Just when I was holding out hope that the American theatre can be saved—especially after seeing Next to Normal, which to me represents all that’s wrong with contemporary theatre—along comes If/Then and I’m back in a state of despair. If/Then was created by the same practitioners of awfulness as Next to Normal: Brian Yorkey (book and lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music), both of whom are on my Most Wanted List for the crime of destroying the majesty of the American musical. As you may suspect, If/Then bears the burden of the left-wing view of the world, which is precisely what makes it so bad.
If/Then was a 2014 star vehicle for Idina Menzel (or “Adele Dazeem” for you John Travolta fans). The show had a run on Broadway and then toured for about a year. The basic plot has great possibilities: a recently-divorced woman (Elizabeth) returns to New York City and wonders what her life would be like if she made different choices. We then witness two different paths in her life based on the choices she makes in each; she is “Beth” in one path and “Liz” in the other. Assisting her is her good friend Kate and former boyfriend from college, Lucas. I have to say, my description of this plot device is pretty clear, which is ironic, given that the actual execution of it onstage is muddled and confusing. Even the theatre critics were confused, but that is admittedly a very low bar.
Because the general premise is so promising, I rate this catastrophe higher than the devastation that is Next to Normal. However, they are interchangeable when it comes to promoting the progressive view of human affairs, which is so damaging not only to our country but to the art we create. This is a view so pervasive and so accepted, that it goes mostly unnoticed, especially by the theatre world and precisely because it is their world view anyway. But I am sensitive to these things, so here is my official list of progressive folderol as it appears in If/Then:
1. New York is the only place on Earth. Elizabeth left NY for Arizona, which is, of course, flyover country. One character says she didn’t know there were any rivers in Arizona. This is supposed to be witty.
2. Everyone seems defined by his or her sexuality. Best friend Kate is (of course) a lesbian; former boyfriend Lucas is (of course) a bi-sexual who cohabitates with a man. Love equates with sex; sex equates with love. And if sex is love and love is sex, what could be bad? When Kate’s partner fools around with someone else, she explains her infidelity as liking sex more than Kate does. I guess that’s what love is really all about.
3. Elizabeth screws around with a man she hardly knows, but hey! Do whatever makes you happy!
4. Elizabeth gets pregnant out of wedlock (of course; she does marry her lover after the revelation of her pregnancy, however). This is in one of her scenarios. In her other scenario, she aborts the baby (of course) so she can focus on work, a position that is steadfastly defended by the left and a depressing part of the culture it has created.
5. She is told by a colleague that she doesn’t need a man to rear a child: “You can do it yourself,” goes the reasoned advice. Of course she can; that would be the best thing for the baby! As noted above, this is the situation in only one of her scenarios. In the other scenario, she murders the baby in the womb. Uh, I mean terminates her pregnancy.
6. Republicans are bad. When Elizabeth’s husband is killed overseas (he’s in the army reserves), it is mentioned at his memorial service that he was a Republican. Despite this, he may have been a good person. This is the obligatory crack at Republicans found in so many productions. Naturally, the enlightened college audience howled.
7. Despite all her setbacks (of her own choosing, mostly), Elizabeth is a magnificent person who is going to conquer the world. Everyone is. This is one of the main tropes of the progressive worldview: life is miserable, difficult, full of suffering for which religion provides no balm. But despite it all, people not only survive but thrive once their self-worth is accepted by all. These are extra-special people, who possess incredible skills. It just takes everyone else to see it. The great irony here is that such plays focus on people you’d never want to know, much less care about, and yet they are depicted as really something special.
Unlike a great many progressive, metrosexual characters, Elizabeth seems to take some responsibility for her mistakes (except for the destruction of her baby). But I am left to wonder if she has learned anything. The show ends with her accepting a date with a man she just met (a repeat of the meeting with her second husband—the one who gets killed overseas). Or maybe I just didn’t get it. Was that Liz or Beth or both? All I know is, I didn’t need to spend two-and-a-half hours watching a woman make sense of her love life.
Aside from love sweet love, what the world needs now are plays/musicals that counter the pervasive progressive view of humanity. We need to stop pretending that the world would be in a perpetual state of bliss if only everyone were recognized for his or her amazingness. We need to recognize eternal truths about who we are as human beings and that some things are just better than others. And we need to stop thinking that the rest of the country looks longingly at the messed-up east and west coasts as where true American values live. As a former New Yorker, I watch my ex-neighbors onstage with the thought that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”dit exactly how your blog looks on your website from the Settings panel. Wix Blogs lets you hide or display the author name and picture, date and reading time, views, comments and likes counter. Toggle between the options and view your changes in real time.
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