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Affection, Action, and the Sliver of Hope

June 29, 2012

I’ve been putting off the Tony-winner posts because there is very little that is praise-worthy in the more modern Tony-winners besides a clear technical mastery of the medium. But since truth, goodness, and beauty are inseparable, this makes most of these plays no more than well-told lies; sophistry at its best.

Just when I found myself despairing, however, along came Frank D. Gilroy‘s The Subject was Roses. By the fourth page, I was fully expecting another play asserting the truth of the tragic metaphysic, this time through the display of a loveless—even actively hate-filled—marriage, held together by the couple’s competing love for their son. As Christians, we can look at this family and see the obvious cause of the strife: John Cleary baldly refuses to love his wife (Eph. 5:25) and, as a result, cannot love his son (Eph 6:4).

When I speak of love here, I’m not talking about mere affection—an unreliable foundation, at best—but the biblical definition of giving oneself up for the happiness and good of another (John 15:13). But as C.S. Lewis once put it:

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. (Mere Christianity)

Though we often witness action following affection, we forget, just as often, that affection necessarily follows action. John’s son Timmy tries to get his father to act. He buys flowers for his mother and claims they were his father’s idea, a move that John spitefully undermines, but only after playing along for a short while. This serves to deepen his wife Nettie’s pain at the revelation, as is his likely intention.

A despairing play, right? Sure is. Right up until the last two pages. Having realized that his father has never once told him that he loves him, Timmy forcefully hugs him, tells him he loves him, and refuses to let go until John reciprocates. The play ends there, but at least the playwright has shown that he recognizes the problem and that problem is not the inexorable march of tragedy over the world.

He reveals the sliver of Hope.

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