Dear Evan Hansen Celebrates All the Wrong Things

The hit play Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levinson, with music by the La La Land duo Benjj Paek and Justin Paul is a Tony award-winning play has reached Los Angeles from Broadway, and currently on stage at the Ahmanson for a five-week run.  Every performance is sold out to adoring audiences who appear to be enthralled.  

That this play is such a success is a cataclysmic sign of a cultural tipping point.  

(It does seem there are too many tipping points of late.)

American theater has long been a window into the human psyche, especially the American psyche.  From Steinbeck's Mice and Men to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, there is a long and storied history of great American plays; Dear Evan Hansen is not one of them.  It is an explication of the moral confusion from which our young people suffer.

The millennials who now write and produce the entertainment to which we all subjected have no moral clarity, no real sense of absolute right and wrong.  They are not morally discerning.  The fact that Dear Evan Hansen is a huge financial and cultural hit is a sad commentary on what the current crop of playwrights is producing and an even sadder commentary on the audiences who pay high prices to see such productions.   It is not only Silicon Valley  that is destroying the traditional values once revered by Americans.  The people who write and produce our theatrical entertainment are every bit as scurrilous.

Evan Hansen is a socially awkward but seemingly sweet  young high school student who lives with his hard-working single mother.  He sees a therapist and takes medication, for exactly what is not explained. We quickly grasp that he is lonely and friendless, about to begin his senior year in high school.  

His therapist has suggested that each day he write a letter to himself about what his day will be like; an encouragement to optimism.  His letter of the day in question begins, "Dear Evan Hansen...."   In it he muses about an imaginary friend and the girl he secretly likes.  He is an earnest boy and does try to engage with other kids, but is rebuffed by mostly callous fellow students.  

One of them is a cruel thug, high on drugs.  As he appears on stage, another student comments on his "school shooter chic" garb.  The audience laughed at this.  It was not remotely funny.  Said thug then grabs Evan's "Dear Evan" letter and shoves it in his pocket.  

A few days later, the bully kills himself.  His previously careless parents are suddenly thrilled to learn, after their son's death, that he had a friend. They assume Connor, the deceased boy, wrote the letter to Evan. Evan tries for about ten seconds to disabuse them of this mistake but quickly falls into  the role of "Connor's best friend," his secret best friend.  He makes up story after story to cement this lie in everyone else's mind.  For the bulk of the play, because of his continued deceit, he becomes a sort of hero at his school and relishes his new found celebrity. 

With two other kids, one who knows it is all a lie and a girl who does not know but is equally needy of a cause, they found the "Connor Project."  They plan protests and assemblies.  Evan makes a speech that goes viral on YouTube. But all of it is lie.  And yet we are meant to feel anxious sympathy for Evan because of  the difficult position he has placed himself.  We are meant to feel sorry for his stressed mother and the bereaved parents of the boy who died even though his sister has made it abundantly clear that he was a cruel boy whose psychopathy his parents ignored.  And yet suddenly they are profoundly joyous to learn he had a friend; which he did not.  Neither did Evan. 

The whole play reeks of the refrain of the day, "fake news."  The basic premise of the play is deceit for personal gain and well-being.  Yes, the boys involved are young and wholly without a clear moral sense. Shouldn't they know better by age seventeen?  In today's world apparently not.  In today's world we are supposed to feel sorry for every character in this play.  It is a musical; the songs are eminently forgettable and yet you will meet people at intermission who have "already cried  three times."  

 Somehow the audiences are moved to tears by a complete travesty visited upon the parents of a dead boy, albeit a nightmare child, who turn their grief into affection for Evan who has taken advantage of a tragic event and benefitted from his betrayal.  Evan is presented as the victim but he is the perpetrator of a crime against everyone, even if he fell into it by way of a momentary misunderstanding he could easily have corrected. 

Near the end, Evan confesses the truth. All those taken in by the hoax are only momentarily mad.  Evan's sympathetic mother sings him a song that says something like "soon this will all be in the past," as though it was only the loss of a Little League game or something.    The audience stands and cheers, as it did after every insipid song, as though they've just seen West Side Story or The Sound of Music for the first time.  Those musicals had glorious music and real stories based on human experience: conflict, joy, love, war and history.  Dear Evan Hansen is not remotely in the same ballpark.  It is a symbol of how far we have fallen into the trap of perennial victimhood and moral antipathy.  If this play is a representation of real life, we are in serious trouble. 

The hit play Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levinson, with music by the La La Land duo Benjj Paek and Justin Paul is a Tony award-winning play has reached Los Angeles from Broadway, and currently on stage at the Ahmanson for a five-week run.  Every performance is sold out to adoring audiences who appear to be enthralled.  

That this play is such a success is a cataclysmic sign of a cultural tipping point.  

Photo credit: Tdorante10 (cropped)

(It does seem there are too many tipping points of late.)

American theater has long been a window into the human psyche, especially the American psyche.  From Steinbeck's Mice and Men to Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, there is a long and storied history of great American plays; Dear Evan Hansen is not one of them.  It is an explication of the moral confusion from which our young people suffer.

The millennials who now write and produce the entertainment to which we all subjected have no moral clarity, no real sense of absolute right and wrong.  They are not morally discerning.  The fact that Dear Evan Hansen is a huge financial and cultural hit is a sad commentary on what the current crop of playwrights is producing and an even sadder commentary on the audiences who pay high prices to see such productions.   It is not only Silicon Valley  that is destroying the traditional values once revered by Americans.  The people who write and produce our theatrical entertainment are every bit as scurrilous.

Evan Hansen is a socially awkward but seemingly sweet  young high school student who lives with his hard-working single mother.  He sees a therapist and takes medication, for exactly what is not explained. We quickly grasp that he is lonely and friendless, about to begin his senior year in high school.  

His therapist has suggested that each day he write a letter to himself about what his day will be like; an encouragement to optimism.  His letter of the day in question begins, "Dear Evan Hansen...."   In it he muses about an imaginary friend and the girl he secretly likes.  He is an earnest boy and does try to engage with other kids, but is rebuffed by mostly callous fellow students.  

One of them is a cruel thug, high on drugs.  As he appears on stage, another student comments on his "school shooter chic" garb.  The audience laughed at this.  It was not remotely funny.  Said thug then grabs Evan's "Dear Evan" letter and shoves it in his pocket.  

A few days later, the bully kills himself.  His previously careless parents are suddenly thrilled to learn, after their son's death, that he had a friend. They assume Connor, the deceased boy, wrote the letter to Evan. Evan tries for about ten seconds to disabuse them of this mistake but quickly falls into  the role of "Connor's best friend," his secret best friend.  He makes up story after story to cement this lie in everyone else's mind.  For the bulk of the play, because of his continued deceit, he becomes a sort of hero at his school and relishes his new found celebrity. 

With two other kids, one who knows it is all a lie and a girl who does not know but is equally needy of a cause, they found the "Connor Project."  They plan protests and assemblies.  Evan makes a speech that goes viral on YouTube. But all of it is lie.  And yet we are meant to feel anxious sympathy for Evan because of  the difficult position he has placed himself.  We are meant to feel sorry for his stressed mother and the bereaved parents of the boy who died even though his sister has made it abundantly clear that he was a cruel boy whose psychopathy his parents ignored.  And yet suddenly they are profoundly joyous to learn he had a friend; which he did not.  Neither did Evan. 

The whole play reeks of the refrain of the day, "fake news."  The basic premise of the play is deceit for personal gain and well-being.  Yes, the boys involved are young and wholly without a clear moral sense. Shouldn't they know better by age seventeen?  In today's world apparently not.  In today's world we are supposed to feel sorry for every character in this play.  It is a musical; the songs are eminently forgettable and yet you will meet people at intermission who have "already cried  three times."  

 Somehow the audiences are moved to tears by a complete travesty visited upon the parents of a dead boy, albeit a nightmare child, who turn their grief into affection for Evan who has taken advantage of a tragic event and benefitted from his betrayal.  Evan is presented as the victim but he is the perpetrator of a crime against everyone, even if he fell into it by way of a momentary misunderstanding he could easily have corrected. 

Near the end, Evan confesses the truth. All those taken in by the hoax are only momentarily mad.  Evan's sympathetic mother sings him a song that says something like "soon this will all be in the past," as though it was only the loss of a Little League game or something.    The audience stands and cheers, as it did after every insipid song, as though they've just seen West Side Story or The Sound of Music for the first time.  Those musicals had glorious music and real stories based on human experience: conflict, joy, love, war and history.  Dear Evan Hansen is not remotely in the same ballpark.  It is a symbol of how far we have fallen into the trap of perennial victimhood and moral antipathy.  If this play is a representation of real life, we are in serious trouble.