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.
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?
The answer: MUNDO OVERLOADUS.”
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