Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My "First Love" Play

By Jonathan Spector
Director, Tea Party

I have been supervising the play selection for BAPF, on and off (under various titles), for the last six years.  My favorite moment in the process is invariably the first time each year that I read a play I fall in love with.  Usually this moment comes just after reading several plays that I don’t consider strong submissions, for one reason or another, and wondering why this year’s batch don’t seem to be as strong as the previous year.  And then I open THE PLAY, and just a couple of pages in, the temperature in the room seems to change.  I’m no longer reading dialogue executed with various levels of skill. Instead, I’m in the room in the present moment, living with a playwright’s voice. This First Love moment is significant not just for whatever that play might be, but for the possibility that the same kind of excitement and joy lies in many more of the as-yet-unread plays.
This year, my first love play was Tea Party. 

It’s smart and funny and strange with exquisite language – all the things I love in a play. It’s also brazenly political, willingly to actually dig into the substance of ideas, which is something I don’t see very often in American plays. 

I’m a compulsive consumer of politics “news”. I begin each morning by opening my computer and moving through a cycle of the New York Times, Talking Points Memo, The Daily Beast, Slate, Politico (to see what the other side is thinking), and the Huffington Post. I do this to stay up to date, but on a more fundamental level, what I do is the equivalent of flipping to the sports page as soon as I open the paper – I want to see if my team won the game last night.  How many games back from first are we? Across the country, I know millions of people wake up in the morning and go through a bizarro version of the same routine – checking the Wall Street Journal, Politico, RedState, The Weekly Standard and The New York Times (to see what the other side is thinking).

Lately, I’ve begun to wonder if this approach to politics is healthy for me, or for anyone else.  We increasingly live in a bifurcated reality, two parts of the population operating with two sets of facts. It doesn’t matter much that my facts are for the most part, actually true. What matters is that substantive discourse is less and less possible.  This is where Tea Party begins. It asks what happens to a democracy when discourse is no longer possible. In the world of Gordon's play, everyone holds his or her truth to be self-evident, even though it may not evident to anyone else.  The scenario it plays out is terrifying, in part because it feels so plausible. 

As a director, getting to work on my first love play is little like finally being able to consummate a long-lasting courtship. Or since this is a workshop, perhaps it’s more like getting to second base. 
For Tickets and other info on Tea Party of The Bay Area Playwrights Festival: Click Here

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