Art – 4/5 Stars
From the author of the play God of Carnage, this play begins with a short monologue from one of the three characters explaining how his friend has just bought a new piece of art of 220,000 euros. This painting is solid white, with a white background, but with the smallest indication of three diagonal stripes across the middle and maybe something at the bottom. The friend who bought it is a dentist of modest means and this piece represents a giant part of his income and financial assets. The first speaker is mortified by the purchase because of how shockingly stupid he finds the piece and the decision to buy it. From there, we get monologues from the buyer of the art, and from a third friend who acts as a kind of counterweight to the central conflict of the art.
It should be noted that this play is a comedy and at times is really funny. It’s also from the early 1990s and man if it doesn’t really feel that way. The central conflict is about what is the nature of art, sure, but specifically what is the nature of the business of art and what relationship that has to the experience of art. I am no artist and not really that much of a consumer of art. I actually have to admit that the canvas itself sounds really compelling to me as a piece, and I usually am not swayed by that. But the play wrestles with a question of aestheticism in art compared to say, a pragmatic understanding of the purpose of art, and say, what it means to own art. Obviously the late 80s saw a big swing in the art market, which is still swinging. I can only think in literature in terms of book collection, where rare and specific books go for a lot and it’s entirely separate from their content. I think that’s almost certainly the closest I can come really understanding these questions.
Boy – 3/5 Stars
I am even LESS equipped to understand and weigh in on the questions of this play. Here we meet Sam/Adam in different stages of his life. An accident at birth has severed his penis and testicles, and a well-known doctor has convinced his grieving parents to opt to raise him as a girl, put the child through hormone treatment, and eventually have bottom surgery. The play is set along three specifics time periods: the early questions of the birth and early childhood in the late 60s/early 70s, growing up as a girl and ultimately learning the truth in the late 70s and early 80s, and coming out as a man, Adam selecting his name, and trying out being out there in the world in the late 80s and early 90s.
The play is strange because it flips the script in a lot of ways. I can’t tell how it’s interacting with various other texts that talk about trans identity, or if it’s a completely separate thing altogether. I do know that the play brings up the questions of nature versus nurture, and what kinds of essentialisms we try to force into the world. One thing I did think is that it seems like an early attempt to have some of these conversations, and because I don’t know which angle the play seems to be addressing, it’s hard to figure out what questions are being addressed. Adam is super distressed and has been traumatized by his various experiences when we see him as an adult, that much is clear.
An American Daughter – 2/5 Stars
An almost quaint little political play that involves a famous doctor being proposed by a Republican president in the 1990s to become Surgeon General, as a kind of safe choice to split the difference among constituents. Her father is a well-known Republican Senator, and her husband is a famous liberal academic and public intellectual. The play centers around a brunch where these three plus a reporter, our lead character’s close friend, a former grad student and new feminist academic star, and a gay Republican politico all attend. At the brunch, a joke is made about the doctor not serving jury duty, which spins into scandal where she’s asked to account for this oversight, and we learn about fairness and double-standards.
Like I said, it’s almost quaint, and maybe the quaintness keeps it relevant, but also I don’t think it does. Anyway, I couldn’t help think of how Tom Daschle’s nomination for HHS got tanked ten years later because a weird tax situation, and well, look at the everything now!