The Poor Dears!

Looks like the new hope-n-changey environment has deflated one artistic balloon:

No theatrical event of 2008 captured the political mood of the country quite like the Public Theater’s hit revival of the Vietnam-era rock musical “Hair” in Central Park last summer. Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain were sparring daily about whether to withdraw troops from Iraq; “Hair” and its antiwar anthems gave voice not only to the anger that many people felt about the 2003 invasion, but also to the hopes that many of them had invested in Mr. Obama.

He is President Obama now, and soon both he and the country will come to a reckoning point in Iraq, as his administration prepares to withdraw tens of thousands of troops over the next 16 months. And the New York theater world is reflecting that national moment, just as the Public did with “Hair,” by mounting several significant productions this winter and spring that wrestle with themes of war, its legacy, and responsibility and accountability.

But will theatergoers continue to be interested in issues raised by war? Given Americans’ exhaustion with the war in Iraq, and the departure of President Bush, not to mention the nation’s dire economic landscape, will there be a demand for war plays? Once again, “Hair” may prove to be a reflection of a national mood: the producers are transferring it to Broadway in early March, and they have had difficulty lining up investors to cover costs (a deepening recession is, of course, also a factor). Will audiences stay away?

Now that the departure of President Bush from the scene has deprived the monochromatically independent playwrights of their primary target, perhaps they will turn to never-before-explored facets of the human comedy for inspiration, such as:

  • The soul-deadening nature of suburbia
  • How hard it is to be an urban gay
  • Middle-class couples and their empty marriages
  • The all-embracing evil of corporations
  • Child-molesting clerics (preferably Catholic)
  • The wisdom and insight imparted by the homeless, drunks and minorities
  • The horror visited upon sensitive intellectuals by Midwest and Southern Republicans
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