Theatre stages are now closed, but this sight is worth mentioning.
There it was, on the front of the New York Times Arts section, on March 12. “Staring down the Red scare,” it said, beckoning the reader to page 2. Inside, the headline to a Laura Collins-Hughes theatre review was “Red Scare Is No Match for Her: The heroine is Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine senator who stood up to McCarthyism.”
In David Saint’s George Street Playhouse production, Conscience portrays Smith — the first woman elected to both houses of Congress and, at the time of the play, the only female senator — as a dry-witted hero with the rare courage to take on a lying bully who is sowing chaos, ruining reputations and threatening the very fabric of the nation.
Assorted parallels to contemporary politics are there for the drawing, should you be so inclined.
The drama critic is distressed that Senator Smith's revered speech "Declaration of Conscience" doesn't make more of a punch on stage:
The address is fueled by righteous passion (“I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear,” Smith says), yet the abridged version here is a moment of witness, not drama. The tension and dread that are meant to rise do not.
Sen. Joseph McCarthy can be easily portrayed as a reckless purveyor of potentially ruinous charges, that someone could be a communist spy for the Soviet Union. But even at this very late date, the leftist media pretend there were no communist spies for the Soviet Union.
"The communist spy business was ridiculous nonsense, and we all knew it," one journalist wrote at the time. In the same breath, he doubted that "fuzzy professor" Owen Lattimore at the State Department was a Soviet spy -- and he was. They all insisted Alger Hiss wasn't a Soviet spy -- and he was. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the evidence and documentation of Soviet penetration of the American government poured out, and an embarrassed leftist media aerobically tried to ignore it. Their suppositions never moved an inch, as this drama critic proves.
Still today, this talk of the "Red Scare"! There was nothing to fear? The Soviet Union's goal was to spread communist dictatorship all over the globe. The American Left perennially finds all its worst enemies on the domestic scene. Hence the smirky parallels of McCarthy and Trump.
What if America had succumbed to Stalin? In this very same edition of the Arts section, back on page 1, there was a book review headlined “Inheriting the Trauma of Stalinism.” Jennifer Szalai began:
When the poet Osip Mandelstam was arrested by the Soviet secret police in the 1930s, he was taken to the notorious Lubyanka prison for interrogation. He drew a distinction between the guards “on the outside” — village youths doing terrible things out of a dim sense of duty — and the interrogators “on the inside,” who seemed like specialists in cruelty. “To do that job, you have to have a particular vocation,” Mandelstam said. “No ordinary man could stand it.”
It’s an observation that Alex Halberstadt forced himself to keep in mind when meeting with his paternal grandfather, Vassily, who worked in Lubyanka for several years before becoming one of Stalin’s bodyguards. Halberstadt considered his grandfather, who was a member of Stalin’s security detail for more than a decade, to be “the moral equal of a Gestapo officer.” Vassily survived countless rounds of purges and recriminations to live into his 90s — no small feat for anyone so entwined in the paranoid politics of the Soviet state.
The New York Times would not welcome a local play on Soviet life under Stalin. It sounds too "right wing."