Obsessive Political Correctness

Peter Porte as Damien, Nicole Lowrance as Kansas, Kate Mulligan as Smith, Michael T. Weiss as Bruce, Olivia Thirlby as Romi. hotos by Evgenia Eliseeva, A.R.T.
Peter Porte as Damien, Nicole Lowrance as Kansas, Kate Mulligan as Smith, Michael T. Weiss as Bruce, Olivia Thirlby as Romi. hotos by Evgenia Eliseeva, A.R.T.

Award-winning, controversial playwright Eve Ensler has a reputation for tackling the most challenging issues of our day, particularly violence against women.

The worldwide anti-capitalist movement of Dumpster-diving freegans is often mocked as a first world problem of privilege.

The two would not seem to have much common ground.

Nevertheless, in Ensler’s new play O.P.C. (i.e Obsessive Political Correctness) at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theatre through January 4, the violence consumerism inflicts on our relationships and world is treated with all due seriousness, which is a lot.

Romi (Olivia Thirlby) is the stereotypical freegan: from a good family, too smart for her own good, she squats not because she must but because she can. Thirlby plays Romi with the manic earnestness of the convert: at once ingratiating and grating. The disgust Romi’s high-achieving Senate candidate mother Smth Weill (Kate Mulligan) shows towards her daughter’s Dumpster-ed bruschetta and by extension under-achieving is not hard to sympathize with.

It is in fact this feeling of disgust which Ensler wants us to gaze upon and transform. (She does this as well in the Vagina Monologues.) What’s the difference between trash and beauty? When does one become the other? Who has the authority to decide?

Artistic director Diane Paulus shows fearless brilliance in bringing important, developing work like O.P.C to the A.R.T.’s stage (see too last season’s Witness Uganda). She finds meaning and connections where developing scripts might be thin and makes choices small and large that accumulate in service of communicating important stories that creating dialogues encouraging action. Upon reflection, we notice not the flaws of the script or the specific choices of the director, but our joy and altered world view.

The A.R.T. has embraced too in this production the ethos of “eco-theatre.” Much of the surprisingly beautiful and intricate set was built from recycled or reused materials: plastic bottles and cardboard boxes. There’s a swap shop in the lobby: find something you like? Leave something of equal or greater value in its place. The only programs printed are “communal” copies available for perusing in the lobby. You can also view a program on your mobile device.

Even within mainstream liberalism, the notion that 40% of food in the United States is thrown away is challenging as much in its veracity as its consequence. (The not unconnected mainstream conservative analog might be that the world is getting warmer.)

Consumerism teaches us to value and pursue newness. Shiny food on the shelf in its package is superior to food in the Dumpster (or sometimes even from the garden). Romi reminds us that America is, of course, new, and derives much of its exceptionalism from that status. Political correctness is new, too, and O.P.C. by Eve Ensler is very new indeed.

What’s very old are the transformative effects of storytelling. Is there anything more valuable than that?

Thank the ever-warming heavens we keep finding stories and storytellers.

+++

O.P.C.
by Eve Ensler
through January 4, 2015
at the American Repertory Theater
americanrepertorytheater.org

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