Roger Marolt: Roger This
July 23, 2009
It’s intermission at the Recession. How do you like it so far? Say what you want about the acting, the plot is a masterpiece. Looking back now we should have seen how the action would unfold, but nobody did. Man, I nearly jumped out of my seat in that part when the eco-wagon was roaring down that landscaped lane lined with brand spanking new, picket-fenced, oak-floored houses, bells clanging and dust flying, making it look like a Sunday drive; and then the guys at the reins lost control, just like that, and it went flying off the cliff. Wow! How are you going to beat that for action?
It was a nice effect when the villagers made their way down into the canyon and were hemming and hawing around the wreckage, shuffling around long-faced in the dust, looking in the brush for the wheels that flew off; the mechanic who tightened the nuts pointing a finger at the guy who forged his wrench while he pointed his at the gal who designed the bolt, she at the blacksmith, and on, and on. It’s genius.
That the identity of the town was kept secret from the audience until after the wreck was key to the drama. I could hardly believe it when the villagers were returning home from the crash and passed by the sign at the edge of their town. “Welcome to Aspen,” who would have guessed? That town, above all others, sort of represents the rest of the country and sort of doesn’t, too.
It was brilliant how the writer carved the Aspenites out from the rest of society. They were portrayed as a group that had mostly escaped the pain of previous recessions, and not ambiguously I might add. In recent times they seemed to have prospered no matter what happened anywhere else. It was irony at its best to feature so prominently the coroner’s car with a bumper sticker that read, “Bring back the Quiet Years,” which was, of course, in reference to the town’s state during the Great Depression. That few in the town had lived there long enough to remember the ugly privation during those vicious times and, even more striking, had the audacity to fantasize about them is amongst the keenest observations of human nature that we have ever observed on the stage.
But the set-up is what stands out in my mind. Here you have these people living in Aspen, the most perfect place in the world, and it’s not good enough. There’s too much traffic. The houses are too big for the rich and not big enough for the working man. There’s too much pollution, not enough parking, and the airport is overcrowded with jets. Lines at the building department are long, and people’s patience with construction noise is short. Real estate prices are going through the roof and chasing everybody away, yet the town is too crowded. The citizens were spending the best parts of their lives fighting and complaining about every little thing.
Then that eco-wagon heads off the cliff. It’s a huge disaster, but a funny thing happens – all the people’s problems are suddenly gone. Poof! It is like all of their wishes for the town have come true at once. Traffic is flowing. The sidewalks are quiet. There’s plenty of room at the airport. Nobody’s building anything. The air is free of smoke and noise. Real estate prices plummet.
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It’s not quite the quiet years again, but the familiar buzz is certainly muffled. I couldn’t get over the looks on the people’s faces at first. They were stunned, like Noah’s neighbors when they heard thunder.
Watching what happened next was worth the price of admission – when the people figured out that they could cruise into town and find a parking spot, it was like nothing else mattered. They began to smile and rejoice, repeating trite things like, “Would you just look at this? Not a cloud in the sky. We sure are lucky to live here.”
And of course they were right. As the author took great pains to point out by keeping the set exactly the same as it had been before, Aspen was still the same naturally beautiful place it had always been. It was obvious, but the habit of continually trying to convince themselves that this was of paramount importance was difficult to break. This anxiety could occur only in the one place where physical and spiritual beauty are routinely mistaken. Magnificent!
Then the story got really interesting. Remember the bitter man laughing at the arrogant real estate broker as they were putting the lock on his doors for not paying the rent? What an incredible juxtaposition it was when, just moments later, he ended up being turned down by the clueless banker to extend his line of credit that had never been a problem before. Suddenly he needed the broker, who was overdrawn at the bank, to sell his investment property to raise some cash. Brilliant!
I think that scene was symbolic of the entire village waking up to the reality that there is always a price to pay for wishes granted. The pain spread to everyone. Nobody had as much money as they had before. And here’s the kicker: That should have been a good thing because money had always been considered evil in the town. But, it was a masterstroke by the author to leave that conclusion up in the air. Could you feel the tension as the curtain came down for the break?
It is certainly going to be interesting to see how the plot is resolved. The remaining suspense is centered on what the people of Aspen want now that they have received everything they asked for.
I mean, do they want a deeper Recession to clear the air and the streets even more? Or are they hoping, as always, for a return to the good ol’ days, which are suddenly far different than the old good ol’ days they used to pine for? Maybe some are happy with the way things are and hope the recession lasts forever, just as it is now. The biggest unanswered question, though, is whether the people of that town can ever be truly happy. Like I said, the playwright is a genius.
Oops, there are the lights blinking. It’s time to get back to our seats and find out how this story ends.
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