Jules Tasca's hit play The Balkan Women is a tragedy, which marked a transition for this prolific writer. Following are his thoughts on changing genres.
In my younger days I wrote only comedies. Now that I am in midlife, I am drawn to writing tragedies. To look below the surface of life seems mesmerizing.
It enlightened me to hear from so many theatres that they were surprised to read a script in a genre that is not employed so much anymore. The sadness is that because the form is little used nowadays to tell a story, audiences are denied a human experience which formerly moved audiences in the outstanding ages of the threatre of ancient Athens and Elizabethan England.
To write a tragedy is to be a part of the highest art form yet created. Seeing tragedy is not supposed to depress us psychologically. Instead it allows us to examine suffering on a grand scale. Tragedy is not about a toothache, not about animal pain. Tragedy is about the heartfelt pain that no other species can have. The suffering of a tragic tale is the suffering of the whole race. It is a celebration of what we endure to be human. That is why true tragedy must be monumental in scope and scale. Its audiences ponder how deeply mankind suffers and perceive why men and women so often cause their own disintegration.
Too many people confuse tragedy with melodrama. They assume, for instance, that because a writer, perforce, uses coincidence that he or she is being melodramatic. Coincidence has always been part of the conceits of tragedy. A crafter of melodrama exploits coincidence, also, but adventitious meetings or separations, chance occurrences of one kind or another have no bearing on either form. Melodrama is peopled with villains and innocents. And audiences relish the conclusion of melodrama to see the villain vanquished and the innocents successful. This is much too simple a rendering of life, even though audiences enjoy this comic book escape in plays and movies.
Tragedy, on the other hand, examines complexly wrought human beings. These many-faceted human beings, driven by a god, led by conscience or torn by conflicting ethical systems, face the earth's oldest commandment: Thou shall live in a universe inimical to human agony. The genre is its own philosophy. Tragedy is an aesthetic form, yes, but it is also a truth. If you do not accept its truth, you do not, cannot, write tragedy.
Everyone from Aristotle to Kierkegaard has theorized on tragedy's essence. They all have incisive commentary and definitive dicta in their essays, but often their definitions and conclusions are at variance with one another. In all the tragedies that I know there is only one thread of consistency that joins them all: in the vast chaos that is life, a tragic man or woman sets out and dares to restore that chaos to order; as a result life devours that man or woman. This is true of Oedipus, Antigone, Hamlet, Willy Loman or any other tragic protagonist. We watch tragedy carefully because we, all human beings, stand at the shore of that ocean of chaos watching the waves break at our own feet. The tragic character sacrificing his or her own being is always us.
The Balkan Women was produced in 1998 at the Bristol Theatre in Pennsylvania. The artists involved in the production were elated to collaborate on a tragedy dealing with a family's conflict in the Bosnian War. Stephen Schnetzer, who had the ongoing role of Cass Winthrop on a daily New York soap opera, had his schedule rearranged so he could play the lead. He taped the soap opera in the morning and drove from New York to Bristol for performances. "To do a new tragedy is worth the effort," he told me. Other New York actors and actresses took apartments in Bristol to do The Balkan Women. Theatre craftsmen love working in the tragic form. They have done many of the classic tragedies; a new one was an event for them.
The Bristol audiences were touched and moved by the plight of the family caught up and sacrificed for the Bosnian War. Although many characters came to a sad end, the audience understood that their story was not told to expound some doom and gloom pessimistic world view. The audience saw the demise of the characters as the price man pays for warring against his fellow humans; regardless of how noble his cause, whenever he kills, he sheds the blood of his own kid.
Finally, the notices of The Balkan Women surpassed a writer's fantasy. The Balkan Women was compared favorably with The Trojan Women, and I was compared to Euripides. I only hope to live up to such praise.