This is my last day before the conference officially begins. After doing some office work I prepared for a trip to Arlington Cemetery, one of the most iconographic sites in the USofA. I was late leaving my place and found myself grabbing a corner breakfast at Starbucks, a first for me, but it was fast food and it came with coffee.
There’s a Metro stop at Arlington Cemetery one stop from the Pentagon (Jose Rivera calls that iconographic building “the five-sided beast” in Marisol, his surreal apocalyptic play). Arlington Cemetery itself is a grand place. Row after row of white tomb-stones (almost 300,000 people are buried there) mark the lawns. Getting both the Pentagon and Arlington is a single shot lead me to imagine the picture could be titled “All Roads Lead from There to Here”.
I particularly wanted to see Kennedy’s grave site, but the first memorial that one comes in contact with is Women in Military Service for America Memorial. It is a fairly recent addition and was dedicated in 1997. Women had been active in American military service for over 220 years (I was surprised to learn that women flew military planes in World War II, although not in combat missions), so you could say the memorial took a while. I may be missing something but I don’t see it listed in the memorial section of the official web site. What’s up with that?
The Kennedy site was the next stop on the walk. The words I would use to describe to tomb are dignified and elegant with flat granite stones and an “eternal” flame burning above them (every great empire has the notion that they are capable of securing “eternity”). Geographically, the graveyard is on a hill that overlooks the city. A beautiful spot.
The final stop on my Arlington tour was at the memorial for the Unknown Soldier. A good idea. As Kurt Vonnegut implies in his novel Slaughterhouse Five, there were lots of those. What was missing from the cemetery, and from the city itself, with all of its war memorials, was any sort of recognition of the civilian casualties of war (at least I never came across one). But, as Faedra Chatard Carpenter said in our African American dramaturgy session later in the week, you can’t have a presence until you recognize an absence.
After leaving the cemetery, I headed off to a Neighborhood east of the Capitol buildings, known as the Eastern Market. Lovely homes. Not much else to say about it although I did have a drink in what is purported to be one of the oldest bars in DC – well, okay, full disclosure, it actually moved to its current location from its original location eight years ago, but it kept the name.
In the evening I took in August Wilson’s Radio Golf at the Studio Theatre. Although it’s not regarded as one of his best plays, the dramaturgy of place heightened the experience. Radio Golf is about how to stand up for what is right. In this case, right and wrong were being played out in the context of urban development by a black development company of a “blighted” black neighborhood. The Studio Theatre complex was built in an area developed under a similar circumstance, which made this a particularly resonant experience. I wondered who profited and who was left out.
The other thing that was particularly startling about being in the audience was the audience. Just as there was a good sampling of younger theatre goers at Spring Awakening, the Radio Golf audience (an African American story by an African American playwright) was around 50% African American. It was invigorating to hear an audience so responsive to relevancy on the stage.