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Theater Dads

Essay
P.C.M. Christ

Theater Dads

In his three-part commentary on the Culture War, Aeneas Tacticus Minor has raised several relevant concerns regarding the current state of art, artists and patronage, all of which has garnered thoughtful response, but more controversial and less discussed is his proposed solution, namely the theater as the corner stone for a new cultural offensive.

He does not mention classical plays, but this may seem an attractive, even organic, next step with the online Right’s return to reverence for all things Greek; though much of the dissident art scene’s problem is a deficit in original content, rather than a willingness toward reenactment. But ATM’s solution also required a provocative but measured advocation for self-doxxing, not only to find friends and networks, but to break the social barrier underlying anonymity in regards to patronage and developing a supporting and returning audience. And while it is apparent that many of our pieces and ideas are beginning to move into public discourse, I’m not convinced taking this show on the road is the way to go… just yet. There is real value, friendships, networking and even an audience to be found in meat space, but the path to the cultural discourse is now the online, the viral, the influencer, the meme path. If we have any hopes of changing the culture, then we must be willing to participate in and contribute to it.

In our current age, a creative work’s cultural impact is arguably quantifiable by the amount of memes it inspires. Looking specifically at tiktok and Instagram, performance, mimesis, remixes and commentary are built into the entire ecosystem, mirroring the drama and exhibition of the theater. This is a gold-mine of mimetic potential. If narratives and their reenactment could find their niche amongst social media trends, then we will have grasped a piece of culture and added to it, thereby strengthening our foothold in the online discourse.

The idea then is that through objectively good writing, tongue-in-cheek subversion of regime narratives and concentrated efforts toward promotion and propagation, stage play(s) posted and/or performed online might find their place in the culture as theater once did, hopefully leading to Restoration and the mimetic production of the most urgent of our cultural needs, for accurate, dramatic representation of our lives.

Participation in this model could also be attractive to social-media users, beyond pure fun and entertainment, because it holds the same appeal for being “discovered” as modeling. It attaches human faces to art, which of course brings legitimacy. Most importantly, and fun of all, the formats to play with are endless. Imagine tiktok duets or stitches acting out a play or comparative readings. Instagram stories where each video delivers the next line or character. Imagine art accounts dedicated to the dissemination of miniature scripts, released line by line or scene by scene for any audience or persons who would be interested in such a “production.” It’s a web novel but designed for the performance art that is social media.

While some may only see this as an encroachment on Zoomer sociality, this is in fact an exploration of the medium in a novel landscape, necessarily so because it lacks the lexicon and structure to navigate there at present. As such, it allows for a reinvigoration of performance, reenactment and audience participation not hardly seen outside the theater in its heyday.

Toward this end, and as an exercise in post-authorship, I have included my short story, Dads.Against.Death. at the end of this essay but have edited and reformatted it for the stage, with a little help from Kevin Kautzman (@kautzmania).

I encourage anyone with the notion to act this out. Reading aloud, performing it at home, recreating it with friends, even for an audience. Whether recording or not, you will come to learn and know what it is like to embody a new vision: to distill the abstract and manifest it through your actions.

Perhaps new friendships and theater companies will be made through such endeavors? Perhaps a star will be born? A little play can be acted out in a Dimes Square apartment, or a Midwestern basement, or on a 300 or 3M follower account with the audiences of each sobbing cries of laughter, awash in the shared stillness of affect, a little more alive than before.

Whilst I don’t expect we will see a lot of frogs and anons leaping to their feet to record such a thing, perhaps some will. It is certainly time to begin bringing our vision into the real world. The notion that one might get their friends together and act out is an appealing one. Performing a play may indeed be the first step toward something beyond keyboard intellectualism. If healthcare narcissists can coordinate dance routines, certainly someone can appreciate and deliver on a based work, yes?

If this were successful by any stretch of the imagination, we will have extended ourselves into the discourse, but without the need for a traveling troupe, a wealthy patron, or even necessarily to doxx ourselves. We will have proved our competence, talent and ability to enthrall, though internet virility and popularity are certainly ways to attract patronage, whether through crowdfunding or the aspiring 21st century Medici.

ATM is onto something, if for a different reason than intended. We live in a world of performance. All of life is now quite literally a stage. Maybe what our world has been missing, and what we artists can provide, at the very least, is an entertaining and meaningful narrative not only to envision but enact.

 

DADS.AGAINST.DEATH.

A Play in One Act by P.C.M. Christ

 

Cast of Characters

Death: cloaked and hooded in black with a white mask

Steve: a man in his 20s

Jared: a man in his 30s

Jeremy: a man in his 20s

Mark: a young man out of Bible college

Chet: the support group leader

 

SCENE

The bare-walled basement of church.

 

TIME

The present.

 

“The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.” -Sigmund Freud

 

ACT 1

Scene 1

 

SETTING:

A bare room with white-washed walls of cinder blocks with a semi-circle of folding chairs sitting primitively as a place of council. A folding table holds a drip pot of coffee with a stack of disposable cups next to it.

 

AT RISE:

DEATH enters and positions himself in the corner, standing out of respect, stirring a cup of black coffee with a boned finger. He turns and addresses the audience.

 

DEATH

This meeting, held every Thursday evening, is in the basement of Victory Baptist Church, a former early twentieth-century civic building in the middle of a small compound, known and beloved for its surrounding, idiosyncratic landscape; an eclectic arrangement of English walnut and plum trees, the swaying branches of which can be seen through the small rectangular windows topping the basement walls. The room, in this case and often, smells recently vacuumed and of coffee.

 

STEVE

Uh, hello. My name is Steven, or Steve.

 

CAST

Hi Steve.

 

STEVE

I, uh, I don’t really know, uh, how to start or do. I guess I lost my son, his name is Josh, around a year ago. He was three, but he would be four now. I mean, Jesus, this is fucked. Um,I was at the gym, getting extra pumped. I love, loved, to work out, ya know? It was a good day. Work was going good. Just doing my usual routine. Thought I would stop by and get a little exercise in, go home and see the wife and the little man. So I come home, I open the door, and I don’t know what the fuck happened. I don’t take steroids, maybe a protein shake sometimes. Creatine on occasion; I don’t know.

Anyways, I come back. I honk the alarm twice. Let them know I’m home. I always do that. Right as I open the front doorway, my little boy comes running at me full blast, like he always does, he’s so fast guys, he was so fast, and I pick him up and throw him up in the air a little bit, and, I guess, I don’t know. I lost my grip, something, I mean, because he just rockets up, like fast, and half his tiny body just busts through the ceiling. I mean it’s just a little apartment, ya know, with the lower ceiling with the ridges and its white, and…ah, fuck, man…oh shit.

 

DEATH

He weeps. His wordy breaths struggling against his sobs, each attempted syllable choked on and pulled back inside. They wait, a hand on his shoulder tethering him to the room and their collective wisdom. The understanding that Grief must be managed internally but expressed externally. It is as personal an experience as Love.

 

STEVE

So, all of a sudden, Josh’s lower half is just hanging out of the ceiling, so I’m like ‘Oh, shit’, and I try to get him, and I’m pulling, but he won’t come down. So, I just start breaking the ceiling around him. Smashing it. I finally get my little dude down, but he’s gone. My little boy is gone, man! My boy, my boy, my boy, my boy. I threw my little boy through a fucking ceiling. They say death was instant, but that’s not even a fucking consolation at this point.

 

DEATH

Each man here has found themselves smothered by disbelief, choking on the surrealism of their lives. Not a one flinches. Any movement would unleash the unending torrent of pain that they all hold but can only share one drop at a time.

 

JARED

Hello. Everyone. My name is Jared.

 

CAST

Hi Jared.

 

JARED

Hello. Hey, listen Steve, I’m really sorry, man. I’m so sorry, dude. I really am. I lost my sixteen year old daughter a little over a year ago. Four-hundred-twelve days to be exact. I’ve, uh, never talked about this, told the story, so, sorry, forgive me.

 

DEATH

The circumstances of death have no consideration   for those who must deal with the aftermath. The chasm consuming a person in grief as they know the first question on people’s minds is ‘how did it happen?’. No mercy. The embarrassment, the guilt, the blame, the why.

 

JARED

So it’s kind of fucked, actually, really messed up. Me and the wife, the wife and I, my wife and I, decided to do some weekend cleaning, ya know around the house, nothing fancy, and we mixed some chemicals in a bucket. I have mixed those chemicals together since forever. Anyways, um, sorry, and to mix those chemicals I used an old broom handle. It’s so messed up. We had such a good time. You never know its coming. For God’s sake, it was a nice fucking day!

 

DEATH

There are imperceptible nods. Ironically, the ones who spent the last days bedside indoors, know this most of all; when your world has crashed and changed forever, eventually you will walk out a door, and that World will have not changed at all.

 

JARED

And so we’re done for the night, I give it a last mix, cover the bucket, ya know with an old t-shirt, lean the broom handle against the wall. My wife says, she says is it okay to leave that there, and I say, I’ll never forget this, As long as no one sucks off the broom handle. We chuckle, and we go to bed. Make love. I don’t know how to say this. My daughter, she, uh, she used the broom handle. I don’t know. Ya know. And then you get so mad, and next thing you know you’re calling your dead daughter a stupid bitch, but, of course, you don’t say it, and you don’t mean it, but the thought crosses your mind, and even worse, you’re sitting there, and I’m just wondering, what the hell happened to my little girl?

 

DEATH

The man’s eyes bulge in a frantic search for answers. There are none to find, nor any for them to give.

 

JARED

And, so, um, it was on camera, a-a-webcam. Ah, fuck, dude, I don’t want to tell you guys this. I have to, right? I can’t keep it in. Haven’t seen the tape, the recording. I don’t want to. Never will. Please don’t watch it. I beg you. I don’t know if its on the internet, but it has to be, right? I can’t risk it. I don’t know what’s on there. The whole goddamn world might see it. I just, I don’t, I don’t know. Ahem, excuse me. But basically, the police said, somebody offered her $100, and, uh, there you go. You know what really pisses me the fuck off? It wasn’t even real fucking money. It was some thing for a fucking game. I mean, holy shit, my daughter died with a broomstick in her mouth, so she could buy downloadable content or something? Holy shit, Jesus Christ! What the fuck am I supposed to think about that? And the whole world can watch? What the fuck? Seriously, what am I supposed to think about that? What the fuck am I supposed to think about that?

 

DEATH

They have felt this before. Bewilderment, a close cousin to Grief. But they are doomed to sit. Their offerings must be quiet ones, their only possible condolences being words, nods, and giving the man someone to see when he looks up from the floor aghast.

 

JEREMY

Hello to you all. My name is Jeremy.

 

CAST

Hi Jeremy.

 

JEREMY

Wow, uh, that is some pretty heavy stuff guys. Mine’s not…well, I lost my newborns a couple months ago to SIDS. Yeah, two months old. Same fucking night. My wife used to check on them obsessively, women right, heh, and one night she goes in and, I mean, you don’t forget that kind of scream man, you fucking can’t. So I just jump and go in there, and we’re, you know, trying to figure out what to do, and what happened, and we call 911. And in the midst of it all, we get to the point where we are both on the ground crying and rocking our children, we’ve called the ambulance and I realize that I never put any underwear on. I mean, who the fuck has that thought in the first place? But I did. My wife always wears a nightie or whatever, so no worries,  right?

But I’m sitting there, having just lost my brand new babies, two months old, and I’m naked. So what the hell do you do, man? Do I leave my wife and kids to put on underwear? We’re both in hysterics. We lost our kids before my wife has even healed. I’ve just lost my babies. Do I let the paramedics come in to find two wailing parents, one butt naked, sitting there, drowning in grief? How could I even have such a thought, guys?

 

DEATH

The cold wind continues to blow outside where, beyond the window panes, the trees have begun to retreat inside themselves, shedding what was beautiful to endure the cold winter ahead. The sidewalks crunch pleasantly underfoot of passersby.

 

MARK

Hi. Pleasure to meet everyone. I mean, it’s not. My name is Mark.

 

CAST

Hi Mark.

 

MARK

So, my wife and I, we actually belonged to this church as missionaries. I just came back about a month ago. This was our home church, so that is why I am here. We were missionaries to Indonesia. We being myself, my wife and our precious daughter, Abigail, who had just turned ten years old when she passed. Thankfully, I guess, I wasn’t there when it happened. But that’s not true. If I was there, I could have saved her. But I wasn’t. I was not there. No, I was not. Anyways, we’re supposed to tell the story, right? I’m studying, my Bible. I am studying my Bible, the Holy Bible that is, the Word of freaking God, and like all the rest of the stories, my wife starts screaming her head off. What’s up with that? She starts screaming…she just…

 

DEATH

Despite himself, the man realizes he is losing it. He realizes that he is behaving erratically in front of strangers. He has lost his cool, and he is not one to do so. Perhaps that self awareness saves him from a psychotic break. Perhaps that is why they are here. The men look on, immune. Get it out, brother. Get it out.

 

MARK

And she is screaming her head off, because there is a python in our front yard, just laying there in the sun. And I’m sure, you can guess, there is this big bulge in the python’s mid-section. She’s already past the gullet, if you have ever read about Python anatomy, I didn’t but I have, well now I have. I know everything about them now. And, so anyways, we think it’s a little piglet that we had on the property, which, of course, we had bought for Abigail. And we keep looking for our daughter, and that little fucking pig just comes trotting and oinking around the corner.

 

DEATH

Barely perceived, they lean forward, desperately searching for evidence, any indication of the line where the absurdities of life cross over into its cruelties.

 

MARK

And my wife and I look at each other and I start for the snake, but she just, she just, she just starts chasing that God damn pig, and I’m just staring after her, when I kinda come to, ya know, and I go and I grab a machete and hack that motherfucker, that snake’s head off and I split him open, and there she is. There she is, guys. My baby. She was cold, and she died alone, and she couldn’t even breathe enough to scream for her Daddy. And I wipe my baby’s hair back,  and my wife comes running by screaming, still chasing that fucking piglet with a machete. And I call the ambulance, and there is nothing they can do. Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch my wife, but she’s trying to catch this pig. But she finally catches the pig and then she hacks it to death, and I can’t get anywhere close because of the machete, but I also don’t want to leave my daughter, our daughter, but the ambulance wants to take her, and then my wife starts shoving the pig’s corpse down the throat of this dead snake. Like, what the heck is she doing?

And so I just have to leave her to stay with Abigail. I’m sure you all know the drill. Ambulance, death certificate, claiming the body and all. You’d be amazed of the paperwork to get a body across internal lines. So, I can’t find my wife when I come back at first. It takes me weeks to find her. And it turns out within a month she had started a snake cult out in the jungle, just like a church, just like we had gone there to do. She had a congregation, the whole shebang, just dancing around in the jungle, singing, butchering piglets to shove in that snake’s rotting corpse. I had to have her tranquilized just to get her home.

 

DEATH

At this, Grief, my helpmate, imposes herself on the room, suffocating. The death of a child is always a family affair, and loss compounds. The reactions of the men’s wives are too distant and too personal for them to discuss, a shared but private hell for each one, alone.

 

CHET

Okay, fellas. Thank you guys, really. Thank you for sharing. I know it’s not easy. We also know, all of us know, that time heals all wounds. Remember we are here and there for you, for one another. When you’re out and about, if you start to flounder, you hold on, because we’ll be right here next week. Remember, we are here for each other. Dads Against Death will be here every week, rain, snow or shine. Feel free to more coffee. Alright, then. Thank you guys.

 

DEATH

Afterward, every man felt the night’s chill to its fullest as the door swung open. They filed out the front, holding the door for whoever was behind them but never stopping, their arm stretching backward as far as it could possibly go. Eventually, they all reach back, find nothing, and keep going forward.

 

(BLACKOUT)

(CURTAIN)

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