The Method

     In one of many wonderful moments in Constantin Stanislavki’s book, “An Actor Prepares,” the Russian theater director asks a class of his students to lift up a grand piano and hold it.
     So the students circle around the piano and lift it up and hold it.
     Then one by one, Stanislavki asks them to recite the times table. Something simple: fours or sevens.
     The students can’t do it. They get through seven times three, or thereabouts, but can’t go on.
     Stanislavki tells them to put the piano down, then explains the lesson: When you are exerting an enormous amount of effort doing something, it’s difficult to do anything else – even something easy – something you know how to do.
     This lesson recurs to me again and again as I watch the Republican Party, and its Members of Congress and of state Legislatures, above all in the Midwest, screw me and you and all of us, as they hoist their piano in the air – their piano is themselves, and their fervent desire for money, and for re-election. And only for that.
     Here is the modern Republican Party platform: I spent way too much money last year, so you’d better change your way of living.
     Since Ronald Reagan turned the United States, in just a few years, from the world’s largest creditor to the world’s largest debtor, that’s been the Republican Party platform.
     Presidents Reagan and both Bushes sank us under enormous debt by shoveling money down the insatiable maws of rich people and war contractors.
     Then when Democrats are elected, the Republican Party demands that we “rein in spending” by screwing the old, the poor, the sick, and the young – who had nothing to do with the deficits the Republicans created.
     Why President Obama finds it impossible to say this as plainly as I just did is beyond me.
     The vicious and idiotic programs that Republicans are proposing today, typified by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s insane federal budget proposal, which would privatize Medicare, and Wisconsin Republicans’ unconstitutional anti-union state law, originate from the problem that Stanislavski diagnosed.
     Politics is theater, sure.
     But you can’t even put on a good show when you are lifting a grand piano full of bullshit.
     When you are lifting a piano – when you are straining mightily to do something other than what you claim to be doing – the words that come out of your mouth are liable to make no sense.
     Here’s another great scene from Stanislavki.
     His students have prepared part of a scene from “Othello.”
     During the scene, the student playing Othello tells Iago, “O, blood, blood, blood!”
     It’s an electrifying moment: Iago has persuaded Othello to murder his innocent wife.
     After that, the scene falls apart.
     Everyone in the class knows there was a great moment, and that then the scene fell apart.
     When it’s over, the shamefaced students gather to listen to their teacher.
     Stanislavki tells them they did a terrific job.
     They created an electrifying moment. Sure, it wasn’t too good before, Stanislavki says, and it fell apart after, but what a great moment that was. Your job, Stanislavki tells them, is to sustain that electrifying moment through five acts. It’s really hard to do, but think of it – what if you could do it?
     The students go away inspired, full of dreams, determined to create great art.
     That’s what a great teacher can summon up from dreck.
     The Republican Party’s problem today – which is to say, our national problem – is that in a time of economic crisis, in a time of war, in a time of mass unemployment, all that Republican lawmakers really want to do is create exciting moments from time to time, so they can get their faces on TV, or their names in the newspapers, so they can get re-elected.
     They don’t give a damn about Act V.
     And there’s not a decent teacher among them.
     They are straining mightily to hold up a grand piano, which is stuffed full of nothing but themselves, and they can’t even recite the times table.

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