Mundo Overloadus

By Michael Lederer

I am writ­ing this on the first day of a new year that arrived not a nanosec­ond too soon. We need­ed a new year as sore­ly as we ever have.

2020 will take its infa­mous place in his­to­ry, a time Queen Eliz­a­beth II once charm­ing­ly – if woe­ful­ly – dubbed an annus hor­ri­bilis. We have to be care­ful not to mis­spell that, though giv­en as hard as these last twelve months have been, it’s tempting.

Segue­ing from the Queen’s real Latin to my own faux Latin, exact­ly ten years ear­li­er, in 2010, my play Mun­do Over­load­us pre­miered in New York’s East Vil­lage. The title was my stab at describ­ing what seemed already a world over­loaded. That play is my absur­dist take on a sug­ary sweet Amer­i­can cul­tur­al land­mark, the sil­ly and now for­ev­er-rerun TV com­e­dy from the 60s, Gilligan’s Island – my ver­sion set in an insane asy­lum. In my play, I was ask­ing the audi­ence if the unapolo­getic inno­cence of that show still had cur­ren­cy in this new, already cyn­i­cal cen­tu­ry. From 9/11 in 2001 to the coro­na virus lurk­ing about rough­ly 20 years lat­er, it feels that – for sanity’s sake – we des­per­ate­ly need a gen­tler, kinder point of view, even if it’s the cot­ton can­dy of a sitcom.

Bob Den­ver as Gilligan

Both Mun­do and Gilli­gan popped back into my head when, in the pre­vi­ous year’s last swift kick in the some­thing or oth­er, the actress Dawn Wells, who played the kind, whole­some, effer­ves­cent Mary Ann, died of Covid-19. Rhetor­i­cal ques­tion: Are there no exemp­tions from cru­el fate? Couldn’t this one shin­ing star of sweet­ness have got­ten a pass from 2020?

I wrote a note for the pro­gram of Mun­do that has nev­er been pub­lished. It feels like this is the time and place to final­ly share it:

“When my son Nicholas was sev­en and about to walk to school by him­self for the first time, I told him, ‘If a stranger offers you a ride in their car, turn, scream, and run as fast as you can!’ I would have liked to say, ‘Remem­ber to fas­ten your seat­belt and don’t for­get to say thank you.’ But we don’t live in that kind of Nor­man Rock­well world. We live in a Jack­son Pol­lack world. Run and scream was good advice – as it so often is.

I was born in 1956. The milk­man left bot­tles of milk by the door and nobody stole them. Mar­ried cou­ples stayed mar­ried (if they want­ed to or not). On TV, every­one loved Lucy, you could leave it to Beaver, and best of all, you could tell who the bad guys were because they wore black hats. (‘Nick, don’t get into that car IF the per­son is wear­ing a black hat!’) Even rock ‘n roll was sweet with its songs about Hol­ly Hop, blue suede shoes, and fools falling in love.

Then the stuff hit the fan. Kennedy. Viet­nam. Divorce every­where, between cou­ples, between kids and their par­ents, every­where. By the time 1967 rolled around, the famous Sum­mer of Love looked a lot like a sum­mer of hate. Agent Orange was not a com­ic book fig­ure. Lester Mad­dox was elect­ed gov­er­nor of Geor­gia. The Bea­t­les and oth­ers were singing about a lot more than just hold­ing hands. In the mid­dle of all that angst, dis­or­der, con­fu­sion, sit­ting like a pup­py in traf­fic obliv­i­ous to the dan­ger, was Gilligan’s Island. Riots were rag­ing and kids were dying, every­one under 30 was stoned and every­one over 30 was drunk, and there we were, Amer­i­ca, watch­ing Gilli­gan slip on a banana peel while the Pro­fes­sor made a radio out of a coconut. There was no Agent Orange in their jun­gle. Those huts were unlocked and nobody stole any­thing: ‘Thurston, have you seen my dia­mond brooch any­where?’ We asked the ques­tion ‘Gin­ger or Mary Ann?’ and nobody thought to answer ‘Both!’

We were in denial. We need­ed that sweet­ness because if we couldn’t live in a sweet world, at least we could pre­tend there were oth­ers who did. I’m afraid we’ve lost our capac­i­ty to do even that. We’ve lost our abil­i­ty to escape. Today, there’s too much infor­ma­tion to deny any­thing. Look at what’s stream­ing across our screens today. What happened?


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Michael Led­er­er is an Amer­i­can writer who lives in Berlin. His screen­play, Sav­ing Amer­i­ca, won the 2019 PAGE Screen­writ­ing Award. His newest stage play, I Have Seen the Mis­sis­sip­pi, is the sto­ry of the only small group of Jew­ish refugees from Europe admit­ted into the Unit­ed States dur­ing WW II. Com­ments about this blog are wel­come on the author’s web­site: