There is no explanation for evil, wrote W. Somerset Maugham. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To expose it is childish, to bewail it senseless.

The events and the images, as they unfolded on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, are as indelibly etched in people's minds as they are incredulously shifting about in a maze of conflicted emotions and puzzling intellectual challenges. I am surely not equipped to process and comprehend all the ramifications of the breaking news from the TV, newspapers, the radio, and the Web. As I am touched, as are many others, by less than six degrees of separation from the tragedy, I witness the bravery and the courage of thousands of rescuers.

But what can I, a theater critic, do during this crisis? What should I be doing?

A brochure arrives in the mail. It carries an image of a soldier aiming a gun. It is announcing the opening of a new show, a musical -- The Book of Candy -- opening first at Trenton's Passage Theater and then at Madison's Playwrights Theater of New Jersey. There's a quote from the play: Success Talent Money. None of that Means anything without this -- Victory Over Evil. Based on the book of Esther in the Bible -- a woman living comfortably has the courage to give this up for the greater good of her community.

The theater and its makers have continued to meet the challenge through the ages, giving people hope, joy, insight, information, inspiration and diversion. As a community, theater has always responded through tragedies, wars, and economic woes. It has always met the challenge with brave and sustaining words as surely as have the fighters with their weapons. We continue to look to the old and the new plays and playwrights for emotional and intellectual support. Yes, my wife and I get out the large dusty flag that had been stuffed in a coat closet for years and hang it between the stone pillars of our front door. But above all we watch silently as the world around us pitches in with time, contributions, and efforts. I seem only able to sit at my desk and bang out words, in this case, mostly other people's words, at that.

Finally at the end of the longest week of the year, I go to the theater. There, at a performance of Romeo and Juliet at McCarter Theater, I suddenly have a clearer vision of where to seek insight. It would not be from the media, but from the greatest writers of dramatic literature: When sorrows come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions (William Shakespeare).

Allow this theater critic, therefore, to share what I have gleaned from various writers, their quotes, and musings. I am so grateful to be able to consider the thoughts and wisdom of others who propel the world that I know best.

By whatever means it is accomplished, the prime business of a play is to arouse the passions of its audience so that by the route of passion may be opened up new relationships between a man and men, and between men and Man. Drama is akin to the other inventions of man in that it ought to help us to know more, and not merely to spend our feelings. (Arthur Miller)

We are probably all a little frightened about what tomorrow may bring, but think on this -- In a world we find terrifying, we ratify that which doesn't threaten us. (David Mamet)

Our mourning for those who became victims of the Attack on America is felt around the world. The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. (Samuel Beckett)

Fueled by patriotic zeal, we say yes to war, and we follow the advice of our leaders, for surely (one hopes) they know what is right. The weather is like the government, always in the wrong. (Jerome K. Jerome)

Are we on the right path? What do I know of man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes. (Samuel Beckett)

They came to destroy New York, the heart of America. New York is the meeting place of the peoples, the only city where you can hardly find a typical American. (Djuna Barnes)

We will now go and destroy them. I do not approve the extermination of the enemy; the policy of exterminating, or as it is barbarously said, liquidating enemies, is one of the most alarming developments of modern war and peace from the point of view of those who desire the survival of culture. One needs the enemy. (T.S. Eliot)

How could the promise of an afterlife and the favors of six virgins awaiting them on the other side be enough to lure these pilots into suicide missions? It doesn't pay well to fight for what we believe in. (Lillian Hellman)

Every man thinks God is on his side. The rich and powerful know he is. (Jean Anouilh)

I listen to the news and the opinion makers from all over the world. How is the world ruled and led to war? Diplomats lie to journalists and believe these lies when they see them in print. (Karl Kraus)

Where can I go to get the truth? We allow an ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders. (Maya Angelou)

I pray for the firemen and their families. Until the day of his death, no man can be sure of his courage. (Jean Anouilh)

Is God listening to us or to them? God does not seek to destroy the evil nations, but their evil. The sword conquered for a while, but the spirit conquers forever. (Sholem Asch)

What and where is the answer? Instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live in order to create what we are. (Albert Camus)

Yet, as I repeat God Bless America, and wonder about tomorrow. Where does one go from a world of insanity? Somewhere on the other side of despair. (T.S. Eliot)

I become heartened by a communication from contemporary playwright Karen Sunde, in which she says she is rising out of the debilitating grief by singing to herself, from Mother Courage -- Let all of you who still survive, Get out of bed and look alive. (Bertolt Brecht).

Sunde's note included the following: Amid a World War II budget crisis, one of Churchill's advisers urged him to shut down all the theaters, concert halls, and art galleries in London in the interest of the war effort. Good God, man, the English prime minister is said to have replied. What the hell are we fighting for? Sunde concludes: I encourage everyone to continue in their art.

As always, the world is guided and supported by the words of dramatists.


Key Subjects: 
Terrorism, William Shakespeare, Twin Towers, Romeo and Juliet, New Jersey
Simon Saltzman
Writer Bio: 
Simon Saltzman has written dozens of New York theater reviews for This Month ON STAGE magazine. His interviews have appeared in TMOS and on Playbill On-Line.
September 2001