Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Something in the Zeitgeist

[These are not pictures from my show. Photos are of Mike Daisey from his performance of How Theater Failed America and from the recent NYC production at the Met of "Dr. Atomic".]

It seems everyone is doing a show about the atomic bomb these days.

I already knew that the Met in NYC was opening “Dr. Atomic”, a new opera by John Adams with libretto by Peter Sellars, taking excerpts from government files and other research. That show, which got a really interesting write up in the NYTimes is more about the creation of the bomb and Oppenheimer’s work on The Manhattan Project (taking a very Faustian approach).

But then I just read that Mike Daisey opened his latest monologue show at Joe’s Pub in NYC called “If You See Something Say Something”. The title is taken from a host of public service ads on the NY subways. I remember seeing them all over the place, sometimes accompanied by a photo of a lone briefcase on a platform (because there might be a bomb in it, get it?).

Here’s an excerpt from the review today by Charles Isherwood:

Mr. Daisey’s ambitious new show traces the philosophical roots of our metastasizing contemporary security apparatus back to the early days of the cold war, when the newly energized war machine was kept in a state of tense alert, the better to rout the Commies should they suddenly spring into action and swamp American shores.

It’s a smart, provocative thesis. Mr. Daisey argues persuasively that the heightened security measures enacted by the current administration echo the Red Scare tactics of the 1950s, when the fear of Communism caused some serious erosion of the ideals enshrined in the Constitution. It has certainly been suggested — and Mr. Daisey adds his voice to the chorus — that the “war on terror” is having side effects similarly toxic to the moral health of the nation.

You can read the entire review here. .

What I find fascinating is that unlike the opera “Dr. Atomic” which focuses on the story of the bomb’s creation, Daisey is, like me, more interested in the current echoes of the cold war with the present day. He seems to compare the heightened security measures of those two eras, especially those in major U.S. cities post-9/11.

From the review he seems to work from an honest place of fascination with the test site in Los Alamos, NM. The Trinity test site is where 7 Minutes to Midnight starts as this is the event which awakens Kronos, signaling him that it’s the end of the world and freedom awaits. In similar fashion, we move forward in time, examining how the atomic bomb affected us in the 1950s, the 1980s, and even now in the present day. And we’re using the myth of Kronos as a lens in which to see these differing times, taking a more abstract approach to the stories.

I admire Daisey for taking on the bomb and I know that his raconteur-ing (that is a word I think I just made up) will add interesting personal commentary to a subject much in need of talking about.

I feel like perhaps we are only now coming to grips with what the legacy of the atomic age means to us now. What does the future hold for us in this world of nuclear weapons and mass destruction. It’s been sixty three years since that first test in Alamogordo on July 16, 1945.

It’s like the world has PTSD and is only now starting to sit down with the therapist and say, “Holy crap, what did we just invent?”