When I was a struggling actor in New York City, I was in a tremendously bad production of Brendan Behan’s “The Quare Fellow”. The Quare Fellow is a play that takes place in an Irish prison during the 1920’s. The fellow in question is not queer – as in homosexual – he’s condemned to be hanged. This mind pummeling horrendous production is a story in itself that I may write about at a later date.
Oh, screw that… I have at least one story I have to tell.
An Irish guy, whose name escapes me at the moment, directed the production. I guess the producers figured that he could direct a Brendan Behan play based on the fact that he was Irish. You see, he had never directed a play before. This lack of experience was only evident in his inept casting, his utter inability as an acting coach, his complete cluelessness to the thematic concept of the play and his abominable stage direction.
One performance, Irish Director Guy has a brilliant idea. He decided to re-stage a fight scene without telling one of the two actors involved. What a great idea! It will add freshness and spontaneity to the production. It’ll keep the actors on their toes.
Yeah… you guessed it… the uninformed, highly surprised and royally pissed other actor in the fight scene was… your humble blogger.
I played a prison guard and the other actor in the fight scene was an actor named Larry O’Malley. O’Malley was not in fact Larry’s real name. Larry was an Actor’s Equity (the stage actor’s trade union) member and this was a decidedly non-Equity production. Larry was also not Irish. Larry was Jewish, from Long Island and a body builder. Larry was also a drunk.
Now, the fight scene as originally choreographed was quite simple. Words are exchanged. My character, the hard-nosed, no nonsense, not takin’ any goddamned lip from no stinkin’ convicts prison guard I would naturally be, shoves Larry’s shoulder with his baton held in both hands. Larry takes his own fall, landing gently backwards on his ass. He snarls, starts to get up and re-engage with me, but thinks better of having a fight with a tough hunk o’hombre like me and falls into line with the other prisoners.
But on this night of nights, after the first fall Larry gets up and rushes me. I put my baton, again in both hands, in a defensive position. I hold Larry off and utter, in an all of a sudden high-pitched “always after me Lucky Charms” Irish dialect the brilliant ad-lib: “Oh, a tough guy, eh.” Larry holds his ground and looks like he’s going to come at me again. I raise the baton in one hand as if I’m going to club a baby seal and say to Larry in a low-pitched, threatening yet equally cheesy Irish dialect: “If ya take one mure stip boyo, I’ll baahsh yer feckin head in. “
Larry seemed very aware that those words were straight from Royce to Larry. Royce was one surprised, scared and livid actor boy at that point. Larry prudently decided that with Royce all riled up (not to mention brandishing a police baton in his hand) it would be best to follow the rest of the scene… as rehearsed.
When I got offstage, I confronted Larry (without the baton). He assured me that it was okay because Irish directory guy had told him to improvise the fight… to bring a new fresh quality to the scene. I decided two things immediately. First, Larry was a drunk AND an idiot. Second, I was going to have words with Irish Director Guy.
During the interval, Irish Director Guy and I had a frank, workmanlike discussion (you see, I CAN be diplomatic in my prose) about stage combat. The discussion centered on the idea that one should never change a stage fight routine WITHOUT INFORMING ALL OF THE ACTORS INVOLVED AND REHERSING THE FUCKING THING!!!
I actually felt kind of bad after the fact. Irish Director Guy was really a big, addled Celtic teddy bear… very nice man but one pint of Guinness short of a night out at the pub. He almost cried after our little fight scene debriefing. But, “truth be told”, as they say in the old sod, the man had no business directing a play.
Now, what in the hell was I writing about. Oh okay…
In the cast was a young man by name of Alec Harrington. Alec was 18 years old and played a young convict that was new to the prison and was by all appearances about to become the 1920’s Irish equivalent of a prison bitch.
Alec was actually a very talented actor and a very bright and witty guy. Although only a senior in high school, he looked and comported himself like a 30 year old. In addition, and in an effort to grow to a point in this piece, Alec was the son or none other than Michael Harrington. Mr. Harrington, for those of you who do not recognize the name, was for forty years, until his death in 1989 arguably the leading Socialist writer and thinker in the United States.
At the time, I was a Liberal, and in the heyday of my “I’m an artist, so give me my fair share of your wealth you fat bourgeois pigs” period. I was the kind of guy who was incensed when Regan cut the funding for National Public Television. The government MUST subsidize the arts and artists… especially me.
Anyway, I thought it was pretty cool to hang with Alec. He was fun and interesting to talk with and the fact that his father was a nationally known Socialist icon was a definite plus.
One evening, as Alec and I were having a beer-soaked discussion about life, the universe and everything, the discussion turned to politics and the fine points of Socialism. I confessed with some chagrin that I was and would probably always be an elitist and would never make a good, pure Socialist. Alex did not miss a beat when he said. “Oh, we don’t want to give power to the masses, we want to lead and take care of them.”
Hold the phone!!!
Warning, Will Robinson, Doctor Smith!!!
How naïve I was. What an amazing turning point in my social, political and historical point of view that conversation proved to be. This was my political “road to Damascus”… my Socialist “dark night of the soul”… my statist “rock bottom, it’s time to enter a Libertarian 12 step program”, my inner-city black woman “no more, sister-friend… I’m walkin’. I ain’t takin’ no more of his Socialist bullshit, nuh-huh”. … Sorry, you get the idea.
You see, I always believed all of the “power to the people” stuff the Left bandied about. I thought they trusted “the people”. You know… like in “We the people…” and “government by the consent of the governed”. I really believed in that "We can all do it together" World War II poster shit.
And, just like that, I got it.
No friends… it’s not “power TO the people”, it’s “use the people for political power”. The masses are always going to be helpless, clueless and easily led so… it’s imperative that kind, honest, altruistic, caring (not to mention really smart) people like us Socialists (or fill in your favorite authoritarian political system)… who really have their best interests at heart be in the lead.
Now, will the congregation please rise and say: “IT’S FOR THEIR OWN GOOD.”
Amen. You may be seated.
The fact that we few, we lucky few (thank you Will) get to be GOVERNING ELITES in the game is just a bonus. Okay, it’s a sweet bonus, I’ll grant you that… but we’re really servants for the greater public good. And if you believe that I’ve got a beautiful, compliant, intelligent Russian bride for you at www.russianbridesforyou.com.
Call me old fashioned, but I want my human avarice and greed out where I can see it. And capitalism works for this quite nicely. The cards are on the table. People are working for themselves and their loved ones. They join together voluntarily in groups, naturally sized and populated to do the job. The make stuff. They create wealth. That’s why it’s called “making money”.
And here’s the magical part…
They help others in the process even if they’re assholes, in spite of their assholiness. Because my friends, it’s not a zero-sum game. Wealth begets wealth… for everyone who’s willing to work. Now, it’s not some neat and tidy system. It can be messy. You have to trust people to succeed or fail. You’ve heard it before; Capitalism is a system that thrives on and naturally promotes equality of opportunity, not outcome. Some people based on their talent, drive, determination and (let's be honest) dumb luck, are going to do better than others. Some people are just not going to do well and be successful no matter what. And God knows, some people should NEVER direct a play
Socialists hate that whole messy part. No one should suffer and fail in life. Heaven forbid, it would make these elitist social engineers feel bad. And nobody wants people that are that benevolent and caring about the masses to feel bad. It just isn’t right.
And the high irony soars when socialists call free-market capitalists “arrogant”. Let me tell you, people who believe that they can control the ebb and flow of markets with planned economies because they are so bright and well, just so super… Now, that’s some true, high dower arrogance.
When you boil off all of the dogma, the trappings and the common wisdom (all too common and not very wise), all of this “share the wealth” shit is about power, pure and simple. And that power ain’t gonna be shared with the great unwashed.
For some people, like Michael Harrington, it may be truly intended to be beneficent. But remember what they say about good intentions and ultimate destination of highway construction. It is centralized power and control over people’s lives and livelihoods just the same. And it’s all in the name of “the people”.