One of the other benefits of membership besides a permanent address) is being able to get tickets to the new education center across the street. Still, as I looked out at the huge long line to get into the center, I thought I'd wait a bit longer before making the attempt. The mission to support "preserving the past for the future" is one I can certainly get behind.
As an official resident of at least two theaters (the other being the Round House in Bethesda), I'm getting used to seeing familiar faces, so if there is any connection to be made between this production of 1776 and the last production I saw at RHT--Next Fall--it runs through actor Tom Story (link to year-old WaPo interview).
Tom Story ("Congressional Secretary"), with cast of the Continental Congress, 1776. Photo by Carol Rosegg for Ford's Theatre
Tom Story ("Adam") and Kathryn Kelley ("Arlene"), in Next Fall. Photo by Danisha Crosby for Round House Theatre
Other than one actor, you'd think these two plays had nothing in common. But they do in fact have much in common. Next Fall focused on the relationship between a gay Christian man ("Luke," played by Chris Dinolfo) and the parents (played by Kathryn Kelley and Kevin Cutts) whom he was unable to come out to, as well as between him and his atheist lover ("Adam," played by our Tom Story).
The fear of "otherness" is a strong theme in Next Fall--the otherness of sexual orientation and the otherness of religious belief. Fear of rejection, fear of differences, all lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
In 1776, the differences between the property owners and the idealists were made more marked when the true issue came down to the otherness of the black slaves themselves. To the property owners (and it's not just a Southern thing--the leading "Cool Conservative" was Ben Franklin's fellow Pennsylvanian, Dickinson), it was about preserving wealth and status, which they argued encouraged the pursuit of wealth for all. (I'm pretty sure that's still a major argument for conservatives' tenets.)
The "Cool Conservatives," 1776. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Ultimately, in order for the Declaration of Independence to be accepted by the conservatives, the passage declaring freedom for black slaves had to be removed.
Which eventually led, of course, to the Civil War. And a century later, it could be argued, to the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black kid, by a white "neighborhood watch" coordinator. Similarly, it is the fear of the otherness of sexual orientation that has led to the bullying of, and subsequent suicides by, young gay kids like Tyler Clementi.
Fear of otherness continues to divide the United States of America. Unity must come from within our own hearts and minds. And that means keeping both wide open, regardless of our fears.
I'm probably as much a coward as any other white suburban matron. But I don't want to live in a world where middle-aged white ladies should automatically be fearful of young black men. Two episodes:
Sometime last year I was coming home by subway from a play. It was probably something at Shakespeare Theater, as it was a Sunday night. The evening before that, I'd just seen the bio-drama I Wish You Love about Nat King Cole at the Kennedy Center, which touched on the very same issues. So the issues of racism and distrust were very much on my mind as I headed for the elevator up from the Bethesda Metro platform that night.
I was alone on the elevator as the doors began to close, but then a young black guy (not wearing a hoodie, but still ...) got on the elevator with me. I had no time to even think about getting off, but I had already made up my mind not to fear a young black guy getting on a lonely elevator with me late at night. I didn't want to live in a world where a young black guy automatically frightens middle-aged white women. And I didn't want him to think we lived in that world, either.
So the dude stood near the front of the elevator, busy with whatever was on his phone, and kept his back to me. Forty-five seconds later, the door opened; he went off his way, and I went mine.
Everyone I told this story to at the time told me I should have gotten off the elevator when he got on. Sigh.
Then a few weeks ago, before going to a show at Shakespeare Theater (which is at the Gallery Place Metro), I killed some time by darting into the McDonald's at Verizon Center to have a quick bite. There was a hockey game that night, too, so the joint was jumping. There was a big group of young black dudes horsing around, not eating much, just there. They were very lively and enjoying themselves. I sat down in the section on the other side of the front door from them, and a (black) security guard came and stood right next to me, apparently blocking the kids' view of me.
I thought at first it was just because he wanted to be near the door. But later, a young black mother sat at my table (it was crowded, she asked if she could share). She and the security guard exchanged a word or two--the mother didn't feel safe at all with the black kids cutting up in the restaurant. The security guard shrugged his shoulders and said to the mother, "Well, she just sat down here."
Meaning me. Meaning, he came over to guard me because I was too stupid to know that I wasn't supposed to be there, that I wasn't safe.
I tried to reassure the mother that there was nothing to be afraid of--those kids were just "up" and enjoying themselves. They were ogling all the girls who came into the restaurant, calling them "dreamgirls" and what-not.
Anyway, for all of the lack of understanding that the security guard and the mother had about me, and all the lack of understanding that I had about that particular place and its citizens, I didn't want it to be about fear of otherness.
That's what freedom is all about, and if our Founding Fathers had known that, it might have happened for everyone a lot earlier.