One Way Mirror – Paul Gilchrist and the abandonment of pigenholing human nature. (Theatre Review)

One Way Mirror

Produced by Subtlenuance.

Blood Moon Theatre frm 14 – 24 March.

You can grab your tickets here.

Plays, like some other literature can be divided into two broad categories, from an audience’s perspective. Those which help us become autonomous and those which help us become less cruel. The first sort of play is relevant to “blind Impresses,” to the idiosyncratic contingencies which produce idiosyncratic fantasies. These are the fantasies which those who attempt autonomy spend their lives reworking – hoping to trace that blind impress home and so, as Nietzsche would say, become who they are. The second sort of play is relevant to our relations to others, helping us to notice our actions on other people. These are the plays which are relevant to the great leftist idealized hopes and they often involve the question of how to reconcile private irony with these hopes. The plays which help us become less cruel can roughly be divided into (a) the plays which help us see the effects of social practices and institutions on others and (b) those which help us see the effects of our private idiosyncrasies on others. The first sort of play examines issues such as asylum seekers, racial, sexual and gender prejudice or class distinctions and poverty. Such plays help us see how social practices we’ve left unexamined and subsequently taken for granted have made us cruel.

The second sort of play is more distinctive in being about the ways in which certain sorts of people are cruel to other certain sorts of people. Here we, the audience might see snippets of ourselves in fictional characters who exhibit behaviors we can recognize passing briefly in ourselves. These sorts of plays place an emphasis on an unknown pain we may be causing another, often through attempts at autonomy or our private obsessions with the achievement of a certain sort of perfection which might make us blind to the various kinds of pain we might be causing others. These are the plays which dramatize the conflict we all experience between obligation to self and obligation to others. The plays of Paul Gilchrist usually straddle an interesting no man’s land between these two types of plays, usually inhabiting an individuated space reserved for a desire for autonomy. The traditional picture of the self as divided into the cognitive quest for true belief, the moral quest for right action and the aesthetic quest for beauty (or for some adequate expression of feeling) force us into questions such as “does this play aim at truth or beauty” or “is it promoting right conduct or pleasure.” Instead we could ask questions like “what purpose does this splay serve?” Paul Gilchrist writes within the latter question, seeking to broaden human perspective into working out a new final vocabulary. Another way of saying this is, plays of the past encouraged an audience to ask “What shall I be?” “What shall I become?” whereas the plays of Paul Gilchrist seek to ask “What sorts of things about what sorts of people do I need to notice?”

No where has this been more evident than in his play, One Way Mirror currently playing at The Blood Moon Theatre. When Paul Gilchrist places the specters of Hannah Arendt and Stanley Milgram in a room together, we are confronted with a new take on a supposedly common human nature. Through Arendt’s theories about the banality of evil, Paul Gilchrist invites his audience to abandon that which becomes definitory of the human. We sit as the audience to this play and instead of asking “what is it to be a human being” we ask “what is it to inhabit a rich twentieth-century democratic society?” and “How can an inhabitant of such a society be more than the enactor of a role in a previously written script? “These questions free us from the desire to seek escape from time and chance. Paul Gilchrist helps us substitute Freedom for Truth as the goal of thinking and social progress. Rather than posit a style of human nature and invite its refutation, Paul Gilchrist gets beyond this familiar standoff. One Way Mirror refuses pigeonholing Human Nature (or examining some deepest level of self) and instead focuses on socialization and historical circumstance. One Way Mirror seeks a midpoint between metaphysics and its refutations based on irrationalism and aestheticism. One Way Mirror sees this midpoint where each outlook is engaged in a shared, social effort; the effort to make our institutions and practices more just and less cruel. These traits are only opposed if we continue to imagine that a more comprehensive philosophical outlook would let us hold self-creation and justice, private perfection and human solidarity in a single vision. And there is no way that philosophy7 or any other theoretical discipline will let us do that.

One Way Mirror is Paul Gilchrist at his best. With his cast of mostly familiar faces, the most enormous of questions are distilled into the banality of everyday life. We see and sense who we are in a system, including where we exert control and the limits of such. We see the areas we and the society in which we live change over time and are the same and we see direct ways we can affect change that makes us live less cruel. One Way Mirror is a beautiful production, well directed by Paul Gilchrist and Luke Holmes and produced to the always very high standard for Subtlenuance by Daniela Giorgi. Its currently showing at the Blood Moon Theatre. Don’t miss it.