Playwriting 101: The Condi Monologues
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Forgive me for seeing everything as a play, but it did occur to me yesterday as Condoleezza Rice took the stage on the floor of the United Nations Security Council to talk about the importance of dealing with sexual violence as a security issue (and of course it is crucial and long overdue) that we were all witnessing bad theater.
Usually there is an arc to a character. A journey. A path. What happens in the first act has something to do with what happens in the third act. I have spent my life inventing characters, plotting out the narratives and trajectories, their ascents and descents, working hard to understand their motivations and needs. In this case, I am completely befuddled. Who wrote the script?
In the third act, our lead character, Ms. Rice, suddenly reveals herself to be a passionate spokesperson for women suffering sexual violence in armed conflicts. Note her dialogue in response to the question Should the UN protect women in these crisis zones?: "I'm proud that today we respond to that question with a resounding 'Yes.' It is our responsibility to be their advocates and defenders". Suddenly Condi Rice emerges as a Republican Mother Courage, defiantly speaking truth to power.
But how'd she get there? What of the Condi Rice of the first act: willing and enthusiastic defender of one of the most disastrous wars in history. A war that rendered Iraq into a barbaric state where sexual violence towards women is so rampant and so accepted it is actually no news at all. A war where one out of three American women soldiers fighting in it have been raped and sexually assaulted by their comrades.
How did enthusiastic war-defender become indignant global defender of women in war? What part of the play did we all miss? Did it happen off stage during intermission? Was there a scene where Ms. Rice accidentally stumbles into the Walter Reade Hospital and meets Ana, 27-year-old U.S. veteran, tied to a respirator in a sexual military trauma ward, after just attempting suicide? Was there a scene in Baghdad, where Condi slips away from a military briefing and is brought by a group of women to an underground shelter where she meets Amira, who shows her the bruises on her body, traces of the rape and torture she endured at the hands of authorities in a detention center? Was there a scene where, after mile-10 on the treadmill, Condi, in an endorphin-driven state, commits to changing her legacy and making her mother proud? Or, was there simply a career crisis scene, where Ms. Rice found herself in the last days of a dying administration, needing to repackage herself?
Maybe there is something deeper all together. Whatever it is, in order for the third act to ring true, have meaning, and not be an insult to the intelligence of the audience, we need accountability. There is always the moment of confrontation in a play where the lead character is forced to reckon, in one way or another. You don't get to be a defender of rights that you are responsible for destroying without a comeuppance, without passing through a dark night of the soul, without admitting wrongs done.
But these days we live in bad theater. The world is run by people who get away with doing all kinds of horrible things, who seamlessly morph into new characters, with even more fabulous careers.
Good monologue. Bad casting.