Listen. This is a story that has to be told.
That was the opening line of the classic Greek tragedy, Medea, that my wife and I attended at Pepperdine over the weekend. If you are familiar with the play, it is a story that you probably wish had never been told. But we continue to show up for resurrections of Euripides’ terrible tale century after century—so maybe it is true that the story is unavoidable.
I try to attend anything produced by the Fine Arts Division Theatre Program at Pepperdine because every production is always fantastic, and given that our friend, Brad, was the director of and that our friend, Lincoln, composed original electronic music for this particular performance, we marked our calendars for Medea months ago. But wow, what a heart-wrenching story.
I remember the name, Euripides, from some high school textbook mostly because I thought it sounded funny. (“Euripides pants and you’re in big trouble, mister!”) But wow, how unhinged must this classic playwright have been to write such a horrible tale of cold-blooded, unthinkable revenge? What demented mind could imagine Medea, the character?
Obviously the mind of one of the more important playwrights in world history.
Maybe there was method to such madness. Maybe Euripides wrote such a messed-up story to shine a light in the ugliest places of our world so that we might sheepishly walk out of a dark theater committed to building a world that is brighter?
I read that Euripides is known as someone whose work sympathized with society’s outcasts. In Medea we encounter someone so powerless that she resorts to maniacal actions to scream at a world in which she had heretofore been silenced. It is only through unimaginable actions that she is heard.
But I hope we do more than hear her screams. I hope that we listen. I hope that we listen because this is a story that has to be told. If not, we may find ourselves destroyed by the last resorts of the voiceless should their predictable actions not be prevented by the only safeguard remaining — the goodness of their own hearts.
My wife and I attended the opening night of Twelve Angry Americans at Malibu High School last Thursday. Nobody does high school theater quite like Malibu High. It was our first time back since our youngest daughter exited high school stage right a couple of years ago, and it was no surprise to discover that Jodi Plaia is still delivering terrific shows. The entire cast was fantastic, and we particularly enjoyed seeing two of our talented high school friends–Dominic (Juror 1) and Taylor (Juror 3)–in starring roles.
Twelve Angry Americans is Twelve Angry Men adjusted for gender equity, and if you are unfamiliar with the story, it is a moving drama of jury deliberations in the murder trial of an inner-city teen that carried a mandatory execution sentence. The play was written and set in the 1950s in the age of McCarthyism and the Civil Rights Movement and portrayed the fragile nature of democracy in a powerful way. Twelve Angry Men hit the big screen starring Henry Fonda before the decade ended in what is now considered an all-time classic film.
It was sobering to realize that around the time the play ended on Thursday evening my home state of Arkansas executed its fourth person in eight days after twelve years with zero executions. A law school classmate of mine represented the first to be killed and had shared a poignant description of the final hours just days before. Arkansas tried to execute eight people in eleven days because a drug it uses for executions that has been involved in several botched executions is now difficult to obtain and expires today. It is awful to believe that is true, but apparently that was the motivation behind the rush.
I have definite opinions about the death penalty and am bright enough to realize that not everyone agrees with me — or has to. But I would hope that we would engage in deeper conversations on such a grave issue that would at least prevent situations where a state government races the clock to kill citizens because its controversial prescription is running out.
The real message of Twelve Angry Americans is that we must overcome our individual desires, passions, and prejudices to work together for the good of all. As the play so powerfully shows, that is painful, difficult, courageous, and time-consuming work. It feels like the world is less and less interested in putting in that sort of effort.
I am grateful to the young actors and actresses for the important invitation.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged arkansas, courage, death penalty, democracy, effort, executions, henry fonda, jodi plaia, malibu high, theater, twelve angry americans, twelve angry men