Paula Vogel wrote a line in her play Indecent that both stopped my heart and made it soar. She’s a brilliant writer so it’s not all that surprising but the moment took my breath away with its pithy clarity and bone deep truth. She wrote a few like that in Indecent but this one keeps running through my head because it never stops being pertinent. Sholem Asch’s wife is trying to convince him to let a young man produce his play, God of Vengeance. Sholem has suffered quite a bit at this point as a result of that play and his other works. The Holocaust has happened and the depth of that personal wound is almost unimaginable from the distance of 2017. America, the country he became a citizen of many years earlier, is going through one of its less admirable moments involving the House Un-American Activities Committee. He and his wife are packed and leaving for France. He declares something along the lines of, “NOW? You think we should put on a play now? While Rome is burning.” And his wife, like women throughout all of history, shrugs and says, “Rome is always burning.”
Now the reason it keeps running through me is not just because there is witty truth about Rome, if you will. But because the answer is YES, now is when we put on a play. Rome will burn regardless, but maybe, just maybe in the midst of the fire we can remind each other who we really are, who we should be and who we can be.