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Spontaneous Combustion: 8 New American Plays

1972, Winter House Ltd.

I know a biologist who is not chicken-hearted, who is a sensible and calm man, and he says that the human race has only thirty years left on this plane—and that's that. It seems the atmospheric belt around our old globe is boiling, curdling and mixing with all the industrial gaseous noxiousness civilization can concoct. (Why do we let mush-heads fold up and stomp down our universe like it was an empty beer can?!) Living in this technological age, as overwhelming to us as the Age of the Ungorgeous Dinosaur was to our prehistoric ancestors, we carry around with us a diabolical knowledge—and a terrible blood-chilling indifference to the blistering that is the end result of that knowledge. Even the paper we mark our histories on is a technological miracle and a part of the scientific horror—the books that make eternal the memory of a human's inspiration are ghastly skinny slices of excessively mashed wood—don't laugh!

The substance we sling our imagery onto, part and parcel of the technological madness we tolerate, is one of the psychic links between the eight of us, something we share as playwrights, along with the knowledge of bloodlettings and anguish, and a commitment to define that ambiguous eleventh commandment. All of us stand on this maddening and dangerous American earth, bearing witness to the everlasting meaningfulness of the external world our country is depredating. Eight of us, female and male, white and black, with diverse political and esthetic needs, refusing to abide by lists of rules and definitions of how to make plays "come across" and "communicate with the audience." We won't be decorative playwrights, laying on falseness over the false emotional structures of false people: Authentic theater oscillates between joyousness and fiendishness. It needs the lucidity of maniacs, and their passionate innocence. We are logicians; we are contrary people. We want to ease the human soul's tension. We write for the sake of your spirit, not afraid of the menacing half-human gadgets with shoes who would affix us to a wall and make us bow with their useless rules when they pull the chain. We are mystics; we are contrary people. We hate human oppression, especially our own. (O especially our own!)

Three and a half billion people on earth by the year 2000. American cheerleaders twirl white hard-rubber toy guns. There are sanctimonious kids who want the hated parents to die. They also want world peace. Three and a half billion people. And we warn you to stand clear of the fatted calf. We must all stop the gluttony! For us it is not enough that you should evolve into a musical-comedy-lover-interpersonal-psychological-feeler-upper of domestic relations. We write for the sake of your spirit. The playwright as creator or incredible illuminated sea sponge absorbs the living present and then lets it stream forth in mysterious electric rays. We have spirit and optimistic hearts and we are convinced. (Once upon a time there were two maniacs in Salonika!) We believe in the human race as a living phenomenon that will not just rot and die. But—three and a half billion people.

In Pakistan they throw lime over rotting corpses so that the smell will be covered up. But suppose the corpse stood up and threw off the lime and a spot of light and shadow moved on the violent forms of the corpse. And it said, "I love language, don't sever me from life. I want to play a role!"

          & that grand celestial 
       gargantuan voice said:
          "Lowly man & 
       Woman do not recognize

Rochelle Owens

New York City