As the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles, it was my decision to quickly produce the premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, “Building the Wall.” He wrote the play in one week. We rushed to produce it in three months. Would I recommend all new plays be written this rapidly and move so swiftly into production? Absolutely not. But “Building the Wall” is not business as usual, because these are not ordinary times.
The playwrights quoted in Don Aucoin’s March 26 Critic’s Notebook (“Dramatic possibillities, but . . . ”) reaffirm the conventional theory that a playwright must wait years before tackling a current event, to allow reflection and hindsight. Though often true, this must not always be the case. Some plays are written in the urgency of now. There is no single rule for creating art. Each play, like each child, is born differently. The birth of some children is planned carefully in advance. Others, surprising even their parents, arrive unexpectedly, conceived in the fire of passion.
Aucoin asked other playwrights to comment on the merit of plays, such as Schenkkan’s, that are written promptly to dramatize a current crisis. One playwright Aucoin didn’t ask is Schenkkan himself. Including his perspective would not only have been fair, it would have been valuable.
I expect — and would hope — that waves of new plays will be written in the future about this critical time in our history. Today, we have “Building the Wall,” forged in the fire of the present moment, as it is happening.
If theater is to hold a mirror up to nature, for humankind to see itself and to show the very age and body of the time, it cannot be a rearview mirror. Not always.