Playwright David Hare is one of the theater’s most refreshingly opinionated writers. With plays like “Stuff Happens,” a sharp-witted analysis of the Bush administration, and “Via Dolorosa,” his one-man account of traveling through the Middle East, he makes political points that sound like invitations for debate rather than single-minded polemics. And as it turns out, his ideas and artistry thrive off the stage as well, charging every essay in “Obedience, Struggle & Revolt: Lectures on Theater.“
A collection of Hare’s lectures, speeches and newspaper articles culled from the last 25 years, the book crackles with purpose as it examines everything from Tony Blair’s legacy to how writers should chronicle the present moment.
“A lifetime’s experience of storytelling,” Hare writes, “has convinced me that nothing is harder in the arts than to be contemporary.” Yet in elegant lectures like “Why Fabulate?” he makes a lively case for why artists should absolutely keep striving to reconfigure current events into fiction.
And by the book’s end, British-born Hare eschews art altogether to discuss American-British relations and his view of the Anglican Church. These pieces elucidate his plays (everything from “Stuff Happens” to earlier efforts like “Plenty” and “Racing Demon”), while his lyrical prose and unflagging wit make them a pleasure to read on their own.
More important, though, the final selections are just exciting to think about. Because whatever the individual topics of its chapters, “Obedience, Struggle & Revolt” is ultimately about thinking.
All of these pieces are committed to making auds engage. Hare freely admits that people will disagree with his positions, but it’s clear he doesn’t seek approval. Rather, he wants his audience to absorb his thoughts and then think right back.
As for this collection, Hare suggests how his readers might debate him by giving the book a loose structure. Early entries lay out the need for art as a social instrument, while the middle section takes pointed swipes at those who refuse to acknowledge a writer’s ideas. “Is there a single critic writing today,” he asks, “with the skill or conviction to relate the essential meaning of a play to human experience outside a theater?”
He embraces texts as a living part of the culture and dedicating one’s self to seeking meaning beneath their surface details. This sets the stage for the more explosive essays in the final third; it’s as if Hare has been saving his flintiest writing until he’s sure we’re ready to read it deeply.
It’s a sly, cocky strategy, and it gives a book of pre-existing work its own compelling arc.
Throughout, Hare proves worthy of critical thinking by keeping his arguments as logical as they are opinionated. His impeccable craft allows us to wrestle with his ideas instead of his form, making it easy to turn the pages toward his next impassioned plea.