Discerning Good From Evil in New York City?: Ask a Puppet: Hand To God

Discerning Good From Evil
in New York City?: Ask a Puppet: Hand To
God

By

Leonard Zwelling

         Where better than New York City to get clarity as to the nature
of good and evil? And how better to learn about it than through art from Cypress,
Texas and Berlin.

         Tyrone is a sock puppet. His pedigree starts with the
Muppets goes down through Avenue Q
and emerges at the Booth Theater giving the opening monologue of Hand To God, a devastatingly funny black
comedy nominated for many Tony Awards a year ago and with very good reason. The
Robert Askins play is novel by any stretch of a wild imagination.

         The action (of which there is plenty) opens in Cypress, TX
(were we the only two people in the audience who knew where that was?) in a
church classroom with a recently widowed woman trying to instruct some students
in the art of puppetry for a future performance for the congregation. But this
is an allegory about good and evil that Tyrone (the sock puppet) simply defines
in that opening monologue. Good is what you do for the group. Bad is what you
do for you! To justify bad, man invented The Devil who he blames for making him
do what actually he wants to do anyway.

         Without divulging the plot of how a puppet comes to possess
the hand and subsequently the rest of the young protagonist and son of the
teacher and whether or not that puppet is Satan incarnate, let’s just say the
play meets evil head on and makes no excuse for it nor fully explains it, but
does acquiesce to the inherent evil in us all and the effort it will take to
resist it. That effort, the play surely says, is supported by the crutch of religion.
It is not that the Devil invented BAD. Bad humans invented the Devil as an
excuse AND an explanation for doing what they felt like when it was not for the
good of the social group which had been organized to make it easier to kill
large animals for food.

         Good and evil are two of my favorite subjects and I do not
believe that I need religion to tell which is which although the Ten
Commandments and the Golden Rule get you most of the way there.

         I too, like the playwright, believe that man invented
religion to allow the construct of social order. Or, as Lewis Black might say,
the elders of the tribe invented religion once they realized that early man was
only “three hairs away from a baboon.”

         Good and evil are also two of my favorite subjects because I
had to confront them so often when I was overseeing research administration.
What many thought were bad arbitrary rules, particularly those governing human
subjects research, actually derived from people doing good in response to the
evil deeds of many (like the death camp doctors or the perpetrators of the
Tuskegee fiasco). These rules were an attempt to protect people participating
in research from abuse and inhuman treatment in the name of “science.” The same
is true for vertebrate animals. Unfortunately, good and evil came first. The
rules came second. Good and evil came first, religion came second. Man and his
evil tendencies came first. God, and his antagonist Satan, as the rheostats on
those tendencies came later. (I am sorry if this offends some but this is my
belief and I surely expect many will disagree with it).

         While many will object to this line of thinking, among them
will not be the playwright of Hand To God
who clearly sees good and evil in us all and us inventing a construct to
control it with external forces when the only true control will be
self-control.

         As a final reminder of the damage of evil, we visited the
Neue Gallery on 5th Avenue and 86th Street where Gustav
Klimt’s famous portrait of Anne Bloch-Bauer that was the subject of the Helen
Mirren film Woman in Gold is on
permanent display. Along with this magnificent work was a display about Berlin
art between the wars and how it turned from a celebration of hoped for new
democracy to the harbinger of the evils of National Socialism. I had no idea
there were artists willing to stand up to Hitler and call him out for what he
was. The exhibit did not relay what happened to these artists but at least some
lived beyond 1945 suggesting that they got out.

         So within 24 hours, we were heavily reminded once again
about the consequences of good and evil tendencies in man, the consequences of
not standing up to evil, and the lack of a guarantee that such a stance will
assure success or longevity.

         Life is one big risk after another. Whether one decides to
play that risk safely and avoid all conflict even when that conflict derives
from the actions of those doing evil, or stand up to the bad knowing that it
could be their own demise is a decision each has to make for him or herself.

         I believe that the current leadership of MD Anderson, if not
frankly evil, is doing evil things by damaging otherwise good people. They are
definitely not “doing unto others.” That they continue to get away with it is
because no one with sufficient heft has said stop or if they have they have
disappeared or worse. That’s the nature of the game. There is no safety.

           Hell, even a puppet knows that.

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