Judgment day. Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:28:34
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Category: Culture

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The title of this column is intimidating me. It keeps sounding like “Last Will and Testment.” I, Christopher Durang, being of sound mind and not on antidepressants, do hereby bring this edition of this magazine to a close. And to my beloved housekeeper, I leave all previous editions of this magazine, as well as a subscription to Backstage and Variety. And a video copy of Beyond the Forest, the film in which Bette Davis says “What a dump.”
Then again, maybe “Last Word” isn’t meant to be a will; instead perhaps it’s the title of the Sermonette that comes on the TV screen when the television station goes off the air at five in the morning. (Except that TV stations never go off the air anymore.)
“Television viewers,” I say sincerely, wearing a dark suit and with my hair combed, “at five in the morning it’s time to remember our connection to the universal truth. We’ve watched the news six times now, watching the special report about 15-year-olds who kill 14-year-olds for sneakers all six times; we’ve heard about Bill Clinton’s phone calls to various women in various area codes; we’ve heard the weather five times; and we’ve yet to rid our memory of the TV movie from earlier in the evening, in which Judith Light, as a horrifically battered woman, exploded a nuclear device to kill her abusive husband, but inadvertently killed all her neighbors as well. That’s a lot of clutter in our minds, and it’s now time, for a few minutes at five a.m. before it all starts up again at six a.m. with Morning Stretch, to let the chatter of the day come to an end and let quiet pass over us.”
“Last Word” also sounds possibly like the end of the world, and this rather intrigues me. I share with the Fundamentalists a desire for a Last Judgment, where God will get the Last Word and you will find to your delight that in most ways God agrees exactly with you.
With the assembled souls of all eternity before Him, God will clear up various controversies.
“As to artificial birth control,” God will say, “I have no idea what all those Popes were going on about. Of course it was fine. What a tempest in a theological teapot.” The soul of Pope Paul VI will look suitably embarrassed.
Various mysteries will be clarified at last. “I will now tell you who was behind the Kennedy assassination,” God will begin. Many of us will scan the crowd of souls looking for Oliver Stone’s aura, to watch him (or it) react to whatever the news is.
Then, to the surprise of people not in theatre, God will devote a certain amount of time putting straight injustices that happened in American theatre.
“As good as Carol Channing was in Hello, Dolly,” God will say, “nonetheless the Tony award should have gone to Barbra Streisand that year.”
God will then look for Walter Kerr. “Walter Kerr was right on My Fair Lady –” (“Though who wasn’t?” a catty angel may mutter) “– but he was very incorrect not to like Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, which was very funny.” God will then beam at me, and I will beam back.
“What did you think of the play Mary, Mary?” I may call out, if I’m not careful, referring to the popular 1950s comedy written by Jean Kerr. “It was entertaining for its time,” God will say, frowning slightly at my lack of grace in bringing up Walter Kerr’s playwright wife at this point of Judgment Day. “Lunch Hour, though, was very hard to sit through,” God will add, momentarily distracted from his agenda. “Now as to The Kentucky Cycle…” God will begin.
But then I don’t know that I really believe this Last Judgment will happen. I have a feeling God didn’t see Beyond Therapy (although maybe he read a script reader’s report on it). And probably at the Last Judgment, God won’t mention theatre at all. Or if He does, I don’t think He’ll refer to critics or stage comedies by either me or Jean Kerr.
Probably he’ll mention Aeschylus. (“Very cathartic,” God may say.) And maybe Plautus. (“Entertaining use of stock characters,” God may opine.) And then maybe God will bore us by talking on and on about Shakespeare. “What a genius for character and language that Shakespeare had. I love all that death-and-resurrection imagery in The Winter’s Tale. And there’s an excellent symbolic use of the seasons, something I’m partial to.”
Among the souls gathered, professors of English literature will perk up and hang on every Divine word. “I also identified with Prospero in The Tempest,” God will say. “Though I never understood mankind’s obsession with Hamlet. I thought it was one of the talkier ones.” Several professors will look abashed. “Maybe I saw too many versions of it,” God will say kindly, trying to make them feel better.

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