In 1991, at the start of the first Gulf war and in a terrible fury, I sat down and began work on "Bombardment." I wanted to write something that would examine the divide-and-conquer "cultural war" politics going on at the time, where the powerful and wealthy played upon the predjudices of the poor to frighten them into acting against their own interests, as well as the real war in the Middle East, which I could barely beleive was truly happening. At the same time, I also wanted to capture the feeling of history rolling irresistably over all of us, no matter what our status was.
On the other hand, I didn't want to write some beat-them-over-the-head message play; I was much more interested in how these things made me feel and, in turn, made the characters feel. So I ended up placing these half-archetypical/half-realistic, wounded, suffering people in this sort of dreamscape, where a battle ensued between masters and servants, played out both in terms of power through status and sexual domination.
In terms of action, the play goes like this....
Corno, a sort of wounded king/strongman, has been cast from his home by Arethea, his queen/wife, because he has been caught being sexually indiscreet with Arethea's maidservant, Carmelita. As Corno plots to recover his position, Althea seduces Placid, Corno's hit man/fixer, to plan to murder Corno. By the end of the first act, one learns that Carmelita and Placid have planned a double-cross all along and murder Corno and Althea, assuming their power.
In the second Act, Carmelita's personality begins to disintigrate as power begins to paralyze her, and when she tries to break Placid from the cycle of power, betrayal, and fall, Placid's paranoia takes over, and in fear, he implores the ghosts of Corno and Althea to return to resume their power and protect him. The play ends with Corno, Arethea, Carmelita, and Placid physically entangled in a web in which none of them can break free.
As The Clash wrote: anger can be power. Bombardment went on to be nominated as a Finalist for the Oregon Book Award.
So why does the play haunt me now? Are we back to where we were? Do we have to set the Middle East aflame every time a Bush gets in office? Santayana famously said those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it, but it seems all of us, in thrall to those who cannot remember the past or refuse to heed its lessons, are doomed to see these savage kabuki dramas endlessly repeated.
At the time, I wondered if the ending of Bombardment was too pessimistic. Now I'm afraid I got it exactly right.
Paul Tibbets died today. He was 92. He was the commander of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It was reported he had no regrets and slept well at night.
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