Friday, June 29, 2007
The musical treked to Tuesday night made me look again at art, political culture, and our perceptions of history. I was blown away by the music, the performances and the overall stagecraft of the evening, but what has lingered with me these past few days are a few lines from the Wizard’s song, Wonderful.
Where I’m from we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history.
A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader.
It’s all in which label is able to persist
There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities
So we act as though they don’t exist
The second line makes me question whether the Wizard is referring to himself, the wicked witch, or President Bush. I think these lines cut to the centre of what Gregory Maguire’s book, and by extension this play are trying to do with Frank L. Baum’s original (and amazing) children series. We see many ties to the The Wizard of OZ: characters dreaming of a life free of a depressive force, be it a small, private farm struggling against economic pressure from big banking and railroad companies in the 1890s, or a community of diminutively statured munchkins oppressed by an evil sorceress with bright red pumps. (Baum’s original Oz was overflowing with politically charged symbolism: The yellow brick road as the failing gold standard in the U.S giving way to the new silver standard represented by the silver slippers; Dorothy’s traveling companions are often interpreted as different facets of the American workforce being manipulated by those in power.) Where Baum’s narrative longs for a trustworthy government capable of dealing with society’s problems in the 1890’s (a kindly, publicly supported government, the wiz, defending the less powerful from evil), Gregory’s story re-examines these same hardships with the advantage of hindsight, throwing Baum’s naïve hope out the window, instead representing a secretive and clandestine cadre behind the seat of power in Oz. This is a Wizard for the 20th Century. Madame Morrible claims that power lies in presentation and perception. By changing public opinion, she means to change history, which is exactly what Maguire does with that same Oz history. Gregory changes the Oz history that Baum first laid down. I feel these are concepts that could only have arisen out of our current postmodern era of well-placed public distrust of government.