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Local players: Acting class

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 2, 2012 11:13 AM

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Don Aucoin has a roundup of local plays concerned with economic issues and social class:

The local theater season has been dominated by works that explore the wounds, conflicts, contradictions, and fine distinctions of social class, just as the issue of haves and have-nots has flared into view in the presidential campaign.

In art as in life, timing is ­everything. Who could have predicted that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney would deliver an unscripted sound bite that would resonate in productions as various as "Marie Antoinette," "Good People," "No Room for Wishing," "Paris Commune," "The Kite Runner," and "The [Expletive] With the Hat"?

When a secretly recorded tape surfaced last month of the multimillionaire Romney making dismissive comments to wealthy donors about the alleged legions of Americans "who believe that they are victims" and are unwilling to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives," plays like "Good People," a South Boston-based tale of economic desperation, suddenly seemed like a robust populist response by the 99 percent to the one percent.

More broadly, though, these productions feel like part of a vital dialogue about class that the country has been wanting to have ever since the Great Recession shone a light on our ever-widening income inequality.

Although it's a multimedia ghost story -- not exactly kitchen-sink realism in terms of story or style -- "Blood Rose Rising" has a fairly strong theme of class, too. The play is a serial narrative set in present-day Cambridge, with flashbacks to the 19th century. I worked with Ben Evett and Steven Barkhimer, the authors, over the summer to revise the first three episodes for production. The more we talked the story through, the more sharply its class issues came into focus. Robert Blackwood and Olivia Barlow are scions of Boston powerhouse families--do-gooders with very dark secrets. The students that Robert teaches at Stillborne Community College (motto: "A Place to Go to School") are driven to reckless actions from unemployment and debt.

We were trying to be relevant, certainly, but hardly didactic. "Blood Rose Rising" is about entertainment. But the questions of social class -- would Sharon know the phrase "Oedipus complex"? Is there a tinge of casual racism in the way Olivia treats her African-American mentor? Will the privileged habit of never actually looking at wait staff ultimately be the cause of Robert's demise? -- kept coming up in our discussions over and over. Because they were juicy. Because you can't tell a story about the professors and plumbers and pitchmen of Cambridge and Boston without those questions. Because, in some way, what are ghosts and haunted mansions about if not money and property and family name and all those crazy-making things that we subsume under the heading "social class"? 

I wonder if Boston's theater directors are intentionally bringing the spotlight to money issues, or if, given that economic concerns are so dominating the news, we're simply noticing it more onstage. 

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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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