DIVIDED STATES, Chicago Dramatists Workshop. Fuck Jesse Helms. Thanks to that senile tool of the tobacco industry and his rabid cohorts, everyone in America thinks the National Endowment for the Arts is a subversive organization eager to fund the most dangerous, most outrageous art it can find. But even before he arrived on the scene the NEA tended to give its grants to safe, politically inert work. And that tendency has only increased since the gasping over Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, et al.
Witness Chicago Dramatists Workshop's dispiriting evening of dreary one-acts collected under the title "Divided States." Funded in part by the NEA, this anthology of short plays is just the sort of event that sounds respectably responsible on a grant application. But as you might expect from "art" paid for by the government, nothing here poses the least threat to the status quo.
Each toothless work timidly explores some pressing social problem--street gangs, suicide, alienation--or boldly repeats all the uncontroversial or overly sentimental cliches about ethnic identity: the great love that exists in Latino families (Octavio Solis's Los Brutos), the robotlike emotional death in WASP families (Keith Tadrowski's and Joel Drake Johnson's alleged comedies Cubic Zirconia and Break in the Day), or the heartbreaking misunderstandings that arise between rebellious Jewish sons and their tradition-bound fathers (David Rush's The Thief of Love). Your tax dollars at work.