t a time when the average person didn't own a TV 'set', it seemed no oddity to see semicircles of people gathered before appliance store windows, watching twenty or thirty black and white TV sets, arranged in banks like canned goods, or the panorama we see behind the blonde debutantes (and a 'most sexy man' talking head with back fence yentl emphases) who now circulate news of the 'latest'. The haze of being in love with Peter directed my eyes elsewhere until it hit me in the face at the tobacconist's, where the greasy black and gray image of the scowling senator from Wisconsin (and his cuties, Roy Cohn and David Schine) was badgering a witness before his committee with the same contempt I was getting from the shopkeeper I was paying nineteen cents for my pack of ciggies.
A glance at the next pass of a TV store made it clear what the attraction there was, and why we were being spat upon and glared at by the wrinkled old apartment dwellers of San Francisco. It was my good fortune to be buying my pack of Fatimas (Fah-tee'-mus), one day, when I heard,
"Sir. Sir! Have you no shame, sir! Have you no shame?"
Back on the street, it became noticeable within hours that the police were no longer at one's shoulder to see whether we were on or off a curb before the traffic light turned green. A while before Mr. Welch's stunning remark and that grand moment in US history made theatrical by the new medium of television, I'd gone, on Clay's recommendation, to see, at a new theatre company called Actors Workshop's, a staging of Arthur Miller's The Crucible (which had gotten the 1953 Tony Award) in an old warehouse in the Mission district where I'd gone earlier to see the same company do Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. At those moments richest in meaning to that shameful era of the past attempting to arrest the future we were living through, I heard a hundred other people laughing or gasping at the same time as I, and it consoled my heart to know that I was not alone in my distaste for the mean spiritedness of those competitive forces in our society. It is not necessary to be barbaric to prepare to meet barbarians. The Crucible dramatization of the Salem witchcraft trial showed Americans how very impolite and un-politic were the actions of the very politicians on the tube daily.
I was heartened to know that my neighbors and I were not alone in our beliefs. In gratitude, I went to see Herbert Blau, Professor and Artistic Director of the new company, in his little office at San Francisco State College. In gratitude I volunteered my services, knowing for the first time, the power of theatre to relieve suffering in society's mind.
"Well," he said, "our restrooms need painting."
It is no wonder that the Hungarian Revolution in 1953 was launched from the stages of its theaters. The Living Theater enacted the diagram in Paradise Now, made in their exile to commemorate Paris's 1968 uprising that unfolded from the Odeon with its doors bricked shut against state violence. And the Velvet Revolution was bicameral: between the people in the 'house' and those in the green room of Vaclav Havel's Magic Lantern theater in Prague.
Reflecting on this time in America, I think back to the beginning in the 1940's after WWII when the ruckus over Communism began in earnest. Odd that Communists should be searched out in government so soon after a time, joined with them, we and the rest of the civilized world had to defend our nation against Nazi Fascists and a Kamikaze military bent on world domination. I'd thought, before my Army service, that cries against communism were just part of Sunday sermons from the pulpits of the Church. Harry Truman called the congressional brouhaha a 'red herring', and now I think on it, within the decade, Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address to The Presidency had named its perpetrators 'The Military-Industrial Complex'. Already, in 1954, cries against 'planned obsolescence' (son of 'bombs wear-out-faster-than-Buicks') were sharing the front-page with maps of the Bay Area overlaid with concentric circles of dotted lines. Each circle signified a level of destruction outward from detonation of an Atom bomb above a bay turned to steam. They listed the number of deaths, with everything for three miles flattened. The rich moved out of town.
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