Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Stuff Happens

Over dinner somewhere in Brooklyn, I think it must have been Passover (in other words, a while ago), I was an attentive listener to a discussion about Stuff Happens, the play by David Hare.
Talking about things you haven’t seen or read is a fine art, especially when you are in urgent need of dinner conversation. (I still plan to publish my collection, Twenty Essays on Masterworks I Haven’t Read.) But from time to time, you have to make an exception for this fine art.
So on a Thursday night, I took a cab to the Public Theatre on Lafayette Street and watched a couple of actors playing Mr. Bush, Mr. Blair, and Ms. Rice. Even Mr. Wolfowitz popped up. The actress who played Ms. Rice, Gloria Reuben, especially impressed the audience, and your blogger, for looking so much like the real Ms. Rice.
There was also Hans Blix--you remember him--played by George Bartenieff. Maybe he came close to the real Mr. Blix, but unfortunately, I have forgotten what the real Mr. Blix looks like, exactly.
Before we go deeper into this matter, I’d like to take you back to the Seventies in the Netherlands. Back then, there were two state subsidized theatre groups who performed in factories, among other places, to make the workers class-conscious and ready for the revolution. Some of the plays that these groups performed were good, I believe, but the theatre groups faded away.
The workers in the Netherlands didn’t want to rise up against their oppressors.
Stuff Happens is, more than anything else, agitprop slightly disguised as a documentary play.
I don’t think there were many hardcore Republicans in the audience, but at the same time, I don’t believe that anybody in the audience was willing to rise up against the government. If not for anything else, then just because they liked their macchiatos at Starbucks too much.
And what is agitprop when there is no uprising afterwards? At least five burning cars is what you might expect.
A similar point can be made about An Inconvenient Truth.
My editor at Penguin told me it was my civic duty to see this movie.
Well, I did my civic duty. I sympathized very much with the movie, and afterwards, instead of taking a cab, I took the subway home.
It’s a thin line between agitprop and feel-good. To some people, knowing that people out there share their opinions makes them feel good. But wasn’t there a Groucho Marx joke on this subject?