Guess post by Isaac Pigott, reviewing my play here.
Having sat through the latest piece of Jason Brennan’s “Hooligan Theatre,” I feel compelled to share the following criticisms.
First, this is advertised as a “play,” when in fact the lead characters never interact. There are hints late in the narrative that perhaps they are coworkers, or even a direct reporting relationship. However, it is entirely unclear what the enterprise is about — a feature that many with inside knowledge of Brennan’s tropes would posit is not an accident at all.
The piece actually functions better as a pair of separate monologues, with Wilkinson serving as a more bite-sized “opening act.” The first scene is one of stark declaration, but one that is necessary to establish the payoff coming in act three. By diminishing the merits of Cancel Culture, Wilkinson is very tersely communicating a lot of things. Disdain for his audience, disdain for social norms — and most importantly, disdain for the precision of language that is required for one who ostensibly works in a field of modern persuasion.
All at once, within three words, Wilkinson exhibits moral certitude, disdain, and a degree of flippancy that add layers to his eventual undoing. Hubris, thy Will is done.
Wilkinson’s second part is the requisite unspooling of the noose he tied for himself. Or rather, having started the play so starkly with Chekhov’s Gun, we now take the time to watch him simultaneously load it, and carelessly discharge it.
Some will rightly characterize the context of the second act as misleading. And they would be correct. Brennan deftly stages this production to remove the angles that would give this powerful moment proper perspective. We assume that Wilkinson may have just murdered his own career — but being on Twitter, this was bloodless, just as if he missed.
Here is where the genius of Brennan’s narrative construction comes to bear: we literally see no more of Wilkinson for the remainder of the evening. The rest is monologue from Jerry Taylor.
The third act, in sheer volume, is more than half of the play. And quite frankly, much of it is unnecessary. Yet, like Stoppard and Albee before him, the superficial superfluousness of Taylor’s text is indeed its own meta-commentary. When one stands for nothing, then anything can be made reasonable.
It is also in act three, hidden beyond Taylor’s sleep-inducing rationalizations, evidence that Wilkinson is indeed alive. The words “future endeavors” indicating that Wilkinson may end up contributing to something — albeit most likely something more structured and less morally amorphous than his previous position.
Here is where the narrative structure breaks down. We are left with Taylor’s words, but he is conspicuously absent as an uncredited narrator establishes the scene.
The final twist takes place just after an armed confrontation inside of a gated community near St. Louis. Rest assured, Brennan has patterned this scene after real events, and he is not thematically making a statement about waving firearms around in “the Show Me State.”
Here, Taylor is revealed to have made comments that quite viscerally communicate his bloodlust, and desires to inflict pain, injury and/or death upon a couple whose only sins are borne of fear, if at all.
The juxtaposition of Taylor’s stated fantasy and Wilkinson’s hypothetical is more than stark. It speaks of a level of hypocrisy derived from complete moral ambiguity.
For instance, Wilkinson’s statement — even as examined devoid of previous tweet thread context — begins as a hypothetical “if,” and results in a reductio ad absurdum. At no point is Wilkinson seeking to incite violence.
Yet, Taylor goes beyond. Not only descending into a far more visceral bludgeoning, but doing so in a first-person manner, with zero regret or reservation.
It is at this point that the genius of Brennan’s literary devices comes to a conclusion. We see Wilkinson as his own tragic figure, brought down by his own words — yet left to twist in the wind by a man who has murdered far more than rhetoric. What we, as an audience, take away is the simple lesson that those who float their morals upon dandelion seeds cannot be counted upon to provide root and security when the winds change direction.
— a special reading of “The Niskanen Center, a Play in Four Twitter Quotations” will be scheduled soon at the Georgetown student union. There will be guitars and snacks, but no special accommodation for those with peanut allergies.