Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review of the play Hoaxocaust :: Calling it a satire doesn't spin epiphanies from flaxen strands of bombast.

Attended a one-man-show called "Hoaxocaust" last night. I'm glad I went; the production, hopefully a work-in-progress, has given me cause to limber up my floppy brain cells. Although probably not in the way that the playwright intended.
The whole affair was a fiesta of cognitive dissonance. Let's start with two statements made by the production team in a Q&A after the performance:
1)  The play was written in part to highlight that only a paltry few know enough facts to successfully argue the holocaust happened.
2) The play's holocaust content is tailored for a "graduate-level" audience— who presumably know enough facts to successfully argue the holocaust happened
Thus, we can conclude:
The target audience of this play is those paltry few.
So there is a rather obvious problem with the producer's stated goal:
"We are hoping to show this play to a broad audience."
But here's the more important oxymoron: If I were already a "graduate-level" student of the holocaust, then the play is singularly unprovocative. In the climactic final scene when the actor booms to the crowd, "What will you say when you meet a [holocaust denier]?" 
No points for the playwright:  If I were "graduate-level" on the holocaust, I would likely be able to articulate a powerful graduate-level something to say.
Yet I can see why the playwright was fast to mention the need for "graduate-level" knowledge. Without that level of understanding, the play leaves the audience knowing just enough to be dangerous. It presents 45 minutes of reasons why the holocaust did not occur and then assumes the audience will commit two logical fallacies in order to believe that it did:
Logical Fallacy (1)
In the Q&A, the playwright reiterated parts of the play dramatizing a ridiculous Satan story and a ridiculous theory about estranged Brooklynites perpetuated by holocaust deniers. He said by spotlighting these wacky denier claims, obviously the audience would realize the ludicrous nature of all the deniers' arguments.
But in order to do this, the playwright assumes the audience will fall prey to association fallacy. Just because I know one thing is false doesn't mean I can simply assume other things are also false without proof. Just because one guy starts talking about the Jews pact with Satan is no reason that I should disbelieve another guy writing that forensic evidence demonstrates Anne Frank's diary is fake because her alleged pen was only invented in 1953.
Logical Fallacy (2)
Showing that a set of holocaust deniers is crazy does not prove that the holocaust was genocide nor that it even happened. Just because one thing is false does not make another true. Life is not a multiple choice quiz. This bifurcation fallacy is the same one creationists use when they say the missing link proves creationism. Just because there's a missing link does not prove creationism any more than it proves we were dropped on earth in an egg like Mork from Ork.
The play's attempt to expose the fatal flaws in the deniers’ arguments by championing equally flawed arguments does not appear to me to constitute a plan for success.
It is my belief that the play's rational shortcomings undermine the intent of the performance, which is unarguably compelling. The discomfort of the audience, overtly addressed in the monologue, may not be the kind of discomfort that comes from having our beliefs shaken by agents of change. It could be the discomfort that comes from fear. The fear that an inexpert execution of this subject matter will do more harm than good.
My strong recommendation would be:
1)  to select one dominant theme and fully explore it.
2) to accurately define and speak to the majority of the audience, which I would presume to be far from "graduate-level"
3) to retool the play’s logical foundation
4) if the q&A remains an essential element of the production, it should not look like an optional, somewhat half-assed bolt-on


In an unrelated aside, I started to disassociate with the play when the character's Ohio born-and-bred jewish mother had an accent more new york jewmongous than my Bronx ghetto-bred Bubby. It was even more disconcerting when I had to ask Niki why the actor pronounced mischpocha all weird. Maybe that's how they roll in Ohio, but as far as I’m concerned, if you are going to ascribe your secular Jewish mother a thick NYC accent, you’d think she'd have taught you the most common secular NYC Yiddish words. You only learn Hebrew in temple. Where we don’t go.
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