Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Revolution Is Upon Us

It's been quite a week, don't you think?  Election Day brought a miracle that far too many had feared unimaginable: an articulate, calm and confident black man as President of the United States.  On January 20, 2009 intelligence (as well as a healthy respect for science, diplomacy and the arts) will return to the White House.  With restoring the economic health of the middle class at the top of President Obama's agenda, America's breathtakingly photogenic new first family can focus on another really important goal: finding a hypoallergenic puppy for the Obama girls.

Alas, Election Day also brought us a tremendous amount of grief and heartache with the cruel victory of Proposition 8 (which was designed to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to be married in the State of California). With Gus Van Sant's Milk film opening soon  in theaters across the nation, the Mormon church is about to learn some pretty ugly lessons.

First:  Don't mess with the wrong queen(s).   

Second:  Paybacks are a bitch.

After word got out that the artistic director of Sacramento's California Musical Theatre (which began in 1949 in a parking lot and now claims to be the state's largest nonprofit musical theatre company) was a good Mormon who had donated $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign, gay composer Marc Shaiman informed the theater that he was pulling all performing rights to his shows and would urge his colleagues to follow suit. This year's CMT season features Stomp at Christmas, Avenue Q (whose co-creator, Jeff Marx, sings with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles) in March, and in June, Disney's Lion King (which has music by gay composer Elton John, who married his long-time partner David Furnish on December 21, 2005).  Be sure to read what actress Susan Egan has to say about the whole sordid affair.

Opera Pacific recently announced its intention to shut down operations due to the sagging economy.  It's quite possible that Mormon bigot Scott Eckern's endorsement of Proposition 8 could cost him his job as artistic director of California Musical Theatre, the rest of his season, and perhaps the future health and welfare of his theater company.

It doesn't stop there.  Demonstrations against religious bigotry quickly erupted like angry pustules on the acneiform face of California politics.  Revolution is, after all, about the consequences of bad decisions and can often lead to changes in who has the power to make critical choices.  

Soon after November 4th, angry protests erupted in front of Mormon churches in Los Angeles, Oakland, and Salt Lake City.  Huge numbers of protestors took to the streets in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.  California citizens who had tried to defeat Proposition 8 used their creative rage to think of possible ways to retaliate. Some of my favorites include the following scenarios:

1.  As you may recall, prior to Election Day, letters were delivered to businesses that had donated $10,000 or more to the No on 8 campaign demanding equal contributions to the Proposition 8 campaign. Technically, that's a form of extortion.  Since multiple businesses received those letters, the delivery and receipt of such letters constitutes multiple acts of extortion.  These acts could leave the organizers of Proposition 8 (including the Mormon and Catholic churches) vulnerable to a civil lawsuit filed under the RICO Act to investigate charges of criminal racketeering.  According to Wikipedia:

"When the U.S. Attorney decides to indict someone under RICO, he or she has the option of seeking a pre-trial restraining order or injunction to temporarily seize a defendant's assets and prevent the transfer of potentially forfeitable property, as well as require the defendant to put up a performance bond. This provision was placed in the law because the owners of Mafia-related shell corporations often absconded with the assets. An injunction and/or performance bond ensures that there is something to seize in the event of a guilty verdict."
2.   With Catholic and Mormon churches having so clearly crossed the line between church and state, it is conceivable that a lawsuit might force the Internal Revenue Service to reexamine and possibly revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that were active participants in the campaign for Proposition 8 (Idaho Mormons channeled some $400,000 to the Prop 8 campaign).

3.   A furious diarist on DailyKos came up with the brilliant idea of placing a proposition on the next California ballot that would show Christians -- who are so concerned with preserving the sanctity of marriage -- what is really meant by "family values." His plan? Eliminate the right to divorce. 

4.   All those hunky young Mormon boys who perform missionary work in California might be in for a nasty surprise.  Here's a sweet little taste of what awaits them:

4.   And finally, it's Christmas Eve, 2008.  Do you know where your moral high ground is?  As thousands of Mormons and Christians head to Midnight Mass they discover picket lines of angry protestors parading in front of their church doors, giving them a stiff reminder of what it feels like to be told that there's no room at the inn.

Revolution was most certainly in the air this weekend.  As Joe Biden would say:  Literally

Last Friday, as I left my apartment to head over to Berkeley for the opening night performance of the Aurora Theatre Company's production of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, two helicopters were hovering over the city, monitoring traffic around the Castro and Dolores Park areas.  When I returned home from the theater at 11:00 p.m. one of the helicopters was still maintaining its noisy sentinel.  

Such vigilance could not have been more appropriate when one considers that Shaw's only play to be set in the United States takes place in the town of Westerbridge, New Hampshire in November 1777 (some 16 months after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and 11 years before the United States Constitution was formally adopted on September 17, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia). Although hardly one of GBS's greatest hits, The Devil's Disciple -- which had its premiere in 1897 --landed its punches quite nicely.  Now 111 years old, it played to the audience with the ease and merriment of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, evoking hearty laughter as it mercilessly skewered the smug cluelessness of the British aristocracy and the blazing incompetence of its War Office.

The play begins as Mrs. Dudgeon, a most unhappy puritanical soul, is berating one of her family's illegitimate offspring, Essie.  Her husband has recently been hanged by the British and, as Anthony Anderson (the local minister) arrives to console her, he brings word that the black sheep of the family -- her reprobate son Richard -- plans to attend the reading of his father's will. Known for his wicked ways (and having grown to abhor everything his mother holds dear about religion and "proper behavior"), Richard doesn't hesitate to label himself as "the Devil's disciple" who welcomes and embraces Satan's presence in his life.

To Mrs. Dudgeon's total horror, her husband's recently rewritten will leaves the bulk of his estate to Richard, who doesn't hesitate to rub this fact in her disapproving face.  Mrs. Anderson (the very proper wife of the town's minister) finds herself simultaneously repulsed by Richard and yet curiously drawn to him.

Shaw, however, has a keen bit of mistaken identity up his sleeve. With the impending arrival of British troops in town, Richard senses that the local minister is in danger.  When British redcoats come to arrest Anthony Anderson, Dudgeon (who has been invited to the minister's house for tea) offers himself up to be sacrificed while the minister is out running an errand.  Leaving a strict message with the minister's wife, he gets marched off to a rigged court martial, fully expecting to be hanged at the gallows by the British.

Seized with sudden passion by his eagerness to embrace an unjust death -- and horrified by what seems like her husband's selfishness in running off -- Judith insists on trying to stop the wrong man from being hanged.  She interrupts a battle of wits between the streetwise Dudgeon, the blundering Captain Swindon, and the worldly General John Burgoyne who, when Bludgeon refers to him as "Gentleman Johnny," sarcastically informs him that "My most intimate friends call me General Burgoyne." 

Michael Ray Wisely, Gabriel Marin and Trish Mulholland 
(Photo by David Allen)

Shaw's play demonstrates with delicious wit how the necessity of quick thinking can instantly transform a reprobrate into a potential martyr,  a priest into a rebel leader, and a self-righteous prude into a passionate pacifist.  Gabriel Marin brought a rugged masculinity to the role of Richard Dudgeon, while Warren David Keith's Burgoyne dripped with bemused condescension ("I would never hang someone by an American clock!")  

Michael Ray Wisely and and Gabriel Marin (Photo by David Allen)

Soren Oliver (Anthony Anderson), Trish Mulholland (Mrs. Dudgeon), and Stacy Ross (Judith Anderson) lent strong support under Barbara Oliver's deft direction.  I particularly liked John Iacovelli's simple set and Anna R. Oliver's period costumes.  

The Devil's Disciple continues through December 7th at the Aurora Theatre Company in downtown Berkeley (the Bay area's hotbed of revolutionary ideas is the perfect location for a play in which ordinary Americans are transformed into revolutionary figures).  The intimacy of the Aurora Theatre's arena seating makes the wit and wisdom of Shaw's words so much more relevant to today's political crises.

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