This blog post notes a prescient connection between Two-Bit Taj Mahal, a play by George Mason University Professor and Shakespeare scholar Paul d’Andrea that opened last Friday (June 13, 2008) as part of the Mason Festival of the Arts; and certain other current events.

             Two-Bit Taj Mahal is based on a true story; it examines the unresolved murder of a middle-American social outcast in the 1950’s, through the collective conscience of his community.

             Related matters are an article in the June 2008 Washingtonian Magazine on gun control; and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week affecting Guantanamo detainees.

 1. The Washingtonian Magazine gun-control story posits that too many defendants in Washington D.C. who are arrested on weapons charges get released before trial. The poster child for this thesis is someone returned to the street because police failed to timely prepare his paperwork.  He allegedly committed a murder soon after. The article suggests this person should have been kept in jail based on a need to protect the community, even though no legal basis existed for doing that. It is the same moral concept of the common will transcending the law as in the community vote in Taj Mahal to condemn a local farmer to death.

 2.  At Guantanamo, the U.S. incarcerates “foreign combatants” indefinitely without charges. If they go to trial, they are not permitted to see the evidence being offered against them for reasons of national security. The U.S. Government claims this is acceptable because detainees are being held outside the United States.  The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 this past week that the military base is part of the United States, and persons held there are entitled to know why they are being held. Although the Bush administration had repeatedly claimed conduct in our Cuban enclave was beyond scrutiny by U.S. Courts – a sort of collective conduct of the American people outside the reach of domestic and international jurisprudence – they were repeatedly rebuffed in court.

             But the most uncanny rapport exists with an extraordinary musical production at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia called The Visit. 

             Here, we have a stage set resembling the courtyard of a prison, a moral prison if you will. The plot line is the return of a woman (Claire Zachanassian, played by the revered Chita Rivera) after accumulating unimaginable wealth, to her Swiss town of origin that she has rendered destitute. Claire offers a gift of riches to the town in exchange for the life of the shopkeeper (Anton, played by George Hearn) who spurned her romantic advances decades before. The town’s collective will is effectively pitted against a leading man.

             The two works have the following aspects in common:

             (a)       A man’s sexual intimacy with a woman can sew the seeds of his own destruction;

             (b)       An out-of-town woman can be a catalyst that changes a community forever;

             (c)        A modernized Christ-figure can deliver through martyrdom something very different than eternal life;

             (d)       In the classic struggle between one man and one woman; at the end of the day, the woman is a far greater force for change; and finally,

             (e)       In an insidious way, a woman’s revenge upon a former lover may corrupt the entire social fabric of humanity and the common good.

             Two Bit Taj Mahal and The Visit are immensely powerful and exceptionally well performed analyses of our moral foundation for the rule of law.  We are fortunate to have both productions offered in the Washington D.C. Area simultaneously, at a time in our history when a large part of their message resonates with our collective conduct both at home and abroad.