The Black Between Blinks:
Where Hazard Lights Take Us
by Rendueles Villalba
“I think telling the truth is about as healthy as skidding round a corner at sixty.”
Is Truth all it’s cracked up to be? Since the classical age, it has partnered with Goodness and Beauty to form the eternal transcendental triad – the short-list uber ideals. Ok, Goodness is a no brainer. And Beauty – well, despite its impertinent reliance on the fickle eye of the beholder, it too, is a no-brainer. Of course, we want beautiful and good people and things in our lives. But, truth tellers? The Truth? As JB Priestley would have us consider, the landscape of truth abounds with dark alleys and Dangerous Corner. And despite our most cautious navigation, with so many of us on the road, at any moment we risk being the casualty of someone else recklessly driving under the influence of Truth. Welcome to the drawing room, or shall we say speedway, of Freda and Robert Caplan. As the greeting before lights-up of a gunshot and a scream in the dark should indicate, we are in for a wild ride.
At first blush, Dangerous Corner presents itself as an Agatha Christiesque who-dunnit. But viewing the play as a specimen of Mystery genre is like saying Kurosawa’s Rashomon is a detective story. Both question the nature of truth, neither resolve to simple answers. Rashomon asks the postmodern question, “Does truth exist?” or “Can truth be known?” Dangerous Corner imagines truth as achievable, but asks, “Is it compatible with civility, with sustainable co-existence?” Is truth desirable? Does truth really ‘set us free’ or shred asunder the delicately cobbled illusions that make our imperfect (our inescapably imperfect) existence possible? If truth annihilates, can we wholeheartedly say it is “good and beautiful”? This may seem a rather simplistic criticism, but if we truly explore the truth about Truth, how many of us want it in its unadulterated, radically thorough form. Aren’t “white” lies a form of mercy? Then again, perhaps most white lies are really yellow – a coward’s cop out. Who’s to say?
Priestley wonders, What counts as human truth? Is it the world of “just the fact’s, Ma’am” or a deeper realm of personal desire, sentiment and phenomenal subjectivity? Our private passions certainly feel weighty and meaningful. They even seem to be the essential stuff we use to know ourselves – to discover and define our “true”, authentic self. Yet, isn’t this domain of the “I” that we call our “subjectivity”, well ummm subjective? Sounds kinda far from reliable Truth.
As we play detective alongside Robert Caplan, relentlessly probing the mystery surrounding his brother’s death, truth drives one careening vehicle after the next into a massive pile-up at the dangerous corner where everyone’s lives intersect. This worldview presumes a deeply laid interconnectedness of human solidarity – represented by the publishing firm (the play’s microcosmic mirror of us, the audience). Paradoxically however, the nature of this solidarity is undermined by the discovery of it’s foundational architecture – how contingent these connections are on chancy circumstance. If we dare to know ourselves, dare to examine the “truth” of our “we statements”, we dare expose how little we have chosen these connections. Instead, we find a social web of collective id. Do we really want our “it” nature, the banal workings of glands (as Robert Caplan puts it), be the master plan of our human condition, of our society? Can we genuinely call that solidarity? This paradox serves up a hefty helping of humble pie – the sort of humility we can only keep down if we have a taste (and stomach) for irony. Priestley’s version of the world, his publishing firm, is little else than ironic. Marriage fictions are its specialty. As a series of secret love triangles are “published” we come to see this “firm” is on rather shaky ground. Marriage is a natural target. It is arguably the template of voluntary human commitment. If this building block of society is as faulty as Priestley portrays, we just might want to shield ourselves from a head-on collision with this truth and its sinister implications.* Remarkably, Priestley offers this option. A denouement boomerang leaves us in wonder. What is true? What is just story? I suggest buckling up.
** Dangerous Corners’ premier in 1932 might be viewed as presaging the collective cruelty of WWII.
Ideas remotely inspired by social justice philosopher, Richard Rorty’s, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989).
The opinions expressed in this essay are not necessarily those of 2nd Story Theatre.