Gen X-files

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 Hippies and Bolsheviks and Other Plays
Three plays investigate the growing pains of a generation

A COLLECTION of three plays by Amiel Gladstone explores the difficulties of modern-day relationships: whether to fall in love, falling out of love, reluctantly being in love. Clearly for Gladstone the path to Hollywood-style romance is paved with painful obstacles, with the happy ending always uncertain. However, in only one of the three works does Gladstone fully succeed.

The first play, The Wedding Pool, focuses on three long-time friends, Generation Xers, who now in their thirty-something years must confront the pressures of career, marriage and parenting while coping with the threatened loss of their youthful idealism. While the angst that accompanies this phase of life may be not be unique to Gen-Xers, the offspring from those formerly radical and now ambitious Baby Boomers face the added anxiety of competing with their own parents for acknowledgment and success in a highly complex environment. In contrast to their parents, Gen-Xers are the first generation to be fully integrated into a wired world, the inner conflicts they face centre on issues of ambition versus apathy, rebellion versus obedience, disdain for authority versus dependence.

This engaging tale is clearly close to Gladstoneâe(TM)s heart, as his depiction of the characters and their situation is drawn with a keen eye to their foibles and their dreams, their confusion and their arrogance. These struggling reluctant adults generate empathy because they wear their hearts — and anxiety — so obviously on their sleeves. It is this emotional honesty that Gladstone has captured so well.

The second play in the collection, Lenaâe(TM)s Car, is a one-woman show that once again deals with the dilemma of marriage and family in modern times, this time from the perspective of another thirty-something woman, Rebecca, who has made the decision to marry only to find that it is not anything close to what she expected or wanted.

The playwright implies in his notes that the play needs a fine actress in order for the play to be fully effective. This could be interpreted as a warning that the text by itself may not reach the emotional depths that are required, and unfortunately this does indeed seem to be the case. While we can sympathize with Rebeccaâe(TM)s dilemma, the level of caring that we must reach in order for us to root for her is missing. We simply donâe(TM)t know her well enough. In this sense, the convention of Rebecca reverting to her teenaged self can be distracting rather than illuminating. The depiction of Rebecca-as-teenager draws dangerously close to stereotype, and the emotional and psychological links between teenager and adult are facile as a result.

The final play, Hippies and Bolsheviks, is the least successful of the three. We are now exploring the infamous Baby Boomer generation in the painful throes of its transition from radical, engaged, political and experimental (others would say lazy, irresponsible, deluded and self-absorbed) to money-grubbing, conventional, boring and ruthless (others might say industrious, responsible, realistic and ambitious).

The title is taken from a cynical pronouncement that the only lawyers who are interested in justice rather than money must have been raised by hippies or Bolsheviks. Gladstone appears to be implying that the experiments of the so-called “radical âe~60s” were a fraud, and, even worse, not sustainable. He may be right on some level, but as a play that seems to be about how the public affects the private, he spends too much time on the private and not nearly enough on the public to illuminate his thesis. The world he creates is a very small one, and out of context of world events (other than very brief references to Vietnam and draft dodging). Rather than the play being about a specific time and place, it feels as if it could have taken place anywhere and anytime.

This lack of depth — and perhaps a level of misunderstanding — in exploring this particular era means that we are not rewarded with characters whose lives we deeply care about. As well, the play is at times repetitious, creating a sense of ennui rather than rising drama towards the outcome. Ultimately, it feels like Gladstone is using this story for a platform, but instead of creating characters who can illuminate his point of view, he has created one-dimensional mouthpieces.

Gladstone is a talented playwright, particularly when exploring subjects about which he appears to be very familiar, proving the truism that writers should write about what they know, or at least fully understand. The compelling characters in The Wedding Pool are drawn with an authenticity that the other two plays lack. It is evident that this is the world and the people that Gladstone knows the best. Consequently, his readers are rewarded with fully-realized characters and a heartfelt experience.—Laurel Smith

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