Last weekend, Lydia Armstrong (lower left) and Jessica Talley in the MA program attended a special performance of “Smash” at Wake Forest University. Here is their report on the performance and the special panel discussion that followed.
Friday night we attended the performance of “Smash” at Wake Forest’s MainStage Theatre in the Scales Fine Arts Center. This comedy was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and based on one of George Bernard Shaw’s early novels, “An Unsocial Socialist.” The play takes place at a girl’s school in England during the 1880s and its central theme is the clash between socialism and capitalism, as main character Sidney Trefusis decides to ironically bring about a revolution for socialism through means of personal wealth.
After the performance, we attended a discussion with the playwright and several Wake Forest University faculty members: Professor of Sociology and International Studies, Ian Taplin, Associate Professor and Director of the Business and Enterprise Management degree program, Pat Dickson, and Chair of the Economics Department, Allin Cottrell. Over coffee and desserts, we listened to the panel tackle some in-depth questions that dealt with the play’s themes and underlying issues of politics, economics and romanticism.
Today, we see socialism through the lens of the 20th century, but Shaw was viewing English society through the brutal lens of the 1800s. As Cottrell pointed out, given the absolutely horrible conditions in which the British working and lower class lived, it would have been surprising if an intellectual like Shaw weren’t enticed by the promises of socialism. All panel members agreed that there is a kind of nobility and romance to socialist ideals that is absent in capitalism - thus the basis of its appeal to writers. When Shaw was writing, there had been no large-scale violent political uprising since Cromwell. Thus, the peaceful transition to socialism expounded upon by Marx and Engels might have seemed more feasible, despite the absence of a labor movement.
As the discussion turned toward modern politics, the panelists talked about the need for a middle ground between socialism and capitalism. Hatcher suggested that dramatists during the time of this play were largely part of their audience’s world. This is less common today, though artists are still drawn toward the dramatic, rather than the moderate. This plays out in our national media, and the sensationalism of political stories may contribute to polarized views. All in all, it was a very rich discussion of one of Shaw’s lesser-known works.