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What ‘Shatter n’ Wade’ Means to the Playwright

<i> Mednick is founder and artistic director of the Padua Hills Playwrights' Festival. "Shatter n' Wade," which he wrote and directed, plays Thursdays through Sundays at the Matrix Theatre through April 7</i>

In her review of my play “Shatter n’ Wade” at the Matrix, Sylvie Drake begins by saying that it “goes ‘round in circles.” This was startling, as the play seems to me to follow an absolutely straight line of force culminating in a crescendo, that is, a crash.

She continues under the easy premise that my play is an “attack on rhetoric.” I would not bother to write a play which was an “attack on rhetoric” or to “make fun” of rhetoric. This assumption, arrived at independent of the play, is a fundamental error of perception and misleads the reader.

One basic premise that is at the heart of the play is the idea of an “action.” This idea, the idea of formal or “international” speech, is derived in part from actiones, a form of protest used by young German radicals in such things as sit-ins and theatricalized disruptions.

The premise is also derived from an ongoing inquiry in theater which can be traced back to authors such as Beckett and Ionesco. It is an inquiry into language itself and obviously takes on levels of meaning in the context of live performance. This premise, intellectual to be sure, is explored in different forms by the play, that is, rhetoric, oratory, rap, riffs, singing, etc., as well as speaking on the “square,” as Drake puts it.

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But all this is not at the expense of the ecological issues discussed. The present decay of language and understanding is morally equivalent to an ecological horror such as the poisoning of water, and is reinforced by recurrent imagery in the piece having to do with electricity itself, clearly a root cause of man’s continuing rape of nature, and one which we all take for granted.

The “circumstances” of the play are not undefined. The play takes place in front of a door to a meeting. The meeting, as clearly stated, takes place at a “school in the valley.” What difference does it make which school and what valley? What really matters is the “action,” taking place on a set, live and in the moment.

“Shatter n’ Wade” is not plot-driven. It aims for levels of meaning and poetic vision as opposed to verisimilitude or melodrama (or “identification” with the characters). It uses for its presiding paradigm the structure and movement of Greek tragedy--plays that were virtually sung. In the foreground of the play is language as music, wherein the tone, frequency, rhythm and format change as the play moves along. The door, then, is not meant as a mere comedic “gimmick.” A sincerely intended black prophecy, for example, is heard through that door.

I am not sure what Drake means when she says the play puts “unrealistic demands on an audience.” Whom does she mean? Do we really need to know any more about Shatter and Wade when we hear directly from them about their inner lives and hear much in the play about their sad external circumstances?

My aims for this play include engaging the ear and provoking thought. Certainly they did not include the need to play by other people’s rules, including those of newspaper critics.

This brings us to Drake’s final paragraph, in which my ability to see the real world is challenged ". . . however serious the effort may have been in the author’s mind.” This goes too far. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of my play, they are according to my own intentions, my own search for meaning and value, and I am not deluded by the results.

My play was carefully written and carefully rehearsed (at two different venues) with a dedicated company, and expressed my own sense of personal anguish. The problem here is partially one of a genre, and of misread purposes, that Drake finds irritating or inaccessible. My hope now is that this situation will not totally hobble the play’s ability to find its audience.


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