The Mellon School! We set off once again,
this time to theaters sacred and profane.
Martin opened up our panorama
as altar boys stumbled on or into drama.Religion and theatre, Martin helped us see,
are “a site of struggle and mutual fantasy.”
Amazingly we learned (whatever next!)
all world religions found themselves on text—
but if drama dares award itself the laurel,
then these religions suffer from withdrawal.
Theater’s a self-reflexive rite/endeavor;
that’s why The Bacchae is the best play ever.
Analysis, Freud’s secular undertaking,
is theater that keeps making and unmaking.
So what can Freud, asked Ann, possibly tell us
about the inquiry that now propels us?
Freud’s secular ghost story says (take a breath)
we are archive—maybe repertoire—of death.
When traumas from our past feel unforgivable,
such hauntings can make history more livable.
Instead of leaving dogma in the lurch,
can theater aspire to the condition of church?
Leaving psychoanalysis in the wings,
we eagerly sought Henry’s take on things.
Henry explained Broadway’s predilection
for making a quick buck off the Crucifixion.
God and Broadway form a troubled nexus—
no Green Pastures sprang up in Lubbock, Texas.
This does not mean that playwrights are not cautious:
“blasphemy does not rhyme with good box office.”
Stunt-casting Jesus risks a massive blunder
(Is that really the guy from Six Feet Under?)
Just when we’d drunk our theory by the liter,
Marvin led us off to Persian theater,
reminding us even when scholars gang up,
the sacred onstage may be a western hang up.
Ta’zieh puts in doubt western parameters:
this isn’t Bertolt Brecht, but amateurs
indulging in a form of sacred play
that can’t find purchase on the Great White Way.
Emily W. helped us get a grip
on theater and religion’s Mobius strip.
With Euripides demythologizing Homer,
perhaps post-secular theater’s a misnomer?
For Greeks themselves, the roots of tragedy
were lost in cultural imaginary:
and though this goat-song is far out of reach,
it’s doubtful goats were singing each to each.
With Julia, we learned to our surprise
to read Dover Cliff as a trust exercise,
moving from what theater celebrates
to capacities it curates and cultivates.
Despite King Lear’s betrayal, violence, lust,
we learned to co-create post-secular trust.
As we were puzzling out what Shakespeare meant,
to our rescue came Hannah Arendt,
whose intervention gave much-needed traction
on the presence of others as condition for action.
For at the risk of setting cynics jeering,
we must curate new spaces for appearing.
Instead of Gods descending from the machine,
Sarah brought speech acts onto King Lear’s scene,
conjuring not just Arendt, but as well
Wittgenstein and Austin and Cavell.
With Shakespeare as our tutor for the nonce,
we learned the responsibility of response
and bowed to medieval tragic power
(even if nobody’s reading Gower).
We leave, heads full of far more paradoxes
than Aristotle fit in tidy boxes.
Whether dithyramb, Ta’zieh, or Shakespeare’s meter,
theater needs ritual, and ritual, theater.