An important play is being staged as the last month of the Monkey Wrench Collective’s existence in Fullerton fades. It is actually a sequence of 8 short pieces, all of them US premieres, by prominent playwrights from the United Kingdom.
The plays are important because they were all written within the last two years and they all express the social disruption of our times from the social intellectual perspective.
The Monkey Wrench has long been known for breaking new ground and drawing from the vanguard of dramatic talent from the UK. And for this closeout production they have pulled a powerful collection of dramatic subject and skill together.
Director Dave Barton presents us with a series of vignettes, each introduced by a video sequence pulled from recent news, that frame this “Year of Protest” within the lives of those involved. The multi-media style, and the always crisp Monkey Wrench portrayal, lend a sense of urgency to the plays.
The plays are presented by some of the theaters most talented and award winning actors. Cynthia Ryanen is compelling in her exploration of the life of a clown whose daughter has special needs. Bryan Jennings and Jill Carey Martin are spot-on in the somewhat comic relief short about two poorer subjects who refuse state aid. Terri Mowrey and Patti Cumby present the effects of the destruction of a home. Also the cast of recurring Monkey Wrench playwright Mark Ravenhill’s “A Bigger Banner” mark the span of 60 years of activism well. Scott Barber is riveting in “Fragile”.
The over-arching theme might be budget cuts and protests, but there is one sequence that involves shadowy government agents that incriminate hapless dupes for the benefit of the state, telling them “It’s not about you”. In the context of the other plays it is unclear if this is to be taken as a bad thing or a good thing. And that brings us to the ideas behind the plays and these UK playwrights themselves.
It must do something strange deep inside your brain when you are raised in a nation that still has a Queen. Historically, to oppose the person wearing the crown, a.k.a. “The Crown”, was to oppose your country and was thought of as weakening the nation. That unwillingness to question the head of state must still be in the backs of the minds of the playwrights of the United Kingdom. Those royal weddings where the nation seems to rotate around the hour of royal matrimony must instill some sense of allegiance to the state that we are blissfully unaware of here in the US. That could explain why the characters in “Whiff Whaff” are portrayed as stupid country cousins (much like Americans once were) for refusing to see the goodness in having the state look after their health. Or why Linda in “Hi Vis” pitiably concedes “We are the small people”. Heck if you’re not knighted, what are you? Don’t tell me you work for a living?
This could explain why several of the plays seem to see the government as the source of wealth. Anders Lustgarten, who was raised in Brixton but got his PHD at Berkeley, attacks capitalism as a “fat man”, a sponge that sucks up all the wealth generated by the state in his play “The Fat Man”. He channels Elizabeth Warren (US Special Advisor to the CFPB) when he says, “We educate his workers. We build roads for his goods.” The government is portrayed as a source from which knowledge and wealth out-flow. No thought or mention of who pays the workers that pay the taxes that build the roads for his goods and to his factories. What a richer country we would be, he says, if we didn’t have to pay for all these factories.
The author thinks he has the solution to the economic downturn when he says, “And the main thing is, there’s sh**loads of money out there. It’s a question of who has it.” And here they rely on the kingdom’s historical method of wealth generation: conquest. It is interesting how often “the bailout” comes up in protester's complaints on the stage and in the news. It is especially interesting when you consider how few opposed the bailout: one small faction in one party in one nation on earth, and they were labeled “The party of ‘no’”. Perhaps they have to fatten the fat man before asking for “shared sacrifice”.
In all, these timely and well staged plays are important because they encapsulate the view and deeply held beliefs of a major faction of our population and even our government. See them and start the discussion.