The Awful, Gaudy Vitality

Amy’s View premiered in 1997 and is set in various years between 1979 and 1995. Yet there are eerie parallels between those decades ago and our current moment. Sir David Hare is considered the artistic heir of John Osborne, author of the volatile Look Back in Anger (1956) and an “Angry Young Man,” the designation given to a band of mid-century working-class writers who excoriated postwar British policies. At the dawn of our own republic, the Founding Fathers proudly drew distinctions between the class-riven Mother Country and the new United States, a more perfect union populated by we the people.

However, movements in the last decade have troubled the posture that we are a classless nation (#teaparty and/or #taxday). Amy’s View is not just a window onto the past; the challenges faced by Amy, Esme, Dominic, and Frank echo those we continue to confront. The financial fiasco detailed in the play recalls Bernie Madoff’s treachery and the subprime horrors chronicled in The Big Short (if not your bank statements). In contrast, Esme and Dominic’s feuds over the vying relevance of theatre and television (that “awful, gaudy vitality”) may seem myopic and indulgent—artists discussing art with no real implications. Sure, the theatre is regularly declared dead, until Hair, Angels in America, Rent, and Hamilton (among others) married the stage to the moment. And now that the fervor surrounding Hamilton has begun to die down, the theatre will “die” again until it talks to us. (Oh, but it does.) But Sir Hare is skilled in giving us people instead of mouthpieces, and people come from places.

I write this just after the 100th day of Trump’s administration, and those who watch the news will have, by the time of this reading, been inundated and/or saturated with the breathless coverage, analysis, and punditry of the 100-day marker. (Sorry to bring it up again.) What is success? Characters in Amy’s View indict one another as elitists (charges by some of the President’s proponents) and panderers (charges by some of the President’s critics). The arguments made by Hare’s characters about the impact of the performing arts are ripe for discussion, yet the play demonstrates that the clash between populism and elitism is personal and visceral. How and why do we get to be us?

The play’s tragic final-act revelation is an intentional surprise. It highlights the tension between the conviction that love conquers all and the reality that all can feel unconquerable. At the end of the play, Hare puts us, the audience, into the audience, facing characters-playing-characters who are stripped down and raw. The end of the play insists that, no, the theatre is not dead (as you well know). It also insists that we remember we are living now, with each other and with a new generation. And that’s more vital than gaudy.

Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney in Amy's View at Park Square

Linda Kelsey and Tracey Maloney in Amy’s View at Park Square


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