Karen Finley’s “The Theory of Total Blame” does more than just portray real-life characters, but attempts to reveal a world of unspeakable dialogue and issues present in an exaggerated, yet plausible, dysfunctional family. Most of the time the plot and the kind of acting, required in the play, successfully suspend belief because of the varying themes and elements are magnified to cut across the point of a mother of a family trying to keep everyone together. However, although the audience may be rendered incredulous at certain instances, the story itself is not something new that none are familiar with as a social reality.
There is a mix of the strange and normal, and in between, the characters step in and out of the realms of the unbelievable and the real only to culminate with a mysterious spiritual transformation at the end of every chapter. News of the Vietnam War, the end of the flower culture revolution and the heyday of the CIA and the cold war are put up against modern national concerns such as global climate change: tearing holes in the ozone layers with spray cans, television and “designer everything! ” (Finley 231).
The members of the household are forced to admit certain realities and are assailed with closely kept secrets of the mother and siblings while experiencing nostalgia for the past and giving a few comments to the present situation. Indeed, the story is intended to wash the audience with the realities of a typical American home, or at least to the extent that the author tries to convey. The set is specifically designed to put the audience at the very heart of the story with a space on either side to accommodate the Spiritual Experience scenes of the major characters (224).
Yet at any rate, the commonplace and familiar subject matter of the story, while portrayed as decidedly unspoiled and as is, the plot and character development are used in order to tell the story, concerning a mass of seemingly unconnected bits and pieces of acting and scenes, in a way that makes most sense and elicits the greatest cathartic awe. The set, characters, dialogue and the bland, albeit unabashed performance, are contrived in a way to carry the story to a conclusive end (Finley 251-252).
Moreover, while the dialogue is provocative and radical, the audience, much as they are given front row seats to look into the affairs of the Irene household, they are still kept in the dark. They constantly ask who and what happened in the family to have caused such devastation to its members, and the mother. In addition, the audience may ask themselves who or what role does the father have in the whole schema, and why does there seem to be a confusion or a mix of who the real father(s) is (Finley 246-247).
The audience may listen to the honestly brutal and candid conversations among the members but they are left hanging as to the real issue story. Something hidden and something meant to surface at the last part to tie up everything. Stated differently, the story starts at the thick of things and the audience are put into a spell of trying to answer or at least know what is next to make sense out of the experience.
This privilege of knowing something in the past to understand the present is not given until the very end, where the situation becomes ripe and mature to allow the spectators to point the blame as suggested in the “Theory of Total Blame” (Finely 253). Performance or theatrical drama is a great medium of creating and designing plots in fiction however mundane or fantastic. Designing the plot means that the writer, producer, director and actors function dynamically with the other with respect to its themes, elements and the stage needed to pull off the story. The very fact that these elements come together is a plot in itself.
On the other hand, Bentley writes that a plot can come from virtually anything or anyone (3). It could be anywhere form personal experiences or to matters of global concern. It could be something common made strange, or something exquisitely novel made regular. Regardless of the degree of importance or interest, the main idea is to structure the plot to allow for a logical, if not cohesive, and sensible retelling of a story (4-5). The plot is an imitation of action. More or less, it details events passing from one point from another, always going higher and higher, until the story reaches its peak.
There is that vigorous passion from the audience to know and understand the events (6). The audience begs to unravel the mystery and stay locked in until their curiosity is satisfied (ibid. ). Performance drama’s greatest strength in telling is the story is in visual suggestions only the actors and the stage can immediately convey. As such, current events or news stories that appear in text with a few visuals, even a brief video clip in the television, are best conveyed in performance drama. Theater does justice to the drama behind the stories. What the objective journalist could not totally say, theater reveals the hidden in its entirety.
An example of a perfect plot for performance drama is the on-going conflict between the Tibetan monks and the Chinese governments. There are countless websites, resources and television materials talking about the issue, but it is so rare to find ones that truly capture the essence of the struggle. In this vein, artistic presentation could perhaps speak volumes as to why the Tibet needs to be freed. The challenge in the story is to know what the Chinese government intends to hide from the world and what the Tibetans desperately want to say (CNN International Online Edition).
This balance of the secret and the revealed facts makes for an interesting interplay of contradicting opinions to which the audience are left on their own to decide which is which. In order for the plot to work, the stage must be designed to immediately show the tension between government and a minority. Large boxes, items or portraits are alternatively set against small ones. The theme of the brute and the bullied must be in every corner stage, and every part of the actor and actresses.
There is the pervading sense of strong and weak but such visual suggestions must lead to the irony of the eventual defeat of the strong by the weak. Indeed, there is no need to dwell into details neither is it necessary to drop specific names like Tibetans or Chinese. The colors of orange and red, although indirectly suggestive, will suffice to show which side is which. Lastly, there is the tension between peace and violence; leaning more towards violence in order to convince the audience that something terrible continues to happen in some parts of the world and people must do something about it.
In fact, the torch relay of the Olympics, around the world, resulting to violent protest in the streets, would be the best place to start (CNN International Online Edition).
Bentley, Eric. The Life of the Drama. New York: Applause Theatre Books, 2001. Finley, Karen. “The Theory of Total Blame. ” Grove: New American Theater. Ed. Michael Feingold. New York: Grove Press, 1993. CNN International Asia News Online Edition. “Chinese President: ‘Tibet’ an Internal Issue. ” 12 April 2008. CNN and Associated Press International. 24 April 2008.
[http://edition. cnn. com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/04/12/china. tibet. ap/index. html#cn nSTCText]. Works Consulted: CNN International Asia News Online Edition. Dalai Lama: “No One Can Tell Protesters to ‘Shut Up’. ” 10 April 2008. CNN and Associated Press International. 24 April 2008. [http://edition. cnn. com/2008/WORLD/dalailama. ap#cnnSTCText]. – – -. “Arrests Precede Indonesian Torch Relay. ” 22 April 2008. CNN and Associated Press International. 24 April 2008. [http://edition. cnn. com/2008/WORLD/[…]/torch. relay/index. html#cnnSTCText].