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Prophets, Playwrights and Shepherds

by Sydney Avey  
9/01/2011 / World Affairs

Don't these times just cry out for a Jeremiah, a man with God's words in his mouth? Wouldn't we welcome a Shakespeare with the wit and wisdom to fence with human foible? How about a Moses with a mandate to move his people to a place of prosperity?

I'm looking for prophets who can state clearly, "this is what you are doing wrong and this is what you need to do to turn it around." I'm watching for playwrights who can do justice to the world stage. I'm waiting for that shepherd who can part the seas that rage before us.

I'm listening for their voices, and I'm hearing a few.

When violence reminiscent of the sixties sci-fi novella A Clockwork Orange raged in London, Britain's chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks laid the blame squarely at the feet of moral decline (See the Wall Street Journal 09/20-21/2011). He finds it indefensible that we have placed the entire child-rearing burden on mostly single mothers. "By the time boys are in their early teens they are physically stronger than their mothers. Having no fathers, they are socialized in gangs. No one can control them." Sacks concludes that governments can't change lives, only religion can do that "not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint and pursuit of the common good." Sacks calls us to return to our Judeo-Christian heritage.

In Oregon, Ashland Shakespeare Festival director Amanda Dehnert examines the sin of pride in human behavior. She has staged Julius Caesar with a chilling urban guerilla force that drives a dagger into the heart of the audience. When Vilma Silva in the role of Caesar demonstrates the power of an actor to both summon and suppress audience response, we come face to face with how easily people are manipulated for political ends.

I thought about this edgy production when I watched our local production Annie, a delightful, feel-good romp. Who would dare bring Annie into the 21st century? Instead of the work house, today's Annie might have a short life at the intersection of child trafficking and the sex trade. I don't think it would sell many tickets. Still, there is hope for true grit in some recent stage plays that pack a power punch. Two Pulitzer winners, August: Osage County by Tracy Letts and Next to Normal by Brain Yorkey and Tom Kitt come to mind. The first laughs at family dysfunction and then parades the terrible wounds. The second dramatizes the devastation of mental illness. Perhaps it takes a dramatist to help us seriously consider the pain of what we normally treat as sitcom fodder.

Shepherds are more difficult to identify. Certainly some leaders are surfacing, people who have pledged to spend their vast fortunes down to the last penny to solve world problems. Bill Gates is tackling hunger. Warren Buffet is making strategic investments in the stalled U.S. economy hoping the right jumpstart will get the engine going again. There are others, but none who can roust the oppressors with convincing plagues on their houses or offer heart transplants to the oppressed who want for faith, hope and courage. Only the Good Shepherd can do that. We may find ourselves with an enemy at our backs and a seawall in our face before we recognize him.

Sydney Avey writes and blogs in the Sierra Nevada Foothills. She is the author of The Sheep Walker's Daughter.

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