Things Fall Apart- Dayna Hanson's Clay Duke Dec 6, 2013

by Koushik Ghosh

On the day that Mandela passed on, it is easy and necessary to celebrate another great African, Chinua Achebe, who wrote "Things Fall Apart." They do, with  regularity, baffling us in the anthropomorphic world we have created over the past hundred and fifty years, hoping to construct Adam Smith's utopia. They fall apart in Dayna Hanson's "Clay Duke" ( watch the Youtube video of the same name, if you like), as they do in Achebe's world, in Chekov's microcosms, and Ibsen's families, much to our bafflement, as we modernists and post modernists, search for Darwinian sociology and 'natural selection' born of 'good' manners and 'good' government and 'good' policy, the 'good' American dream of prosperity, ignoring geologic time, the Iliad, the Mahabharata, the disruptions and the enduring human spirit, against all odds, hoping that the arc of history must in ever so small a way bend toward justice. They fall apart, because the order crumbles, within our lifetimes, despite all our efforts, and we are left with the mascara running down our cheeks, hoping that time extends, that our lives live on so that even the dead find justice, in time.

In Dayna Hanson's "Clay Duke" things fall apart even though she tries to keep it all together in Peggy's Purse, which holds everything that anyone could ever need to solve the problems of a life, a hiccup or a headache-like Tylenol. Peggy Piacenza, takes one, after declaring that she has a headache, (who wouldn't) during the helter- skelter-hip-hop of a school board meeting- when Clay Duke appears as a Dancing Shiva with a gun, to break it up, and settle a score since the Board fired his wife, a teacher. Who knew that school- board meetings were so contentious and dramatic with movements of the eyebrows and hands, like a Kathakali dance? But then again, why shouldn't motions and amendments be emotional dramas, so absorbing that it is easy, nay even necessary, to forget lives broken by firings and unemployment? Why shouldn't the high drama of rules and rulings, broken and adhered to, regarding tucked and untucked shirts in middle school, continue to mesmerize us in their variety and variation, germinating and birthing multiple universes, illustrating a true catholic taste for a range of possibilities, no matter how meaningless? A school board meeting, missioned to raise the young, and deliver the dream, is but a landscape of promise, as in Goddard's "Weekend," in which a life destroyed, or many, are but passing sights,forgettable incidents, till sheer deliberate violence, purposeful violence remains the only option to wake us from our school-board trances with tears, as  we 'know' with an unfathomable sadness that the present python of capitalism, a recent invention, is swallowing lives whole, leaving the land littered with carcasses, while turning the entire State of Florida to mush, slithering beneath the earth, and boring through it, like a human invention can, a slow drill of death, a Roman phalanx, a Panzer division, calculating, self-conscious. Predators, have always been evolutionary gifts, serving a purpose, but predatory concoctions of humans, are but Promethean gifts, leaving us with questions, illustrating anxiety deeper than the anxious displeasure once summoned by Zeus.

Though, for the longest time, Peggy Purse, like Mandela, tried to hold it all together, with her songs, rejecting the notion that it was a dirge in disguise, that envisioning us as stranded in the Beckettian shoal was but flimsy silliness, floating us on imagined barges, manifested behind our closed eyes (which retirees so love, and call the 'cruise') and transporting us through yogic meditation -anchoring us in the mobile space in which we float for a brief time, while we imagine the gentle wind caressing our grimace, of a world held together in intergalactic togetherness of the cosmos of a vanity bag- things ULTIMATELY did fall apart after all, as they do with regularity in Achebe's Africa, Chekov's Cherry Orchard, Ibsen's Doll's House, and in the American dream of school boards. 

The Duke shatters and scatters and scrambles us, while the python dances the macabre, and the audience awaits another Mandela and hopes for TIME to stretch, the ultimatum of the gun to be made intermediate, to live on, to immemorialize their deepest desires. And we live on, in our present century, hoping for a panacea. Tylenol, and benefits, maybe, a trust fund, or at least lithium. Mandela heals, while we turn Florida to mush and the mascara runs across Peggy's face. The question remains and Time emerges as the only ally.