‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’: A look at the MAD Festival

They say that when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold.  Over, the past two decades, we’ve blown our noses and curled up with a hot-water bottle in front of our favourite (favorite?) imported TV.  Hollywood gave us CGI explosions, car chases, and Tom Cruise, but how much do we really know about the Broadway babies that this country has birthed?  This week, Keble will host a series of rehearsed readings in its O’Reilly Theatre, looking at some of the plays that might have slipped through the cracks of time. 



The Nineties, the decade of Generation X grunge, and post-boom apathy, heralded a gradual relinquishment of the New-World American Dream fable, as the country is forced to ‘grow up.’  The growing anxiety over the AIDS pandemic added an extra urgency to the fight against the marginalisation of gay men, and, under the government of George ‘Without the W’ Bush, The Gulf War shook the stability and security of the country.  On a more positive – but ultimately, nihilistic note – the Web went World Wide in 1993, putting the final nail in the coffin of the pastoral.


In his 1994 play, The Cryptogram, writer of Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet returns to the 1950s with oil-smeared spectacles.  It follows a family who plan to take a camping trip, and marks the moment when a childhood is lost.  It isn’t a teenager’s love affair with their Xbox Live that stops them from taking some quality time together, but a whole other host of complicated issues including a father’s absenteeism and homosexuality – all under a post-war domestic setting.

A modern America is complicated – as those who have seen the first part of Angels in America this term in the Oxford Playhouse will attest. The second part, Angels in America: Perestroika, aims at answering the questions that the first part left, and by answer, I mean, ‘leave you with the sense that there “really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth.”  (Much the same impression that Imgur might leave one with.)



The Lewinsky Affair of 1998 brought up issues of sexual and political integrity.  Bill Clinton was impeached for publicly denying that he had had “sexual relations” with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.


You might be too afraid to get acquainted with the uterine economics of Virginia Woolf, but have you met Sylvia?  In a post-taboo land (and a rather crass segueway from Lewinsky, who is – to our knowledge – human), Albee’s 2002 play, The Goat or Who Is Sylvia fools around with the theme of the ‘perverse’ in sexuality of bestiality.



A dirty Presidential election in Florida, terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and Empire State Building, a war in Iraq, and a fruitless search for Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Not even another three-hour Kushner play could have touched upon the level of helplessness and grief that swept the States. Over ten years on, the tragedy of 9/11 still remains in the public consciousness.  Terms like ‘post-9/11 theatre’ – and even, ‘post-post-9/11 theatre’ – are discussed, as a growing sense of mistrust and paranoia takes a hold of New York.


You may have seen the film version of Doubt starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis.  A rehearsed reading of the original expertly crafted play-script, by John Patrick Shanley will head off the MAD Festival this Tuesday with Zoë Bullock, Lauren Magee and Dionne Farrell in their stead.  The play questions systems of power, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for its ability to depict an ever-changing and uncertain network of conspiracy and paranoia.



MAD Arts Festival will run from Tuesday -Saturday of 5th Week in the O’Reilly Theatre, Keble College.  Tickets for each rehearsed reading will be £3.

Tuesday the 12th, 7.30pm: Doubt

Wednesday the 13th, 7.30pm: The Goat

Thursday the 14th, 7.30pm: The Cryptogram

Saturday the 16th, 7.30pm: Angels in America: Perestroika


PHOTO/Giacomo Sain