By Michael Miller
I began the short story from which my solo play, “Transfiguration,” is derived in November, 2005. I barely remember what moved me to write it: it was the sight recorded about a month before in the photograph you see above. This young boy was not the only one carrying a toy semi-automatic assault rifle through the crowd at the Fall Foliage Parade in North Adams, Massachusetts. Another boy about the same age patrolled other regions of the crowd which had gathered to see the usual displays of a small-town parade. Looking at the photograph today, I wonder just which people the boys were picking out with lethal intent. In New York or Los Angeles they would surely have attracted the attention of the police, perhaps with fatal results, but in North Adams they were just a part of things, whether there was some invisible leash tying them to their parents, who presumably approved of the toys, or not. Children carrying toy guns have been shot by the police in the past, and an ongoing series of shootings of unarmed African-Americans by white police officers has brought a whole new aspect of the abuse of firearms into the public eye.
Our population has become rich in frustrated, alienated, undereducated men who feel they can even the score, as they feel it, with a gun, preferably a semi-automatic assault weapon, which can create a bloodbath in a few seconds. (Others express their frustrations by supporting fascistic demagogues.) Even back in 2005, when the American military was wreaking havoc in Iraq, I was struck by the general complacency of many Americans in the face of such destructive—ultimately self-destructive—behavior by those in power and by private citizens. The psychological and physical mutilation of veterans can stand as symbol of the grim years which began this century.
Mass shootings are now taken for granted as part of daily life in the United States, whether one is a victim, a relative or friend of a victim, or merely a consumer of the news. The worst of these, as defined quantitatively in the numbers of injured and above all killed, stay in the public view for several days, while lesser events are barely noticed. There were five incidents—with no fatalities, but numerous wounded—on the Sunday before Labor Day alone. The motives of the shooters are heterogeneous in their psychological nature and cause, and, even if abnormal behavior has been noted in them, preventative measures were either ignored or futile. The most obvious way to curtail the slaughter is to make it more difficult for potential mass killers to obtain weapons, especially the deadly semi-automatic assault rifles which have been used in most of these incidents. Nothing has been done about this, and the reason is clear: politicians and money. In my play, Ralph Belard, an average white-collar suburbanite, experiences a totally unexpected transcendence in discovering his ability to kill, conquer, and survive. The elation can’t last forever, and in a few minutes, it gives way to fear of the police. In the end, like most of us, who experience mass shootings through the media, he moves on, as we do, not imagining that the barrel could ever be pointed at us, as it was at Ralph, and, not even thinking of some vaguely existing power beyond the tv screen, or thanking any such being that he’s been spared, his appetites lead him back to his routine pleasures. And he needs nothing more, as he moves on in his myopic, self-centered life.
To call Ralph a flawed human being is overly kind. His toxic view of life embraces misanthropy, especially misogyny, along with a total lack of empathy. He isn’t even curious about the cause of the anonymous rampage which brings about the violent extermination of his neighbors, much less feeling any duty to stop it. Ralph is typical. Ralph is an Everyman among us. Ralph is a disturbing creature, but follow him and his adventures we must, up to their shocking conclusion, as richly portrayed by the award-winning actor, Gary Hilborn, under the brilliant direction of Graydon Gund. My purpose is not to disseminate a political or moral lesson—which is in any case unlikely to have any beneficial effect whatsoever—but to invite the audience to inhabit the metaphysical absurdity of these destructive orgies which have by now become banal. As such, you could experience it as an unflattering mirror on your own inaction, as I have, as a dream—a nightmare—in which indifference, or simple moral passivity, can be criminal, or as a random annihilating chaos that lies behind our ordered world. Once people fully realize the horror of what is happening around them, they may understand that this is no just something happening to other people far away. We have no right to feel safe. These are times when we have to recognize the difference between right and wrong, take it seriously, and take action to prevent a social disaster.
Performed by Gary Hilborn
Written and Produced by Michael Miller
Oct. 22 at 7:30pm
Directed by Graydon Gund
Videos by Lucas Miller
Stage Manager, T. Rick Jones
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
Michael Miller (Ph.D. Harvard University: Classics, MA Harvard: Fine Arts, B.Phil. University of Oxford, BA Harvard College) fell in love with the theatre at an early age, when his parents ill-advisedly took him along to see the original production of Archibald MacLeish’s J.B. After that, he insisted on going along whenever a visit to the theatre was in the offing, and he has kept it up on his own ever since. He specialized in Greek drama during his twenty-five years as a classicist, frequenting opera houses and theatres all the while, seeing Sophocles, Shakespeare, Molière, Büchner, Chekhov, Pirandello, O’Neill, Anouilh, Beckett, and all the rest. He has been reviewing theatre (as well as classical music, art, and other fields) actively on The Berkshire Review for the Arts, of which he is editor and publisher, all as preparation to perpetrate a play. Since his high school acting career, his only appearance on stage has been as the Second Shepherd in one of the Oberufer Weihnachtsspiele. Michael has worked in curatorial positions at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard and the Cleveland Museum of Art. He has taught art history at Oberlin, NYU, and Williams, and classics at Harvard, Rutgers, the New School, and Williams College.