An Open Letter to Justin Hayford and Larry Bommer.
Let me begin by saying that I am not usually one to write theater critics. A critic’s job is to have an opinion, to judge, to evaluate; I see very little point in lambasting a critic for publishing the opinion that is requested from him. It is the respect that I have for each of you as critics that compels me to write. An errant word from an errant fool should be a cause of alarm to no one, but when offensive missteps are made by colleagues that we respect, I feel that something must be said.
You both recently reviewed StreetSigns’ production of Helene Cixous’ The Perjured City. I have no issues with your evaluations of the production as a whole, but I was shocked by one commonality.
“Most disappointing, the only people with AIDS worth talking about here are children, a sentiment that aligns Cixous with the conservative state she would like to indict.” –Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader, 11/14/97
“Far more problematic is the play’s monomaniacal emphasis on the children killed by tainted blood; other hemophiliacs go unmentioned, let alone the equally dead homosexuals and drug addicts who fell to the virus. Cixous’ sympathies are too specific to hit home hard.” –Larry Bommer, Windy City Times, 11/13/97
While the underlying concern is certainly admirable, I find it completely inappropriate in this artistic context. What alarms me most here is the wanton attack of an author, not for what she has written, but for what she should have written to please us.
The crux of Cixous’ story does not rest in the mere existence of a plague, but rather in its spread facilitated by those who claim to be acting in our best interest. The story of tainted blood willfully disseminated has been replayed in France, Canada, Japan, the United States, and elsewhere, where many victims find their “too specific” story is far from over. We are all parents and children. That doesn’t make mothers and children more “worth talking about,” but it does make them a more facile vehicle for a modern Greek tragedy. In no critique of The Normal Heart did I see a Chicago critic decrying the lack of a hemophiliac presence. Kramer’s was one story, an important one, and we let it stand on its own. Truth deserves respect.
It amazes me that you find it strange that one of the leading proponents of feminism in her time should choose motherhood as a vehicle. She has chosen an appropriate path that goes by way of the rage of Electra, the despair of Iphigenia, the resolve of Antigone. Her work demands more than the usual Americanized venting of collective angst. It is a challenge, a deftly crafted argument designed to put on trial those who are generally untouchable. I might ask, would the presence of a sudden ACT-UP rally or a collective shooting-up have added, or been superfluous, to the argument? (One might also add, an argument supported by two gay furies, and a literal spelling-out that “all AIDS victims are innocent” in this production.) All of the disenfranchised were included in Cixous’ graveyard, and I find it troublesome to think that you may have excluded yourselves. Your argument is one that the wolves of the world, the Forzzas and Jean-Marie Le Pens, love–watching us bicker over who is most deserving of pity, and laughing as we make speeches for ourselves about injustice, while those truly responsible quietly slip away.
Joseph M. Wycoff