TALK by Carl Hancock Rux

I had the great luck to see this play when it was performed in New York City in 2002. It was one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of my life. However, I wondered for quite some time about the actual text. The production was out of this world great. Would the play itself, divorced from the skilled director and top-notch cast, endure as a work of literature? Certainly, the dramatist was part of the play’s aesthetic success. But was he the most vital part? In my opinion, if a dramatist is not the central aspect of a play, the play will simply not last. Am I a conservative? It’s an accusation I’m familiar with. I do believe that for a great play to last, it must have a great text and/or author behind it. Without that, it can be a great production but not a great play. That’s my view and I’m not ashamed of it.

Anyway, a few years after seeing that production, I finally got a chance to read this play in book form. Within a few pages, I knew there had been no accident.  Talk was not just a great production. It is a great play. One of the wonderful things about Talk is Rux’s ability to create a drama of ideas but make it entertaining. This is a very experimental and almost surreal work where nothing actually happens, at least not in the traditional plot sense. And yet, while watching and reading, I was on the edge of my seat. Rux is uncompromising but he does not forget the value of theatricality. He knows how the theater works and makes it work for him so he can go to some incredibly troubling places. The dramatist who most comes to mind in his ability to merge rigorous intellectual engagement with bold, theatrical bravado is Samuel Beckett. At its heart,  Talk is a mystery. The protagonist functions as a detective. However, the hunt turns into a hunt for ultimate truth with a solution that will shatter the souls of those seeking to discover it. In this regard, it reminds me of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.

The characters in this play are mostly hidden behind names from Greek philosophy. The protagonist is identified only as “The Moderator.” Despite this, they are all fully human, powerful figures. They stand for certain types, yes, but manage to also exist as individuals. At the start, some of them seem like caricatures, positive and negative. By the end, no one is a caricature. Everyone has become horribly vulnerable. The contemptible have spoken the truth and the admirable have gibbered like fools. Everyone has fallen.

There is quite a bit of artistic name-dropping in Talk.  Yet somehow it never feels like any of the works it is influenced by. It feels only like itself. This play is excellent proof that a work can be about literature but not snowed under by literary forerunners.

Talk is a tragedy. However, it is an ultimately constructive work. At the end, the audience might feel despair but it will be purged of preconceptions and ready to look at the issues the play raises in a new way. This was, broadly speaking, the goal of ancient tragedy. To me, there is still no higher praise for a play.

Mr. Rux has written works of poetry and fiction. I understand he has composed a libretto for an opera. I would like to know these works and I admire any author who can manage different types of writing. Still, I hope he will write more plays. His power in the dramatic form is mesmerizing. The theater these days rarely seems to produce works of this level. Much serious theater today is only of the moment. Other plays are excellent but don’t want to engage in grand, philosophical issues. Not all plays need to do this but there should be more. I think Talk will come to be seen as a great play of its time. If Rux writes more this good, he may well be recognized in the future as one of the great American dramatists of his lifetime. 

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