Saturday, April 26, 2014

Isaac's Eye

Science + comedy = ...?

Historically it was perhaps possible to mix the two (although I struggle to think of examples. But that's maybe because I forget comedy fairly quickly. EDIT - Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid). But now? Apart from following some old adages: "laughing in the face of danger" perhaps, or "tragedy and comedy are two sides of the same coin", I can think of barely any justification for creating an out-and-out comedy about science in the age of global warming. This was very much reinforced for me with Richard Bean's The Heretic a couple of years ago - which at least had the gall to directly suggest that scientists fabricate truth -if not to effectively deal with the problems contained in that suggestion.

That's not at all to say that it shouldn't be done. There are some extremely good comedies out there with serious subjects - the Roberto Benigni film Life is Beautiful is perhaps a perfect example. The risk is that you trivialise the subject. Oscar Wilde, that most trivial comic writer, was the chief exponent, standing as an example of how to treat something as serious and trivial at the same time, creating a kind of acidic layer on otherwise totally irrelevant comedy. Given that scientists already battle vast misconceptions of the public, trivialisation does little to help that situation, and may, in fact, significantly hinder it.

It is interesting, therefore, to see in some supplementary notes for Isaac's Eye, provided by Regine Hengge, (a scientist at the Humboldt Universität Berlin who is acting as a 'scientific co-ordinator' to ETB's ongoing Science and Theatre series),  that the playwright of this 2013 play, Lucas Hnath, "does not miss a single one of any of these cliches". Here she is referring, not necessarily in a critical way, to the myth of the 'scientific genius', sometimes called the 'Great Man theory' which informs the technological determinist view of history - that history is advanced by the discoveries of a handful of select individuals. The accusation of cliche could be extended to many other areas of this play, which I found to be a particularly poorly written - almost inexcusable - attempt to discard most of the context in which it was operating.