Gross Generalization

Saw this play called “Psychos Never Dream” last Saturday as per the highly excited recommendation of my lead actor. He saw it twice actually and has just been constantly raving about it. He’s traditionally a theatre guy, so I figured he knows his theatre and that it must be an impressive show. It was at a venue I hadn’t been to before – The Intersection for the Arts – was cheap and so I figured that I might as well go.
First off, the good things. It was extremely well acted. The set design was some of the best I’ve seen for a play in the US and the sound work was great.
Okay, with that out of the way, I can safely say that I truly did not enjoy the play. It was about people killing each other and so that right there wasn’t the most cheery subject. But subject matter doesn’t always deter me from something. In this case it was two flaws with all of the characters.
The first main flaw was that there was nothing redeemable in any of the characters. I don’t mean that they had to be saintly, do good things, or be heading for the Pearly Gates to be redeemable. What I mean is that there was nothing in them that made you want to see what direction they play took them in. They were nieght good nor bad, they were just there and that in turn made them flat. I blame this partly on the director and partly on the writer.
The other problem with the characters and this is by far and away the biggest problem is that these people were gross generalizations of the people they were portraying. The play was set in Northern Idaho and so everyone had this cowboy twang for some reason. I’ve been to Northern Idaho and the people pretty much sound like Northern Californians unless they’ve decided to purposely affect a twang. They’re shown as being stupid and ridiculous and lacking any qualities that make them human. This problem falls squarely on the writer’s shoulders.
This is a problem that I’ve seen a lot from writers who have lived their lives in big cities and think they understand “country folk.” Writers like Denis Johnson don’t and they don’t have any clue where to start with them. I grew up in a hick town and the people there could be “homespun” and seem “simple”, but they’re still people. They have all the problems that big city people who live in San Francisco have and to say that they don’t is blindly stupid.
By doing what Denis does he not only does a disservice to people who live in rural areas, but he also does a disservice to people who are watching his plays, since it forces this haughty separation between the audience and the characters, thus making them seem less reel and in my estimation less engaging.
It would be nice if these guys who think they know country people would actually visit the country and learn what people are really like instead of basing their ideas upon the plays and movies of other people who have created these stereotypes. It’s poor writing and poor judgement.