Wow. I was captivated by this play. If I were a writer I would be scared to death to put anything out into the world. If "Inception" has taught us anything it's that the mere seed of an idea can take on a life of its own. The same is true of a novel, or a play, or a love letter. So many characters read so many things into novelist Tobin's work of fiction - The Metal Children. He says at one point that even he doesn't fully understand the book he's written, but everyone from the local religious leaders, to the free-thinking teenagers, to the spirited English teacher has come up with deep meanings for even the smallest of moments within the work of fiction. So much so, that the town begins to recreate the action of the book. It becomes a very violent world in this small midwestern town and everyone, especially Tobin is at risk. At one point, the most vocal of the book's supporters, 16-year old Vera says to a crowd of onlookers:
To remove art from a culture is to name that culture dead!
While I agree with her sentiment, the actions that are taking place in the name of "art" are heinous. Teens are getting pregnant to prove a point, a girl is murdered, the author himself is stabbed.. whether the characters are for or against the book there no longer seems to be a line of common decency. Ideas are not debated in a battle of wits, but shot down with the use of a Porky Pig mask and serrated knife. It is a vicious world that Rapp has created. He took a personal experience (with his own work for young adults The Buffalo Tree) and pushed it to the extreme to show us as a society just how powerful words are. In the age of technology and 3D images as large as your house, this play is a not-so-subtle reminder that sometimes the most powerful ideas come in the small form of the printed word. Vera says to Tobin:
Good fiction teaches a reader how to develop the instrument that becomes the voice in his or her head. The words are absorbed purely, without music or three-dimensional imagery. As a reader you construct the world of the book with the author. ... The novel gets at your thought ten times more powerfully than the stuff on TV.
The imagination is an incredibly strong instrument that, these days, unfortunately, is not often given the chance to fully flourish. All across America school programs in the arts are being cut or downsized in favor of stronger math/science programs. While I feel that these logic-based subjects are very important to the future of our country, how can we expect to form the next generation of great minds without allowing the OTHER SIDE OF THE BRAIN to be exercised? Great ideas come from creativity. Thinking OUTSIDE the box will solve the problems of the future, curing cancer and finding a solution for world peace. If we teach our children and young adults to think only one way then we will receive only one solution to our many complex dilemmas. While this play does not deal with arts education, I feel that it is a valid topic to throw into the mix with the banning of books. Limiting creative expression, whether it be in the form of reading a novel, or having the chance to take a dance class or perform in a play will ultimately limit us as Americans. And nobody wants that. Support America - Support the Arts!
Sunday Play-a-day: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs by William Inge