Confession of A Sometimes Redemption Believer
Yes, you too can be redeemed. That sounds as corny as a preacher at a tent revival meeting, right? Suppose so. But I do believe in redemption. Not some kind of change through religious conversion, but the kind where the bad can turn around and become the good by their own willpower, by their own inherent decency, where wasted lives can be fulfilled by making good choices, and selflessness can prevail over our natural cruelty and indifference. In my mind there’s hope for failed lives, failed cities, failed plays, and most of all, failed people. As awful as human beings have shown themselves to be during my lifetime which covers the Great Depression, WWII, Adolph Hitler, Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and George Bush, I cling to the notion that change is possible for everyone and nearly everything.
This week I go to Chicago where “Rex” an old failed musical I wrote many years ago about Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I – one of the last works of the great composer Richard Rodgers – will be performed twice at STAGES a Festival of New Musicals. This happened after my surviving collaborator, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and I had a go at making the changes we always wanted to make yet were unable to do at the time the show first happened. We began by reorganizing the book and restoring some wonderful songs that had been cut from the musical under the pressure of a huge showbiz behemoth, “the Broadway Musical” and removing the clutter of its overdressed production which left it floundering like a dying whale onstage. As a playwright this is my kind of personal redemption, hoping that a play can be redeemed. Hell, I so believe in the power of change, I think Lindsey Lohan can sober up and become another Duse or at least a Meryl Streep for her generation, that the other tabloid Draculettes who eat up all the newsprint and devour internet space and the minds of our children; Britney Spears and Paris Hilton can release themselves from their prison of narcissism and find a small way to do some good in a world desperate for acts of kindness and generosity.
But there are times when even this cockeyed optimist (thank you Oscar Hammerstein) questions the ability of people to rise above their own selfishness and greed. One such time was this week when listening to the congressional debate about providing health insurance for poor children. The words “the road to socialized medicine” spewed forth from Bush and Co. with such ignorance and cruelty the speakers seemed to reveal themselves as beyond redemption. That these Republicans, President, Senate and House members, basking in the security of their state sponsored health care could descend to such depths of selfishness, cruelty and greed (their allegiance once more belonging to the Health Insurance industry rather than the American people) seemed a new low – particularly for those who think little of spending billions upon billions on this ill fated war. I kept waiting for a “surge” of decency from these people, but none came. They simply lack the courage that it requires to be kind. There are times when even this believer in redemption has to admit that there are some who are just plain damned by their own greed and indifference to other people’s suffering, and the idea of redemption for them is a delusion.