyss. This American Nightmare is the flip side of the Dream, and the stick it wields drives people much harder than the Dream’s carrot. There is no social safety net here, and perhaps that’s why the anxiety to believe that everything will work out OK is so great. Because if it doesn’t, you could be begging on the street with your teeth rotting out of your head because there’s no universal health care, nor a sense that a civilized society requires it.

2 Responses to “Fear, bad teeth and comedy”

  1. Julie August 5, 2009 at 5:28 am #

    This has the ring of truth I have thought often about my personal lack of a safety net as a single middle aged New Yorker but hadn’t contextualized it as the fear of the inside out American dream. Great insight – thanks!



  1. Red Fern show- final week! « writing.performance - March 19, 2010

    […] write about this more fully another day, but (referring back to some thoughts in an old post, Fear, Bad Teeth and Comedy) I think it’s to do with WHERE the fear is located in the theatre. When the terror is of […]

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