Stage Review: LYDIA at the Mark Taper Forum

The family in LYDIA has a lot of problems. A lot. Some we might consider man made and some are gifts from God. Now there are those who would make the argument that all problems and all blessings, if you will, are gifts from God but let's just say there is a difference.

It's the early 1970's so you've got the Vietnam war. Man made problem I think. The patriarch is an illegal immigrant. Laws-- man made. The daughter is brain damaged and incapacitated as the result of a car accident. Gotta be man. The family in general is poor, ignorant and barely functional.

However at the core of this dysfunction are two issues that I think most would agree are a result of genetics, fate, and destiny: in short non-returnable gifts from you know who.

The first issue is alcoholism. The theatrical gift that never stops giving. Tough to find a great American play or any country's great play that doesn't lean on good old tongue-loosening, behavior warping alcohol and/or drug use to help move a plot along. Playwrights from Shakespeare to Sam Shepard have availed themselves of the veritas that vino provides.

The second issue in LYDIA is somewhat less common as a catalyst for tragedy if not completely unprecedented. Homosexuality. Sure there are plenty of homoerotic elements in Shakespeare and the great art of previous and more overtly patriarchal cultures. But I'm hard pressed to remember how those relationships led directly to the defining tragedy of the work. I guess Achilles did get it in the end and the heel because the Spartans knocked off his beautiful young cousin. But really, it's a fairly recent phenomena certainly in American theater. I think of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee and the great closeted men at the center of much of their work.

Well there it is and I hope I didn't spoil anything for you. It's not a real big shock if your paying attention and by the time it comes along as a plot point, if your like me, it just takes you a little bit further away from true engagement.

But enough about LYDIA.

I've got a buddy who I think is going to die because he is gay. And I mean that in just about every possible manifestation. The guilt. The closet. The disease. It sucks. And it's a perfect marriage. A gift from God and a man made curse. And I wonder how it ends. Because it will. Another friend is going to meet Albee tomorrow and asked me to suggest a question she might ask. "When do we get our first gay president"?


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