Is being politically correct kind of like being autistic?
That's the implied thesis of Annie Baker's Body Awareness, now at SpeakEasy Stage as part of a three-part Baker festival running through November. (I gazed into another side of this theatrical triptych, Circle Mirror Transformation, here, and will see the final panel, The Aliens, later this week.) Though close enough in style to form a family, these theatrical triplets aren't quite identical; if one watched them in the sequence of their composition (that is, Body, then Circle, then Aliens), my guess is one would perceive Baker becoming more and more self-conscious almost scene by scene.
For she is a dramatist all but obsessed, like many millennials, with not being overly "dramatic." Indeed, in the notes to Body Awareness, the playwright expresses pain over even being heard: "Speaking is a kind of misery," Baker (probably) whispers to her interviewer. "We're all kind of quietly suffering . . . trying and failing to communicate to other people what we want and what we believe." She goes further about her own methods of revision: "If I can hear [myself] writing, like if there is thinly-disguised exposition or a nudge to the audience or some kind of obvious point made, I go back and change it."
I was surprised, then, to discover that Body Awareness is full of rather obvious points. Indeed, despite Baker's mania to never seem "stagy," I often perceived melodramatic mechanics operating beneath the surface of her script; people enter in tears, or break down while on stage, etc.
Dan Rebellato on Chekhov in the Guardian:
But also, I think, Chekhov is a mystery. There are some playwrights who are so busily present in their work that it's like you have the author beside you murmuring comments on the action. Chekhov is different; what does he think of his characters? Does he admire them or pity them? Ask us to examine or ridicule? It's never obvious. Chekhov's characters tend to let their mouths run away with them (Gayev in The Cherry Orchard fills a silence with an idiotic hymn of praise to a bookcase that, even as he's saying it, he must regret). It's almost as if Chekhov lets silences form in his play, which his characters nervously fill and thus reveal themselves.
For me, this is why Chekhov continues to be an important model. We've turned away somewhat from "messages" and "thesis plays"; the contemporary preference is for authorial blankness, not of style but of commentary; we like stark juxtapositions and moral emptiness, the responsibility placed on the audience to make the judgment. Chekhov is rightly admired for the complexity of his characters and the extraordinary elegance of his narratives, but beneath that it's the dark, dark irony and pitiless gaze that make him truly our contemporary.
I find these discussions interesting.
Chekhov, of course, was a moralist. And I am not so sure that "we like moral emptiness."