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Laughter is the Cure for Didacticism

May 30, 2011

The Teahouse of the August Moon started out delightfully, continued to delight, and then nearly caused me to throw it across the room by ending poorly until it took another delightful turn and had me smiling with glee. As he pokes fun at American attempts to spread “democracy” in World War II Okinawa, John Patrick draws full characters that are as comical as they are realistic, and each of them different down to the words they use to express themselves.

I was unsure, at first, about Sakini as a quirky, one-man Greek chorus, but he won me over in a matter of pages and helped to propel much of the action, especially that of the lovable screw-up of a lead, Captain Fisby. Some might try to accuse Patrick of exploiting stock characters for his comedic purposes, but, really, all characters are stock, it’s what you do with them and the way you flesh them out that makes the difference. A good writer can add a dimension, but only the truly great can bring the third dimension to the party; the exceptional can do it with comic flair.

I’m a firm believer that an excellent comedy can teach us more capably than a tragedy. Comedy drowns didacticism in laughter. Somehow—mysteriously, even—laughter opens us up to the action played out on stage, or perhaps it opens the action itself. Whatever the means, August Moon successfully compels its audience both to revel in the folly of democratization and renew a love for the ideals behind it, however badly some may try to achieve it.

Honestly, if the cast of characters wasn’t so large, I would produce this play tomorrow.

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