Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Family Business

It may sound strange coming from a playwright who has written a lot of family dramas (take your pick from among them here at Smith Scripts), but I don’t plan on reading or really caring about Mary Trump’s tell-all book about life in her family.  It reveals embarrassing things about her uncle and her relatives, and the only reason the stories are newsworthy is because her uncle is currently occupying government housing in Washington and his actions — and inactions — have an impact on the lives of people who are not related to her.

The fact that he was an abused child and has been craving attention and adulation ever since is not news either in real life or on stage; every family has that history.  The fact that we are feeling the aftershocks means that we have to deal with the present; we can’t go back and change how he and we got there.  If this was a play, it would have to be laid out very carefully so as not to deflect the audience’s attention from the rising action on stage.  And it would have to mean something later on in the story — Chekhov’s famous imprecation that if you show a gun in Act I, it must go off in Act III — which means that beyond being just a foundation element of the character, his childhood antics and grudges have to be a part of the dramatic climax, and most importantly, there would have to be a profound change in the lead character as a result.  That’s not going to happen here.

The only thing that the book seems to reveal is that the Trump family financial empire is built on fraud and malfeasance, something we’ve always suspected.  The Supreme Court is set to rule in some fashion on the lawsuit regarding Trump’s taxes this week; maybe as soon as today.  That may be the big reveal in Act III and the gun goes off.  But this isn’t a play.

More’s the pity.  If all of this was just a play, we’d get to the merciful end, the curtain would come down, and we could all go out into the night with our biggest concern being whether or not we can find a place for a late-night snack.