When someone does something inexplicably terrible, those around them—and all of us by extension through the media—are stunned. “She was so nice!” we say. “He coached little league.” “She jump-started my car.” The heart of darkness often hides behind a placid face, so carefully disguised, that we have no inkling of the turmoil seething within. Or, we wonder, was the nice neighbor or brother or aunt even aware of what was brewing inside and then spilled out against their will?
Both scenarios fascinate and stimulate our imagination. How could someone with heinous impulses seem so effortlessly benign? How could a destructive impulse burst out of the unconscious without the awareness of the conscious? In Zenith, Kirsten Greenidge works backwards to piece together clues—family background, a difficult childhood, societal pressures—creating a tapestry of what could have led an exemplary woman to commit an uncharacteristically horrible act. Zenith is a particular kind of workout in our empathy gym, teaching us to use our imaginations to understand the incomprehensible, to put our foot gingerly into some frightening shoes.
Perhaps after seeing Zenith, we may open the newspaper and apply our imaginations to understand what is behind the seemingly incomprehensible actions we read about. Why do people commit gun violence in our schools and workplaces? Why do world leaders enact policies that hurt their people? Why do young people join up with terrorist organizations? Generally, we marginalize those with whom we disagree. We resort to hate rather than understanding. But if we want to change ourselves or our world, we must ask challenging questions like: What are people afraid of? What kind of internal suffering do they endure? How is it people fold, give up, or strike out under the burden of our societies’ definition of success?
Sun Tzu says, “To defeat your enemy, you must know him.” This is certainly true. But do we practice it? I would also spin the phrase another way: “To love another, you must know him or her.” Empathy is the source of all true understanding. And so, we are honored to present Zenith, a play which empowers us to fathom the unfathomable. Does Ms. Greenidge provide any easy answers? Of course not. Because in life, as in drama, there are none. We must wrestle with the complexities of human behavior and yearn to understand, even when actions are beset with contraction and incomprehensibility.
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